Before housewives and footballers started buying Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs), what were they actually like?

Ever wondered who made the first modern SUV?

… If you’re curious to know, then follow through as we unveil history.

SUVs date back to World War II and Chevrolet started it all. The 1935 Chevrolet Suburban is regarded as the very first SUV in history while the Willys Jeep Station Wagon was the first SUV to feature Four-Wheel Drive (4WD) option in 1949. However, the 1984 Jeep Cherokee (XJ) is credited as the first SUV in the modern understanding of compact size SUVs.

Universally, there isn’t an agreed-upon definition of an SUV, it’s a loose term often used to refer to a range of vehicles with a Four-Wheel Drive system (4WD).

But is that what they really are? 4WD is only a type of drivetrain offered by different manufacturers for better wheel control in unfavorably road and weather conditions.

SUVs don’t always have Four-Wheel Drive system and not all 4WD are SUVs.

If that got you scratching your head for a minute, then maybe this analogy will help you understand better.

Apple is an American tech giant that makes Laptops (Mac) and Smartphones (iPhone). Generally, the iPhone comes standard with a touch display, while some Macbook do, others don’t.

These different products can be made to have a touch display, so we can’t call a laptop a smartphone just because it has a touch display.

The Four-Wheel Drive is likened to the touch display, and an SUV the laptop. Manufacturers can choose whether to offer 4WD for their vehicles or not.

You can see our comparison of the 4×4 and 4×2 – the two most popular drivetrains used by SUVs. If you still get confused about the different types of SUVs, we strongly advise you to read through our detailed piece that answers the quarry what is an SUV?

With that said, it’s understandable that an SUV is a car classification that combines elements of road-going passenger cars with features from off-road vehicles. This combo solves two problems that date back to the pioneering SUVs.

.. but how did it all start?

How did SUVs become popular?

Sport Utility Vehicles are unarguable famous and more popular than other vehicle segments!

No wonder everyone is talking about these badass Police SUVs, they’re lit.

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the popularity of SUVs greatly increased, often at the expense of the popularity of large sedans and station wagons.

Initially, SUV was a generic marketing term for vehicles built on a light-truck chassis; however, broader definitions consider any vehicle with off-road design features to be an SUV.

A crossover SUV is often defined as an SUV built with a unibody construction (as with passenger cars), however, in many cases, crossovers are simply referred to as SUVs.

Who made the first SUV?

The predecessors to SUVs date back to military and low-volume models from the late 1930s, and the 4WD station wagons and carryalls that began to be introduced in 1949.

Just before and during World War II that took place between 1939 to 1945, there were lots of SUV-like vehicles used by the military.

Prototypes and low-volume production examples of cars with sedan or station-wagon type bodies and rugged, off-road capable four-wheel-drive chassis began to appear around the world.

In 1940 during World War II, America was in need of a small utility vehicle that:

  • Could transport people and equipment at the back
  • Is easy to repair,
  • Is rugged, and could go off-road.

Not quite long, the Willys Jeep came as an answer.

Willys Jeep Station Wagon – the first SUV with 4WD

Willy’s Jeep Station Wagon, Jeep Utility Wagon, and Jeep Panel Delivery were the first mass-market all-steel station wagons designed and built as passenger vehicles and were produced in the United States from 1946 to 1964.


1946 Willy’s Jeep Station Wagon

The Wagon is notably known as Willy’s most successful post-World War II model, with over 300,000 wagons and its variants built in the U.S.

After the introduction of the Four-Wheel Drive (4WD) option in 1949, the 2WD was sold as “Station Wagon” while the 4WD was marketed as “Utility Wagon”.

Although people had different opinions about what exactly qualifies as an SUV, Willy’s Jeep Wagon happens to be the first 4×4 vehicle, a more reason why ‘SUV’ is a loose term in some part of the word – also being used to refer to Jeep.

Assuming a pool was taken, Willy’s Jeep Station Wagon will get voted as the first modern SUV with a Four-Wheel Drive.

But still, you’d get the most vote for the Chevrolet Carryall Suburban which dates back to 1935 and is referred to as the first SUV in history.

1935 Chevrolet Suburban – The First SUV in History

The Chevrolet Suburban is a full-size SUV from Chevrolet. It has traditionally been one of the general Motor’s most profitable vehicles and referred to as the longest continuously used automobile nameplate in production because the name started in 1934.


1935 Chevrolet Carryall Suburban

Having a total of 11 generations today, the 1935 first generation Carryall Suburban was one of the first production all-metal bodied station wagons.

Chevrolet made the world’s first SUV in 1935. And for over 10 decades, Chevrolet has remained a brand built on innovation and leadership. SUVs have become the world’s fastest-growing vehicle segment.

1984 Jeep Cherokee (XJ): First Modern SUV

The 1984 Jeep Cherokee (XJ) is credited as the first SUV in the modern understanding of compact size SUVs. The use of unibody construction was unique at the time for a four-wheel drive and also reduced the weight of the new Cherokee.


1984 Jeep Cherokee (XJ)

As the new Cherokee became a major sales success, the term “sport utility vehicle” began to be used in the national press for the first time. Today people often get confused and wonder what is the difference between SUV and Jeep

The 1984 Jeep Cherokee (XJ) is considered to be the first SUV in the modern style – its unibody construction appealed to urban families more than the full-size Wagoneer and previous generation Cherokee SJ models.


About the Author

Larry Cruise


I know a lot about cars, man. I can look at any car's headlights and tell you exactly which way it's coming.

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