What Is the Difference Between a Crossover and an SUV?

January 12th, 2021 by

If you are considering an SUV or a crossover for your next purchase, it is essential to know which car is suitable for your needs by understanding how they are different. Most consumers rarely notice any difference between the two. Some people end up buying an SUV with high maintenance and low mileage or a crossover that gets stuck in the middle of their cross-country fun.

The primary distinction between the two types is that an SUV has strong off-roading capabilities, whereas a crossover works best on city roads and highways.

What makes them so different? Sweeney Buick GMC is here to answer that question and help you make the right decision.

2021 GMC Acadia white on rocky beach

It’s All in the Chassis

To understand the fundamental difference between an SUV and a crossover, you need to know about their chassis or frame. Now, you may wonder, “What’s a chassis?” The simple answer is that a chassis is a platform that holds the car together.

Chassis frame car

A traditional SUV is a car that uses a ladder chassis. It’s called a ladder chassis because it consists of two longitudinal members connected by four or more lateral ones, making it look like a ladder. It acts as a base for mounting the engine, steering, suspension, and transmission directly. The bodywork is assembled and attached on top of it as a separate superstructure. This is why it is also called a body-on-frame chassis.

A crossover uses a unibody chassis underneath the bodywork. Instead of having a separate chassis, the unibody construction is composed of an entire skeleton framework, stretching from the front of the car all the way to the back. The suspension, steering, and transmission systems remain attached to this structure at fixed points, whereas the engine is mounted in a dedicated engine bay. The body panels, fenders, boot, trunk, doors, and the top are attached along the length of this composite structure.

A ladder chassis is heavy and flexible. It can buckle and shear to extreme limits and handle longitudinal stress better before failing. The modular attachment of parts also makes it easier to perform repairs, modify the vehicle, or replace parts. Comparatively, a unibody chassis is stiff, lightweight, and purpose-built for passenger safety and comfort. Its rigidity allows mounting a variety of independent suspension types and a lower center of gravity to prevent rollovers. However, repairing or replacing parts becomes difficult and expensive.

Why Can SUVs Go Off-Road?

range rover burgundy off road in sand

Image via Flickr by landrovermena

The body-on-frame construction is useful for an SUV because it has excellent torsional resistance for handling rough terrain instead of providing a smooth ride. It allows you to mount a spacious interior and have increased ride height to climb steep hills or deep declines. The additional ground clearance also protects most of the undercarriage when traversing extremely uneven terrain. Additionally, the wheels have more travel and a greater steering angle to get out of sticky situations.

The heavy metallic chassis of an SUV is made from cast iron or a steel composite. Its rugged construction makes it more reliable and ideal for hauling heavy trailers or boats. SUVs usually feature rear-wheel drive (RWD) with traction control or four-wheel-drive (4WD) systems for excellent grip on any surface.

Most modern SUVs have standard 3.6-liter V-6 engines with low-range gearing for your run-of-the-mill off-roading and trailer-hauling needs. Some hardcore off-roading enthusiasts prefer bigger versions with powerful 6.2-liter diesel V-8 engines, producing massive torque at lower RPMs. The ladder frame allows some of them to modify their cars with lift kits and oversized, chunky tires on live-axle suspension for rock crawling and traversing extreme inclines.

These extra parts make the traditional SUVs powerful. However, they also become heavy, bulky, high-maintenance, and less fuel-efficient, putting them right up there with the gas guzzlers. Usually, you would use your SUV for wading through mud, snow, soft sand, gravel, rocks, riverbanks, slippery or wet roads, and hilly areas instead of the tarmac.

Why Are Crossovers Comfortable and Safe?

jeep red on race track

Image via Flickr by automobileitalia

A crossover is a successful attempt at combining the best qualities of the traditional SUV and a consumer car. Its main purpose is to provide you with comfort, space, economic performance, handling, and agility on city roads with mild off-road capabilities. Their dimensions and ride height are lower than traditional SUVs, with manufacturers offering compact and midsized options, which makes parallel parking in cities easier than an SUV.

The unified construction of the frame ensures increased safety and impact absorption in accidents. Many manufacturers use a combination of carbon-fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) titanium, magnesium, and aluminum alloys to toughen up the frame with directional crumpling for additional passenger protection. This structure also makes the vehicle lightweight.

Due to its compact size and reduced weight, crossovers can get away with less powerful but fuel-efficient four-cylinder engines, with turbocharged variants if you want some extra juice. However, these engines do not ensure performance in hauling trailers or getting unstuck on uneven terrain as an SUV does.

A front-wheel drive (FWD) improves the mileage even further and reduces maintenance costs. Some manufacturers provide an all-wheel-drive (AWD) option for people who face extra icy or wet roads. Most of them use independent, four-corner air suspension suitable for the unibody construction to provide extra comfort with better handling than SUVs.

Others prefer a stiffer suspension to improve the handling and cornering abilities of the crossover.

So, How Do I Know If It Is an SUV or a Crossover?

In simple terms, an off-roading vehicle with a ladder chassis is an SUV, which is ideal for some cross-country driving fun and a decent city ride. The GMC Yukon series is a perfect SUV to check out. In contrast, a crossover is a car that looks like an SUV, has a decent amount of space, and unibody construction. It is a perfect choice if you want a family car loaded with driver assists, traction control, luxury interior options, enhanced passenger safety, better fuel economy, and an infotainment system with modest off-roading capability. The Buick Envision series crossovers can offer you these amenities at great prices.

You can always differentiate between the two by checking the specifications, such as the engine type, towing capacity, ground clearance, suspension, and chassis type. Feel free to contact our staff at Sweeney Buick GMC for more information about researching and buying the right SUV or a crossover from GMC and Buick.

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