Once largely limited to tradespeople and outdoor enthusiasts, rough-and-tumble truck-based sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) emerged as the rides of choice for the nation’s families in the 1990s, yet were largely supplanted by car-based crossover SUVs (CUVs) after the turn of the century for their more easygoing road manners and improved fuel economy. Today, SUVs and CUVs outsell conventional passenger cars.
They could well soon outnumber them in the new-vehicle market, with automakers predicted to offer as many as 150 separate models industry-wide by 2020.
CUVs dominate sales these days, both among growing families and singles/empty nesters, in midsize, compact, and subcompact sizes. A small, but stalwart, selection of conventional SUVs remains available for the sake of more adventurous types, with most being midsize or full-size models.
With vehicle design changing and segments continuing to get larger, it has become difficult to determine what category a particular vehicle falls under. One such difficulty is differentiating between an SUV and a CUV. While the two types of vehicles share some similarities, and car companies use the terms interchangeably, there is still a difference between the two.
The main factor differentiating an SUV from a CUV is in the way the two cars are built. Though vehicle design has continuously been changing, making it harder to apply this distinction, it is still the main difference.
In earlier vehicle design, all SUV design models were based on that of the pickup truck. SUVs were designed with a body-on-frame configuration and either four or rear-wheel drive. In a body-on-frame configuration, the car’s frame and body are built separately then attached later.
Car manufacturers utilized this design model to create more interior space in the SUV than that found in standard vehicles. On top of that, the design model also made the SUV sturdier and more suitable for off-roading, hauling and towing.
Some SUVs, such as the Ford Expedition, are still being built with this model. In the case of the Expedition, the SUV can accommodate up to eight passengers and has a towing capacity of 9,500 lb.
While this configuration makes the SUV a more powerful car, it also makes it heavier than standard automobiles. This tends to lower the SUV’s fuel economy.
On the other hand, crossover utility vehicles, also known as crossovers, implement a single-body construction model. Here, the vehicle’s frame and body are built as a single unit. It is the model used in standard vehicles and is why the CUV feel more like standard cars. CUVs also have better handling.
Cuv Versus Suv: Storage Space
CUVs and SUVs will share a similar storage space area since they sometimes use the same bodies and design cues. Sometimes they will have nearly identical body outlines, due to popular styling and aerodynamics.
To achieve good miles per gallon, there’s a specific shape that should be adhered to for minimal drag coefficient. Mid- and full-size SUVs will also offer third-row seating, whereas few CUVs will have that optionally or standard.
Size-wise, the CUV and small SUV offer around the same amount of storage space. However, mid- to full-size SUVs have a different shape (usually boxier) and much more storage. CUVs don’t come in mid- or full-sizes- those are just called wagons.
Cuv Versus Suv: Ride Height
One of the key differences will be ride height. A CUV will have a ride height closer to a sedan or coupe.
They differ from wagons in that they have a smaller cargo area, even though they share the ride height and general shape.
They may share the same ride height, too, as many CUVs offer all-wheel drive and slightly taller ride height than some cars for ‘light’ off-roading.
The Ford Explorer comes with a rather low ride height when compared to other Ford utility vehicles based on unibodies, so ride height isn’t too much of a differentiating tool.
Cuv Versus Suv: Drivetrain
You can fit practically any engine with any transmission and connect it to any of the available wheel drive configurations.
The same is true of the CUV versus SUV debate. CUVs offer the same engines, transmissions, and even wheel drive configurations as their truck-based SUV counterparts. Since SUVs tend to tow more objects, they also tend to have a higher torque output for mid- or full-size SUVs. Compact SUVs and CUVs will probably be powered similarly.
Cuv Versus Suv: Chassis
An SUV, traditionally, has is based on a truck’s chassis, whereas a CUV is based on a car’s. This has been the difference, historically speaking. Now, however, the lines are getting rather blurred. CUV and SUV are often used interchangeably with SUV. The CUV chassis will usually be a unibody chassis, with a body and frame being one whereas the SUV will be a body on frame, much like that of a pickup truck. While this is the technical difference between the CUV versus SUV, even those lines are being blurred more and more.
Cuv Versus Suv: Perception
Perception is reality. If a person perceives or the manufacturer wants people to perceive that a vehicle is ‘capable, rugged, or off-road-worthy’ then it’s an SUV, if the vehicle is more suited to speed-tests or street corners than sandpits, then it’s probably a CUV.
When people want a spacious and safe vehicle that offers a sporty drive, they look for a crossover utility vehicle.
However, many CUV vehicles are rather capable of off-roading. The inclusion of all-wheel drive makes most vehicles able to take on light off-roading, such as snowy or muddy conditions. Some compact SUVs, however, can do just as much off-roading as their larger SUV counterparts, even if their city-sized stature is rather demure.
