Crossover vs. SUV: What’s the Difference? And Which One is Better?

Crossover vs. SUV: What’s the Difference? And Which One is Better?

When it comes to car shopping and finding which model suits your needs, two words get thrown around with increasing, interchangeable frequency: crossovers versus SUVs.

These terms pop up so frequently that it can become difficult for the average consumer to distinguish one from another. That difficulty turns costly when you’re making a vehicle purchase, too. After all, you need to know the pros and cons of both models. What happens if you make a poor decision based on insufficient data and that vehicle is ill-suited for the road?

Fortunately, we have the answer to this perennial confusion. To avoid a potentially unlucky scenario, we will explain what an SUV is and how a crossover differs and cover the ins and outs of which works best. This way, you can make an informed purchase without fretting while you shop around.

Body-on-Frame vs. Unibody: What’s the Difference?

When figuring out the difference between a crossover and an SUV, it's essential to familiarize yourself with the basics. They may seem overly simple, but it's actually true. Essentially, these cars come with two different construction types: the ladder frame versus the unibody.

On the historical timeline, ladder frames came first. They predate the earliest cars to hit the road, with their previous iterations based on horse-drawn carriages.

When putting a ladder together, the dynamics are surprisingly straightforward. A pair of metal rails are laid out, spanning the length of the vehicle. From these rails, the rest of the car sits.

The ladder frame acts like a car's spine, holding up its limbs – the engine, wheels, and body frame. The suspension of the structure acts a bit like a spring, allowing the car to traverse rough terrain without breaking its back.

This type of frame suspension was significant in the 20th century, where roads were usually rougher. Later, road construction began to improve, and with it, so did cars. Specifically, the invention of the unibody came about. In the modern era, the unibody format has become so ubiquitous that it's treated as the standard for public perception.

Instead of a ladder construction holding the vehicle in place, a unibody frame functions much like an exoskeleton. The exoskeleton keeps everything in position via a distributed load. This construction method dramatically improves a vehicle's gas mileage by creating a smoother ride that glides over the asphalt.

It also tends to be safer: The way the unibody is designed means that it crumples in successive portions if involved in a crash. That reduces deceleration upon impact and protects the body from further injuries.

In a nutshell, both construction methods tend to create a stable ride. Which one is safer depends on the terrain and the hazards associated with that area.

What is the Difference Between a Crossover and an SUV?

So now that we’ve gone over the basics for each type of car construction, which model uses which? What is a crossover car? What is an SUV?

Well, with a crossover vehicle, efficiency is optimized. Because of this, crossovers use a unibody construction. Part of this efficiency comes from the unibody’s better gas mileage and a smoother ride. They’re highly safe for transporting passengers, and they are cost-efficient to construct, too.

Sometimes you will see a crossover vehicle described as a “crossover SUV” or a “compact SUV,” sometimes referred to as a CUV. To be clear, crossovers and SUVs are two different things. However, manufacturers can use this term to describe the size and shape of a crossover comparable to an SUV, with the unibody construction of a car counterpart.

For an SUV, the name stands for “sports utility vehicle.” And, as the name implies, they’re typically suitable for riding along rougher roads. Uneven terrain can include rural areas where you’re interacting with the natural environment or where gravel roads are the norm.

Traditionally, many SUVs have used a ladder frame style, making them more prominent than the typical crossover. SUVs that commonly use this construction method are the Chevy Tahoe, the Ford Expedition, and the GMC Yukon.

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Which is Better: a Crossover or an SUV?

Now that we've covered the basics of car construction and which type of frame each vehicle uses, how do you choose the right car for you and your family?

Well, it all depends on your typical driving conditions.

Despite their different construction styles, some commonalities exist between a crossover and an SUV. Both vehicles feature large interiors with multiple seats that easily fit a family, making them an excellent alternative to a minivan. Both the crossover and the SUV include the option for additional safety features in newer models. 

The specifics will vary from year to year. Still, some notable crossover vehicles include the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V for the crossover. For the other, this list of the best large-family SUVs has you covered.

For the differences:

As mentioned earlier, SUVs are designed for rougher terrain. They usually have rear-wheel drive options as standard, and with their sturdier frames, they can tow larger payloads, too. If you live in the country or do a lot of backcountry camping, including activities like hauling a trailer, an SUV will suit you better. That's doubly so if you're buying a vehicle for industries where heavy towing is standard.

When it comes to the crossover, you're looking at a vehicle equally equipped at transporting passengers. Front-wheel drive is standard. However, all-wheel drive is typical too. 

The big bonus here is that its unibody construction could make it more suited for safety protection on busy roads. With its excellent gas mileage and its unibody frame that protects a person during a crash, crossovers can also navigate the dangers of a high-speed thoroughfare. 

Additionally, their overall fuel economy can help you budget better, so if you live in an urban area and being environmentally conscious is a top factor for you, the crossover is the way to go.

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Buy the Crossover or SUV that is Right for your Family

At the end of the day, the question of crossovers versus SUVs is relative. Both these vehicles are excellent options for you and your family. With their bevy of safety features, superior road handling, and comparable prices, you can’t go wrong. 

At Shift, certified mechanics always perform extensive 150-point inspections on every car, ensuring that you will have a complete vehicle history report in your hands before you buy either of them, and your used car will feel as good as new. With that in mind, if you want a dedicated list of crossover options, check out this article on small crossovers to buy. If you’ve decided on the SUV, read up on the best used SUVs in 2021.

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Author
Shift Editorial Team