By on February 14, 2018

Thanks to automakers and their stable of marketing and PR folks, the English language is feeling used and abused these days. Don’t worry, this isn’t a rant about overused industry buzzwords like synergy and dynamism, the popularity of which show no signs of waning. You’ll be hearing those forward-thinking — and intentionally confusing — descriptors for years to come.

Right until cooler, non-lame words like panache and gravitas come into vogue, this author hopes.

Lately, and with increasing frequency, a new language is emerging on the automotive scene. High-minded, plummy, and completely shameless, this new language flings misleading titles at a certain product: utility vehicles, specifically those appealing to buyers known for good breeding, tennis, and summers at the cape.

James Attwood, writing for Autocar, does a good job of exposing the offending automakers for the language charlatans they are. He notes — as we did — that Rolls-Royce, the most well-heeled of automakers, refers to its upcoming Cullinan SUV as a “high-bodied car” — a class of vehicles that exists only in a strange, literal world where serious people call convertibles a “car without a roof,” and pickups a “heavy car without a trunk and a long, metal pan in there instead.”

Rolls Royce Cullinan

The column’s author goes on to decry Ferrari’s use of “FUV” in descriptions of its upcoming utility vehicle, and Lamborghini’s obnoxious “super sports utility vehicle” (Urus). Interestingly, Bentley is guilty of no such thing, nor is Maserati.

It’s clear there’s a benign classism at work here, with some high-end automakers apparently unable to subject their customers to a pedestrian moniker like “SUV.” Certainly, “crossover” — a better descriptor, assuming we’re keeping the unibody-only rule alive — could not be applied to such prestigious conveyances. Heavens. No, those two terms conjure up images of Middle America and shopping malls and grocery coupons and public schools. Something the help would drive.

Of course, language being what it is — plus the fact we don’t live in North Korea — means automakers can put whatever label they want on a vehicle. Call it anything but self-driving. Annoyance isn’t a crime, nor should it be.

But as long as we’re on the subject, I’ll take this opportunity to add another automaker to Attwood’s list, and this one isn’t nearly as unaffordable as the others. BMW. Yes, Bimmer has the audacity to tout — as an official designation, and throughout its literature — its utility models’ status as a “sports activity vehicle.” It’s not an SUV, it’s an SAV.

You can tell these models apart from other dissimilar utility vehicles because of the Bimmer’s upright body, engine in the front, unibody construction, and seats located inside the vehicle, rather than in a house down the road. There’s also such brand-defining features as a rear liftgate and available all-wheel drive. Just try and find those trappings from another automaker. Look Bavaria, just because you brought a unibody utility vehicle with car-like driving dynamics to market at a relatively early stage in the game doesn’t mean you should throw capital letters around willy-nilly. Even worse is the brand’s line of “sports activity coupes,” none of which are coupes.

Unfortunately, BMW has company in the ongoing bastardization of the word “coupe.”

Mercedes-Benz, to its credit, proudly flaunts the SUV moniker on its website, while Porsche, maker of two utility vehicles, tries to avoid using it except when absolutely necessary. It has not, however, created its own classification for the Macan and Cayenne. Audi also seems perfectly comfortable to sell premium vehicle buyers an SUV.

What does any of this tell us? Nothing, except that exclusive automakers sometimes want their vehicles described in terms that bring to mind wood-panelled drawing rooms and fox hunts, and that English is one of the odder languages kicking about. Would we have it any other way? Probably not.

[Images: BMW, Rolls Royce]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

33 Comments on “When Is an SUV Not an SUV? When You’re Just a Little Too Pompous for Your Own Good...”


  • avatar
    rofergZ28

    Truly, what’s wrong with “high-bodied car” for the Cullinan? It’s more accurate than the adjectives that make up the SUV acronym…the Cullinan isn’t sporty and it’s certainly not going to be used to haul lumber home from Lowe’s or a couple of muddy dogs to the groomer’s.

    The rest of them are utter trash though – especially BMW’s uncoupes.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      It’s pompous because Rolls Royce obviously wants that sweet sweet SUV coin rolling in (let’s face it nobody is buying sedans) BUT they are too stuck up to lower themselves to calling it something as plebeian as SUV. The Rolls class of buyer views it with the same disdain that they would view a pickup truck.

