If you were sitting on the hot seat in the “Who wants to be a millionaire” TV show and Frank Edoho asks you: What is the difference between a SUV and a Crossover? He will definitely give you some options to pick the correct answers from. If you pick the option that says “one of them rests on a ladder frame and the other has a unibody construction”; you will be definitely correct and move up closer to becoming a millionaire in that TV show.

While consumers and automakers use the terms interchangeably – which is not surprising given the many styling similarities they share – key differences do exist. Put simply, a crossover is lighter and built on a car platform, while a traditional SUV is heavier and uses a truck chassis. There are, however, a few additional things to help you differentiate between these two unique vehicle types.

Unique Platforms

A crossover’s body and frame are built in a single piece. This is called unibody construction. This design provides a better ride quality and, because it’s lighter, generally achieves better fuel efficiency.

Sport-Utility Vehicles, better known as SUVs, use a body-on-frame (Ladder Frame)design. That means the frame and body are built separately and joined together during the manufacturing process. These truck-based vehicles are generally more rugged and can be used to haul larger payloads. That’s not to say that you can’t tow with a crossover, however.

First Off, What’s A Ladder Frame?

It’s pretty close to what it sounds like—two parallel rails with interconnecting stiffeners, laid horizontally. Stood up on end, it resembles a ladder. Spanning nearly the length of a vehicle, it’s a car’s steel skeleton, holding together all its major organs—engine, transmission, suspension, wheels, and bodywork skin—in place. Ladder frames are rampant among trucks, underpinning almost all of them (except for a few oddballs like the Honda Ridgeline and Tesla’s Cybertruck). And, judging by our Jeopardy success, underpinning SUVs as well.

What’s A Unibody?

Unibody construction involves manufacturing the frame and body of the vehicle as a single piece. Instead of underfloor frame rails doing the work while the bodywork’s simply worn like a big hat on top, here, the whole, thin-gauge sheet metal structure—usually excluding most of the bodywork skin itself—carries loads. It’s distributed.

SUV Essentials

Most conventional SUVs ride on truck-like body-on-frame architecture for added ruggedness and durability, and are typically four-door models that feature traditional “two box” upright exterior styling. Though they’ve come a long way over the years in terms of performance and sophistication, the first SUVs were little more than enclosed pickup trucks. Segment stalwarts here include the military-derived Jeep Wrangler, the midsize Chevrolet Tahoe, and the large and in charge full-size Chevy Suburban.

Rear drive is usually standard, with burly four-wheel-drive systems optional for added traction. The latter is a necessity for those living in wet or snowy climates, given the tendency for large rear-drive vehicles to slip and slide on slick roads; most 4WD systems include low-range gearing to facilitate off-road adventures and/or for plowing out of deep mud or snow.

SUV cars in Nigeria
SUV cars in Nigeria

Most SUVs come powered by V6 engines, with turbocharged V6 and naturally aspirated (non-turbo) V8s offered in full-size models for more-muscular towing and hauling abilities of up to 10,000 pounds or more. Fuel economy, especially among the largest SUVs, tends to be lacking compared to CUVs and passenger cars, given their added bulk.

While their ride and handling qualities have been tamed considerably over time, truck-based SUVs neither ride as smoothly nor handle as predictably as comparable car-based CUVs. Full-size models in particular can be a handful to maneuver and parallel park in urban areas, and they can be inhospitable to shorter drivers and passengers because of their taller ride heights (especially when fitted with oversized wheels and tires). Available convenience and comfort-minded features are plentiful, though some models offer more in the way of family-oriented amenities than others.


While most true SUVs are rugged trucks under the skin, crossovers are essentially tall wagons with more expressive exterior styling. Because they’re built on unibody car frames, rather than a conventional SUV’s less-sophisticated rail-and-ladder construction, CUVs boast a lower ride height for easier ingress and egress, more-nimble handling, and a smoother ride than comparable truck-based SUVs. They run in size from three-row midsize models like the Honda Pilot, to the latest sub-genre of subcompact CUVs that include the Buick Encore, and compact CUVs like the Ford Escape. There’s even a growing number of sporty CUVs on the market that include the Porsche Macan and Jaguar F-Pace.

crossover cars in Nigeria
crossover cars in Nigeria

The main distinguishing factor here is that CUVs ride on car-like unibody frames, generally coming with front-drive standard and all-wheel-drive systems available for added grip on wet pavement. Traction is typically split between the front and rear wheels on a 50:50 basis, with additional torque being sent to either axle as necessary to prevent wheel slippage; some models like the BMW X3 ordinarily send a bit more power to the back tires to afford more of a sportier rear-drive feel. While many motorists choose an AWD crossover for added safety, it’s only necessary for those who live deep within the snow belt; the standard front-wheel-drive configuration will deliver adequate traction under most circumstances for the majority of drivers.

The two big trade-offs here include much-reduced towing capacities than their truck-based counterparts, given their car-like construction, and a lack of off-road abilities because they lack a traditional SUV’s low-range 4X4 gearing. However, some crossovers, most notably the Jeep Cherokee, Compass, and Renegade, and the Ford Explorer, use electronically enhanced AWD systems with a special traction management system that allows moderate trail blazing prowess.

Most compact and midsize crossovers come standard with a four-cylinder engine that delivers top fuel economy, with a turbocharged four-cylinder and/or a V6 engine alternately offered for quicker acceleration. This, combined with their lighter curb weights, help make CUVs more fuel efficient than heavier (and often less-aerodynamic) truck-based SUVs, though they still suffer in this regard compared to coupes and sedans.

The Similarities

Despite their differences, SUVs and crossovers have much in common. Both have a raised ground clearance, giving drivers a higher vantage point over other cars; both provide ample interior space, which makes them a popular choice with families looking to avoid the minivan option; and both bring the cargo area into the cabin itself, doing away with a separated trunk.

Safety Is Top of Mind

Crossovers and SUVs are known to provide exceptional safety, both on- and off-road. All crossovers – in addition to a host of standard safety features – have built-in crumple zones that help route and absorb energy in the event of a high-impact collision. This RISE body construction (Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution) helps give crossovers a stable, secure base that’s worth its weight in safety.

Making the Right Decision

Crossovers get their name for crossing the best traits of a car (convenience and efficiency) with the best traits of an SUV (versatility and practicality). But in essence, whether you call them crossovers or SUVs, what matters is that the vehicle you choose both meets your needs and fits your budget.


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