- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

Sport utility vehicles are still very popular, but many SUV owners have driven them long enough to get tired of some of their trucklike attributes. Many people don't like having to climb up and into the typical SUV. Others don't like the generally rough ride and mediocre handling characteristics. And fuel economy is always an issue.
But, don't despair alternatives to the SUV are showing up in almost every showroom. They're called crossover vehicles.
Crossover vehicles are built on a car platform, but still offer the practical aspects of an SUV body with their cargo space and relatively high seating position and they look like SUVs. Ride and handling are carlike and all offer four-wheel or all-wheel drive for excellent all-weather performance.
Some say that American Motors started the crossover trend back in the 1980s with the all-wheel-drive, high-ground-clearance version of the AMC Eagle. It was a failure in the marketplace because of quality issues and perhaps because it was ahead of its time.
Subaru was a relatively small player in the marketplace but had been offering four-wheel drive since 1975. Subaru's introduction of the highly successful Outback in 1995 really started the crossover trend. Its rugged looks, all-weather capability and carlike comfort convinced buyers and automakers that there was a real alternative to the SUV.
Now almost every automaker offers at least one crossover, and the race is on to build even more. Some call them SUVs, while others insist they are trucks, but the real definition of a crossover is a vehicle with a carlike platform with its inherent ease of entry/exit, comfortable ride, good handling, and decent fuel economy. Combine that with a rugged-looking, but practical, body and all-wheel drive, and you have a crossover. Here are some of the crossovers you might consider: (Excluded are sporty all-wheel-drive versions of station wagons.)
Acura's MDX and the Honda Pilot are all-weather vehicles that look a lot like minivans. That's because both are built on the Honda Odyssey platform and offer many of the same interior features as this popular minivan. Buick offers the seven-passenger Rendezvous with a unique all-wheel-drive arrangement. Under the attractive skin, it's the same as the controversially styled Aztek.
The Honda CR-V was introduced in 1997 and quickly became a popular alternative to the conventional SUV. Built on a Civic platform, it offers two- or all-wheel drive and seating for five. Toyota's RAV4 competes nose to nose with the CR-V. Its modified Corolla underpinnings make it mostly like a car with a very stylish, yet practical, body.
Even Lexus has a crossover. The very popular RX 300 is derived from the Lexus ES 300 platform, but many of the body, suspension and powertrain components are unique. Cost-conscious buyers can have the same basic vehicle for less with the Toyota Highlander.
Mitsubishi is a newcomer to the crossover segment with its Outlander. Built on the Lancer platform, the entry-level Outlander is an affordable way to join the crossover crowd. Also new is the Saturn VUE. Saturn refers to the VUE as its first SUV, but its carlike suspension, powertrain and interior features tell the story. Plastic body panels make it ding-, dent-, and rust-resistant.
Toyota and Pontiac have teamed up to build the Matrix and Vibe. Using a Toyota Corolla platform and powertrain, both have identical interiors, but more distinctive exterior styling. Matrix and Vibe are available with two- or four-wheel drive in regular or GT versions.
Then there's the Subaru Forester. It's been around since 1997, but has been substantially upgraded for 2002. Built on an Impreza platform, Forester is a competent little package in all kinds of weather.
For 2003 Subaru is offering a different kind of crossover. Called the Baja, it uses a Legacy/Outback platform, has seating for four, with the added convenience of a shortened pickuplike bed.
We can expect to see even more crossovers such as the Ford Cross Trainer and Chrysler Pacifica.

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