What Defines a “Crossover” Car? (5 Common Traits)

Crossover refers to cars that have the characteristics of two types of vehicle classes.

However, crossover SUVs are the most common type of crossovers today, so the term crossover has stuck with them.

In this article, we’ve discussed the different features you may use to identify crossovers, and, admittedly, some of these features aren’t always obvious.

Check also: Buying demographic of crossover SUVs.

1. Crossovers Have a Unibody Frame

If we could only mention one feature that determines a crossover car, this would be our choice. It is the single most distinguishing feature of any crossover car. It’s also the reason some people don’t consider crossovers to be SUVs and why the term ‘CUV’ is widely used.

However, we regard them as SUVs with distinct advantages (hence their popularity today). We’d also refer to them as CUVs (Crossover Utility Vehicles) in this article for the sake of simplicity.

So, what exactly is a unibody frame? A frame is a platform upon which all other components rest and we have unibody and ladder frame (body-on-frame) designs.

A ladder frame is first set out like a ladder, flat on the ground. They then build the car body on the already set out frame, hence the name, body-on-frame. Unibody frames feature the frame and the body built as one component, and that brings some pros and cons.

Crossovers have unibody frames and believe it or not, this ‘tiny’ difference is the reason for all this fuss. However, as you’d soon realize, this ‘small’ difference makes them run more efficiently. That’s why automakers are opting to produce more and more CUVs.

There you have it, all crossovers must have a unibody frame, else they don’t qualify. If you still want to know more about their singular frame, keep reading. We’ve made many more references to it. This is because their frame type makes several of their other features possible.

One notable feature that makes them loved is that they’re lighter than regular body-on-frame/ladder-frame SUVs. Let’s talk about that.

2. Their Bodies Are Also Lighter Than Full-on SUVs

Of course, they’re still heavier than sedans because of their sizes with added interior space and components. So, since they’re crossovers, they’d be somewhere in the middle between sedans and SUVs in terms of weight.

Agreed, most CUVs are either sub-compact or compact SUVs, and only a handful of them are mid-size SUVs. Now, smaller cars are usually lighter. So, it’s easy to point out that crossovers are lighter because they mostly fall into the sub-compact or compact-car segment.

However, CUVs are also lighter because they are built on unibody frames.

To shed more light on the idea, know that automakers use unibody frames in sedans and other small car segments. Ladder frames, on the other hand, are mainly used in trucks. This should help you better contextualize why CUVs weigh less.

Unibody cars like CUVs are lighter because they don’t use heavy steel rails in their construction. Instead of rails, there’s just a simple light frame merged with a more aerodynamically efficient body. However, this means construction is a little more complex, and redesigning gets difficult.

Still, their lighter bodies make way for their more impressive fuel economy. This means a crossover would be more fuel economical than a full-on SUV. However, they’d still consume more fuel than a sedan.

Needless to say, their remarkable gas mileage is one selling point that has Americans choosing them over ladder-frame SUVs.

3. CUVs Deliver a More Comfortable Ride Than SUVs

It’s no secret, if you’ve ever been in a crossover, you must’ve experienced the impressive ride quality they offer.

SUVs have always been the go-to vehicles for off-road trips and that has been the strength of body-on-frame types. This is because of several factors, including their high ground clearance and high-mounted body-on-frame design. However, their amazing off-road capability comes at a cost of highway driving comfort.

This means their ‘crude’ designs make off-road driving easy but reduce the driving smoothness on tarred roads. With CUVs, there is an acceptable off-road capability and excellent highway comfort. Hence, one feature that determines what a crossover car is is versatility because they have a wider range of uses.

So, if your journeys don’t take you too deep into the jungle, a crossover SUV may be the best choice. After all, it’s an easy decision to pick a car with excellent highway comfort and average off-road capability.

