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What’s the difference between an SUV and a crossover? Let us explain

It’s one of the largest vehicle segments within the automotive industry and it’s continuing to grow at a monumental pace. The question is: am I talking about SUVs or crossovers?

Perhaps 10 years ago, I may have been referring to the former, but these days, consumers are swarming to dealers in search of crossovers. While you may have assumed that a crossover is really just an SUV with a marketing buzzword affixed to it, there are actually significant differences between the two categories of vehicle. That being said, some automakers will still cross-pollinate between the two names depending on what they feel the market is demanding.

In this article, I’ll breakdown how Sport Utility Vehicles and Crossovers are built differently, for different purposes, and why you might be shopping for one versus the other.

Popular SUVs and Crossovers

Before diving into the major differences, here are some examples of more popular crossovers and SUVs to help you distinguish between the two while scouting your next vehicle. These are not exhaustive lists by any means.

Crossovers:

SUVs:

Rugged or Road Warrior

The differences start with each model’s designated purpose, and therefore which platform it will be based upon: a car chassis or a truck chassis. Crossovers are mostly built to handle with the ride quality and convenience of a car, while SUVs are built for more challenging terrain, larger payloads, or hauling duties.

Crossovers start with a car’s “unibody” architecture, which simply means the body of the car and its frame, or “foundation,” are a single piece. SUVs use a “body on frame” make-up that links two independent pieces together. The benefits of a unibody design are that it’s lighter, which leads to better fuel efficiency, agility, and a softer ride. Meanwhile, a heavier “body on frame” design is far more durable both in terms of rust and when driven on high-impact terrain.

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There’s a common misconception that heavier, more rugged SUVs are safer in an accident, and in some ways, the assumption isn’t totally off. Due to their construction, SUVs, especially in low-speed collisions don’t yield as easily as lighter crossover bodies. That also means they can be repaired easier in most instances. However, in serious accidents, crossover chassis and bodies are engineered with more crumple zones, like a car, which take the force of a hit and transfer less impact to a vehicle’s occupants. Obviously, this means a serious accident will “total” most crossovers, but chances are, the passengers will have fewer bumps and bruises than a similar impact in an SUV.

Choosing The Right Platform

In recent years, the two vehicle categories have become far more similar in their capabilities, but depending on how you will use the vehicle, either an SUV or crossover may be tailor-made to you and your family.

Thanks to the use of lighter construction materials like aluminum, some “body on frame” SUVs have significantly improved fuel economy ratings, therefore making their inert ability tow more weight and soak up unpaved terrain more accessible to those who like to explore. Crossovers, on the other hand, are now being equipped with advanced all-wheel drive systems, locking differentials, and adjustable ride heights, that push the limits of a traditional “unibody” architecture.

It’s no wonder these models have passed traditional sedans for market share.

Though it’s certainly a smaller segment of the market, some consumers are looking for performance crossovers and SUVs. In this circumstance, the type of thrills will dictate the recommended vehicle segment. If you’re looking to mob through deserts or forests at high speeds, the durability of an SUV is the way to go, but if you plan to drive post-haste on paved roads, the inherent structural rigidity of a crossover will suit your purposes. This point is made clear with how body-on-frame performance SUVs are engineered, like the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro, compared to unibody performance crossovers like the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT. Toyota’s TRD Pro Series trucks absorb the impact of rough roads with ease, turning them into from-the-factory pre-runner candidates, while SRT’s wizardry turns a high-riding crossover like the Jeep Grand Cherokee into a track star.

Here’s a short list of normal, day-to-day scenarios followed by the best choice of vehicle:

  • soccer practice: crossover
  • RV, boat, or trailer towing: SUV
  • camping: crossover
  • commuting: crossover
  • rock crawling: SUV
  • transporting Bengal Tigers: crossover
  • visiting Jurassic World: SUV
  • rescuing your country’s ambassador while being chased by his/her would-be captors through an abandoned city: a really fast sports car

Related: 2015 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro Review2

Both crossovers and SUVs deliver amazing passenger and cargo space, while offering families greater visibility and safety on-road and off-road. It’s no wonder these models have passed traditional sedans for market share in the automotive industry, and there are no signs of the trend slowing as automakers find new a better ways to improve fuel efficiency.