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What is a CUV?

By Autolist Staff | February 26, 2019

What is a CUV? A CUV is a compact utility vehicle, and it’s built on a sedan platform. Automotive dealers and customers call these popular vehicles “crossovers.” Technically, the popular 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 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 including Mazda and Hyundai produce CUVs but not SUVs because the manufacturers have only sedan platforms available from their car-building activity. To produce true SUVs, automakers use pickup truck platforms and build the 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 Explorer 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 makes differences in size, layout, and performance, between the standard CUV and SUV. When comparing one to the other, think terms of cars versus trucks. Generally, CUVs are more compact, have less ground clearance, and less power than SUVs.

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 is well-suited for off-road driving and towing heavy payloads. A CUV is the 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 third-row seating, 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 CUVs are Fuel-Efficient
Their smaller size, lighter weight, and aerodynamic design help make compact utility vehicles more fuel-efficient than larger, heavier truck-based SUVs. Crossovers that rank among the top ten fuel savers in 2018 include the 2018 Suburu Crosstrek, with a combined city and highway rating of 29 miles per gallon, the 2018 Buick Encore, with a combined rating of 30 miles per gallon and the 2018 Mazda CX-3, with a combined rating of 31 miles per gallon. Topping the list, the 2018 GMC Terrain and Chevrolet Equinox each offer drivers a combined city and highway rating of 32 miles per gallon.

CUVs Offer Hybrid Options
Eco-friendly hybrid CUVs offer even more fuel efficiency than pure gasoline-powered crossovers and at luxury to economy prices. The 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is a plug-in hybrid crossover with power from a 117-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine combined with two 80-hp electric motors. A 12-kWh battery pack provides a range of 22 miles of electric-only power. Outlander PHEV seats five adults and offers an EPA-estimated rating of 74 miles per gallon equivalent (mpge). On a new platform for 2019, Toyota’s best-selling RAV4 offers environmentally conscious drivers four hybrid-powered RAV4 models that operate on the Toyota Hybrid System II and its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. The star performer of the quartet is the automaker’s new RAV4 XSE Hybrid.

Volvo’s hybrid CUV entry, the 2019 Volvo XC90 T8 energizes drivers with its supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and two electric motors. With a combination of 400 horsepower under its hood, this crossover zips from zero to 60 miles per hour in under 5.5 seconds. Its electric-only range is 14 to 19 miles, and the EPA rates this Swedish-made CUV at 62 mpge.

Lexus RX gave drivers the first luxury hybrid CUV, and the tradition continues in 2019 with the five-passenger Lexus RX 450h. Accelerate flawlessly with the 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine and two electric-drive motor-generators, and a powertrain delivering 308 combined horsepower, and an EPA estimated fuel economy of 30 mpg. An independent electric motor drives the rear wheels whenever this all-wheel-drive system needs it.

Fuel-efficient and priced affordably, the 2019 Kia Niro PHEV plug-in hybrid crossover features an aluminum, 1.6-liter direct-injection four-cylinder engine and 60-horsepower electric motor. Drivers get a 139 hp output, along with power from an 8.9 kWh lithium-polymer battery pack. With its all-electric range of up to 26 miles, the EPA-estimated rating is 105 mpge. A combined fuel rating of 46 mpg makes this CUV an excellent choice for anyone who wants to engage in local or short-distance driving on a small budget.

Safe, stylish, comfortable, and convenient describe today's CUVs. List your needs and wants, research your options, and find the compact utility vehicle of your dreams.