Are Crossovers Less Capable?
Looks can be deceptive when looking for truly usable grunt
Ever since the crossover's emergence in the mid-1990s as a force in the auto world, dyed-in-the-wool SUV owners have claimed that crossovers, which are based on a car platform, are not as capable as traditional truck-based SUVs. The truth is that the line between crossovers and sport-utility vehicles has become been blurred, if not erased. For instance, when the original Ford Explorer entered the market in 1991, some saw it as lacking toughness in spite of its traditional trucklike, body-on-frame structure. Two decades on, that original Explorer now seems antediluvian and has been replaced by a new model built with a unibody shell, making it essentially a crossover. Yet the new Explorer has plenty of cargo capacity and is much more comfortable, frugal and safe than its predecessor. Today it's not always "tough is as tough looks."
Here we take five contemporary crossovers and match them against their bigger brother SUVs, comparing traits such as cargo room, power and towing capacity. We think you'll find that the crossover has grown up, and is now a serious, capable competitor with the SUV, even if it is still the somewhat smaller kid brother.
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Chevrolet Traverse & Tahoe
The Traverse and its siblings, the ritzier Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia, are spacious, robust crossovers that can easily pass for SUVs with their high stance and solid gait. They seat up to eight in standard trim and still offer 24.4 cubic feet of cargo room behind the third-row bench. That's 50 percent more than the brawny Tahoe SUV. The Traverse's modern 3.6-liter 288-horsepower direct-injection V6 engine dishes out 270 lb-ft of torque at 3400 rpm through its 6-speed automatic gearbox, enough to tow up to 5,200 pounds with the optional package. Fuel-economy ratings are 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway with the optional all-wheel-drive system, and there's a decent 7.1 inches of ground clearance to let you wander off with the family on that bumpy, gravelly cabin road, which is about as far off-road as the Traverse should go.
Big, rugged SUVs with truck-inspired, body-on-frame architecture were once the norm, but they have now nearly become niche vehicles, albeit in highly evolved form. Chevrolet's broad-shouldered Tahoe is a splendid example of the breed. With crossovers now touting their increasing versatility, the Tahoe uses high-level towing capabilities as a selling point. All versions are powered by a classic overhead-valve iron-block 5.3-liter V8 engine that has been upgraded with technologies such as variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation, which are good for fuel-economy ratings of 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway — decent for a vehicle that weighs 5,567 pounds and has 4-wheel drive. More pertinently, this flexi-fuel engine produces 320 horsepower and 335 lb-ft of maximum torque to drive the Tahoe's towing capacity up to 8,500 pounds with the heavy-duty trailering package.
Ford Explorer & Expedition
The classic, body-on-frame SUV that became the first best-seller of the breed two decades back has joined the rival camp. The current Explorer is built on the latest version of an exceptional unibody platform developed by Volvo. One of its strengths is a spacious interior for up to seven passengers, with 21 cubic feet of cargo room behind the third-row seat. Engine selection goes from a 3.5-liter 290-horsepower V6 to the new 2013 Explorer Sport's twin-turbo EcoBoost version that produces 350 horsepower and a whopping 350 lb-ft of torque from only 1500 rpm. Surprisingly, the 2.0-liter turbocharged EcoBoost 4-cylinder powerplant reserved for front-wheel-drive trims claims the same 5,000-pound maximum towing capacity as the V6-equipped versions. The optional 4-banger is good for 240 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm, with impressive fuel economy ratings of 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway.
Now in its 11th year, the current generation of the venerable Expedition is a staunch defender of the classic, full-size, body-on-frame SUV. Powered by a 5.4-liter V8 engine that develops 310 horsepower and 365 lb-ft of torque, the Expedition will tow up to a claimed best-in-class 9,200 pounds. You pay at the pump for this exceptional grunt, with fuel-economy ratings of 13 mpg city/18 mpg highway. Cargo volume with the third-row seatback in place is 18.6 cubic feet, less than the Explorer's, but the figure more than doubles to 42.6 cubic feet with Expedition EL trims, which are built on a wheelbase longer by exactly a foot. Four-wheel-drive specimens weigh more than three tons at 6,078 pounds, so towing capacity drops by 300 pounds and fuel economy takes a hit. These are huge and thirsty behemoths, and absolutely not for everyone's needs or budget.
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Lets see the 2011 unibody Explorer hauls up to 5,000 pounds with the 3.5-liter V-6. The 2010 body on frame Exloperer hauls up to 7,310 with 4.6-liter V-8. When it comes to hauling more, body on frames always beats unibodies. So yes in that sense they are less capable.
Being a geologist who makes his living driving off road the rules are simple.
"Keep it simple and stupid"
Unibody may give the vehicle great road feel but off road abusive roads have a habit of twisting and damaging the unibody to the point that wheel alignment is impossible.
Thats why even Land Rover with their LR3 " still has a full ladder frame with a unibody sitting on top.
Other factors that are important is having a working low range to get through the rough spots as well as short wheel base 100" max along with ground clearance and skid plates to protect everthing below.
In the modern over regulated U.S market you have few choises, Mercedes G Wagons and Land Rovers for the well healed. Jeep Wranglers and Toyota, Nissan products for the rest of us. For the pickup crowd of coarse a full size pickup works but once you get past a 100" wheel base good luck in getting through the tight places.
A suv has at least a foot of body clearance and close to that in under carriage clearance. It has a transfer case with 4x4 low. An suv has off-road capabilities. Monter towing can be done by a two wheel drive truck so although it is nice, it is not necessary. A crossover does not have true 4x4 and insufficient clearance. They don't compare in any way with the suv. If they did an off-road or deep mud and snow evaluation, these crossovers wouldn't even rate. What about comparing the Exterra, FJ1, Jeep Wrangler, H3, etc.? This article was a joke.
"Crossover's" have just replaced minivans. These articles are stupid. Did they test any off-road capabilities of these "crossover" or "SUV"? Their comparison of vehicles are stupid.