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A crossover SUV (also called CUV for Crossover Utility Vehicle) or XUV (not to be confused with GMC's Envoy XUV) is an automobile with a sport utility vehicle appearance but is built upon a more economical and fuel-efficient unibody construction.
The CUV nomenclature was created by automotive marketing departments to move away from the station wagon, which has declined in popularity, and the SUV, which has been stigmatized by some people in American culture as environmentally-unfriendly, over-sized, and wasteful with fuel. The word "CUV" or "Crossover" is not a ubiquitous term and is primarily used by people in the automotive industry.
The nomenclature's unpopularity may be due to the fact that some CUVs are compact- to mid-sized SUVs built with car drivetrains and suspensions (Lexus RX330, BMW X3), while most CUVs are actually station wagons or 5-door hatchbacks with truck-like characteristics such as elevated suspensions and upright seating (Volvo XC90, Ford Taurus X, Cadillac SRX).
In some cases, marketing departments may sometimes blur the line between vehicle body types.
The first of this class of vehicles was the 1957 Moskvitch 410 (the 4WD version of the Moskvitch 402), but more well-known examples are probably the Lada Niva and the AMC Eagle, which debuted in 1977 and 1980 respectively. The Eagle combined Jeep 4×4 off-road functionality with the AMC Concord car-based platform and bodywork. It sold enough to build a small following in sedans, wagons, and short Spirit based body styles. It was discontinued in 1988 when Chrysler phased out old AMC heritage designs. The Niva is still in production, and many Eagles are still on the road.
In the 1990s, a sport utility vehicle and pickup truck craze took hold of the North American vehicle market, catapulting the light truck segment. What once was a small piece of the market that was originally dedicated to farmers and outdoorsmen, it became another car type used by families for personal transportation. By the end of the decade, light trucks accounted for almost 50% of all new vehicle sales in the United States, and the popularity of the SUV segment was responsible for this shift in buying patterns.
Traditionally, SUVs were heavy-duty truck-based appliances, with body-on-frame construction. In response to market demands, automakers had been continually making each successive generation of their SUVs more and more "car-like" but the inherent limitations of this configuration made them poorly suited for their new primary function as family haulers.
Research showed that a vast majority of SUV owners never took their vehicles off-pavement, much less used them for fording streams or climbing boulders, which was their original purpose. An opportunity to provide what this new type of SUV owner actually wanted was seized.
Customers liked the idea of all-weather traction provided by four-wheel drive, the ability to haul large items or a good number of people, and enjoyed the "commanding" seating position and sense of security that they believed the mass of an SUV provided, but mostly they liked the illusion of an active, outdoorsy lifestyle that an SUV suggested, and that minivans and station wagons implicitly did not.
The Toyota Camry-based Lexus RX300 was introduced as a 1998 model and was an instant success. It provided all of the aforementioned attributes that customers were looking for in an SUV, but additionally its unibody architecture provided car-like attributes such as a smooth ride, relatively good handling, low step-in height and decent gas mileage, all while providing the desired SUV psychological imagery.
All wheel drive cars vs. car-like SUVs
A more precise term for "Cross-Over" might be a design that is not a direct modification of an existing car, or truck. "Cross-Over" was applied to the Lexus RX300 to indicate its indeterminate status, and has often been retroactively applied to modified cars such as the AMC Eagle. Much of the Eagle's market would be served when Subaru switched to all AWD cars. EagleWeb is "put off by Subaru's unjust claim" and Automobile magazine commented, "Subaru calls the Outback the "'world's first sport-utility wagon,' a claim that AMC Eagle owners seem too embarrassed to dispute."
Given the inherent fuzziness of the "Crossover" designation, and automakers' desire to introduce vehicles into this currently "hot" segment, any number of improbable vehicles that are far removed from the original SUV concept are grouped in this category. The designation now signifies almost any non-truck based model that carries some form of SUV styling cues or attributes.
Chrysler, after absorbing AMC would not market cars and wagons like the AMC Eagle until the Chrysler Pacifica (low minivan derivative) and the Chrysler 300C (AWD sedan) of the 2000s. With the Ford Five Hundred (tall large sedan) and Ford Freestyle (wagon version of the Five Hundred, both to be replaced in 2008 by the Ford Taurus and Ford Taurus X), and Saturn VUE (SUV derived from small car), all of the Big 3 would have crossover cars or SUVs. The Subaru B9 Tribeca is a dedicated 3-row SUV redesign starting with the Legacy platform, while the popular Honda Pilot is a redesign of the Honda Odyssey minivan, and the Honda Ridgeline is a crossover pick-up truck. Ford's first AWD sedan was the Ford Tempo, from 1987 to 1991, but was not sold in a wagon or SUV-like version. Currently, the Ford Taurus, Taurus X, Edge, Escape, and Fusion are all car-based vehicles available from Ford with AWD.
Car-based crossover SUVs vehicles have three primary advantages over truck-based SUVs:
- Handling - The unsafe handling characteristics of trucks with respect to sudden, evasive maneuvers has been demonstrated and accepted.Their high center of gravity, tall tire sidewalls, and long-travel suspensions (designed for heavy cargo and off-road use) make designing a truck-based SUV to be resistant to rollovers extremely difficult. (This problem has been essentially mitigated by the widespread application of Electronic Stability Control systems, especially since about 2004.) Car-based crossovers ride lower and feature more road-appropriate suspension designs that, while limiting their ultimate off-road utility, makes them much more stable and responsive. The fact that many XUVs are front wheel drive makes them easier to handle in slippery weather.
- Economy - Car-based crossovers are much lighter than their heavy-duty truck-based cousins. They also feature light-duty all-wheel drive or even just two-wheel drive rather than less-efficient and heavy four-wheel drive, and use lighter unibody construction as well as coming equipped with more practical "on-road"-oriented tires. As a result, most crossovers get only slightly worse fuel economy than station wagons and sedans based on the same platform owing primarily to the fundamentally less efficient aerodynamics of the SUV shape.
- Cost - Light-duty car components can be cheaper to build and in fact, many modern crossovers are based on small economy cars, driving underlying costs lower still.
Given the market's demonstrated insatiable appetite for SUVs and SUV-like vehicles, automakers have been scrambling to imbue the desired characteristics (with varying success) to a wide range of disparate products from station wagons such as the Subaru Outback and the Audi Allroad to minivans like the Pontiac Montana SV6, and the Mazda MPV All Sport, extending even to sedans like the Subaru Outback SUS and Ford Five Hundred and running the gamut from entry-level, inexpensive models like the Honda CRV to the luxurious and pricey Cadillac SRX.
Almost every automaker participating in the North American market has a "crossover" vehicle, and the selection of choices has exploded. A short list of current crossovers with their platform genealogy follows (similar vehicles are grouped together):
- List of recent crossover SUVs
- Car classification
- Compact SUV
- Mini SUV
- Recreational vehicle
- Sport utility vehicle
- Station wagon
- Ford Edge CUV concept article (in French)