The SUV segment has grown to include vehicles of all shapes and sizes, all of which share a few key characteristics: rugged styling, good visibility, cargo-hauling ability and room for the driver and anywhere from three to eight of his or her friends.
Among the most popular SUVs are midsizers like the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Trailblazer and Toyota Highlander. Recent entrants in this class that have proved worthy rivals to these stalwarts are the Honda Pilot, Volkswagen Touareg and luxury Volvo XC90.
Full-size sport utilities like the Ford Expedition and Chevrolet Suburban offer plenty of space for travelers who have a great deal of people (or cargo) to transport. Large SUVs are also natural candidates for ultra-luxurious accoutrements, as seen on the jumbo-sized Lincoln Navigator and Cadillac Escalade.
At the same time, a boom in the compact SUV segment has produced such cute-utes as the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, offering quality and utility at a relatively affordable price. And the line between SUVs and cars is becoming increasingly blurred with the arrival of even smaller and smoother-riding vehicles like the boxy Honda Element and the Subaru Baja, an anomaly in this segment in that it features a pickup bed.
Even as this segment grows to encompass greater numbers of luxury vehicles and jacked-up station wagons, most SUV manufacturers have not abandoned their original audience: people who like to take their friends and their stuff -- in a comfortable, sheltered environment -- off the beaten path in search of adventure. The continued popularity of the Jeep Wrangler and Toyota 4Runner show that people still do like to know that they can go wherever, whenever, if they want to.