Are SUVs Considered Trucks? SUVs vs Pickup Trucks

is an suv a truck

When shopping for a new vehicle, many buyers debate between getting an SUV or a truck. While SUVs and trucks share some DNA and capabilities, they serve different primary purposes. So is an SUV actually considered a type of truck? Or are they distinct vehicle types designed for different roles?

This in-depth guide examines how modern SUVs and trucks compare in terms of design, features, purposes and capabilities. Read on to gain clarity on the nuanced differences between these popular vehicle types.

What Qualifies as an SUV or Truck?

Before comparing SUVs and trucks, let’s clarify what defines each vehicle type.

What is an SUV?

An SUV, or sport utility vehicle, is characterized by:

  • Enclosed rear cargo area
  • Available 4WD/AWD system
  • Raised ground clearance for off-road ability
  • Available 3rd row seating for passengers
  • Prioritizes passenger and cargo capacity over handling

Some examples of popular SUV models:

  • Toyota RAV4
  • Honda CR-V
  • Ford Escape
  • Nissan Rogue
  • Chevrolet Equinox
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • Ford Expedition

SUVs range widely in size from compact SUVs to full-size SUVs. But they all share the core design elements like available AWD, high ground clearance and a focus on practical hauling ability.

What Defines a Truck?

Trucks are defined by:

  • Open cargo bed separated from a front cab
  • Rear-wheel drive or 4WD capability
  • High ground clearance and available off-road packages
  • Powerful towing and hauling capabilities
  • Passenger comfort is secondary to utility

Some of the best selling truck models are:

  • Ford F-150
  • Chevrolet Silverado
  • Ram Pickup
  • GMC Sierra
  • Toyota Tacoma
  • Nissan Frontier

Trucks range from light-duty to heavy-duty and are optimized first and foremost for hauling and towing.

How Are SUVs and Trucks Similar?

While SUVs and trucks are different vehicles designed for different roles, they do share some common traits:

  • Raised ground clearance – Both SUVs and trucks sit higher off the ground than regular passenger cars. This improves their off-road capability and allows them to handle rougher terrain. Ground clearance can range from 7 to over 10 inches.
  • Truck-based platforms – Most SUVs and trucks are built on truck chassis originally designed for hauling. This contrasts with cars built on unibody passenger car platforms. The truck-based chassis gives SUVs and trucks their cargo-hauling strength.
  • Prioritize utility over comfort – Neither SUVs nor trucks are designed with a luxurious ride in mind. The focus is maximum cargo and passenger capacity over comfort. However, luxury SUVs are increasingly blurring this line.
  • Powerful towing capacity – With their sturdy truck-based frames, both SUVs and trucks offer robust towing capacities. Full-size SUVs can tow over 9,000 lbs while full-size trucks can tow well over 10,000 lbs.
  • Spacious utilitarian interiors – Rather than coddling passengers, the interiors of SUVs and trucks focus on durability, cargo space and functionality over luxury. More affordable plastics and fabrics are common.

So SUVs and trucks share some core DNA thanks to their origins as utility vehicles. But they have diverged over time to excel in different specific roles.

What Are the Key Differences in Design and Capabilities?

While SUVs and trucks share some common traits, they differ in important aspects of their design and capabilities:

  • Cargo area – The most obvious difference is that trucks have an open cargo bed while SUVs have an enclosed rear cargo area. This makes trucks better suited for hauling loose cargo that needs open access.
  • Towing capacity – Full-size trucks can tow significantly heavier loads, with max capacities over 13,000 pounds. SUVs max out around 10,000 pounds for serious towing ability.
  • Hauling capacity – Trucks are designed to carry much heavier payloads in their beds. Heavy-duty trucks can haul over 4,000 pounds in the bed. SUVs max out around 1,500 pounds.
  • Off-road performance – Trucks excel at rugged off-road driving thanks to changes like increased suspension travel and articulation that allow them to traverse uneven terrain well.
  • Passenger comfort – While trucks focus just on utility, SUVs are designed for family passenger use. As such, they offer a more comfortable ride, easier access, and more amenities focused on occupants.
  • Everyday usability – SUVs provide much easier access to passenger and cargo space thanks to their enclosed design with multiple doors. Accessing the bed of a pickup truck is more difficult.

So when it comes to design, trucks prioritize maximum utility while SUVs balance utility with easier everyday usability for passengers.

How Do Features and Amenities Compare?

Beyond just capabilities, SUVs and trucks differ in the specific features and amenities they offer:

Truck Features

  • Multiple cab configurations – Trucks offer options like regular cab, extended cab, and crew cab. This allows buyers to choose bed length or rear seat room.
  • Short, standard or long bed lengths – Pickup trucks come with bed lengths ranging from 5′ to over 8′ depending on the cab configuration selected.
  • More off-road preparation – Trucks tend to offer more off-road optimized features like snorkels, skid plates, front & rear differential locks, and customized suspension.
  • Additional “motorhome” features – Things like supplemental brake controls, larger alternators and generators prepare trucks for conversion to recreational vehicles.
  • Auxiliary switches and power outlets– For powering aftermarket accessories and work site lights, trucks often include extra switches and 12V power ports.
  • Vinyl/rubber floors and utilitarian fabrics – The interior of trucks favor utility over comfort. Rubber floors and vinyl seats withstand dirt, debris and heavy use.

