Differences Between Traditional and Crossover SUVs

With so many SUVs on the market today, it’s easy to get confused about the differences between traditional SUVs and crossover SUVs. What exactly are the differences, and what do they mean to consumers?

Construction technology

Traditional SUVs use body-on-frame technology, meaning the body and frame are built separately. The frame, usually made of steel and borrowed from a truck’s design, supports the powertrain. The body consists of everything else, the parts that we can see. This design provides more protection in collisions than crossover SUVs. And the truck frame causes the vehicle to handle like a truck, which may be challenging for some drivers.

Crossover SUVs follow a unibody design: the vehicle is built with a car platform, which is lighter than a truck frame. One metal frame supports both the body and the powertrain. This creates a more unified object for the driver to control; the driver feels that the car is an extension of himself, and handling is more agile and responsive. However, because everything is tied together so closely, damage tends to be more severe in collisions.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a traditional SUV is classified as a truck and a crossover SUV is glorified, tall station wagon. Marketers felt the term “crossover” would be more appealing than “station wagon” — and boy, were they right.


Traditional SUVs generally offer four-wheel drive, have powerful engines with six or eight cylinders, and can tow heavier loads. These characteristics are great for driving off-road but not-so-great for fuel economy.
Crossover SUVs are either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, which is not nearly as rugged as four-wheel drive. Generally, only four- or six-cylinder engines are available. Towing capacity is limited, but fuel economy is higher thanks to the lighter frame.


Traditional SUVs are often less expensive to repair because having a separate body and frame means that a damaged part can be removed and replaced with relative ease.
Crossover SUVs are more costly to repair because the body and platform are one physical structure. Damages to this system require cutting the car-based frame and welding it back together again.


Traditional SUVs were developed as a more spacious and stylish version of trucks while retaining power and ruggedness.
Crossover SUVs were born of a desire to blend the versatility of traditional SUVs with the refined driving experience and higher fuel efficiency of cars. This goal has been achieved admirably, at the price of power and durability compared to traditional SUVs.

Luxury and Amenities

The truck-based traditional SUV tends to have more utilitarian design and features. The truck frame rides higher off the ground, so running boards may be provided to help passengers reach the cabin.

Crossover SUVs generally offer more luxuries and elegance.

Despite these fundamental differences between traditional SUVs and crossover SUVs, technology has advanced to the point where many consumers can no longer distinguish between the two without examining specifications. The automotive press generally recommends that drivers who tow heavy loads or who drive off-road or in inclement weather would prefer a traditional SUV, while consumers who drive primarily in urban areas will appreciate the handling and fuel economy of a crossover SUV.