      “SUV? (Looking horrified) Isn’t that what those nouveau riche types roll in with their unruly brood and hunting dog?”

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        So how MANY will RR actually sell? I could not afford one and I bet many, not all, among the B&B can’t either.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          They will sell a few thousand a year. North America will probably be the fourth biggest market, after China, the Middle East, and Russia.

          When you’ve got a billion and a half people in your biggest market, it doesn’t take many of the top 0.01% to keep a niche carmaker alive.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            dal, if that is the case then they should justify production by focusing on those top three markets, and incorporating USDOT vehicle safety requirements into them and exporting them to North America for the select few, the proud, the wealthy.

            That would seem logical to me.

            But with such a limited production number I would like it to a limited production, niche built, special-market vehicle.

            Like Italian exotics. Limited demand. Limited supply.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            Lol, somebody call em right away and make sure they make it legal to sell here! I’m sure they never thought of it.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        I mean, this thing is probably going to cost as much as a McMansion. Seems pretty fair for them to want to market it differently than a Hyundai Tuscon. All expensive things are marketed differently than inexpensive things… expensive things sell on the irrational, inexpensive things sell on the rational.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Totally agree. For example, G1 Murano was exactly this – “high-bodied car”

    • 0 avatar
      DavesNotHere

      The ‘high car’ terminology has been part of RR’s lingua franca and design language for a long time, so it’s not just a marketing exercise.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      SUV, as they won’t tell you, actually means
      “Station Uagon Vehicle”.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        My insurance company called one of my cars an SUW: Sport Utility Wagon. And honestly, that’s exactly what it was and remained for 12 years. I could carry almost anything in it, including 8-foot flat-packs. With the rear hatch closed, even.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    The Cully will be purchased by those who favor sporting activity such as fencing, badminton, snooker, and full-contact lawn darts.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I have no problems with manufacturers marketing cars in their terms. If sport activity describes it better than sport utility – why not?

  • avatar
    NeilM

    The word ‘utility’ smacks of being utilitarian, and that implies a usefully low price. No wonder the premium brands are avoiding the term.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    I think Rolls’ term fits perfectly. It calls to mind the cars from the ’30s and ’40s which were more like a Tahoe but with a narrower cabin.

  • avatar
    Fred

    This is good news as it signals the end of SUVs. Their status diminishing, they try and hide them with marketing. I’m probably wrong, but I can at least hope it means the return of cars, especially hatchbacks and wagons.

  • avatar
    sckid213

    It’s crazy how some people buy in to this marketing BS hook, line, and sinker. True story: I once met an extremely off-putting, cranky and effeminate real estate agent in LA who drove an X5. He told me a story about how he took his X5 to the car wash and was appalled when the car wash had the audacity to charge him the extra fee for an SUV. He took great glee in telling me how he “b*tched out” the entire car wash staff because his X5 was “not an SUV, it’s an S-Ayyyyyyy-Veeeeeeeeee!!!!!” Yeah, he was awful.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Heh heh. That’s a funny story. How ridiculous.

      When I had my E70 X5, I remember getting hit with an oversize surcharge when I had it hand-washed, and I sulked for all of two seconds—because I didn’t think it was *that* big of a vehicle, by modern standards—then I paid up and sat in the lobby.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    “High bodied” Tell a woman that and see where that takes you ;)

    “Annoyance isn’t a crime” there are nuisance laws, for example “noise bylaws”.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      “She was a black haired beauty with big dark eyes
      And points all her own sitting way up high
      Way up firm and high…”

      Even as a kid I wondered how Bob Seger got that on the radio, without
      anyone saying anything.
      Lyrics just ain’t the same anymore.

  • avatar
    scott25

    It isn’t, as many others have insinuated, like the term SUV is any better. Very few offer any sport, some don’t offer utility, but we can at least agree on the vehicle part.

    It just reminds me of the customer who came into the dealership saying they were there to pick up their “new truck”, and they drove away in an Ecosport.