Most conventional SUVs ride on truck-like body-on-frame architecture for added ruggedness and durability and are typically four-door models that feature traditional “two-box” upright exterior styling.
Though they’ve come a long way over the years in terms of performance and sophistication, the first SUVs were little more than enclosed pickup trucks. Segment stalwarts here include the military-derived Jeep Wrangler, the midsize Chevrolet Tahoe, and the large and in charge full-size Chevy Suburban.
Rear-drive is usually standard, with burly four-wheel-drive systems optional for added traction.
The latter is a necessity for those living in wet or snowy climates, given the tendency for large rear-drive vehicles to slip and slide on slick roads; most 4WD systems include low-range gearing to facilitate off-road adventures and/or for ploughing out of deep mud or snow.
Most SUVs come powered by V6 engines, with turbocharged V6 and naturally aspirated (non-turbo) V8s offered in full-size models for more-muscular towing and hauling abilities of up to 10,000 pounds or more.
Fuel economy, especially among the largest SUVs, tends to be lacking compared to CUVs and passenger cars, given their added bulk.
While their ride and handling qualities have been tamed considerably over time, truck-based SUVs neither ride as smoothly nor handle as predictably as comparable car-based CUVs.
Full-size models, in particular, can be a handful to maneuver and parallel park in urban areas. They can be inhospitable to shorter drivers and passengers because of their taller ride heights (especially when fitted with oversized wheels and tires).
Available convenience and comfort-minded features are plentiful, though some models offer more in the way of family-oriented amenities than others.
While most true SUVs are rugged trucks under the skin, crossovers are essentially tall wagons with the more expressive exterior styling.
Because they’re built on unibody car frames, rather than a conventional SUV’s less-sophisticated rail-and-ladder construction, CUVs boast a lower ride height for easier ingress and egress, more-nimble handling, and a smoother ride than comparable truck-based SUVs.
They run in size from three-row midsize models like the Honda Pilot to the latest sub-genre of subcompact CUVs that include the Buick Encore, and compact CUVs like the Ford Escape. There’s even a growing number of sporty CUVs on the market that include the Porsche Macan and Jaguar F-Pace.
The main distinguishing factor here is that CUVs ride on car-like unibody frames, generally coming with front-drive standard and all-wheel-drive systems available for added grip on wet pavement.
Traction is typically split between the front and rear wheels on a 50:50 basis, with additional torque being sent to either axle as necessary to prevent wheel slippage; some models like the BMW X3 ordinarily send a bit more power to the back tires to afford more of a sportier rear-drive feel.
While many motorists choose an AWD crossover for added safety, it’s only necessary for those who live deep within the snow belt; the standard front-wheel-drive configuration will deliver adequate traction under most circumstances for the majority of drivers.
The two big trade-offs here include much-reduced towing capacities than their truck-based counterparts, given their car-like construction, and a lack of off-road abilities because they lack a traditional SUV’s low-range 4X4 gearing. However, some crossovers, most notably the Jeep
Cherokee, Compass, and Renegade, and the Ford Explorer use electronically enhanced AWD systems with a special traction management system that allows moderate trailblazing prowess.
Most compact and midsize crossovers come standard with a four-cylinder engine that delivers top fuel economy, with a turbocharged four-cylinder and/or a V6 engine alternately offered for quicker acceleration.
This, combined with their lighter curb weights, help make CUVs more fuel-efficient than heavier (and often less-aerodynamic) truck-based SUVs, though they still suffer in this regard compared to coupes and sedans.
What’s The Difference?
Looking at annual sales figures confirms car buyers like to sit high. SUVs and crossovers are outselling sedans by a growing margin, but lumping them in the same basket isn’t accurate.
Although they’re similar, several key differences keep SUVs and crossovers on opposite sides of the same room. They’re built differently for different purposes. Our quick guide will help you understand precisely the type of vehicle each term denotes.
Peeking Under The Body
In simple terms, SUVs are truck-like, while crossovers are car-like. SUVs often use body-on-frame construction, meaning the body is bolted to a separate frame.
Crossovers feature unibody architecture, meaning the body and the chassis form a single structure.
The layout used makes a big difference. Body-on-frame vehicles are generally more rugged, more capable, more durable, better suited to towing, and happier to venture off the beaten path.
Unibody vehicles are normally lighter, more efficient, more comfortable on the pavement, and less truck-like to drive.
Customer demands cost constraints, and government regulations largely dictate the type of architecture used. Most motorists in the market for something with a decent amount of ground clearance don’t care about off-road capacity.
