Do you know the difference between a traditional 4X4, an SUV and a crossover? What makes each of them special and which one would be the best fit for you? Read on. We'll tell you everything you need to know about these rugged cars so that you can pick the right one for you.
Look at any road or street in the UK and you’re likely to see plenty of crossovers, SUVs and 4x4s. These larger cars have been a hit with British drivers for a while now but there’s still a lot of confusion regarding what makes them different. Keep reading to learn more. And you can also check out our expert guide to all body styles for a quick summary of all car types.
What is a 4X4?
4X4s were the first vehicles designed to tackle off-roading and rough terrains. They are, in a way, the ones that started the trend for rugged cars.
As their name suggests, 4×4 cars got their name from the fact that they have four-wheel-drive and that they can get you almost anywhere, no matter how tricky the surface is. They are heavy vehicles and while they can sometimes feel a bit clunky on the motorway, they excel in the wild. On the other hand, they are exceptionally tough and good at towing great loads.
Another thing you should know about 4x4s is that they are traditionally built with the body bolted on the frame. This simple construction means that the engine, gearbox, axles and suspension are all on the chassis – and that is quite handy for car maintenance. However, newer models like the new Land Rover Defender are now being built in a unibody style with the drivetrain and suspension bolted to the body instead of the frame.
Although 4X4s like the Land Rover Defender or the Jeep Wrangler can be seen in cities and towns, these vehicles were made to tackle the most challenging conditions. For that, they perform best when in the wild. If you love adventures off-road or require its capabilities for off-road work, look no further.
4x4 pros and Cons
Great performance in harsh off-road situations
Great ground clearance
Great in snow and mud
Perfect for towing vehicles
Tend to hold value well
Generally safer than smaller vehicles
Expensive car insurance
Not the most fuel-efficient vehicles on the road
Difficult to park in cities and small car parks
Higher emissions than your regular hatchback (although hybrid, plug-in hybrids and electric 4x4s are more common every year)
What is an SUV?
SUV stands for Sports Utility Vehicle and is used to describe high-riding stylish vehicles that have better handling on the road, improved luxury and comfort for all occupants and lower running costs than traditional 4x4s. SUVs tend to be lighter too because the bodywork and chassis form one complete piece – that is called a ‘unibody’ layout.
Whilst 4X4s were born to thrive off-road, SUVs feel more like a conventional car when you’re driving. They are more engaging and fun to drive on roads and streets. And even if they were not built with off-roading in mind, the majority come with AWD or even 4WD as an option, in case you’re feeling adventurous.
SUVs tend to sport a sleeker body with a more stylish design than 4x4s. With plenty of sizes and shapes, there’s one for almost every driver and budget. For example, families will love the Mazda CX-5‘s comfort and fabulous handling. And luxury thrill-seekers will fall for all the charms of the Range Rover or the Lexus RX L.
We explored the difference between SUVs and Crossovers in more detail in our Crossover Guide.
SUV pros and cons
Greater safety in crashes thanks to unibody construction with crumple zones
Lower fuel costs and lower emissions than a 4×4
Better handling in urban driving
Low fuel economy compared with a hatchback or an estate car, although better than a traditional 4×4 (there are a few electric and hybrid options out there)
They are high and fast, which makes them more susceptible to rolling over when cornering at high speeds
Higher price tag than a similar size saloon or hatchback (but cheaper than a 4×4)
Higher emissions than same-size hatchbacks/saloons (not an issue if you opt for an electric, plug-in hybrid or hybrid)
What is a crossover?
Crossovers are a cross between a hatchback and an SUV. It’s a relatively ‘new’ term and whilst technically they are not the same as an SUV they have enough similarities to be classed under this car type.
In essence, crossovers combine the high driving position, great visibility, rugged looks and greater space of the SUV with the cheaper running costs of a hatchback, without being much larger. Although they look like off-roaders, crossovers are not meant to be driven in challenging terrain. They perform great on the road and in urban environments.
If you’re looking for some classic examples of a crossover, think about the Nissan Qashqai – the pioneer of this body style – and the Vauxhall Mokka. Crossovers are typically front-wheel-drive – although some offer AWD as an option or by default – and they drive like a similar hatchback.
Crossover pros and cons
Lower running costs than SUVs and 4X4s
Lower emissions than SUVs and 4x4s
Easy to drive around town and on the road
Plenty of availability in hybrid and electric technologies
Better handling at high speeds
Not suitable for off-roading
More expensive to maintain than a conventional passenger car.
What is best: 4X4, SUV or Crossover?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. It will depend on what you want and need the car for.
If you’re serious about off-roading, work in rugged terrain or live somewhere with harsh weather conditions, then a 4×4 will possibly suit your lifestyle better. After all, you need a car capable of taking you where you need to be without any problems. Yes, they’re more expensive to run and to maintain, and generally not the eco-friendliest. But they will make your everyday life easier.
On the other hand, if you’d rather sacrifice a bit of power for a lighter car with fewer emissions and better fuel economy, then a crossover is for you. Plenty of crossovers are available in hybrid and electric versions, which is even better for environment-friendly drivers. Also, if you’re mostly going to use the car for driving around town or on the road, a crossover is a good choice.
And if you can’t make up your mind, then an SUV may be a perfect choice. Added comfort with extra power and better off-roading capabilities than a crossover. Check out our body style guide for even more information.