The Shift to Crossovers

Auto manufacturers track trends, and a big one is the emerging popularity of crossover vehicles, also known as CUVs (crossover utility vehicles). Last year there were more CUVs sold than traditional SUVs (sport utility vehicles). As far as trends go, this was a big deal. Where did CUVs come from, and what's making them so popular?

What is a CUV?

Crossover vehicles, with very few exceptions, are SUV-like vehicles built on car-type platforms. (A platform is engineer-speak for the chassis or mechanical underpinnings of a vehicle.) In contrast, SUVs are built on truck platforms. The differences are hard to see on the outside, but from behind the wheel, CUVs ride and perform much more like cars.

Where did CUVs come from?

If you look back 50 years, you'll see the emergence of the traditional station wagon. Generations of kids suffered in them, and their grown-up loathing caused the body style to fall out of favor in the 1970s. Minivans replaced the wagon through the 1980s and SUVs took the top family-hauler spot in the late '90s. CUVs have bumped SUVs from the throne, and now reign as this generation's station wagon.

Who wants a CUV?

CUVs fit the needs of many drivers, from mature families to young singles. The range is huge, as you'll see below. If you don't need truck-type hauling or towing capabilities, a CUV could be a good choice for you. Also, because they are often lighter than SUVs, CUVs tend to handle better and get better fuel economy than SUVs. Read on for a sampling of what's available.

Mazda CX-9

Mazda's largest vehicle still has zoom-zoom ... in its performance and its style. The svelte shape houses an interior that seats seven in a comfortable and genuinely handsome interior. Performance comes from a silky-smooth and powerful 3.5-liter V6 that the CX-9 shares with the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX (Ford owns Mazda, you know). Front- and all-wheel-drive versions are available.

Ford Edge

As an American-built cousin to the CX-9, the Edge rides on a shorter wheelbase than the Mazda. Open the doors of the angular exterior and you'll find plenty of room for five. If you order the Vista roof, you'll have a view out of an opening three times that of average sunroofs. Based on recent IIHS safety tests, the Edge is a TOP SAFETY PICK.

Lincoln MKX

Another cousin in the Edge/CX-9 family is the Lincoln MKX. The family resemblance to the Edge may be too obvious, but the MKX has a personality all its own. Luxury abounds inside with the fantastic THX audio system and the quality woods and leathers. Outside, the grill evokes classic Lincoln models from the mid 1960s.

Saturn VUE

The 2008 Vue is all-new and that's all good. While the previous Vue was just OK, this new model is an American clone of Opel's Antera (General Motors owns Opel, a leading manufacturer in Europe). The Vue's design is spot-on with a detailed exterior. The interior execution is also top-notch, as is the power from the optional 3.6-liter V6. Front-wheel drive is standard, AWD optional.

Chevrolet Equinox

Compared to the 2008 Saturn Vue, the Chevy Equinox (and its twin, the Pontiac Torrent) are looking and feeling kind of old (the Chevy was introduced in 2004 as a 2005 model). Like the Vue, these are 5-passenger crossovers with a choice of engines. The best is the 3.6-liter coupled with the 6-speed automatic. Due to its age and 5-passenger size, this is the one to buy when a big rebate is offered.

Suzuki XL7

If you're on a budget and need 7-passenger room, check out the XL7. It's built on the same platform as the Equinox, but the XL7 features a longer wheelbase that allows for a bigger interior with a third row of seats. For $22,000 don't expect genuine wood or dozens of fancy features, but do expect excellent reliability from the GM-sourced 3.6-liter V6 that is backed by Suzuki's 7-year/100,000-mile warranty.

Toyota Highlander Hybrid

The 2008 Highlander is all-new. Built off the Toyota Avalon's sedan platform, it can be fitted with a powerful 3.5-liter V6 or the advanced hybrid powertrain used in the Lexus RX400h. The Highlander is larger than the previous generation, and is a very refined mid-size CUV. One notable feature is that the second row of seats offers a pass-through to the third row, making for easy minivan-like access.

Lexus RX 350

One of the most popular luxury vehicles of the last decade is the Lexus RX series. This mid-size CUV consistently attracts buyers with its dramatic styling, high-performance road manners, and near perfect Lexus quality. For 2008, the RX is basically carryover, but it retains the honor of being the only luxury CUV to be offered with a hybrid power package.

Infiniti EX35

Sharing many components with the impressive Infiniti G35 sport sedan, the EX35 is perfect for drivers looking for a performance-oriented CUV. The couple-like 4-door EX is small by CUV standards, but it packs a lot of technology into the curvaceous shape. Infiniti's Lane Departure Prevention system actually helps notify drivers when they're drifting out of their lane. Lucky the systems initials aren't HAL. The EX35 comes in rear-wheel or all-wheel-drive configurations.

GMC Acadia

General Motors recently introduced the all-new Acadia along with its siblings the Buick Enclave and Saturn Outlook. All three ride on an identical full-size chassis and offer the same 3.6-liter V6 found in the new Saturn Vue (a much smaller CUV). The GMC is conservatively styled, and there is ample room inside for seven, making the Acadia comfortable for long-distance cruising. However, because itÔøΩs the largest CUV on the market, its fuel mileage tends to suffer. Read more about the GMC Acadia and its siblings.

Jeep Compass

The smallest Jeep is based on the Dodge Caliber. While some argue that the Compass is not a true Jeep (meaning a focused off-road machine), it is most certainly a CUV. The Compass offers those popular Jeep styling cues along with more room inside than a Caliber or most other compact sedans. With AWD, it will easily handle light off-roading. Make sure you look over the interior's quality before you buy.
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