The difference between an SUV and a crossover

Crossover versus SUV - CX-3

So, what’s the difference between an SUV and a crossover? It’s a question we hear all the time, and as a website dedicated to both SUVs and crossovers, we thought we’d take the time to settle the dispute, once and for all.

The worst part is that people who should know – those who work in this industry – tend to confuse the two, or blur the lines. And then there are the manufacturers who are increasingly making products that look more like an SUV but are actually a crossover.

And then there are those who call a crossover an SUV. Confused? So is most of the buying public.

2018 Nissan Patrol front three quarter

What does SUV stand for?

It’s an acronym and stands for Sport Utility Vehicle. And the term CUV? Well, that stands for Crossover Utility Vehicle.

Who invented the term? According to the Miriam-Webster dictionary, the first known use of “SUV” was in 1969. But car manufacturer Crosley first used “sport-utility” in 1948 (see picture below).

Crosley Sport Utility

But then, in 1966, Ford Motor Co used that same term for its Bronco off-road machine, in “ute” form. So this, three years before the first moon-landing, was the first application of “sport utility” to a vehicle that we would today class as an SUV.

Ford Bronco SUV 1966

Then, in a brochure for its 1974 Cherokee, Jeep used the three-word moniker exactly as we know it today.

Now we know what the term stands for, we need to know what it actually means. But we need to get something out of the way first and it has a big bearing on the definition of what you’ll call an SUV and what you’ll call a crossover.

It all depends on where you live.

For example, if you live in America, the definition is based on the car’s construction. A ladder-framed car – that is, a vehicle whose chassis is two main rails with metal connecting it at various points along the chassis – is an SUV. Whereas a crossover is what’s called a unibody vehicle, which is where the platform is more of a solid floor with the body attached to that.

Live in Australia and anything that’s lifted slightly is an SUV, whether it’s front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive. There’s no such thing as a crossover.

So, you can see that there’s going to be some confusion, depending on your geographical location. So, let’s dive into it.

What is an SUV?

Broadly, SUV covers everything from hardcore off-road machines through to wagon-bodied vehicles that have an on-demand all-wheel-drive system.

When it comes to SUVs, there’s two schools of thought. One is that anything that is raised and has all-wheel-drive is an SUV. The other is that it has to be a proper four-wheel-drive, with a low range transfer case.

But the truth is it includes both categories and even vehicles that don’t have all-wheel-drive. Seems strange, right? Well, think about front-wheel-drive versions of the Mazda CX-5, Jeep Cherokee and Ford Escape.

As you can see, the term covers a huge variety of machines.

Land Rover Discovery

So, what’s a crossover?

Crossovers, which are also known as CUVs (crossover utility vehicle), are cars that crossover from being regular hatchbacks or wagons to something that could conceivably drive onto soft sand without getting bogged – in theory, that is.

Crossovers usually have all-wheel-drive systems, as opposed to a dedicated low-range transfer case, and are usually lower in overall height than a comparably sized SUV, but have more ground clearance than standard hatchbacks or wagons.

The Mazda CX-3 is a good example of a crossover, as is the Audi A4 Allroad and A6 Allroad, as well as the Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain. Then there’s the Suzuki S-Cross and Ignis, or the Subaru XV.

Generally, crossovers are smaller, and don’t have the same level of off-road ability as an SUV.

So, what’s the difference between an SUV and a crossover?

In the strictest sense, it comes down to the shape. If it looks like an off-road machine, then it’s an SUV. If it looks like a jacked up wagon or hatch, it’s a crossover.

Of course, the lines are more blurred than ever before. What category does the Mazda CX-9 fall into? It’s big, but it’s a crossover. Same goes for the Peugeot 3008.

Tell us what you think in the comments.