    • 0 avatar
      markmeup

      Haha, that’s funny with the Ecosport post. Made me think about my neighbor’s sister who happens to be a lesbian, she calls her vehicle, a Kia Soul, a ‘truck’. As in: “OK guys, I’m outta here… gotta go wash my truck.”

      As I recall, years back… I believe I may have called my newly purchased ’95 4-Runner a truck more than a few times. Maybe someone can clarify here though, wasn’t that vehicle technically, a truck? TIA

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        I’d say if its BOF like your 4Runner, calling it a “truck” in casual conversation is fine. That’s in my opinion anyway.

        But, referring to Soul or EcoSport as a “truck”, how many times have we heard someone say they were “in my/the/his/her/our car” when they actually were in a pickup, van, utility or some other not-really-a-car vehicle?

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I had some Jalopnik twerp get all bent when I referred to my P38 Range Rover as a truck. It’s body-on-frame, 4wd, and has live axles at both ends – it sure as heck isn’t a CAR.

    • 0 avatar
      N8iveVA

      When I had my ’05 Escape I referred to it as truck when talking to my mother and she complained “what do you mean TRUCK?” “It’s not a truck”. I’m sure she had a very simplistic view as only a semi truck or pick up can be referred to as truck. I told her that that’s what it says on my registration and on my insurance paperwork, but in all fairness I also called it a car half of the time.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      I’ve been trying to explain to my three-year-old what my new-to-me LX570 is, and he’s confused. I think that’s because I’m a little confused too.

      It’s built pretty much like a truck, with a body plunked onto a ladder frame. But it’s only distantly related to any pickup-truck platform (a few common parts with the Tundra, but most things are different). And it feels like a car inside until you start driving, when it suddenly feels like a truck, with bobbling axle-body interaction.

      I say “car” in casual usage. But then I say “truck” if I’m distinguishing it from our C-Max, as in “Why don’t I take the truck and you take the car.” But then my wife got frustrated with my imprecision and taught him the term “SUV.” But now he asks me if a “SUV” is a car or a truck, and the right explanation is a bit too complex for his age. So for now it’s “new white car.”

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    You realize these things are nothing but jacked-up station wagons, often with their tails cut short. For utility, a station wagon is almost the ultimate family car, capable of carrying almost anything the family needs. However, if they don’t have a drop-type tailgate, that back end needs to be capable of carrying eight-foot lumber or flat-pack lumber to truly be a utility vehicle. Less than that, and it’s little better than a sedan.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Lumber goes on the roof rack, or on the trailer behind. No need to put messy stuff IN the car. But otherwise, very much agreed. As I have said on here many times, sedans smaller than an S-class are stupid and deserve to die off.

      Actually, that is a big advantage of a proper station wagon over an SUV – MUCH easier to get stuff on and off the roof rack. I’d need a ladder to use the one on my Disco. And I hate ladders.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    Ferrari’s use of “FUV”

    Yes, they needed an “Fxxk you” vehicle. Can’t wait to be on a trip somewhere and have one cut me off and then slam on brakes before swerving back after getting that all-important one car length ahead, with a “MY FUV” vanity plate.

  • avatar
    claytori

    I am hopeful that this marks the beginning of the end of the whole “SUV” trend/craze. Take a compact station wagon and jack it up with big wheels = SUV. There is one benefit once the snow piles get more than 3.5′ high that you can see what is coming at an intersection. But then everyone wants to paint them white so they become invisible (in the snow). BAN ALL WHITE CARS NOW! I think I may be having a cabin fever attack…

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    A simple way to determine a SUV is if it doesn’t have four low, then it’s a car.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • slavuta: For $26,065, I’ll wait for Z
  • Vulpine: @Art: “And again, “blown turbos” just don’t happen very often. I can honestly say I have broken more...
  • MRF 95 T-Bird: Pickup trucks particularly the F-150 are obviously an important part of the economy but mass transit...
  • RHD: “The All-New, All-Electric Ford F-150: So Far, This is What We’ve Got Figured Out!”* *It has...
  • RHD: Most likely it’s the English language being the predominant language in the US and Canada. Mexico is...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Matthew Guy
  • Timothy Cain
  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Chris Tonn
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber