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So, what really are crossover vehicles, anyway?

August 10th, 2011

The answer starts with a bit of automotive history.  During the 4-door family Sport Utility Vehicle explosion in the 1990s, SUVs were nearly all based off pickup trucks, with heavy frames designed to withstand the rigors of towing, hauling, and offroading.  However, most consumers loved them not for their truck capabilities, but for their commanding view of the road, ample rear cargo capacity, all weather traction, and fold flat seating.  And, of course, style also played a heavy role.  The SUV active outdoor lifestyle image was a refreshing break from the old wood-side “mommy” wagons.

The problem came in that the heavy duty pickup frame and suspensions exacted some unwanted side effects – higher step-in height, more weight and lower fuel economy, truck like handling, and higher cost.  What most buyers really wanted was all the benefits of their SUV in an affordable, more fuel efficient vehicle that was easier to get in and out of and handled more like a car.

Manufacturers responded with crossover vehicles – sport utilities based on lighter, lower modified passenger car architectures.  The results were more fuel efficient sport utilities with lower step-in heights and more carlike handling.  Since then, manufacturers have gone a step further to create crossover vehicles that, to varying degrees, also blend the exterior style of a sport utility with that of a car.  Vehicles like the Toyota RAV4 and Lexus RX were among the pioneers to move in this direction.  Today, whether they look more SUV-like, like the new Ford Explorer, or more crossover like, like the Toyota Venza, most sport utility vehicles are based off passenger car components – so called body-frame-integral (BFI) architectures, as opposed to the old body-on-frame (BOF) trucks.  So, whether they are styled to look more like a car or an SUV, while it may impact things like vehicle height and aerodynamics to some extent, is largely a matter of personal taste.