What Are Crossover Utility Vehicles?

If you keep up on automotive trends, the term Crossover Utility Vehicle, or CUV, will soon become familiar to you, if it hasn’t already. They are currently the fastest growing segment of the automotive market. But just what are CUVs, and how are they different from your typical SUV?

The CUV designation is a tricky one. The term “crossover” was first used to describe vehicles that were not directly related to any existing car or truck. The term has since expanded to include any SUV-styled vehicle, such as the Acura RDX. But perhaps it would be more accurate to call them “Car Utility Vehicles,” because when we refer to a CUV here on BuyingAdvice, we specifically mean an SUV that is based on a car, as opposed to traditional SUVs that are based on truck platforms. The result is a lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicle that is also cheaper and easier to handle.

So what does this mean for you, the prospective buyer? Well, if you own or have considered buying an SUV for everyday use, and like 90 percent of SUV drivers, never plan to go off-road, CUVs represent a more sensible alternative. The SUVs that took hold on American roads in the 1990s were never intended for grocery shopping or commuting to work. Rather, they sprang from a unique human phenomena that has spawned so many technological innovations: War.

Before World War II, your standard military vehicle was either a huge pickup truck, an even larger tank, or the relatively meager motorcycle. Those motorcycles weren’t the best off-road vehicles, and the larger alternatives didn’t stand a chance in a tight spot. If you were on the battlefield, and had to haul a heavy load through rough terrain, you were stuck with a mule.

So in the summer of 1940, as war ravaged Europe, the American military drew up specs for its ideal off-road machine. It had to be light, but tough; something that could go off-road and still have a lot of torque. These seemingly impossible specifications were distributed to every U.S. automaker. Only one could come up with a bid and a prototype on time: American Bantam. This boxy, pragmatic machine quickly became a staple of the war. Servicemen grew fond of their rough, rugged companion, which they dubbed the “Jeep.”

After the war, ownership and production of the Jeep brand was taken over by Willys Overland. In 1946, Willys adapted the military Jeep into a more civil vehicle: The modern station wagon. The Willys station wagon even featured a nostalgic throwback to the wood-based taxis of old: Wooden trim. The station wagon became an American mainstay and a quintessential symbol of the family vacation. But after effects of the Arab Oil Embargo and CAFÉ regulations led to the station wagon being cut back by domestic manufacturers. The economy boomed in the ’80s and ’90s, and Americans soon forgot about gas shortages and high prices. They wanted to ditch their Beetles and Pintos for something that didn’t resemble a sardine can. But the station wagon was already on life support, so Americans turned to the SUV, which had been, up until this point, a niche vehicle for servicemen, farmers, off-roaders and MacGyver.

But once again, times have changed. Three dollar gas has made us realize that we probably don’t need transportation capable of outmaneuvering a German Panzer. But what hasn’t changed is our need to haul our families and cargo. So automakers are starting to wise up. What’s great about SUVs is that they provide a lot of room without being as clunky as say, a van. So, just build one around a lighter body, replace that heavy four-wheel drive with either front or all-wheel drive and you have something bearing a remarkable similarity to…a station wagon.

That’s right. When you get right down to it, CUVs are nothing more than a 21st century revamp of the old station wagon. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The station wagon enjoyed decades of popularity for a reason: They strike a good balance between efficiency and capacity. A jack of all trades, suited for everything from moving to tailgating.

Of course, you probably won’t find wooden trim on a Hyundai Tucson or a Honda CR-V, but you can always add it yourself.

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