Difference Between an SUV and a Crossover

| January 14, 2013

family in SUV on vacationYou’ve found the local car dealerships on the DexKnows site and now you’re heading out to look for a new SUV. When you get there, the salesperson might try to steer you toward a crossover. Before you cross the showroom floor, it would pay to know the difference: One might suit you better than the other.

More Than a New Name

The terms “SUV” and “crossover” are often used interchangeably. On the outside they can look very similar, but they are very different vehicles with different characteristics.

An SUV is constructed like a truck. That means the engine and suspension are mounted on a rigid frame and the body is dropped over the top. The bodywork isn’t really structural and has little load-carrying ability; it’s really there to protect the occupants and the mechanical parts from accidents and the weather.

In contrast, a crossover has a unibody construction like a car. The engine and suspension are held in place by the body itself, which is therefore a structural, load-carrying part of the vehicle.

Pros and Cons

True SUVs have two things going for them: They can tow heavy loads and they are good off-road. But you can’t get something for nothing, and other traits have been sacrificed for these strengths. In particular, SUVs tend to get poor gas mileage because the frame makes them heavier than a similar-sized crossover. Also, an SUV’s ride and handling are similar to that of a pickup truck (which is to say, not especially good). The high center of gravity of an SUV, plus the truck-like suspension design, makes them more vulnerable to roll over.

Crossovers provide the ground clearance and interior space of an SUV, but have the suspension, and hence road manners, of a car. That means car-like gas mileage, a comfortable ride and good handling. On the other hand, while crossovers can be purchased with all-wheel drive, they don’t have the same off-road capabilities as SUVs. In the same vein, their towing capability is lower because there’s no frame linking the engine and axles to the tow hitch.

Why the Change?

Many buyers have learned that while they like the styling and practicality of an SUV, they don’t need to tow huge trailers or crawl over rock-strewn trails. Neither do they really want to pay for the additional gas needed to run such rugged vehicles. The manufacturers have taken notice. In fact, most of the SUV-like vehicles now on the market are crossovers. Take the Ford Escape, for example. Both the last generation and the new 2013 model are technically crossovers, as are the Honda CRV and the Chevrolet Equinox. These three were designed as crossovers from the outset, but some well known SUVs have been redesigned this way. The Nissan Pathfinder is a good example. The 2012 and earlier Pathfinders were resolutely truck-based, but the 2013 model has a unibody structure. In other words, it’s now a crossover. The same is true of the Ford Explorer, which made the switch for the 2011 model year.

Which Is for You?

If you do two a boat or trailer, or just like the styling, you may want a true, body-on-frame SUV. If that’s you, two options to consider are the Ford Expedition and Chevy Tahoe; other manufacturers have similar vehicles. Why not test drive both a real SUV and a crossover? Then you’ll know which suits you best. Track down your nearby car dealerships on the DexKnows site and start shopping today.

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Category: Auto Buying, Autos

About the Author ()

After twenty years in the automobile industry the craft of wordsmith called. Putting down the wrench, Nigel picked up a keyboard on which to express his passion for all things automotive.