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Crossover Vehicles – Are They Right for You?

Crossover vehicles are blurring the traditional lines between cars, minivans and sport-utility vehicles. That's quite a feat since few folks know exactly what they are.

The term "crossover" is a one-word moniker for a sport-utility, truck or wagon that uses a car chassis.

Today, a crossover can be just about any vehicle with uni-body construction, a relatively high seating position, available four-wheel drive (or not) and a reasonable amount of cargo space. Yet automakers and the media alike insist on using the word "crossover" to describe a group of vehicles that come in all shapes and sizes; and one that will multiply into even more shapes and sizes in the future as the demand for these types of vehicle change.

As more of these vehicles, with their multitude of styles and uses, come to market, it will become even more difficult to lump them into one bunch like sedans — four doors define them. Yet forecasters predict that crossovers will outsell traditional sport-utilities and trucks because of their better gas mileage and utilitarian style and flexibility.

Jeri Ward, marketing manager for the Ford Edge, says there are four types of crossovers: those modeled after traditional SUVs, those that look like small SUVs, those that look like wagons, and the modern crossover vehicle. There's also an emerging fifth type, those that look like minivans or wagons.

As an example; the Mazda 5 is counted by Ward's as a small crossover. But it has sliding rear doors and three rows of seats. That, plus its compact size could make it a micro-minivan. Give it hinged rear doors and it looks like a four-door hatchback. Add sliding rear doors to the $50,000 Mercedes-Benz R-Class, and you have a long-wheelbase minivan. But automakers are loath to call a new vehicle a minivan. "Someone who buys a crossover is someone who probably belongs in a minivan, but they can't deal with the image," says Ralph Gilles, director of Dodge Truck Studio, SRT Design at the Chrysler Group. "That's really what it comes down to."

Indeed, the majority of buyers of Ford's crossovers — the Escape, the Edge and the Mercury Mariner — are 35 to 39 years old, care for children and in many cases their parents. Almost 85 percent of them are married. But modern crossovers are destined to dilute that demographic. "Unique and distinctive," says Ford's Ward, "there really isn't an American product out there that competes in that area."

Modern crossovers like Infiniti's FX and its stable mate, the Nissan Murano, may have been the first modern crossovers, but there are now close to 100 different models available.

"There are some trap doors in the whole crossover field," says Adrian van Hooydonk, director of BMW Brand Design. "What people are not looking for is something that combines a little bit of everything." And the bottom line is that enthusiasts and consumers are going to love it.

Because of the proliferation of multipurpose vehicles, cars, minivans and SUVs are going to be designed and engineered to meet very specific needs; in other words, for what they were intended to be in the first place. Multipurpose vehicles, meanwhile, will mirror the electronic industry where consumers can customize systems to their personal tastes.

And to consumers, if anything, the term "crossover" undoubtedly will come to mean what a vehicle is not: a car, a minivan or a sport-utility vehicle.

As the lines between automotive segments blur, the need to stand out will become even more urgent. All vehicles will be more distinctively styled but the most robust shapes will be used on multipurpose vehicles. "Uni-body construction gives more leeway in terms of design and [its light weight] allows for far better performance," says Dodge's Gilles.

What this all translates to, are more choices for you the consumer with the manufactures finally making something that is both useful and timely in today’s ever changing environment.

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