The Origins of Crossovers and the Main Reason Why They've Become So Popular

The term might be relatively new, but the concept of crossover has been around for more than 40 years. Initially, crossovers looked like beefed up wagons, but through the decades, they morphed into a new breed of SUVs, becoming one of the most popular segments in the industry.
2021 Subaru Outback 11 photos
Photo: Subaru
2021 Toyota Highlander2020 Maxda CX-52021 Lincoln Corsair2021 Jaguar E-Pace2021 Porsche Macan Turbo2021 Cupra FormentorAudi SQ8Buick Envision1995 Toyota RAV41980 AMC Eagle Wagon
Today’s crossovers are described as CUVs, compact SUVs, light-duty SUVs, or SUV-like vehicles that use a unibody construction based on an architecture that is usually shared with passenger cars.

However, there is no official definition, and the term is attributed to a wide range of vehicles, including wagons or hatchbacks with a raised suspension.

Their origins can be traced back to the late 1970s when the Europeans got a taste of the bizarre ‘Range Rover-esque’ Matra-Simca Rancho, and North America saw the birth of the weird yet intriguing AMC Eagle.

1980 AMC Eagle Wagon
Photo: American Motors Corporation
These two models were vastly different but combined elements from off-road vehicles and passenger cars. They quickly became popular, laying the foundation for today’s crossovers.

Another vehicle that is credited for the rise in popularity of this segment is the Toyota RAV4, which was introduced in Japan and Europe in 1994 and in North America a year later.

Developed on a modified platform used by the Toyota Corolla and Carina, it coined the term ‘crossover‘ according to many experts. It did that by offering most of the advantages of an SUV such as improved cargo room, higher visibility, increased comfort, and off-road capabilities, combined with the maneuverability and fuel economy of a passenger car.

1995 Toyota RAV4
Photo: Toyota Motor Co.
The blend of these characteristics makes these vehicles extremely desirable for many people who have been rushing to buy them in recent years, a trend that has compelled carmakers to aggressively expand into this segment, withdrawing some once-successful passenger cars along the way.

Buick is a perfect example of that as increasingly poor sales figures for its passenger cars prompted GM to draw the curtain on all its sedans (and the Regal TourX wagon) recently; as a result, Buick now relies on a crossover-only lineup.

Some people despise these vehicles and argue that they are an ugly combination between wagons and 4x4s. To be honest, I was one of them before I got to use a VW Tiguan for a couple of days.

2021 Jaguar E\-Pace
Photo: Jaguar Land Rover Automotive PLC
As a wagon owner, I didn’t see much difference in terms of space or cargo room, but I did enjoy the higher visibility and the fact that it maneuvered much like a Golf. What I found particularly pleasing, though, was just how easy and comfortable it was to get in and out of the car, compared to my car, which happens to have a factory sport suspension.

Believe it or not, studies have shown that this is the main reason why crossovers are selling like hotcakes. Sure, sufficient cargo room helps, a less-cramped cabin is nice, as is the heightened visibility, but the ease of access is what ultimately makes the difference, according to researchers, and I can attest to that.

Most people are not fanatics who worships sports cars; they see vehicles for what they are - metal boxes with wheels that take you from A to B – so comfort and ease of access are their top priority. That’s exactly what these vehicles offer and why they have become so popular.
If you liked the article, please follow us:  Google News icon Google News Youtube Instagram X (Twitter)
About the author: Vlad Radu
Vlad Radu profile photo

Vlad's first car was custom coach built: an exotic he made out of wood, cardboard and a borrowed steering wheel at the age of five. Combining his previous experience in writing and car dealership years, his articles focus in depth on special cars of past and present times.
Full profile


Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories