Tell someone you drive a saloon or a hatchback and they will have a general but clear picture of your vehicle. Tell them you drive a crossover, however, and the image becomes much more fuzzy. This is simply because ‘crossover’ is a largely meaningless term applied to any manner of vehicle a manufacturer is keen on selling in large quantities.
The bastion of information that is Wikipedia suggests that the word ‘crossover’ first emerged, unsurprisingly, as a marketing term. Given its provenance, you would expect nothing less than this rather vague definition:
A crossover or crossover utility vehicle (CUV) is a vehicle built on a unibody car platform combining in highly variable degrees features of a sport utility vehicle (SUV) with those of a passenger vehicle, especially a station wagon or hatchback. Using unibody construction typical of passenger vehicles instead of the body-on-frame design of light trucks and the original SUVs, the crossover combines SUV features – such as a tall interior, high H-point seating, high ground-clearance, and AWD – with those of an automobile – including independent rear suspension, car-like handling, and lighter weight and better fuel economy than trucks or truck-based vehicles.
Continuing its revelation of predictable information, the article goes on to suggest that most consumers cannot tell the difference between a crossover and an SUV. This confusion over terms further indicates that, whatever ‘crossover’ might actually mean, it is more closely associated with an SUV than a car.
I was struck by just how meaningless the term is twice in this past week. The first time was with the release of the Ford Fiesta Active, which has been billed by Ford itself as a crossover, despite the fact that it is merely a Fiesta with a few extra millimetres of ground clearance and some plastic cladding. For the sake of comparison, as far as I know, Volvo is not calling the V90 Cross Country a crossover.
The second instance was a curious tweet from Autocar the other day suggesting that the 1955-57 Chevrolet Nomad was the original crossover. This is a strange assertion, for a couple of reasons. In the first place, the Nomad featured almost none of the crossover elements mentioned above – it wasn’t any taller and didn’t have any more ground clearance than the Bel Air it was based on. It was merely a station wagon, which is what every North American would instinctively call it (and indeed, Chevrolet did themselves in their advertisements). In the second place, it was not an original design. Ford was first past the post with the two-door station wagon, with the the release of the Country Squire in 1950, and Studebaker followed with the Conestoga in 1954, the year the Nomad concept was first unveiled at the General Motors Motorama.
I suspect Autocar intended to argue that the Nomad was a crossover because of the fact that the original concept was based on the Corvette, and in that sense it was ‘crossing over’ the lines between sports car and practical estate. But again, it wasn’t any taller or higher. It was a station wagon. So was the Autocar tweet merely intended to be clickbait? If not, then surely you would also have to call the Morris Traveller and VW Bus crossovers.
In certain contexts, a more philosophical discussion about our use of language would be appropriate here. But as this is just a hobbyist’s automotive blog, I simply wish to note that the increasing proclivity to attach the ‘crossover’ label to anything and everything that is a slight derivation from the vehicle it is based on will only continue to eat away at whatever little meaning the term ever had. The reality is, however, that in a market-driven society, its remarkable ability to generate sales for manufactures guarantees its continued overuse.
Whatever the case, just promise me you will never call the Nomad a crossover again.