Crossover vs. SUV: What’s the difference?
(iSeeCars) – You’ve probably heard of vehicles referred to as SUVs, crossovers, SUVs, and crossover SUVs. Although crossovers and SUVs are not technically the same, the terms are often used interchangeably. This can lead to confusion and raise some important questions.
For example, what makes a car a crossover, and are all crossovers also SUVs? What is CUV? Perhaps the most important question for potential new car buyers: What is the difference between crossovers and SUVs?
To learn more about what makes a crossover a crossover — and why it’s not an SUV, despite similar styling — read on.
History of SUVs
SUVs as we know them date back to the 1930s, but they were remarkably unrefined and neither consumer nor family friendly. That’s because the frame and body style are designed for off-road adventures rather than civilized commuting; The “Sports Utility Vehicle” moniker derives from this original intent. These vehicles were known for their low fuel economy, sleek interiors, and stiff, heavy-duty suspension that was effective on the road, but poor on pavement or highway travel. Like the chassis-based pickup trucks of old, these were powerful, focused vehicles.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that buyers began to gravitate toward SUVs. People loved the large, boxy size and go-anywhere image. Although still using a truck-based chassis, 1980s SUVs had significantly improved ride quality over their early predecessors. Vehicles like the original Jeep Cherokee and Ford Bronco lit the fire of versatile SUVs that could be at home on the road and the trail.
History of the crossover (CUV)
During the 1990s the SUV craze reached its peak. Around this time, automakers realized that drivers might like the look of an SUV, but prefer the characteristics of a sedan. In 1997, Japan introduced the world to its first crossovers: the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Additional popular crossovers during this time include the Subaru Outback and Ford Escape. What made these vehicles crossovers instead of traditional SUVs? They used a ‘unibody’ platform, meaning the body and frame are one piece, providing a more precise, car-like ride and confident handling.
This vehicle category has since exploded. The crossover SUV, as it was first called, simply became a crossover. Also referred to as a crossover utility vehicle, or CUV, these vehicles have become popular, displacing both the long-familiar sedan and the traditional body-on-frame SUV as the most popular mass-market vehicle. From humble, unproven roots, crossovers have become hugely successful.
What is a crossover?
Crossovers, or crossovers, are made by taking a vehicle’s platform and modifying it, usually with a higher ride height. From there, it’s covered by a four-door SUV-style box body and a large cargo area. The engines, like the chassis, are also derived from a conventional car – think small displacement four-cylinder and six-cylinder in most cases. The ultimate goal is the fuel efficiency and refinement levels of a vehicle with the style and high ride height of an off-road SUV or station wagon.
Crossovers, as mentioned earlier, use so-called unibody construction. As the name suggests, unibody means that the body and frame are one connected unit. There is no separate structure for the body and frame; There is simply one skeleton connecting the car from floor to ceiling. During assembly, body panels are mounted on this skeleton. Unibody construction is lighter than body-on-frame construction and provides a larger crumple zone in the event of an accident. Because crossovers tend to be lighter and have smaller engines, they also tend to be more fuel efficient.
What are SUVs?
There are important differences between car-like crossovers compared to traditional SUVs. With few exceptions, true SUVs ride on tires separate from the body. This manufacturing technique, known as body-on-frame construction, is popular for strength, and can also be found under pickup trucks and other heavy vehicles. Requires the body to be built as a separate unit and mounted to the frame during assembly.
This construction is perhaps the biggest difference between crossovers and SUVs. A unibody chassis provides better ride and road comfort than something with a full-frame truck chassis. Body-on-frame SUVs are best for towing, hauling, off-roading, and other heavy or demanding tasks.
SUVs vs. Crossovers: Performance and Economy
Because crossovers are based on a car platform, they use engines that are not typically suitable for SUVs. This means small displacement four-cylinder turbo engines. The Honda CR-V compact SUV is a case in point: Its 1.5-liter turbocharged engine is the same as the one found in the Accord. It’s the same for Toyota, Nissan, Chevrolet, and all the other major automakers. The result is fuel economy that’s nearly identical to that of a crossover sedan.
On the other hand, SUVs can’t run with such small but efficient engines. The two main reasons for this are its high weight as well as the towing capacity and expectations that people demand from SUVs. Having the ability to tow a boat or trailer weighing more than a ton or two often requires a big V8 engine under the hood — hence the V8-powered Toyota Sequoia, Chevrolet Tahoe, and GMC Yukon. Large SUV category, after moving to a twin-turbo V6 engine.
However, not all SUVs need V8 engines. For example, the Jeep Wrangler focuses on off-roading rather than payload or towing. For this reason, four- and six-cylinder engines are used. Likewise other small off-roaders use more modest engines.
Besides their weight and boxy appearance, the large truck engines found in typical SUVs make them inefficient, especially compared to crossovers. Fuel economy rarely exceeds the low 20s on the highway and the mid teens around town. If you’re towing those mpg numbers will drop more quickly.
