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
Jan 22, 2020

Crossovers have been designed to deliver the most versatile form of transport for you and your family. They incorporate the mechanical bits like the engine and suspension from aย hatchback - such as a Ford Focus - which makes them comfy and fairly economical, and combine that with the rugged design and lofty driving position of an off-road vehicle.

But while you get the comfort and drivability of a small and practical hatchback, you won't find the kind of reinforced tank-style engineering that sets apart the best off-roaders. Crossovers are made to look like capable off-roaders, but they rarely back that up with any kind of substance. They aren't expected to see much more action than a Waitrose car park or, at most, a slightly muddy rugby pitch.

What is a crossover?

Crossovers make for ideal family cars; firstly because they offer exceptional practicality and ease of use along with a better view for all passengers thanks to that elevated ride height. The additional height also makes packing children a much easier task as well, crucially saving your back when strapping them in, while most crossovers will also come equipped with Isofix points as well.

Boot space is normally pretty good too, and many crossovers provide more space than their hatchback counterparts, but that's not always the case. Anyone who's tried to squeeze a child's buggy into the boot of a Nissan Qashqai can attest to the size restrictions of even the biggest models on the market, therefore if you really are in need of a car with a cavernous boot, you may be better off with an estate car, but you will be sacrificing that usability and additional height.

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Crossovers tend to cost a little more than hatchbacks, but demand from used buyers often helps to keep their values relatively strong, resulting in affordable finance options. But keep in mind that crossovers, thanks to their extra weight and size, tend to be less fuel-efficient than a hatchback and therefore you'll be spending more on keeping the thing moving. Also bare in mind that a heavier car tends to be better suited to a diesel engine that can produce more pulling power, so the current anti-diesel climate should also be taken into account before purchasing.

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.

Manufacturers often describe their crossovers as sport-utility vehicles (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.

Crossover: pros

โœ” High driving position
โœ” Fuel economy similar to a hatchback
โœ” Interior usually practical and fairly spacious

Crossover: cons

โœ˜ Boot can be small
โœ˜ Most models will struggle off-road
โœ˜ Wind noise can be a problem at speed

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 has just announced its new 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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