Crossovers popped onto automotive scenery not very long ago, and they are making a lasting impression on the market. So much so that even the vehicles which aren’t technically Crossover are labeled and marketed to consumers as one, to take advantage of the positive reception this category has garnered. This leads to expansion of the gray area between SUV and Crossover, and further adding insult to the injury is the fact that now automakers offer multiple sizing options within SUVs and Crossovers like mid-sized SUV, compact SUV, compact Crossover, full size Crossover and so on. This whole Crossover VS SUV dilemma has given birth to the million-dollar question, what is a crossover? And do we really need to differentiate Crossover from SUVs?
Answering the first question requires you to go beneath the car, literally. Crossovers use, what is known in automotive industry, a unibody architecture that comes from a smaller sedan or hatchback, thus lowering the overall weight leading to better fuel consumption and giving lower center of gravity leading to better handling. This reliance on a developed and tested chassis from a smaller vehicle lowers the cost and size (in most cases), making most Crossovers cheaper and less powerful compared to similarly sized SUVs. On the other hand, in SUV, body is placed on frame, specifically designed and built to be used for a larger body, that not only makes SUVs rugged and durable on all terrains, but also adds notorious handling and over the top fuel consumption.
Another somewhat non-technical answer to the question what is a Crossover is that historically SUVs have been associated with bad gas mileage and poor handling, but they offer good off road capabilities, great hauling power and proved to be very durable. As technology evolved, automakers found a balance between size and power and achieved greater handling plus mileage, while maintaining off-road and hauling capabilities. They marketed these vehicles as a cross between sedans/ hatchbacks and SUVs, and so the name Crossover emerged.
In reality, most Crossovers are more closely related to station wagons than SUVs, as they share the same platform. Also, thanks to clever marketing, many of today’s known SUVs technically can be defined as Crossovers, as they are using a unibody architecture. The examples include the Ford Explorer and the Toyota Highlander among many others like the Nissan Pathfinder and the Acura MDX.
After having some clarification as to what is a Crossover, let’s move on to second question as to whether we need to differentiate between the two? The simple answer is yes. Buyers must be aware of what they are purchasing since it’s a big long term investment. But looking closely will yield the fact that even the hardcore SUVs, which are still technically SUVs, as they are built on body-on-frame principal, now offer similar handling and fuel consumption, just look at the Chevrolet Thaoe, thus blurring the lines between the two even more.
To cut the long story short, automakers nowadays offer their flagships as SUVs and target wealthy buyers having lesser need for assertion with Crossovers. So, the naming conventions may confuse the buyers a bit, but the price point provides much clarification in most cases. Also with the emergence of new niches like hybrid crossovers and compact crossovers, the size of Crossover is bound to remain significantly smaller than SUVs.