Question: Do I need an SUV with 4WD in order to be a SOTA activator in the southeastern Appalachian mountains?
Short Answer: No.
I reached every one of the Georgia 10-point summits, driving a compact car to the trailhead. Some of them were easy, on good paved roads. Some of them were on good quality dirt roads. Some of them were bordering on a Bad Idea Indeed.
On a bad road, I drive slowly and I pick my route carefully. I’ve reached some trailheads after a period of dry weather, which I don’t think I could have reached after a heavy rainfall.
A 4WD vehicle with high ground clearance would certainly be helpful. There are some cases where I had to hike along a dirt road to what would be the trailhead for someone who owned serious 4WD. But you can activate lots of summits even if you drive a Geo Metro.
I recommend that you carry a come-along and a long rope. Don’t use it to get to the trailhead. (You don’t want to barely make it to the trailhead because you might find it impossible to make it out.) Just keep it in the trunk in case you can’t make it home. I’ve never used mine. I hope to never use it. It is there because it could be really bad news to be stuck in the outback overnight, without bringing wilderness camping equipment suited to the current weather.