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What Exactly is a Crossover?



2013 Ford Edge Limited

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For the most part, all of us know what a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV); however, only a few of us know what crossovers are. Are they a type of SUV or are they an entirely different subset of vehicles mimicking one? And what exactly does the “cross” part mean?

Don’t feel bad if you are confused, because the term “crossover” is a bit ambiguous. According to the knowledgeable car geeks at Akins Dodge, Jeep, Ram, there is no strict or universally agreed-upon definition for crossover. While any definition you’ll find will likely read “vehicles that are styled to look like rugged SUVs, but are really just passenger cars,” that doesn’t paint the best picture of what they actually are.

A more useful technical distinction requires looking at the construction of the vehicle. Crossovers are generally built on relatively lightweight and flexible unibody platforms, just like most regular cars are, and don’t have steel frames. SUVs, on the other hand, are often built on light-duty truck platforms and do have steel frames.

From a marketing standpoint, crossovers look like and do offer many of the appealing qualities of an SUV, particularly the high visibility, family-friendly interiors and large cargo capacity. Those qualities, combined with a smoother drive quality, great handling and good fuel economy, make them very appealing vehicles for the massess. What you don’t get with a crossover is the heavier weight and steel frame construction of an SUV that allow for a higher towing capacity and true off-road capability.

Crossovers are a major and growing force in the car business, more so than SUVs. Such is their popularity that they have officially overthrown minivans as the quintessential family car. In 2014, some 2.7 million crossovers were sold in the United States alone, compared to just 471,000 minivans. The reason, you ask? Why as with SUVs, buyers view the styling of crossover as sportier and more youthful than the ho-hum, sedated look of sedans and minivans.

Getting back to our definition quandary, what is the exact definition of a crossover? Sadly, it appears the auto industry is still trying to figure it out. That being said, “a passenger car with SUV-like styling and functionality” is probably the best definition we have now. As a consumer, the most important thing when shopping for a crossover or SUV is knowing what you want in a vehicle rather than simply focusing on the product category the vehicle resides in.

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