Culture

How Sweet 16 Parties Killed the SUV

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REAL off-roading

I find it almost laughable to look at some of the SUVs that are coming out today.  They are generations removed from their inspiring ancestors: the Jeep driven by the American military in WWII and the infamous British Land Rover.  These first SUVs were made for off-roading in unforgiving terrain.  They were working vehicles.  They were REAL vehicles.

My family has always owned SUVs and pickup trucks. In my opinion, they were the best option for a family that was constantly hauling dogs, kids, wood, tractors, and kayaking equipment — and I guess my family agreed.  Our family history of SUVs included several of the classics: the good ‘ole Ford Explorer (first generation), a classy Jeep Grand Cherokee, and a meaty Dodge Durango that we named “Brock.”  Pickup trucks included the trusty Dodge Dakota and a red Toyota Tundra.

These trucks were high off the ground and cut through the Wisconsin slush and snow like a hot knife through butter. Many of the interiors were basic — everything had a purpose.  This was what a truck was made for: to work and haul. When our Jeep showed up with leather seats, it was a big deal.

The sport-utility vehicles you see today are as different from the original Jeep as an apple from a flank steak. Compare the wanna-be hardcore Mercedes-Benz G-Class SUV and the over-the-top Porsche Cayenne to the military Jeep — or even the first-generation Ford Explorer…posers. We all know the most rugged thing these cars are hauling are faux-Christmas trees…

The purpose of the SUV becomes even more distorted in the super-luxury brand class. Maserati has been teasing the wealthy SUV/crossover crowd with the Kubang for years… and now Bentley is saying they are going to release a behemoth of their own.  These trucks have price tags in the six-digit range. Wh-hat?

The fleets of working SUVs seem to be a dying breed…

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“Daddy, I want a Mercedes G-Class SUV with pink paint and gold seats for my birthday!”

…That’s not an SUV, that’s a monstrosity.

What happened to the true, rugged SUV of America?  The spirit of the utilitarian, hard-working Jeep?  It’s been mutated into the automotive hulk that has little to no purpose.  The interiors have heated everything and there are TV screens in the back of each headrest for the kids. Are you really going to load that thing up with 2x4s, a group of construction workers, or a bandsaw?  No, probably not.  Your SUV isn’t for those things. Essentially, these vehicles are a new breed of SUV– they are luxurious tanks braving “the perils” of wealthy suburbia.

Obviously, if you have the money and the will, you can buy and do what you want — and these luxury SUVs are selling like hotcakes because many wealthy people like driving large vehicles with mountain-man pedigrees. I find this fact amusing — but also sad.

I have started to see the popularity and ridiculousness of these luxury SUVs as a sad metaphor for American society. The popularity of these vehicles is proof that a large part of the population is becoming more and more exhibitionist.  These vehicles aren’t being manufactured or purchased by consumers to have mud slung on their windows, dents put in their doors, or to drive around the ranches in Montana.  No, they’re made to be “seen in.”  These luxury SUVs have become bloated status symbols.  We rationalize their purchase  by telling ourselves we are safer with their 4-wheel drive and state-of-the-art handling, when we really just like that they’re big, expensive, and comesin a certain shade of blue.  Every 16 year old on that horrific MTV show My Super Sweet 16 requires a luxury SUV to be happy. Bentley is going to produce an SUV…

There’s something wrong with this country.

The popularity of the luxury SUV also illustrates why car culture is suffering.  These vehicles aren’t raw or particularly special and they do not adhere to the spirit or purpose of the original vehicle.  They aren’t specimens of power, innovation, or cutting-edge engineering.  They’re not created to push the limits of automotive design and human ingenuity — they’re made to be designer purses on wheels.  The symbolism of the car has been corrupted.  The automobile used to embody freedom — now it is a display of wealth.

Americans need to get over themselves.  I’m sure the WWII Jeep and the original Land Rover would both be appalled at what we consider an “SUV” today.  Imagine our attitudes as a jeep-jockey circa 1944, “No, you can’t put that wounded man in the back of my Jeep! It will stain the piping on my seats!”

Good thing we were real men back then. Give me back real America.