Crossovers are a stylish alternative to minivans and SUVs. They can seat five to eight people, hold all your stuff and drive like cars.
Most crossovers look like SUVs, so it’s hard to understand why they have an extra title. Unlike truck-based SUVs like the Chevrolet Suburban, crossovers have car platforms. This means they drive like a car, but they have the utility of SUVs. Car-like performance is definitely a plus, but don’t expect your crossover to get 40 mpg on the highway like the Hyundai Elantra: around 30 mpg is more realistic.
What type of crossover are you looking for?
We’ve listed six categories that will help you narrow down your options and get you closer to choosing the best crossover for your lifestyle.
The best performer
Specifications like engine size, horsepower, torque and fuel economy will help you eliminate models based on the amount of power you want, but the best way to decide if you like the way a crossover feels behind the wheel is to test drive.
You’re going to have to fork over around $30,000 for the best-performing crossovers, but don’t be surprised if you end up paying $44,000. The Acura MDX and the Lincoln MKT are top performers and start near $44,000. Both come standard with a V6 engine -- the MKT even has an optional 3.5-liter turbocharged engine that produces 355 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. These numbers are impressive, but decide if you really need that much juice to get to work or to the grocery store. If that’s all you’ll do with your crossover, consider more affordable performers like the Volkswagen Tiguan and the Mazda CX-7. The Volkswagen Tiguan starts at about $23,500 and the Mazda CX-7 starts at about $22,000. Both come standard with a four-cylinder engine, but you can get a turbocharged four-cylinder on the CX-7.
The best gas mileage
SUVs have a reputation for having poor fuel economy, but there are plenty of crossovers that don’t. To learn about fuel economy ratings, use the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website where you’ll find a ton of useful information on annual fuel costs.
As you search for the most fuel-efficient crossover, keep in mind that these aren’t always the most powerful options. This means they don’t have turbocharged V6 engines. If you’re looking for something efficient and fun to drive, check out the Mini Cooper Countryman. It’s nearly as zippy as the Mini Cooper hardtop, and can get 27/35 mg, city/highway with a 1.6-liter engine and a manual transmission. That’s better than some affordable small cars. But keep in mind that the Countryman uses premium fuel.
The best crossover for my family
If you used to own a minivan, but want a family-oriented vehicle with a lot of utility, crossovers are the perfect choice. They’re not as large as the Chevrolet Suburban or Tahoe, but they can pack a lot of people and stuff for their size. Crossovers seat five to eight people, depending on the model you select, so the best way to start shopping is by seating capacity. From there, you can assess cargo space, interior storage and safety and technology features.
The Honda CR-V is roomy and has a lot of innovative features like a conversation mirror and plenty of storage. The CR-V is affordable too; expect to pay around $22,000.
For seating up to seven, check out the Ford Explorer. It has optional all-wheel drive and a Terrain Management System that allows you to adjust the Explorer’s powertrain based on five conditions: snow, sand, mud, hill descent and normal.
The best value
To find the best crossover for your budget, you‘ll probably start with the sticker price. Base prices are a great starting point, but don’t eliminate a model because it’s more than you want to pay. Inexpensive crossovers aren’t always the least expensive to own. Keep five-year total ownership costs, which factor in things like depreciation, fuel and maintenance, in mind as well.
After you make a list of the models you like, start tacking on extra features. Some models like the nearly $19,000 Kia Sportage come standard with a lot of tech features that are common in upscale crossovers. While this is a good deal in terms of price, the Sportage has one of the highest five-year ownership costs because it has so-so fuel economy ratings, rapid depreciation and costly maintenance.
The Jeep Patriot Sport 4x4 has lower than average five-year ownership costs, but it doesn’t come with a lot of standard features. For more tech options, you can opt for the Hyundai Tucson. You’ll pay about $19,000 and get an iPod input jack, remote keyless entry, a tilt steering wheel and power doors and locks. On the downside, the Tucson’s five-year ownership costs are higher. If you can spend between $20,000 and $30,000, check out the GMC Terrain. For about $24,250 you can get OnStar, a rearview camera, a center console and remote keyless entry.
Upscale and luxury crossovers start at $30,000 or more. The Volvo XC60 and Acura RDX are two of your best bests in this price range. For about $32,600, the RDX gives you leather seats, a USB audio interface, iPod integration, Bluetooth and XM radio.
The safest crossover
Regardless of the type of car you’re buying, it’s important to prioritize safety. Thankfully, the Insurance Industry for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) make finding the safest crossover on the market a simple process. Both organizations perform crash tests, and while their scoring guidelines are different, both give you a good picture of vehicle safety.
When you use the IIHS’s website, look for a crossover with “Top Safety Pick” status. Numerous crossovers are “Top Safety Picks,” and include the Audi Q5, the Ford Explorer, the Kia Sportage and the Toyota Venza.
NHTSA scores vehicles using a five-star safety rating based on front-impact crashes, side-impact crashes and rollover test results. Then, NHTSA gives the vehicle an overall rating. Few crossovers receive an overall score of five stars, but the Volvo XC60, Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia do. The Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V, Kia Sorento, Lexus RX and Toyota Venza follow suit with four-star overall ratings.
The best crossover for where I live
If you live in the city, it’s important to purchase a small crossover with great fuel economy and accurate handling and braking that makes it easier for you to navigate narrow streets and park in compact garages. The Mini Cooper Countryman and the Nissan Juke are great for these environments. After deciding on the best crossover for where you live, evaluate your climate needs to narrow down your features.
The crossover with the most utility
When shopping for the most utilitarian crossover, consider two things: interior utility and exterior utility. Ask yourself if there is enough space for people and all of their stuff. Look for a crossover that has the most space with all the seats in use. Also, automakers offer standard and optional features that make life easier. These include under-floor storage bins, cargo mats, and cargo-area bag hooks.
Those with an outdoorsy life style should always check exterior utility. Do the crossovers you’re interested in have optional roof racks and equipment that allow you to carry bicycles, kayaks and skis?