SUV Features

  • Passenger access – SUVs make accessing the 3rd row and rear cargo area easier thanks to tall ride height and multiple doors.
  • Premium interior features – To enhance the passenger experience, SUVs offer amenities like leather seats, panoramic sunroofs, and multi-zone climate control.
  • Advanced safety systems – The focus on passenger transport means SUVs prioritize advanced safety tech like automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, and adaptive cruise control.
  • Entertainment systems – To keep passengers happy, SUVs feature infotainment tech like WiFi hotspots, wireless Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, USB ports, and rear seat entertainment.
  • Comfort-oriented suspensions – SUVs are tuned for a more compliant ride to avoid jostling occupants and reduce road noise intrusion into the cabin.

So truck comfort takes a backseat to utility, while SUVs cater more to the needs of hauling family and passengers in everyday driving.

What Are the Intended Use Cases and Buyer Profiles?

Beyond design and features, understanding the core use cases and target buyers for SUVs and trucks shows how they differ:

Truck Use Cases and Buyers

Trucks are optimized first and foremost as work vehicles for commercial use:

  • Tradespeople – Construction crews, electricians, plumbers and other trades rely on trucks to haul gear and materials to job sites. Extended cabs provide space to seat coworkers.
  • Farmers and ranchers – Hauling hay bales, livestock, and equipment around acreages and rural roads makes trucks indispensable for farming. Strong towing also helps pull livestock trailers.
  • Fleets and services – Landscaping companies, florists, house cleaners, and any business with on-site services needs trucks to transport gear, tools, and materials.
  • Off-road enthusiasts – Serious off-roaders choose trucks for their robust 4WD systems, clearance, and suspension articulation that allows them to crest boulders and traverse mud pits and uneven terrain with ease.

SUV Use Cases and Buyers

Meanwhile, SUVs are designed primarily for personal and family use:

  • Family haulers – From school runs to sports practices, families need SUV cargo and passenger space. Easy access to the 3rd row and cargo area makes SUVs family-friendly.
  • Outdoor adventurers – For backcountry camping, fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor hobbies, SUVs offer good cargo capacity while being more comfortable for passengers.
  • Tow vehicle – While trucks can tow more, SUVs make capable tow vehicles for hauling boats, ATVs, snowmobiles, and smaller campers. Their amenities cater better to passengers.
  • Luxury vehicle – Upscale SUVs from brands like Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Lincoln and Cadillac offer buyers luxury features and prestige with ample passenger and cargo room.

So trucks fulfill commercial work needs while SUVs align better with personal leisure and family use. Understand your priorities when choosing between them.

Key Takeaways on How SUVs and Trucks Compare

Consider these key points when weighing an SUV against a truck:

  • SUVs provide much more convenient access to cargo and passengers thanks to their enclosed design.
  • Trucks can haul much heavier cargo loads and tow significantly larger trailers than SUVs.
  • Trucks focus just on utility and commercial-grade durability, while SUVs emphasize passenger comfort and amenities.
  • SUVs excel at comfortably transporting families and groups for personal use thanks to amenities and easy access.
  • For serious off-roading over rough terrain, trucks are better equipped with specialized off-road packages.
  • SUVs are more suitable vehicles for routine daily use and passenger transportation around town.

So while SUVs and trucks share some commonalities, their core design differences and strengths suit them for distinct purposes. Carefully evaluating your priorities and use cases makes choosing between them easier.

The lines between SUVs and trucks do get blurred with some new models. But trucks still excel at hauling and towing thanks to their open beds and no-compromise utility focus. SUVs better serve everyday passenger and family transportation needs with their easier access and amenities.

Both SUVs and trucks have their merits. But understanding their nuanced differences helps buyers pick the best option for their specific needs.


While SUVs and trucks share some DNA in their origins, they have diverged over time into vehicles optimized for very different purposes. Size aside, the core distinction lies in trucks being purpose-built as workhorse hauling vehicles. SUVs balance hauling ability with a focus on passenger access, comfort and amenities.

This means trucks excel at commercial utility roles thanks to their power, durability and open bed access. SUVs are favored as family vehicles and for personal use where passenger needs take priority over maximum load capacity.

So trucks are essentially light-duty commercial haulers, while SUVs are car-based people-haulers with some extra cargo flexibility. Understanding these divergent strengths and priorities helps buyers decide between these popular vehicle types.

Neither is intrinsically “better” overall – they aim for different use cases. Make your decision based on your own needs and priorities. And look for models offering the best blend if your needs span both truck utility and SUV flexibility. With new models and hybrid powertrains, the lines blur even further each year.

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