They want a car that’s spacious, reasonably efficient, safe, and comfortable around town, so a crossover fits the bill.
Building a body-on-frame SUV that’s as comfortable, maneuverable, and efficient as a unibody crossover wouldn’t be impossible, but it would be exceptionally difficult. Conversely, drivers who truly need an SUV plan to tow, haul, and/or go off-road on a regular basis. Crossovers don’t do any of these things nearly as well as burly SUVs.
Blurring The Line
As technology improves, these two different breeds of all-terrain vehicles increasingly overlap.
Not every SUV uses body-on-frame construction; the hotly-anticipated second-generation Land
Rover Defender is built on a unibody platform, yet it remains exceptionally capable off-road.
The use of lightweight materials (like aluminium) helps engineers keep fuel economy in check by building lighter body-on-frame trucks. Downsized engines help, too.
Meanwhile, crossovers are gaining freakishly advanced all-wheel-drive systems, locking differentials, and adjustable ride heights that help them conquer rough terrain.
These features push the limits of the unibody architecture by creating car-based models that can effortlessly take you and yours into the wilderness.
At the other end of the spectrum, some of the smallest and most affordable crossovers on the market blur another line: The one that separates them from hatchbacks. Many aren’t even offered with all-wheel drives, like the Nissan Kicks.
What About Performance?
The distinction between crossovers and SUVs continues when performance enters the equation.
If you want to sprint through the desert or race through a forest, you’ll need the durability of a true body-on-frame SUV to make sure you don’t end up bending something that will be expensive to replace.
For example, the members of Toyota’s TRD Pro line of trucks (which includes the 4Runner shown above) are designed to absorb ruts and rocks with ease.
If you’re more interested in carving canyons, the structural rigidity of a crossover will better suit your purpose. It looks like a crossover, but it’s built on the same platform as the Giulia, so it’s quick, sharp, and engaging to drive — it’s like a sport sedan with a taller centre of gravity.
CUVs were born by mixing the more desirable characteristics of cars with those of SUVs. Most crossovers seek to blend utility and some off-road capability–with car-like refinement.
In general, they avoid the dismal fuel mileage and clumsy handling of the large SUVs that preceded them. Today there are so many CUVs that it is hard to keep track of them. Fortunately, they all still need replacement tires, and many of them require larger, more expensive sizes.
Having a conversation with the customer and asking the right questions is the best way to determine the needs and find the right tire.
As the popularity of these vehicles continues to climb, so does the importance of your expertise when it comes to vehicle comfort, performance and safety.
SUV or CUV? If you’re not sure, you’re not alone: not only are there a lot from which to choose but with automakers often using the terms interchangeably, it can be tough even to know what’s what.
In their earliest days, sport-utility vehicles – SUV for short – was closed-in trucks: noisy, boxy shells with metal door panels and vinyl seats, meant primarily for work. In contrast, automakers today offer some of their most luxurious vehicles in this segment.
Originally, almost all SUVs were based on pickup trucks, with body-on-frame configuration and rear-wheel or four-wheel drive. Some still are, such as Ford Explorer and Nissan Armada: this strong construction helps give them the maximum towing capacity.
Some also use that inherent strength, combined with the trail-specific suspension, for superior off-road capability: think Jeep Wrangler, Toyota 4Runner or Hummer H3, for example.
Most midsize and compact SUVs are built more like cars, with a “unibody” that combines frame and body components, and they’re usually front- or all-wheel-drive. This makes them lighter, smoother and generally more fuel-efficient.
Minivans are built similarly, but with sliding doors. They originally became popular because they could carry as many people as truck-based vans, but it was easier to get in with their lower height, and they handled like cars. The newest segment is CUV, for a crossover utility vehicle.
It can be confusing because manufacturers use terms as it suits them, but it generally refers to a vehicle that isn’t as tall as an SUV – more of a car on steroids. You’ll also sometimes hear new terms, such as BMW’s “sports activity vehicle,” or SAV – no difference but in the name.
With all the shared similarities, you might be wondering how to determine which option to go for. Similar to buying any car, it depends on what your needs are. Every vehicle is built for something. Here’s how to know whether to go for an SUV or CUV;
You should get an SUV if your needs entail hauling heavy equipment or towing heavy items regularly. SUVs are also perfect if space is important to you or if the roads you will be driving on require a car with high ground clearance. SUVs are also the best choice if you desire to get a vehicle that can handle off-roading.
On the other hand, a CUV or crossover would be perfect for you if you are working on a smaller budget or you prioritize fuel efficiency.
These vehicles are suitable for consumers who need more room without the bulky feel of an SUV. Also, if you don’t intend to tow anything regularly, then a CUV is perfect for you.