Crossovers vs. SUVs – What’s the Difference?

Today, Toyota offers a lineup of crossovers that’s bolstered by a lineup of SUV models, too.

This gives car shoppers more choice, but can also lead to confusion around the naming. So, what is the difference between a crossover and an SUV? Crossovers are built on a car-based chassis, structure and driveline whereas, the SUV is built more like a truck.

In many circles, the terms are used interchangeably, especially among taller-riding vehicles with flat roofs and (often) with AWD traction. There’s no generally accepted set of rules that cover all vehicles.

There are, however, some guidelines that mostly centre on the way the vehicle is built.


The Crossover Utility Vehicle (CUV) is one of the most sought out vehicles by Canadian shoppers. Typically called the ‘CUV’ or ‘crossover’, it delivers a collection of in-demand attributes, including flexibility, car-like gas mileage and manners, an elevated ride height, and often the added traction of All-Wheel Drive (AWD).

2023 Corolla Cross Exterior

THE CROSSOVER HAS SUV ROOTS

The crossover is a relatively new innovation and, before its existence, the Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) was a popular choice for active and growing families. The SUV gave many Canadians their first taste of the attributes of the Crossover and it was a common choice for those looking for spacious interior and cargo space, flexibility, enhanced traction and capability than a conventional sedan.


THE SWITCH TO THE CROSSOVER

In the early years, SUVs tended to be big, unexciting to drive and, for some, too big to maneuver and park easily. Rising gas prices also left many vehicle shoppers after a more fuel-efficient alternative. Simply, shoppers wanted space, traction, flexibility, and added ride height, but without the heft and thirst of an SUV.

2023 Corolla Cross Cargo Space

Enter the crossover.  The revolutionary vehicle blends traction, ride height and capability of a larger and heavier SUV, with the more athletic ride, handling, performance and fuel efficiency of a small car.

The result was a new type of utility vehicle with traction and capability to spare, but in a smaller, easier to use and far more fuel-efficient package.


CROSSOVER AND SUV COMPARISON

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF DRIVING A CROSSOVER?

Using a ‘uni-body’ construction, the crossover’s skeleton and skin are combined into a single, seamless assembly. By combining the body and frame as a single structure, the vehicle can be made lighter, more spacious, more flexible and more car-like in terms of ride, weight and handling.

Virtually every car built in the past several decades (and all crossover models) use uni-body construction. In a crossover, it works just like it does in a car: The body supports the vehicle’s weight, the load and stresses of the suspension, chassis and driveline, and forces imparted on the vehicle by the road or trail beneath.

For the crossover, uni-body construction allows automakers to create large and capable vehicles that also achieve excellent fuel economy.

That’s partially thanks to what’s under the hood, too. Since crossovers are relatively light compared to SUVs, and don’t often see severe working conditions, they use engines, transmissions and driveline components selected carefully to deliver a blend of power and efficiency.

Some Toyota crossover models, such as the Corolla Cross and Venza, offer hybrid powertrains, increased performance and fuel economy.

2023 Venza Limited Exterior

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF DRIVING AN SUV?

So, what makes an SUV different from a crossover? It all comes down to what’s under the skin.

An SUV is not built like a car. Instead of a uni-body construction, SUVs use a ‘body-on-frame’ design, which sees the body, driveline and chassis all attached separately to a common frame that is usually derived from a pickup truck.

The truck-based body-on-frame construction of an SUV generally results in a vehicle that’s heavier and stronger, but less roomy on board given its overall size.

But, in exchange for those compromises, there’s an important benefit for the shopper who uses their vehicle hard: toughness. With a stronger and tougher structure, an SUV has higher towing capacity and can tow heavier loads, tackle more challenging off-road driving and stand up better to frequent use in severe conditions.

The SUV driveline is typically truck-based, too — using a larger and more powerful pickup truck engine that’s better suited to regular towing and hauling activities.

2024 Grand Highlander Hybrid Towing

Most SUV models use a multi-mode 4×4 system, too. Unlike AWD, the 4×4 system lets drivers select between 2-wheel and 4-wheel drive for even the roughest drive. Unlike most crossovers, many SUVs even offer low-range gearing, which can help drivers drive easily through tough terrain.

Toyota owns an incredible lineup of hybrid SUVs, from compact SUVs like the RAV4 to third-row SUVs like the Highlander and the all-new Grand Highlander, all available in gas and hybrid engines. Additionally, you can choose from RAV4 Prime, Toyota’s plug-in hybrid SUV or the all-electric SUV the bZ4X.

2023 bz4x Electric SUV Exterior

Deciding between a crossover and an SUV is a matter of carefully considering your needs and lifestyle against the type of vehicle in question.

Those after comfort, fuel economy and maneuverability may find a crossover to be the ideal choice. Simply, this is because a crossover is more like a car than an SUV is.

Those after pickup-like toughness and performance, added confidence during frequent towing and hauling, or those who frequently use their vehicle in severe conditions may find the brawnier SUV is a better choice. This is because an SUV is more like a truck than a crossover is.

So, are you deciding between a Corolla Cross vs RAV4? Grand Highlander vs Highlander? Sequoia vs 4Runner?

In any case, a quick visit to your local Toyota dealer for a test drive is the first step to finding which is the best SUV or Crossover for you.