Crossover buying guide

By Kijiji Autos
Toyota Highlander (1)

If you need a vehicle that can tow a heavy trailer, or traverse big obstacles in the middle of nowhere, then you need to shop for a traditional body-on-frame SUV. But if your vehicle will spend most of its life crawling through the urban jungle, then a crossover utility vehicle might be right for you.

What Is a “Crossover”?

By definition, a crossover or CUV (Crossover Utility Vehicle) is a sport utility vehicle that sits on a car chassis instead of a truck chassis. (Quick note: a frame is the main metal skeleton that everything is bolted to, while a chassis is that frame with the basic mechanical parts attached (wheels, axles, suspension, etc. – no body parts.) For example, the Toyota Highlander is more of a crossover than an SUV because it is based on a car chassis – the same front-wheel drive chassis as the Toyota Camry. By contrast, a traditional SUV like the Chevrolet Tahoe rides on a traditional, rear-wheel drive ladder frame chassis shared with other pickup trucks in the GM range.

Advantages of a Car-Based Crossover

Gas Mileage

A car chassis is lighter than a truck chassis, and most are designed to use more efficient 4- and 6-cylinder engines.

Driveability

A car chassis provides a lower center of gravity than a traditional SUV. This reduces that tipping-over feeling (called “bodyroll”), and allows the crossover to handle like the car on which it’s based. The front-wheel drive (FWD) arrangement provides confident handling and adequate grip in most situations. However, buyers who need maximum traction for winter driving may want a crossover with all-wheel drive (AWD). Many of the modern AWD systems now offer a Lock function, which keeps the power delivery split 50:50 between the front and rear axles.

Ride Quality

The body of a traditional SUV is typically bolted on top of a ladder frame, and this body-on-frame construction often results in a choppy ride and top-heavy handling. In a crossover, however, you won’t feel as much body movement (if you want to know the details, it’s because the body of the crossover uses integrated front and rear subframes). In addition, the lower center of gravity allows the springs and shocks to be tuned for a smoother ride.

More Interior Room

Many traditional rear-wheel drive (RWD) sport utility vehicles require front-to-rear floor tunnels to accommodate the driveshaft (the shaft running the length of the vehicle that translates the engine’s power into making the wheels turn). The rear cargo area often has protrusions to cover up suspension bits. Plus, the step-in height is typically quite high. This all takes away from your elbow (and leg, and foot…) room inside.

By contrast, a car-based CUV usually has a flat floor, which provides more room for passengers and cargo. The step-in height is about the same as a minivan, which is to say minimal. Its space-saving car chassis and suspension allows for a lower floor and more room in the cargo area. That extra cargo room can also be used for third row seating.

Disadvantages of a Car-Based Crossover

Reduced Off-Road Capability

A car-based CUV isn’t as capable off-road for several reasons:

1.    Reduced Ground Clearance – A FWD car chassis typically sits low to the ground, reducing the clearance between the underside of the vehicle any obstacles that you’re trying to climb over. However, crossovers like the Subaru Outback and Jeep Cherokee are designed to provide enough ground clearance for “light” off-roading.

2. Limited Wheel Articulation – This is a fancy term that means the crossover’s wheels can’t move as much as an SUV’s wheels, limiting its ability to clear those same pesky obstacles. On a FWD car chassis, the axles are connected to a subframe, which is bolted directly to the body. With nothing connecting the front and rear subframes, the body has to absorb the twisting and flexing forces that result as the wheels move up and down to clear obstacles. To protect the crossover’s structural integrity, most automakers have to limit a CUV’s wheel travel, which hampers its capability to clear obstacles.

3. No Low Range – No low range means crossovers don’t have the low gears that are helpful for good off-road travel. A traditional four-wheel drive (4WD) SUV will have big axles with low gearing, multiple driveshafts, and a heavy transfer case to distribute the power. Since most crossovers are designed for on-road use, they’ll have higher gear ratios for better fuel economy. Additionally, there typically isn’t room in a car platform to mount a transfer case and other hardware. So most AWD crossovers use an AWD system that doesn’t have any sort of low range gearing that off-roaders sometimes need to deliver maximum torque in extreme conditions.

4. Reduced Towing Capability – Without a sturdy steel frame to distribute the weight of a heavy trailer, most crossovers can only pull 2,000 – 5,000 lbs. (900 – 2250 kgs.).

Choosing the Right Crossover

Now that you know what a typical CUV can and can’t do, it’s time to decide which features are most important to you. If you need a vehicle that can tow a heavy trailer, or traverse big obstacles in the middle of nowhere, then you need to shop for a traditional body-on-frame SUV. But if your vehicle will spend most of its life crawling through the urban jungle, then a crossover utility vehicle might be right for you.

Important Considerations

Size

Today’s crossovers come in small, medium, large and extra-large, so you can literally find a CUV that’s perfectly sized for your needs. But remember, bigger crossovers are harder to park, and they drink more gas. So be honest about your needs, and choose a CUV based on what you‘ll do with it, not what it looks like.

Seating

Many crossovers are available with a third row of seats. However, that third-row seating arrangement is usually only suitable for children. Consider the size of your third-row passengers, and make sure that they’ll fit. The extra seat in CUVs like the Toyota Highlander and Nissan Rogue are too small for adults, but children under 12-14 years old will fit perfectly. If you need extra seats for adults or growing teenagers, then you might want to consider a large crossover like the Buick Enclave or Hyundai Santa Fe.

AWD or FWD

Since a crossover’s AWD system is only suitable for tackling inclement weather, snow, and muddy roads, you need consider how often you’ll actually encounter those conditions. Front-wheel drive will provide sufficient traction for most buyers, and it allows for better gas mileage, too. 

Conclusion

A crossover combines the seating capacity and driving characteristics of a minivan with the cargo room and rugged looks of an SUV. This is an ideal combination for many buyers. With the sheer volume of new CUV models, most people can find a crossover that’ll meet both their needs and their taste. Take an honest evaluation of your needs and wants, and you’ll find a crossover that fits you perfectly for years of utility and enjoyment. Visit Kijiji Autos to find the SUV that’s right for you.

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