Crossover vs SUV: What is the Difference?

A crossover isn’t a car or an SUV. So what is it?

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You’ve probably noticed a new vehicle trend. There’s even a chance that you’ve contributed to it, too. We’re talking about the crossover craze that’s sweeping consumers up and has led to dealerships overflowing with the raised not-quite-a-car, not-quite-an-SUV models. The vehicles have become so popular that some automakers have shifted entire lineups to offer more of them, and nearly every automaker makes at least one.

If you’re wondering what, exactly, a crossover is, you’re not alone. The word has been so overused that it’s quite difficult to nail down exactly what one is, and why it’s different from a minivan. The truth is that there are a few major differences between a crossover and SUV, but you’ll need to look closely to find them.

The Drive’s informational team is intimately familiar with crossovers and family vehicles of all types, as we’re frequently hauling kids around in four-door test vehicles on a weekly basis. Let’s dive in and figure out the story.

Crossovers are closely related to cars.
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Crossovers are closely related to cars.

What Is A Crossover? 

No, not the 2006 smash hit movie Crossover, starring Anthony Mackie and Wayne Brady. We’re talking about vehicles. The term crossover has become diluted and amorphous in today’s lexicon because automakers have taken to slapping the label on what seems like anything these days. To flash back, Family Guy-style: “This is worse than the time that Mercedes-Benz started calling a crossover a ‘coupe.’” 

In all seriousness, a crossover is typically a vehicle that rides slightly taller than a car but not as tall as an SUV. Crossovers come in a variety of sizes, but the general idea is that they fit in between a car and an SUV. They have open cargo spaces in the back, just like SUVs, usually have four doors, and many are offered with all-wheel drive or even four-wheel drive in some cases. Unlike their SUV counterparts, crossovers are typically built on a car platform, while SUVs are sometimes built atop truck platforms.

Right, So Who Needs One?

This is an even trickier question because the same people who flock to buy the latest crossovers could just as easily (and many times, more cheaply) get by with a sedan. That said, there are plenty of reasons for people to buy crossovers, whether they need one or not. 

Crossovers tend to ride taller than cars, so the view of the road is elevated. This can help people of any height see overcrowded traffic and get a better view of the road. They’re also usually more spacious inside, which can be a boon for families and people who need to haul a ton of gear. Finally, because of the typical all-wheel-drive offerings, crossovers can be good choices for folks that live where the air hurts their faces.

Are Crossovers Safer Than Sedans?

The next time you have some free time (not right now), start typing this question into Google. You won’t get past “are crossovers” before you’re bombarded with similar questions. Other than their size, there’s nothing inherent to crossovers that makes them safer. This could be a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, though. As more and more people are buying crossovers, the numbers of larger vehicles on the road rises, and with it the possibilities of those vehicles colliding with smaller vehicles. In general, big fast-moving vehicles > small fast-moving vehicles when it comes to impact force. 

That said, most newer vehicles are available with the latest safety technologies, which make them safer than the cars we grew up hooning around the high school parking lot.

A Little Background On Crossovers

Back in the late 1970s, a French company named Matra decided it was time to jump into the fast-growing off-roader craze that started a few years earlier with the debut of the new Range Rover. The result of that brain trust came to be known as the Matra Rancho, which to the modern eye looks an awful lot like a Land Rover Discovery with two doors and larger windows. Though it meets the modern criteria to be a crossover, it was never sold in the United States. That leaves us with the AMC Eagle. Yes, that AMC. 

A couple of years after Matra rolled out the Rancho, AMC was in dire straits. Knowing that it needed a new product, but lacking the funds to do so the “right” way, AMC borrowed some four-wheel-drive parts from Jeep, which it owned at the time. The struggling automaker slapped them under one of its cars, the Hornet, for testing. That, somehow, ended up being successful, so the company used the same concept to create a lifted wagon that came to be known as the Eagle. 

Crossovers are generally more spacious than cars.
Depositphotos

Crossovers are generally more spacious than cars.

Crossovers Today 

In their purest form, crossovers today most closely resemble scaled-down SUVs, with similar proportions and intended purposes. They’re sold in all price ranges and by nearly all major automakers. Here are a few of the most popular in each price range:

Affordable

Mid-Range/Premium

High-End

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Body-on-frame vehicles are SUVs, not crossovers.
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Body-on-frame vehicles are SUVs, not crossovers.

FAQs 

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers! 

Q. Are Crossovers More Expensive Than Cars?

A. In general, yes, but there’s no rule that says they have to cost more. Crossovers are usually more expensive because they are larger, carry more equipment, and because automakers know their popularity will result in better margins at the bottom line.

Q. Ok, But What About Minivans?

A. The Drive’s editors are parents, too, so we’re firmly on the pro-minivan team here. Buying a van is a choice that only you can make, but in reality, there are very few people that actually care what kind of car you drive, so buy what makes you happy.

Q. That’s Cute, I’m Still Buying A Crossover.

A. You’re more than welcome to buy a crossover, but don’t be surprised if you decide to go shopping for a sedan in the future, only to find… more crossovers. Automakers are driven by dollar signs, which for them means making the vehicles that people buy the most. If more and more folks opt for a crossover, you can bet that the automakers will take note and slow down the production of cars. 

This is already happening, as companies like Ford have moved away from making cars, almost completely, in favor of building more and more crossovers, trucks, and SUVs.

Let’s Talk, Comment Below To Talk With The Drive’s Editors!

We’re here to be expert guides in everything How-To related. Use us, compliment us, yell at us. Comment below and let’s talk! You can also shout at us on Twitter or Instagram, here are our profiles.

Jonathon Klein: Twitter (@jonathon.klein), Instagram (@jonathon_klein)

Tony Markovich: Twitter (@T_Marko), Instagram (@t_marko)

Chris Teague: Twitter (@TeagueDrives), Instagram (@TeagueDrives)