What is a crossover?

It's used to describe the cars like the Nissan Qashqai and Vauxhall Mokka, but what is a crossover car?

BuyaCar team
Jun 8, 2018

Crossovers are designed to be the best of both worlds - incorporating the finer bits from a run-of-the-mill family hatchback, and a rugged off-roader.

In other words, they’re designed to look like fashionable and chunky off-roaders, complete with the lofty driving position. But, they also achieve (mostly) the same fuel economy as regular family hatchbacks.

Underneath a crossover, you won’t find any of the mechanical components that makes a car good off-road, mostly because these cars won’t see any more action than a Waitrose car park, or at most, a muddy rugby pitch.

Crossovers are ideal for families, as most do offer more interior space and a better view for all passengers. The higher seats can also make it much easier to strap a child in. Most crossovers are more expensive than a standard hatchback, but affordable finance options puts them within reach of many buyers.

Being taller, crossovers can be driven over rough ground with less risk of getting scraped by jagged stones or branches than a smaller car would. They may be able to wade through water that's a little deeper, but it's worth being cautious as these cars are designed for normal road conditions.

Despite their bulky size, many crossovers have quite small boots, which are no bigger than a family hatchback such as a Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, or Vauxhall Astra. If you need a car with a big boot, then you may be better off with an estate car that has more space but a lower driving position.

Manufacturers often describe their crossovers as SUVs: the labels are now fairly interchangeable, even though they were initially used to describe different types of cars.


Crossover or SUV?

If you're looking for good fuel economy and don't need a boot that's much bigger than a family hatchback, then a crossover is the best choice for most buyers, who will rarely - if ever - take it off the road.

However, a proper SUV - not just a crossover that's labelled as such - is generally larger, tougher, a bit taller and should really come with four-wheel drive. If you're looking for more space, seven seats, and the ability to drive through deeper water or on rougher ground, then an SUV is the better option.

To make it even more difficult to identify a crossover from an SUV,  most crossover cars are available with four-wheel drive. But because the vehicles are really designed for tarmac use, it's usually an optional extra or fitted only to more expensive versions.

Having four-wheel drive will help avoid the indignity of your rugged looking crossover getting stuck in a very muddy field, but it's unlikely to be used much by most families. It won't turn your car into an all-terrain vehicle because crossovers often lack the design and features needed to tackle really rough ground. Their bumpers, for example, might scrape along deep ruts that a proper SUV would sail over.

A standard crossover, even without four-wheel drive, should be able to get going in light snow because these cars are typically front-wheel drive, where the engine is used to power the front wheels only. This tends to make the car relatively stable when accelerating on slippery surfaces, particularly when fitted with winter tyres.

Peugeot offers a system called grip control on its 3008 (below). The vehicle is two-wheel-drive, so avoids the extra weight of a four-wheel drive system, but software can adjust the amount of power going to its two front wheels, which help boost grip when it's slippery.


Reasons to buy a crossover

✔ Higher driving position
✔ Fuel economy similar to a hatchback
✔ Interior is usually practical and spacious


What's wrong with crossovers?

✘ Boot can be small
✘ Most models will struggle off-road
✘ Wind noise at high speeds can be a problem


Best crossovers to buy

The Nissan Qashqai was the first crossover car that really appealed to families. The latest model (above) is still one of the best-selling cars in Britain. It's comfortable, available with useful technology such as a 360-degree camera that makes parking easy, and normally affordable with some good Nissan Qashqai deals.

But there are also some excellent alternatives that give you some realy choice. The Renault Kadjar, for example, offers more boot space than the Qashqai and is generally cheaper. The Seat Ateca is more agile, which makes it more involving and - on occasions - even fun to drive.

The Volkswagen Tiguan is a crossover version of the popular Golf, complete with that cars understated looks and a sturdy interior - plus an enormous boot.

If you're looking for a smooth and comfortable crossover, then the Peugeot 3008 fits the bill. It also comes with the most futuristic dashboard you can get on a family car, with digital displays and a dashboard that's sculpted around the driver.

For a larger budget, Audi offers its Q3, and there's also the Mercedes GLA or BMW X1. All of which bring a more upmarket interior and a comfortable ride.

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