Sporty, agile performance isn’t common in most crossovers or SUVs, but SUVs in particular feel heavy; Its big, backbone engines offer no sporty feel. Crossovers can be a little better but they’re also not noteworthy performers (the exceptions are performance-oriented models like the Alfa Romeo Stevio, Jaguar F-Pace and Porsche Macan). A high center of gravity is a trait common to crossovers and SUVs, which inhibits handling and can make these vehicles feel dizzy when cornering too quickly.
SUV and crossover categories
SUVs fall into three basic categories: small SUVs (Jeep Wrangler), midsize SUVs (Dodge Durango, Toyota 4Runner) and full-size SUVs (GMC Yukon, Mercedes-Benz G-Class). Crossovers, on the other hand, have more size options. These sizes include: subcompact (Nissan Kicks, Hyundai Kona), subcompact (Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5), midsize (Honda Passport, Kia Sorento), and large (Toyota Highlander, Volkswagen Atlas). Note that large crossovers are generally smaller than full-size SUVs, although both can offer three full rows of seating.
SUV Vs. SUV: driven wheels
Because they are car-based, modern crossovers are usually front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD). Front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are part of the reason crossovers feel like sedans. It provides a better ride and makes packing more efficient. It also means flat floors without intrusive powertrain camber allowing for a lower vehicle ride height.
What you don’t get with a crossover is SUV-like capability. It’s a necessary sacrifice to get better mpg and cargo space—don’t expect to tow anything much larger than a utility trailer, or haul a full load of bricks home, and certainly don’t expect to handle tough trails like the Rubicon. Off-road solidity isn’t a feature of any front- or all-wheel-drive car, and you wouldn’t expect it from a crossover like the Subaru Forester.
However, the SUV performs well in this regard. They are usually rear-wheel drive, with optional all-wheel drive and additional features such as a locking differential and a low-range transfer case. This powertrain design allows them to tow some serious payload and haul big payloads. Thanks to true all-wheel drive and plenty of ground clearance, they can also conquer terrain that wouldn’t be passable even in all-wheel drive crossovers. It was this off-road ability that earned them the sports car name in the first place.
This provides an overview of how driven wheels affect crossovers and SUVs. If you want to learn more about each type of drivetrain, read about the differences between front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive.
SUV Vs. Crossovers: Safety
Before the introduction of crossovers, there were a lot of buyers interested in SUVs but were concerned about their safety. They weren’t much concerned with surviving a crash – in fact, big, tall SUVs were comfortable for drivers in that regard. What they were worried about was a rollover accident.
This was a serious problem for SUVs in the 1990s. Ford was particularly affected. Both the Bronco II and the Ford Explorer had numerous customer complaints and high-profile accidents, with the Explorer becoming particularly notorious. Fear of rollover has turned some buyers away from these popular products.
Since then, safety has come a long way. Electronic stability control has become a mandatory part of safety technology that helps the car remain stable even in extreme maneuvers, thus reducing the risk of a rollover. Nowadays, there is more technology to help mitigate potentially serious accidents, such as evasive steering assist, lane keep assist, and lane departure warning.
These technologies have helped bridge the gap between cars, crossovers, and SUVs in terms of rollover capabilities. These days, the risk of a rollover with an SUV or crossover is greatly reduced. This is partly because the popularity of these types of vehicles is higher than ever.
If you want the best of both worlds, get a crossover. These elevated hatchbacks – because that’s what they really are – are a jack of all trades and a master of most. The average driver gets everything they could want from a vehicle: fuel efficiency, comfort, space and practicality, while enjoying the SUV-like advantages of a higher ride height, extra cargo capacity and increased confidence in bad weather. Spacious three-row crossovers like the Honda Pilot are popular alternatives to minivans thanks to their passenger space and family-friendly features.
What won’t you get with a crossover? Towing, payload and off-road capabilities are not on par with traditional SUVs. This remains the world of these giants, and is likely to remain so for a long time. Nothing can beat the ability of an SUV with a big body and a big engine in those extreme situations. In fact, the romanticism of SUVs’ go-anywhere and tow-anything abilities is what inspired the original SUV boom of the 1980s and 1990s, and has largely fueled the rise of crossovers despite their lesser capabilities.
To summarize: If you want extra cargo space, better fuel economy, and a comfortable ride, get a car-based crossover. But if you need serious capability, SUVs are the way to go. And if maximum cargo space and off-road travel aren’t critical to your needs, a passenger vehicle like a four-door sedan or station wagon remains a compelling, competitive option that’s more fuel efficient as well.
Check out iSeeCars’ rankings of Best Crossovers, Best Midsize SUVs, and Best Large SUVs to see the best cars in both the SUV and crossover categories.
More from iSeeCars.com:
If you’re ready to take to the web to make your own car purchase, you can search over 4 million new and used cars with award-winning iSeeCars Car search engine It helps shoppers find the best car deals by providing key insights and valuable resources, like iSeeCars Check VIN number report and Best cars Global rankings.
This article, Crossover Vs. SUVs: what’s the difference? Originally appeared on iSeeCars.com.