In the last ten years or so, perhaps no segment of the auto industry has changed more than the humble SUV. It wasn’t long ago that sport utility vehicles came under fire due to safety and environmental concerns. These large autos have since undergone radical changes, and while traditional SUVs are still produced, there is an increasing desire by both manufacturers and consumers to peruse a new, more versatile form factor.
Enter the Crossover.
But what exactly defines a crossover and how do they stand apart from the commonly accepted image of a traditional SUV?
Body On Frame vs. Unibody
One of the most fundamental changes engineers enacted when conceptualizing what would become known as the crossover is the way the body and frame of the vehicle tie together. Traditional SUVs were built on truck frames, with the body panels welded into place separately. This body-on-frame construction led to large, heavy vehicles that looked, handled and performed like full sized trucks.
Most crossovers on the other hand utilise Unibody construction, whereby the frame and body are one solid piece of steel. This significant construction difference allows for the crossover’s distinctly lower centre of gravity as well as decreased ride height.
Another key difference found in crossovers, afforded in part by Unibody construction, is a significant reduction in weight. When sport utility vehicles began to be singled out as a danger on the roads, it was in large part due to how heavy they were in comparison to other vehicles. This led to concerns over impact dangers between heavy SUVs and lighter sedans and compact cars, as well as a need for heavy duty brakes to help slow down all that weight. The smaller stature of crossovers, as well as their more car-like construction, puts their weight more in line with cars than with trucks, improving handling and stopping performance.
This reduced bulk also leads to increased fuel economy in crossovers, a factor many SUV detractors are quick to point out. While SUV fuel economy has improved over the years, the larger engines typically found in traditional SUVs will always require more petrol than those in most crossovers.
Those different engine options are another factor that separates most crossovers from traditional sport utility vehicles. Due to their larger weight and size, many SUVs are offered with V8 engines, while many crossovers are equipped with V6 engines. For many, this is where the advantages of the SUV start to shine through. Increased power means that SUVs tend to be better suited for towing as well as off-road activities, with most SUVs offering some form of 4WD while crossover vehicles often rely on 2WD powertrains.
Finally, the most obvious difference between SUVs and crossovers is their appearance. The inherent design and engineering choices give SUVs a distinctly truck-like look. Higher off the ground and often with sharper angles in the body construction, SUVs were originally designed as work trucks, a heritage reflected in their looks.
Crossovers on the other hand tend to have a sportier aesthetic. Often more aerodynamic and designed to handle similarly to a car, the crossover’s smaller stature and streamlined body panels give it a highway-ready appearance.
In the end, the difference between the traditional sport utility vehicle and the crossover are dramatic and should be considered carefully when choosing between the two. While the heavy-duty nature of the SUV may appeal to some, the more nimble, car-like handling and appearance of the crossover may be better suited to others.