Midsize and large crossovers are the fastest growing segment in the industry, providing reasonable efficiency while their larger bodies – relative to traditional sedans and wagons – supply spacious interiors with room for both people and their things. As a category, crossovers span all size and price points. Relatively new subcompacts (Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3, to name three) provide versatile seating for four or five at under $20,000, while large midsize offerings combine 3-row seating for up to eight, more power, and prices that climb above $50,000. Increasingly, all-wheel drive is a popular option throughout the country, despite its added complexity and slightly reduced efficiency. Also, the installation of winter-specific rubber can easily increase the capability of 2WD platforms. Embraced by those with active lifestyles and/or children, a crossover provides a Swiss Army knife approach to motoring. Whatever the situation, whether on a trip, with a load or encountering marginal weather, the crossover can probably handle it. These, then, are the highlights.
Exterior – At one time exterior styling of a crossover was relatively benign. There may have been more innate expressiveness in Honda’s CR-V than its Civic, but crossovers were almost inherently inoffensive, attempting to appeal to the broadest possible swath of consumers. Today designs are decidedly divergent, with carmakers like Honda veering toward less conservative while Nissan and Lexus, for example, incorporate – at least to some eyes – ‘excessive’. Across the category, however, crossover architecture generally remains a two-box profile enclosing an expansive interior and generous utility.
Interior – What had been, since the segment’s inception, upright seating and expansive greenhouses have often morphed into SUV-like coupes, such as the BMW X4 and X6, or crossovers with reduced glass area, like Nissan’s Murano. The restricted visibility is partially offset by nanny-like technology. The newest subcompact crossovers sacrifice ultimate room for a smaller footprint, convenient size and what we might call urban utility, while fullsize crossovers can often seem as ungainly as their SUV counterparts when attempting to park in congested garages or maneuver tight, city thoroughfares. The 3-row crossover may be attractive, but know that carrying six or seven passengers is different from carrying six or seven passengers and their stuff. A great many crossovers offer three rows or two rows and generous luggage capacity, but rarely do they offer three rows and generous luggage capacity. Those that do, including the Chevy Traverse, Ford Explorer and Honda PIlot, provide increased utility via their larger size – along with reduced efficiency.
Powertrains – Given their car-influenced platforms, most crossovers across all size categories carry four or six-cylinder powerplants. And at a time of increased focus on fuel consumption, the turbocharged four cylinder is quickly supplanting the normally aspirated V6, as can be seen with Ford’s Explorer, Mazda’s newest CX-9 and GMC’s all-new Acadia. If tempted to do any towing beyond a bike trailer or personal watercraft, check the V6 option box. Many subcompact crossovers don’t recommend towing, while compact crossovers – such as the Dodge Journey or GMC Terrain – with four cylinder power often have tow ratings under 2,000 pounds. For more capacity it typically requires a more substantial 3-row, such as the Hyundai Santa Fe or Nissan Pathfinder, with up to 5,000 pounds of capability.
For the most part, crossovers provide cross-country capability – but only if that ‘country’ is paved. Where you live may influence whether you opt for front-wheel drive (typically standard) or available all-wheel drive. Even without snow in the south and west those areas do have rain or occasional icing, but winter-specific tires are typically more helpful when on a wintry mix than all-wheel drive. In only a few instances do today’s crossovers offer real offroad capability. Two of the most visible examples are Jeep’s Renegade and Cherokee. When equipped with Trailhawk trims, buyers enjoy what Jeep describes as trail-rated capability. If wanting to hop boulders, however, it’s best to shop Jeep’s Wrangler or Toyota’s 4Runner rather than the Jeep Patriot or Toyota RAV4.
Safety – Historically ‘safety’ has been subdivided into active safety, i.e. your ability to avoid an accident, as well as passive safety, which is your ability to survive an accident. With the advent of the SUV and the car-based crossover you can now add perceived safety, i.e. do I feel safe?
Much like their sedan and hatchback counterparts, crossovers are offering more active safety via enhanced handling, braking and performance, along with better passive safety as passenger cells are optimized to not only do well in collision testing conducted by the government’s own National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but the more rigorous and varied testing (offset frontal collision is one notable example) performed by the industry-sponsored Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Among the best known improvements in active safety is anti-lock braking systems, virtually universal across all price points. Today ABS is often supplemented by optional safety suites, which include – but aren’t limited to – forward collision warning and/or avoidance, adaptive cruise control (which prohibits your crossover from colliding with the crossover in front of you) and lane keeping assist, which keeps the wandering driver from wandering.
Technology –Today, if a manufacturer opts for a product introduction at a major auto show the offering is more typically devoted to newly-introduced technology within the product than the outside sheetmetal or under-the-hood enhancements. Of course, automotive technology can take many forms, including those intended to improve the aforementioned safety, efficiency, connectivity or entertainment. With its Tech of the Year Award in 2016, Autoblog recognized Apple CarPlay for its user-friendliness and “overall impact on bringing our connected lives into the car.” If you’re an iPhone user, the control of apps is done via a familiar interface on an infotainment screen while adding features that weren’t originally installed at the factory. Android Auto was second in the voting, delivering to the user essentially the same capabilities via Google’s phone OS.
With automotive technology’s trickle down, you can expect in-car WiFi to enjoy greater availability, and its integration into a ‘media hub’ increasingly common. Of course, what happens in the dash is not all that’s happening with the operation of the crossover. For those that obtained their license without the parallel parking test, optional parking assist available from an increasing number of manufacturers will park the car for you. Rearview cameras are the norm, and 360-degree cameras are increasingly available on both luxury crossovers, such as Volvo’s XC90, and more moderately priced entries.
Regardless of your budget or interest, however, know that the tech revolution is ongoing and here to stay. For those wishing to opt out of new technologies (and the cost of repair or replacement once out of warranty) the choices are becoming significantly fewer. And while true autonomous driving might be seen in the next decade, it won’t be seen in this decade. Many of the features that will eventually allow autonomous driving, however, such as emergency braking and lane management, are available; you simply have to pay for them.