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The Rise of the Crossover

By R. Benn

Crossover seems a strange word to apply to a vehicle yet it works because crossover implies a bridge. And that’s exactly what Crossover cars do; they bridge the gap between a regular hatchback or saloon and a full-blown sports utility vehicle (SUV).

The term ‘Crossover’ was first coined way back in the 1970’s around the time of the launch of the terrible Matra Rancho. Now it has become synonymous with, effectively, tall hatchbacks that offer in some cases a degree of four-wheel drive ability. The brilliant new Volkswagen Tiguan is a case in point which has proved to be very capable both on and off road.

Most car makers have at least one Crossover in their catalogue now and there’s quite a selection on offer these days. Many offer two-wheel drive only for urban motoring but some have the option of driving all four wheels. When a more rugged approach is needed then an SUV is probably called for, but they can be less than economical. Crossovers, however, are based on a car platform and as such offer a more comfortable ride, essential in a family oriented environment. Crossovers have better economy and lower emissions, two very important considerations these days.

Value for Money

Crucially, the Crossover drives like a regular passenger car. Science tells us that the most efficient form of space is a box, so Crossover design is often informed by the need to provide more space for humans. This is why there’s a uniformity to these cars no matter what the price. Manufacturers often have to strive to improve aerodynamics which is why the design is compromised. This does not bother car buyers; they love the Crossover style for its ‘off-road’ looks, even if the ability isn’t there as in the case in some less expensive models.

You get what you pay for. At the top end, the Porsche Macan arguably takes the honours. Although based on Audi architecture this is not just a Q5 in a party frock – it’s all Porsche and is inspired, not by the capable Cayenne SUV, but rather by the iconic 911. As Porsche themselves choose to remark, the Macan is a sports car for the Crossover segment. Beautifully designed and built, the Macan is fast and comfortable on hard roads but when the going gets tough it is also well up to the task.

The Best of Both Worlds

The Crossover car is, variously, around twenty-five centimetres higher than a corresponding hatch. This allows the seats to be raised without adversely affecting passenger headroom. This extra height affords the driver a more commanding viewpoint with greater all-round visibility. This extra visibility is especially handy when cruising around cities. It enables the driver to see over forward traffic and obstacles, as well as observing more of their blind-spots for the safety of passengers and other road users alike.

Even models like the impressive, if slightly smaller, BMW X1 stand tall over their hatchback counterparts. Rivalling the Audi Q3, the BMW is an ideal choice for town and suburban drivers, offering high fuel mileage and the option of xDrive for bad weather roads. Not perhaps as convincing off-road as some of its rivals, it nevertheless is quite capable of traversing a muddy track.

Come in all Shapes & Sizes

Mercedes-Benz has acknowledged that the unstoppable rise of the Crossover and SUV market is showing no sign of abating yet. Understandably then, there is more to come from the German brand. They know customers want the higher seating position and superior visibility that the Crossovers, like their very popular GLA model, offer. Even if these cars seldom venture onto the rough stuff, the option of all-wheel drive works as an insurance policy if the weather or terrain turns against them.

Like their SUV counterparts, Crossovers do vary in style and size. The GLA – which is more like a raised estate car than a utility vehicle –  and X1 are smaller but buyers have the option to step up a size depending upon their needs. Audi customers are very much favouring the mid-sized Q5 which strikes a balance between the mighty Q7 flagship SUV and the smaller, lighter Q3. They all have their place, in town or out in the country.

The Advantages of Crossover

As mentioned, the high-riding position appeals as does the comfort and the array of safety and infotainment on offer. There is at least a hint of adventure about these cars; the sense that the family can have more fun further afield. The spacious interiors mean they’re easy to load up through the big rear hatches and make for handy load carriers when needed as the rear seats fold down. As Crossovers are more compact than the big SUV siblings, they are easy to park too.

What the Future Holds

There’s no doubt these cars are here to stay. Nothing seems to halt the inexorable and remarkable rise of the Crossover. There is absolutely no evidence that users are turning against them; quite the contrary in fact.

It certainly looks like the automotive industry will see even higher growth in Crossover / SUV sales in the years ahead. Mercedes, for example, are continuing to develop more product ideas. The company has said that they are exploring options ranging from a coupé version to an even more rugged model that will take on harsher terrain.

Land Rover have already shown their convertible Evoque model which means the industry as a whole has not yet reached anywhere near the pinnacle of what can be achieved with these versatile vehicles.

Depending upon usage or point of view the Crossover is a SUV, saloon, estate car, hatchback and utility van all rolled into one. It is hardly surprising that Crossovers have such broad appeal. Wherever car buyers live, be it in cities, suburbs, towns or villages, there’s a chance this multiform motor will have at least some of the attributes buyers look for in their cars. It is probably fair to say that most drivers would be happy to crossover to a Crossover.