What Is a Crossover Car?

By: Eric Baxter  | 
A 2007 Ford Edge Crossover SUV
This 2007 Ford Edge is a crossover vehicle -- but it definitely wasn't the first vehicle in that category.
Bryan Mitchell/Getty Images

Most people have a basic understanding of what a crossover vehicle is, but what is a crossover car, and why are they so popular? A better questions would be, who doesn't enjoy a car-like uni-body construction and fuel efficiency coupled with a four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive drivetrain?

The line between a crossover and a traditional sport utility vehicle has been blurred over time, but the primary distinction lies in the car platform construction mentioned above. It may seem like a small difference, but it's one that affects all things, including handling, driving experience, and yes, fuel efficiency.


Origins and Evolution

Crossover vehicles began their introduction to the United States in the early 1970s. Subaru of America introduced the four-wheel drive DL station wagon to the market in 1975.

Company ads claimed it "climbed like a goat, worked like a horse and ate like a bird." Yet there is no mention of it being a crossover vehicle despite meeting the basic criteria.


The AMC Eagle

The next major player in the market was the AMC Eagle. In the early 1970s AMC paired with Jeep. As AMC sales flagged the company began blending elements of the two companies to boost sales and revive the badge. Their first experiment was taking an AMC Concord and equipping it with a Jeep driveline under chief engineer Roy Lunn's guidance.

The body was lifted by four inches to accommodate a transfer case and the wheel wells were opened to make room for larger tires. The idea, though not fully formed, was refined into the AMC Eagle [source: Ligo].

Surviving Eagles look like the "early man" version of a CUV, sort of a missing link of the car world. The vehicles worked well and sold well and pushed AMC sales up for several more years before changes in the market, namely new players in the nascent niche crossover market, put AMC out of business.

A New Segment is Born

Still the term crossover was not in specific use, at least as we understand its use today for marketing purposes. But it is this loose blending of perception and word choice that makes finding who coined the term "crossover" so difficult.

By the late 1980s more vehicles aligned with the basic definition of crossover began hitting the market. By the 1990s these vehicles were taking a growing share of the SUV market, reaching an estimated 50 percent by 2006.

Many companies, including Subaru, began defining their cars as having "all-wheel drive" and "off-road capability," as well as "rugged utility" in advertising to set their cars apart from the station wagon market.


Characteristics a of Crossover Utility Vehicle

Crossover cars come in all shapes and sizes, but they can usually be distinguished by a few key characteristics, including:

  • Versatility and cargo space: CUVs offer the high seating position, spacious interiors, and cargo capacity that drivers appreciate in a sports utility vehicle, making them ideal for families and individuals seeking practicality without the need for a bulky pickup truck.
  • Improved handling and comfort: Because they are built on a car chassis, crossovers generally provide better handling and a smoother ride compared to traditional SUVs.
  • Fuel efficiency: Crossovers tend to be more fuel-efficient than their SUV counterparts, thanks to their lighter weight and a more aerodynamic body.
  • Diverse options: The crossover segment is incredibly diverse, ranging from compact models that prioritize efficiency to larger versions that offer more space and power.


The Most Popular Crossover SUVs

The crossover SUV segment has witnessed significant growth over the past decade, with various models rising to prominence, and staying there. These vehicles are celebrated for their blend of practicality, performance, and fuel economy [source: Consumer Reports]. Here are some of the most popular crossover SUVs available today.

Toyota RAV4

The Toyota RAV4 is often credited with pioneering the crossover SUV category. Renowned for its reliability, fuel efficiency, and versatile performance, the RAV4 caters to a wide audience. Its spacious interior, advanced safety features, and capable all-wheel-drive system make it a preferred choice for families aand adventure-seekers alike.


Honda CR-V

The Honda CR-V is another stalwart in the crossover segment, know for its spacious cabin, comfortable ride, and efficient powertrain options. The newer models make the most out of user-friendly technology and a lot of cargo space, making it ideal for both daily commutes and family road trips. And, as with most Hondas, the CR-V also enjoys strong resale value and a reputation for reliability.

Ford Escape

The Ford Escape offers a more dynamic driving experience ,with its array of turbocharged engines and a sporty design. It features cutting-edge technology, including an intuitive infotainment system and a range of standard driver-assistance features. The Escape appeals to those looking for a fun-to-drive crossover with a modern touch.

Nissan Rogue

The Rogue gained prominence for it's affordability, fuel economy, and reliability. It offers an attractive mix of standard safety features too, including the ProPILOT Assist system, which enhances the highway driving experience. Add to that a versatile cargo space offering, and you've got yourself an award winning modern crossover.


Why Choose a Crossover?

As touched on earlier, crossovers have become popular for several reasons. They offer a compelling mix of functionality, efficiency, and style that appeals to a wide range of modern drivers [source: Wardlaw].

Whether it's for navigating city streets, undertaking long road trips, or hauling gear for weekend adventures, there's a crossover model to fit virtually every lifestyle in budget. It's no wonder then, that the crossover SUV segment has exploded in recent years.


A New Breed of SUV

Today, the auto word is still evolving, along with the cars it defines. This situation will likely continue far into the future. It represents a versatile and practical choice for today's drivers, combining the best aspects of passenger cars and utility vehicles.

As consume preferences continue to evolve, the crossover segment is expected to innovate and expand, further solidifying its place in the automotive market. But that doesn't mean that a brand new crossover SUV is the right choice for you. The only way to determine that, is to get in the driver's seat and see what all of the fuss is about.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Amceaglenest.com. "AMC Eagle History." (July 17, 2011) http://amceaglenest.com/history.html
  • Diseno-art.com. "Crossover vehicles - and more." (July 12, 2011) http://www.diseno-art.com/encyclopedia/archive/crossover_vehicles.html
  • Drive Magazine. "Subaru History, 1968-1976: Subaru Hits the Road in a Time of Change." Spring 2003. (July 16, 2011) http://drive2.subaru.com/Spr03_EarlyHistory.htm
  • Edmunds.com. "What is a crossover?" Oct. 23, 2009. (July 13, 2011) http://townhall-talk.edmunds.com/direct/view/.f1325f3
  • Patton, Phil. "New Looks; Bumper-to-Bumper Details of the Crossover Era." New York Times. Oct. 23, 2003. (July 19, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2002/10/23/automobiles/new-looks-bumper-to-bumper-details-of-the-crossover-era.html
  • Sherman, Don. "All-Wheel Drive Revisited." Automotive Industries. February 2001. (July 19, 2011) http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3012/is_2_181/ai_70935228/?tag=content;col1