Aaron Widmar
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What’s the Difference Between an SUV, Crossover, & CUV?

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2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport crossover or SUV?
Is this an SUV, a CUV, or a crossover?
Pictured: 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

There’s a lot of jargon the automotive industry tosses around that it assumes everyone understands, but — in actuality — they don’t. One of the most common questions that I hear is, what is the difference between an SUV and a crossover?

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An SUV and a crossover aren’t the same thing

That’s a tricky question, especially since both types of vehicles closely resemble each other. Despite them being trendy types of vehicles to buy these days, SUVs and crossovers cause buyers notable confusion.

I’ll start with a definition of each vehicle type’s name. An SUV stands for “sport utility vehicle.” A crossover is an abbreviation for a crossover utility vehicle — a CUV.

While you’d presume that there are numerous nuances differentiating SUVs from crossovers, it really comes down to one simple difference: SUVs are built on pickup truck platforms, while crossovers are built on sedan platforms.

A sport utility vehicle is technically a truck with a full-covered cargo area that is used for passenger seating. Consequently, most large SUVs have the towing and performance capabilities of a pickup truck. They share the same structural underpinnings and arrangement (wheelbase, floorplan, steering, suspension, and powertrain) as a pickup truck.

In contrast, a crossover uses the platform of a sedan, meaning that its performance, size, and layout are fundamentally different from an SUV’s. That’s why crossovers are typically smaller and less powerful than SUVs. They’re basically large station wagons. Also, crossovers use a unibody construction (a single combined piece), while SUVs use a two-part body-on-frame construction, which is heavier and can withstand the uneven terrain of off-roading.

The reason you see more actual SUVs being released in the U.S. by automakers like Ford and Chevrolet is that they already have pickup truck platforms. Other automakers, like Mazda, produce only crossovers since they don’t have Ford or Chevy’s wide range of pre-existing pickup truck platforms (though Mazda does sell pickups in other markets). They just stick with their sedan platforms.

Unfortunately, the moniker “SUV” is often freely applied to both types of vehicles, so identifying what a particular model actually qualifies as isn’t easy. You’ll have to do your research and find out which other models in the brand’s lineup share the same platform.

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