What is a Crossover? The Confusion is Real


Crossovers own the market right now and are essentially the most popular segment in terms of sales.

But what exactly is a crossover, Crossover Utility Vehicle or CUV? This might seem like a silly question, but it’s one that we get a lot.

Crossovers have evolved from old-school sport utility vehicles (SUVs). It’s all about platforms — SUVs typically use a body-on-frame platform that’s typically associated with or shared with a pickup truck, while crossovers use a unibody platform that’s typically shared with cars like a sedan or hatchback.

As a result, crossovers have a more practical vehicle design that combines the advantages of most sedans or hatchbacks as well as the size and some capabilities that are typically associated with SUV.

For a while, SUVs were very popular due to their size and riding position. People felt safe in these big lumbering beasts and they could haul their families and their stuff across the country. SUVs like Jeep Wranglers and Toyota Land Cruisers are also the go-to vehicles for off-roaders for their superior capability. 

Automakers have been using body-on-frame construction for a long time by using a chassis that typically contains the drivetrain, and then mounting the body of the vehicle on top of that. But body-on-frame vehicles are heavy and anyone who’s driven a truck can attest to their limited handling capabilities.

Furthermore, that added weight means that SUVs aren’t very fuel efficient. As a result, automakers have started making SUV-like vehicles with car platforms and engines, allowing them to be fuel friendly and easier to handle. These are more frequently being described as crossovers.  

Vehicles like the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape are based on car platforms, in this case, the CR-V is based on the Civic, while the Escape uses the same platform as the Focus.


However, a new harmonization strategy by automakers means that just defining a crossover by its platform isn’t always going to be accurate. Automakers have developed lightweight, modular architectures that are being used for a wide variety of vehicle types from compact hatchbacks to sedans to crossovers as well. Volkswagen, for example, utilizes its modular architecture for its Golf compact hatchback and the same bones also make up the new Tiguan and Atlas, but where we’d consider the Tiguan a crossover, we call the Atlas an SUV, simply because of its size.

ALSO SEE: Top 10 Ugliest Crossovers and SUVs of 2017

Even nameplates that used to be SUVs can be called crossovers now due to their underpinnings. The Ford Explorer, for example, uses a platform that’s based on the old Ford Taurus, despite the Explorer featuring a whole different body style and passenger capacity.

To confuse matters slightly, the term “SUV” has grown colloquially to encompass all larger high-riding vehicles including crossovers, simply because there aren’t that many real body-on-frame SUVs left. Like fingers and thumbs, all crossovers can be considered SUVs these days, but not all SUVs should be considered crossovers (think of how angry a Jeep Wrangler owner would be if you called it a crossover). The naming conventions have basically come down to marketing and the technical definitions have gotten so muddy that they barely even apply anymore.

Essentially, you can expect crossovers to drive like a car but look like and have the same practicality as a bigger vehicle like a truck or SUV.


Delcy Voisine says:

The best way to eliminate the confusion about names is to call them what they are: BOXCARS, regardless of size.

Joefh says:

I am glad someone thinks that the newer designs are just ugly boxcars. I was beginning to think I was the only one.

Paul says:

They need to ditch the “crossover” part and just call them all SUV’s.

Reckoning Day says:

A crossdresser.

earl says:

Besides the idea that Large SUV’s are called SUV’s whether unibody or body on frame, the term CUV is often considered Compact Utility Vehicle rather than Crossover…
In reality they are almost all just AWD Wagons/Hatchbacks anyways…