What is a Crossover?

The automotive industry is always evolving. And sometimes that’s never more evident than in the marketing language. Think about it: how many radio and TV commercials have you heard for crossovers recently? Now pause: do you actually know what a cross over is?


Admit it, you probably don’t. But since you get the gist of what the ads are referring to and you’ve seen, say, a Honda Pilot or Ford Flex, why does it matter? Well, it’s always fun to know a little something that makes you sound smart during dinner conversations, but it’s also good information in case you are in the market for a new vehicle. So, here’s the 411.

A Crossover is…

Defining a crossover is difficult to do without first understanding what it a crossover is a deviation from—the SUV. But before we go any further, let’s be clear—in this blog, when we talk about trucks and SUVs, we’re talking about older models, the rear-wheel drivers of the late 70s/early 80s.


SUVs are essentially what you get when you cross a passenger car with a truck. Built on a truck frame (i.e. frame-on-body construction), the SUV gave drivers the off-road handling and towing capacity of a truck with significantly increased passenger space and covered cargo room. However, that also meant SUVs inherited the truck’s higher fuel consumption (compared to a passenger vehicle). Frame-on-body construction also meant no crumple zone, so SUVs (particularly older models) didn’t fare so well in collisions.


Crossovers are essentially what you get when you cross a traditional SUV with a passenger car. It’s the next generation in the automobile family that preserves SUV size (and passenger and cargo space) but seeks to improve the passenger experience.

The Crossover’s Improvements

Unlike the traditional SUV, crossovers are a product of unibody construction, when the skeleton of the car is one unified piece, not a separate drive frame with a body bolted to it.


The unibody construction enables a transverse engine mounting, giving the crossover four-wheel drive capability, increasing its traction and handling. This construction also results in a lighter vehicle, which means better fuel efficiency. The unibody also gives the crossover crumple zones, areas of the body that absorb the impact of collisions, which helps keep passengers safe.

The Crossover’s Compromises

In order to enhance the passenger experience in the new generation of vehicle, the crossover did lose some of the SUVs features. For instance, the unibody construction/engine mounting does decrease the hauling capacity of the crossover. And while it can certainly tackle an unpaved road, it isn’t exactly an off-roader.  The use of a passenger car’s chassis typically means that ground clearance is lower than traditional SUVs and trucks.


So which is better, the SUV or the crossover? That’s for you to decide.