Sometimes we miss the good old days when vehicles fit into easy-to-sort categories. Like gender roles, sexuality, race, and culture, vehicles are becoming harder and harder to fit into preselected categories. The lines between groups are blending. With the advent of crossover utility vehicles came the unexpected deliquesce of the established automotive categories. Prior to the CUV, you could easily toss a vehicle into one of several categories based on its design. It was either a sedan, coupe, hatchback, station wagon, van, truck, or SUV. When CUVs came along they weren’t really SUVs but nor were they station wagons or hatchback cars.

Crossovers don’t fit into the established categories, and that’s why they’re grouped together into their own category. However, the crossover category itself is difficult to break up and organize. The bottom line is that like the rest of the world, the automotive industry is having a little trouble easily categorizing all its players.  

A Closer Look at the Crossover Segment


What really is a crossover utility vehicle? Well, it’s a vehicle that has a higher ride height and a rear hatch and cargo space like an SUV. It has a unibody construction instead of a truck-like body-on-frame design, making for a more car-like ride and drive. According to Autotrader, many experts claim a crossover is any SUV-like vehicle based on a car platform. However, the publication notes that lines get fuzzy with vehicles like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Highlander, or Ford Explorer – all of which use a car platform – because few people ever call those crossovers.


We often get asked, “What small SUV should I buy?” We know that what these people really want is a crossover. They want a vehicle that sits up higher, has a rear hatch, and probably available all-wheel drive. It’s just that most people who aren’t car nuts like we are group all crossovers and SUVs in the same large category. And why shouldn’t they? On the outside, the vehicles utilize similar designs. It’s really only when you start looking at the construction of the vehicles and their size that you start to differentiate.

Calling crossovers small SUVs isn't totally inaccurate, but there are legitimate SUVs that are smaller than some crossovers, The Toyota 4runner, for example, is a body-on-frame SUV. However, the Mazda CX-9, which is technically a crossover, is larger and can seat more people. This shows that you can't just call all small SUVs crossovers. The issue is more complicated than that. 

Even After Grouping Them Together, It’s Hard

Nissan Rogue

Forget for a moment that we can’t decide what to call them all at a high level. Crossover, SUV, crossover SUV, whatever. Let’s move on to the fact that dividing up all the CUVs into categories is very difficult. The variation between models in size and shape can be rather small. This makes grouping the models into categories within the overarching crossover segment tougher than it is in sedan, coupe, or hatchback segments. In those segments, all the cars fit pretty easily into the different variations of subcompact, compact, midsize, and large. In the crossover segment, these selections get a little hazy.


Consider the Nissan Rogue and the Ford Edge as examples. Both seat five, both have about 39 cubic feet of cargo space with their seats in place, and both offer similar amenities and capabilities. However, in most cases, the Rogue is categorized with the Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5, and Honda CR-V, which are crossovers on the smaller side of the scale. Car and Driver places the Rogue with compact crossovers and SUVs, and the Edge with midsize crossovers and SUVs. However, a number of the vehicles in the compact category rival the mid-sizers for seating capacity and cargo space. Also, the Dodge Durango, which Car and Driver places in the midsize category as well, can compete with large body-on-frame SUVs for seating capacity and interior room as well as cargo space and towing capacity when properly equipped. These are just a few examples of how the crossover category gets pretty confusing. The more you dig the more befuddled you'll become. 

Some Vehicles Don’t Easily Fit Anywhere

Kia Soul

Aside from all that, some other vehicles don't seem to go in any category. Is the Kia Soul a hatchback, a wagon, or a crossover? Kia calls it a crossover, but Edmunds and a few other websites have labeled it a wagon. What do you do with tall standing wagons like the Subaru Outback of the Volvo Cross Country vehicles? The Outback is often labeled a wagon, but it has as high of a ride height and offers more interior space and off-road capability than many CUVs. Kia calls its new Niro hybrid, a subcompact crossover, but it’s also very wagon-ish, and you could make the case for it to be classified as such.


Things get weird at the large end of the scale, too. The Durango is just one of the large three-row unibody SUVs that make things difficult. There’s also the Toyota Highlander, Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-9, Audi Q7, and Volvo XC90 to name just a few. Most of the time, people call these SUVs, but they all have a unibody construction and a more car-like ride than classic SUVs do. While you can easily clump them all together, a person shopping for one of those could potentially be happy with a classic body-on-frame Chevrolet Tahoe SUV as well, meaning segregating the crossovers from the SUVs doesn’t always make sense.

We’re not entirely sure what the best solution is and judging by the wide variation in classification across the industry, nobody has quite figured out how to properly classify the many variations of crossovers that exist out there. We know one thing, though, shoppers seem to love the vehicle type, which means that the CUV isn’t going anywhere fast. Maybe over time clearer categories will materialize, or perhaps, like many other things in the world, the automotive industry will continue to get more complex and classification more arduous as time goes on.