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SUV or CUV: What’s the Difference? - Trail's End

Posted in Features on April 30, 2015
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The line between SUV and CUV is beginning to get even blurrier.

The term CUV, crossover utility vehicle, generally refers to a vehicle that is based on a car platform and available with all-wheel drive but integrated with some of the features of an SUV. Some examples of the latest CUVs, by manufacturer definition, are the Chevy Traverse, Dodge Journey, and Kia Sportage. We’d also drag ’n drop vehicles such as the Toyota RAV4 and the new Nissan Pathfinder into that category.

An SUV typically has more truck-like DNA and is available with a four-wheel-drive system that includes a two-speed transfer case. Current examples include the Toyota 4Runner, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chevy Tahoe, Nissan Armada, Dodge Durango, and Ford Expedition.


As an off-road enthusiast, your attention is probably focused on the SUV-side of things because SUVs are more off-road friendly than a CUV. But wait—The new Jeep Cherokee and Renegade are based on car platforms and neither vehicle has a transfer case. Both are very off-road friendly and are specifically designed to excel off-road. The Cherokee has a unique four-wheel-drive system that creates an honest-to-goodness low range at the axles. The Renegade has a 20:1 crawl ratio with its Jeep Active Drive Low system. So are these two vehicles an SUV or a CUV?

Compounding the SUV/CUV question is the fact that some CUVs have less body fat and more ground clearance than some SUVs. An example is the newest all-wheel-drive Subaru Outback, which boasts better approach and ground clearance numbers than the newest Chevy Tahoe/Suburban and Dodge Durango. Toyota says the newest RAV4 has a 29-degree approach angle, which puts it on par with the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk. However, the Cherokee Trailhawk has far better ground clearance and departure angles. Does the fact that some CUVs have better approach and ground clearance than an SUV offset the fact that they don’t have a two-speed (or equivalent) transfer case?

CUVs are nothing new (remember the AMC Eagle?), but nowadays the line between SUV and CUV is even blurrier, both physically and mechanically. We’ve had to debate these issues amongst ourselves here at Four Wheeler, especially when it comes time to send out Four Wheeler of the Year invitations. When we look at the numbers, it’s clear that the SUV world is changing. From 2002 to 2009, there were between five and eight SUVs in the Four Wheeler of the Year test. From 2010 to 2015 there were between one and five.


Consider the classification chaos that would ensue if manufacturers began to offer off-road-specific content on vehicles considered CUVs. And what if Chevy trotted out a Traverse Z71, Ford an Escape FX4, or Toyota a RAV4 TRD Pro? What if those CUVs were more capable off-road than what we consider a true SUV?

The line between SUV and CUV is getting even blurrier, and it seems we’ll all have to take this on a case-by-no-case basis.

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