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What is a CUV?

By Melissa Spicer | October 7, 2021

CUV is an acronym that stands for a Crossover Utility Vehicle. CUVs are similar to an SUV but is less rugged and less suitable for off-roading, designed more for street driving than weekend adventures off the beaten path.

Some folks just call the CUV what it is -- a crossover. Others use the abbreviated “CUV” instead. Either way, a CUV offers sporty performance, durability, spaciousness, and safety, much like an SUV, but in a more street-friendly package that may be easier to handle and generally features improved drivability and dependability over its more-often-talked-about cousin, the SUV.

That’s not to say that no CUVs are off-road capable, though. Some include AWD, allowing them to keep up in muddy or snowy conditions and even handle some lighter off-roading, all-terrain fun.

CUVS are built on a sedan platform. Technically, popular models such as Jeep Grand Cherokee and Honda CR-V are CUVs, although some people call them SUVs or sport utility vehicles.

Some Automakers Produce CUVs But Not SUVs

A true CUV or crossover vehicle's chassis is built like a car chassis, with a body and frame as one piece, which manufacturers call unibody construction. These features make Mazda CX-9, Hyundai Tuscon, and Kia Sportage true CUVs or crossovers.

Automakers like Mazda and Hyundai produce CUVs but not SUVs because the manufacturers have only sedan platforms available in their factories. To produce true SUVs, automakers use pickup truck platforms and build vehicles with body-on-frame chassis.

Manufacturers such as Ford and Chevrolet have those truck platforms and capabilities in place, which makes it convenient and cost-effective for them to produce both full-size SUVs such as Ford Expedition and Chevy Suburban, and CUVs including the Ford Escape and Chevrolet Trax.

Differences Between CUVs and SUVs

The differences in platforms and chassis construction between CUVs and SUVs account for differences in specs, including size, layout, and performance, between the standard CUV and SUV. When comparing one to the other, think in terms of cars versus trucks.

Generally, CUVs are more compact, have less ground clearance, and have less power than SUVs. Still, some crossovers today are capable of pulling an impressive amount of weight, making them almost equal to lighter SUVs available on the market.

For light truck capability with full passenger seating capacity and covered cargo space, choose an SUV. A standard SUV offers a pickup truck’s floorplan, foundation, wheel plan, powertrain, and suspensions, and an SUV is well-suited for off-road driving and towing heavy payloads. A CUV is a way to go for a smoother, car-like ride, easy handling, fuel economy, and comfortable passenger seating, but they have less room for cargo and a lower towing capacity.

However, some CUVs offer the same transmissions, engines, and wheel drives as SUVs. True crossovers, including the Mazda CX-3, Lexus CT 200h, and BMW X1, combine features found in their manufacturers’ sedan models and in best-selling sport utility vehicles. Vehicle sales personnel and shoppers tend to combine SUVs and CUVs in the same category, so it’s wise to use the manufacturer's specifications to verify a vehicle's style.

What is a CUV’s Seating and Storage Capacity?

What is a CUV’s seating capacity? Vehicles such as the Lexus RX 350, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, and Ford Edge have seating capacity for five adults and storage space for their luggage. Features including reclining rear seats make passengers more comfortable while fold-down rear seats increase cargo space when the vehicles are not at their full occupant capacity.

Some models offer heated front seats and all-leather seats, while others give drivers and passengers soft, breathable cloth seats.

Honda’s top-selling compact utility vehicle, the CR-V has ample room for strapping two car seats in its rear passenger compartment, keeping child passengers safe and secure. Drivers looking for more seats and storage space opt for SUVs, which can seat up to nine occupants, offer three rows of seats, and accommodate high-capacity storage needs.

Ride Heights in CUVs Offer Comfort

Driving safety and ergonomics specialists say the ideal seat height for driving is about 21 to 27 inches above the ground. Drivers and passengers who are comfortable with ride heights similar to sedans, coupes, and station wagons often choose CUVs for their comparable or slightly higher ride heights.

Some CUVs designed for off-roading offer a taller ride height, along with all-wheel-drive. Seat height and big windows in the Kia Soul, Nissan Kicks, Chevrolet Trax, and Ford Escape help drivers feel and see better than when driving low-rider vehicles.

Gas-Powered and Hybrid CUVs are Fuel-Efficient

Their smaller size, lighter weight, and aerodynamic design help make CUVs more fuel-efficient than larger, heavier truck-based SUVs. Getting the most miles per gallon has never been more important than right now, whether you have a long trek to work or just appreciate saving your hard-earned cash whenever and wherever you can.

Kelley Blue Book ranks the top fuel-saving CUVs for 2021 based on EPA guidelines for fuel efficiency as:

  • 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid, 37 mpg combined

  • 2021 Honda CR-V Hybrid, 38 mpg combined

  • 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime, 94 MPGe combined

  • 2021 Lexus UX, 39 mpg combined

  • 2021 Toyota Venza, 39 mpg combined

  • 2021 Ford Escape, 41 mpg combined

  • 2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge, 79 MPGe combined

  • 2021 Volkswagen ID.4, 99 MPGe combined

  • 2021 Ford Mustang MACH-E, 101 MPGe combined

  • 2021 Hyundai Kona Electric, 120 MGPe combined

As you can see, many of the most eco-friendly, fuel-conscious offerings among crossovers on the road today are hybrid models that offer more fuel efficiency than pure gasoline-powered crossovers and at luxury to economy prices.

The Bottom Line: Which is Best for You, SUV or CUV?

Safe, stylish, comfortable, and convenient describe today's CUVs. List your needs and wants, research your options, look for incentives such as rebates, and find the compact utility vehicle type of your dreams. CUVs and SUVs both have a lot to offer, and they are alike in many ways yet different in many ways too. Balancing your needs with what each has to offer can help you choose if one or the other is a better fit for you. Be sure to check out AutoList to get help searching through the local inventory to find the CUV (or SUV) or another new vehicle of your dreams with minimal effort.