They are also more stable, and, like most features, they owe this stability to their unibody frames. Part of the reason is that a singular unit (like the unibody frame) has less disoriented components. The stability comes together with superb handling, which is also a borrowed trait from sedans.

We’d discuss the different factors responsible for CUV stability next.

4. Crossovers Have a Lower Stance Than SUVs

We talked about SUVs having a high ground clearance. Naturally, this implies that CUVs have less ground clearance than their ladder-frame siblings. The reduced ground clearance is a major reason they’re not as great for off-road trips.

Before we explain further, let’s review what ground clearance means. It’s the distance between the lowest point in a car’s underbody and the road surface. So SUVs can handle rocks, gravel, mud, and deep snow better because they’re higher off the ground.

While CUVs can hold up well in these conditions, they are much closer to the ground. This means it’s easier for them to have underbody damage off-road. Also, unibody frames often have a higher repair cost when damage occurs.

Moving on, their lower stance may mean they aren’t as ‘tall’ as SUVs. Of course, automakers can tweak this to ensure they are just as high, but there’s no point in doing that. Besides, increasing their height would do more to reduce their road stability, let’s explain.

‘Taller’ and ‘narrower’ cars are more susceptible to rolling over than ‘flatter’ and ‘wider’ ones. This means sedans are more stable than SUVs. However, like everything else, crossovers are somewhere in the middle, thanks to their ‘shorter’ heights.

Since they are built on unibody frames, they also have a lower center of gravity than full-on SUVs. That just makes them even more resistant to rolling over, and this brings us to the topic of safety.

If you’re wondering whether or not ladder-frame SUVs are safer because they’re tougher, the short answer is no. Instead, unibody frames still beat their rivals because they have crumple zones. These just areas that absorb the impact of a collision and keep passengers unharmed.

5. Crossovers Are Stiffer Than Ladder-Frame SUVs

While it sounds strange given that ladder frames are tough, it’s true, and toughness is a lot different from flexibility. Recall we told you about unibody frames having less disoriented components. Well, crossovers are rigid because they’re practically one body.

However, the flexible frame in ladder-frame SUVs restricts the shock absorption capacity they have. To picture how flexible, body-on-frame vehicles are, think of the fact that they’re two separate parts joined and functioning together. Unibody vehicles, on the other hand, have frames that are practically inseparable from their bodies.

So, on uneven roads (like on mud or uphill paths), ladder-frame SUVs can still maintain unbelievable balance. Indeed, their different tires can even adapt to the uneven elevations of rocks or snow. This is like bigfoot vehicles and how they ‘bounce’ around.

We know it sounds scary, so, remember that they’re probably not as ‘springy’ as bigfoot cars.

CUVs, on the other hand, just maintain their rigid composure and do little or no bouncing. They are flatter on the road so, other than their lower ground clearance, they lack off-road flexibility.

You might also be interested in whether SUVs offer better suspension and ride smoother than sedans.

Final Thoughts

Although crossovers and ladder-frame SUVs seem very alike today, they have different backgrounds, meaning they originated in different ways. You may even get annoyed at the fact that we distinguish one from the other when they look so alike. Let’s look at it from a different angle.

The first ladder-frame SUV (which was the first ever SUV) was built by covering the open trunk of a truck. The first crossover, on the other hand, was made by upgrading a saloon car. So, ladder-frame SUVs are just trucks and CUVs are just taller cars, all with station wagon bodies.

We earlier mentioned that CUVs are quite popular. The complete truth is that they’re the most popular cars today. With all these features, it’s easy to understand why almost everyone loves them.

In summary, they provide a workable blend between sedans and full-on SUVs. So, they’re more affordable, more fuel economical, more comfortable, and easier to drive than full-on SUVs. At the same time, they’re more off-road capable, roomier, and provide higher visibility than sedans.

While CUVs have disadvantages, automakers have done a great job of amplifying their advantages. As with anything engineering, efficiency is key. Hence, brace up, because we feel CUVs would get more efficient in the coming years.

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