SUVs are hot right now, and no one knows that better than Chevrolet and Buick – two masters of the intricacies of this particular type of vehicle. But which is better, the old or the new? We’re going to break down how much SUVs have changed by analyzing just that – and to keep it interesting, we’ll throw a luxury SUV into the mix as well. Read on to find out who comes out on top in a matchup of old-school SUVs vs 2022 Chevy Equinox vs 2022 Buick Envision.
There’s debate over the when’s and who’s of the first-ever SUV. Some claim the title belongs to the 1946 Willys Jeep Station Wagon, but there’s also a good argument for the 1935 Chevy Carryall Suburban. The first record of the literal term “Sport Utility Vehicle” was documented in a marketing pamphlet in 1974 for the Jeep Cherokee. Origins befuddled as they may be, one thing’s for certain: the public can’t get enough of SUVs – so much so that in the last several decades, vehicle manufacturers have created categories, subcategories, and intra-subcategories of SUVs to keep up with demand.
Each year sees new SUVs crop up in lineups that already seem sufficiently stuffed. With so many options to peruse, it can make your head spin trying to differentiate between subcompact, compact, full-size, midsize, and super-size SUVs (okay, I made that last one up). While modern SUVs tend to blend together, they are almost unrecognizable as descending from their early predecessors.
Exterior and Safety
Safety and exterior may not seem like two categories that have any business being combined, but safety has played a huge role in the development of the SUV’s look. From the outside, you might think that all modern SUVs look exactly the same, and you’d basically be right! Automotive designers haven’t gotten less original though – if anything, they have to employ more creativity to differentiate their product from the pack.
The modern car market has seen a big push for safety in recent years, which you may have noticed in the form of rapidly improving safety features that are more and more commonplace in vehicles. A more subtle consequence of improved vehicular safety is the seemingly homogenous exterior of new vehicles. Sure, steel-bumpered, cube-y SUVs look good, but they aren’t safe. At all. Early iterations of the SUV were dangerous for occupants and pedestrians alike. They were dangerous for everyone, really.
Think about it: they’re nothing but blunt sides and sharp edges with powerful engines that are way higher off the ground than they should be. They’re far more likely to roll over and result in fatal collisions. Automotive engineers took note; cue SUVs with rounded edges, lower centers of gravity, and hoods and bumpers designed to lessen the severity of front-end collisions, especially with pedestrians.
All of this is to say that manufacturers are more limited today than they used to be in terms of the design of their vehicles’ exteriors. The 2022 Chevy Equinox and 2022 Buick Envision are good examples of this. They are similar looking, but Chevy, in particular, has done an excellent job of giving their SUVs a distinct aesthetic. Their SUVs, the Equinox included, take style notes from sportier Chevy models like the Camaro, resulting in head-turning vehicles that everyone can appreciate the sight of. The Buick Envision certainly isn’t bad-looking either; it lives up to Buick’s reputation as a luxury brand. However, it’s just not quite as distinguishable as the Chevy Equinox.
Still, neither of these vehicles can hold a hat to classics such as the Ford Bronco or the Chevy S10 Blazer. Style for safety is a good trade though, so the next time someone begrudgingly complains that “They just don’t make cars like they used to,” you can respond in kind with “Shut up, grandpa. Plastic bumpers are out here saving lives while your 1995 Ford F-150 is literally giving dolphins asthma.”
Interior and Entertainment
SUV interiors have undergone some major improvements in the past several decades. It’s not uncommon for even the base models of new vehicles to come standard with a touchscreen infotainment system that includes a plethora of features like music and temperature control, GPS navigation, WiFi hotspots, etc. The 2022 Chevy Equinox is equipped with a standard 7-inch touchscreen for all trims, while the 2022 Buck Envision has an 8-inch touchscreen.
Needless to say, old-school SUVs don’t sport anything like this. Maybe a compass. As far as in-vehicle entertainment goes, they might have an 8-track player and a radio. But hey, if you get bored, you could always work on your forearm strength by manually rolling the windows up and down. You don’t even have to worry about wasting A/C because they probably don’t have any. Creature comforts have, without a doubt, improved over the years, but there’s something to be said about sitting on a bench front seat and getting blasted in the face with wind. Right?
As far as who outperforms whom, the fight between old SUVs and new ones is really a toss-up depending on what you’re looking for. As previously discussed, SUV literally stands for “Sport Utility Vehicle,” but most of today’s SUVs are geared less towards Paul Bunyan types and more towards suburbanites who need something to take back and forth to IKEA. Due to the staggering number of SUVs available on the market today, their engine types and capabilities vary greatly, but generally speaking, older SUVs tend to have more ground clearance and are more likely to come standard with bigger engines, more torque, and real four-wheel drive.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule in the world of modern SUVs, but they tend to be more expensive, and let’s face it, most SUVs you see on the road are very crossover-y. Most SUVs today may be packing smaller engines, but they are far more efficient. The 2022 Chevy Equinox has a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that gets 170 hp, while the 2022 Buick Envision has a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that gets a not-too-shabby 228 hp. Compare that to something like a 1975 Chevy K5 Blazer that had a massive 6.6-liter V8 that only put out 185 hp, and the modern engines don’t look too shabby.
It probably goes without saying that newer SUVs are leaps and bounds ahead of where they used to be in the fuel efficiency department. In fact, several manufacturers have had to shelve models due to progressive fuel standards set by the EPA. The 2022 Chevy Equinox gets an impressive 28 MPG combined, and the 2022 Buick Envision isn’t far behind at 26 MPG combined. Compare that to something like the 1987 Ford Bronco that got as low as 11 MPG combined, and it’s sort of ironic that those vehicles were built to traverse around nature.
And the Winner Is…
This is a subjective debate, of course, but modern SUVs are going to be a more sensible choice for almost everybody. Off-roading enthusiasts may be heavily skeptical of many of the actual capabilities of today’s mainstream SUVs, and they wouldn’t be wrong. Most modern SUVs try to be everything for everybody, and that means compromising. Sure, you may not be able to climb a mountain in the 2022 Chevy Equinox or the 2022 Buick Envision, but – unless your nearest grocer is literally on top of a mountain – how many of us actually need a vehicle that performs that way? If you’re anything like me, you’ll opt for the fuel-efficient, A/C-having modern SUVs with lumbar support (almost) any day of the week.