Crossover vs Traditional SUV: Which is Best?

February 17, 2010

2009 Kia Borrego

2009 Kia Borrego

Gone are the days of straightforward words that describe the types of vehicles we drive. Car. Truck. Van. Wagon. Over the years, the marketing-speak of the auto industry has successfully permeated our vocabulary. Terms like “crossover” and “sports activity vehicle” are thrown around at backyard barbecues and in the bleachers at soccer games. But do we really know what we’re talking about?

Using the mantra “there are no stupid questions,” (and ignoring the myriad smart-alecky ways to complete that sentence), let’s get back to basics. A traditional SUV is built on a heavy, rugged frame which houses the drivetrain (wheels, drive shaft, axles, etc.). The body of the SUV is attached to the frame. This is the same type of construction used on trucks. Some examples of these are the Chevrolet Suburban, Ford Explorer, and Kia Borrego.

Top view of the chassis of a body-on-frame SUV

Top view of the chassis of a body-on-frame SUV

Because of their construction, body-on-frame SUVs tend to be more rugged than their crossover counterparts. They are better suited to towing and hauling heavy loads. They also resist rust more easily and can be easier to repair in an accident, depending on the damage.

On the downside, SUVs are heavy. More weight requires more power to move, which takes a toll on fuel economy. Handling also suffers. Some drivers might complain of a disconnected feeling between the cabin and the road. If it feels like you’re driving a truck, it's because essentially, you are.

When it comes to the safety of body-on-frame SUVs, some feel that the sheer weight and ruggedness of these vehicles offer protection in the event of a crash. But it's good to bear in mind that some traditional SUVs do not have a crumple zone--the area in the front of the car designed to absorb the energy in a head-on collision.

Angular Front Exterior View - 2006 Nissan Murano 4-door SE V6 AWD

Angular Front Exterior View - 2006 Nissan Murano 4-door SE V6 AWD

Typically, a traditional SUV is right for your family if you:
  • Need a high towing capacity (boat, camper, second car)
  • Go off-roading through rugged terrain
  • Drive in an area that requires high ground clearance
  • Haul heavy loads and equipment

A crossover (sometimes called CUV) has many of the exterior and interior features of a body-on-frame SUV, but it’s based on a car platform. The crossover uses a unibody (single-body) construction instead of a frame. Because of this, crossovers drive more like a car. They tend to be more agile and dynamic, and can give a driver the sense that it is easy to maneuver--especially in environments such as parking lots and narrow roads. And like their car counterparts, CUVs tend to have ample crumple zones. Examples of crossover SUVs include the Honda CR-V, Nissan Murano, Jeep Compass and Dodge Journey.

A crossover would suit your family if you:

-       Have a large family and/or need to carry several people

-       Won’t be towing heavy, industrial-sized loads

-       Drive mostly on paved roads and freeways

-       Want the space without that “big SUV” feel

It is possible for some crossovers to tow moderate loads. Be sure to check each model’s tow rating when shopping. And of course, there are many other factors when deciding which vehicle to buy. But just knowing where to start is a good first step.

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