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What's the difference between a 4x4, SUV and Crossover?

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November 10th 2022 info

What is an SUV? In fact, what is a 4x4? Are there any differences between an SUV and a crossover? How do you decide which one is best for you?

Don’t worry if you struggled to answer these questions – the terms 4x4, SUV and crossover are used interchangeably so often that many think they share the same definition. Rather, the SUV tends to be the item of confusion. Side by side, a 4x4 and crossover are pretty easily identifiable – it’s the SUV’s involvement that blurs the boundaries and makes all three vehicles easily to conflate. 

While they may look similar, there are fundamental differences between each type of car. So, don’t judge a car by its cover, and find out the differences between a 4x4 and SUV, and SUV and crossover, below.

SUV vs 4x4

Most of us have preconceived notions of what a 4x4 is. Images of big, bulky, powerful cars come to mind, but the most important feature of a 4x4 is in its namesake – the four-wheel drive.

Four-wheel drive is a term that can be thrown around without being understood, but it simply means that the engine powers all four wheels, rather than just two. This means 4x4s are much more powerful than other vehicles.

However, this power and high-raised driving position come at the expense of a light chassis, precision and fuel efficiency. Having a heavy chassis isn’t always a negative, though – it makes the majority of 4x4s incredibly resilient. If you get bumped or need to do a spot of off-roading, then the weight of a 4x4 will come into its own. In a typical 4x4, you will also find a chassis frame with bodywork sat on top. This benefits its powerful, heavy design, with a perfect example being the Mitsubishi Outlander.

Once upon a time, the term SUV – which stands for Sports Utility Vehicle – was used to describe cars that were like 4x4s, but were more eye-catching, quiet and stylish. They were larger, 4x4-like vehicles that were better on roads, better on fuel and better for the modern driver.

Nowadays, it is used to refer to weight and build design. SUVs are considerably lighter than 4x4s, meaning they are cheaper to run with lower repair costs.

When deciding between an SUV or 4x4, you need to consider whether you want to sacrifice the power and off-road precision of the latter for the more lightweight, economical design of the former. 

Deciding between an SUV or crossover, however, is more difficult as they’re both so similar.

SUV vs Crossover?

Many people have a good idea of what a 4x4 or SUV is. However, if you start talking about how you’re looking into buying a crossover, you may get a few raised eyebrows or confused looks. Most people will conflate SUVs and crossovers, and to be fair, there is a grey area between the two.

This is mostly a relic of marketing, as, in the past, the term SUV brought with it connotations of poor mileage and a penchant for breaking down. These days, SUVs do not suffer the same problems as they used to.

The difference, at least at a mechanical level, is black-and-white. A crossover is based on a regular car’s infrastructure and platform, whereas an SUV always uses the chassis of a truck. This means the body and frame of a crossover is built in one piece, like the Mazda cx-30, whereas an SUV is not.

Of course, you wouldn’t know this unless you had a deep interest in motors, so what do these differences mean for general consumers?

Well, since a crossover is built on a unibody architecture, it means drivers can enjoy the space and other benefits of an SUV with the fuel efficiency and running costs of a larger-sized car. However, it does also lead to SUVs being considerably better when driving off-road.

That covers CO2 emissions, too, making crossovers very popular for company cars or those who want an SUV-like experience without the environmental downsides.

So, if you love the aesthetics and practicality of a SUV but want a style of driving akin to a larger-sized car, then consider a crossover, and check out our crossover car guide to get an idea of what to shop for. Or, SUVs also tend to have higher driving positions and more room than crossovers, so if this sounds more your speed, our detailed SUV guide covers more about the car’s pros and cons.

Should I buy a 4x4, SUV or Crossover?

So, decision time: what type of car should you go for? This all depends on you. If you want all the typical features that come with these cars – lots of power, a resistant chassis and four-wheel drive – then a 4x4 model might be best for you.

If you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of power for a lightweight chassis and a better environmental impact, then a crossover is a good choice.

Can’t make your mind up? Then an SUV could be your best bet, blending the benefits of both crossovers and 4x4s.

Of course, our dealers are on hand to help if you’re still stuck. Discover our full listings of used cars including 4x4s, SUVs and crossovers to decide for yourself.

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