Off-Roading 101:

Picking the right Crossover SUV for you

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D4---Tucson20151013Its class name alone spells what it is – crossover – a sport utility vehicle based usually on a car platform designed to do both what a true four-wheel drive off-road vehicle like pick-up trucks and full-sized SUVs can do, and still perform like a car in terms of handling and performance. That means it should be a compromise and not a perfect culmination of both realms. “You can’t have your cake and eat it,” as a popular saying goes.

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Somewhere along the way in the development of crossover SUVs, the lines have been blurred on what truly defines a crossover. To this writer, a crossover may be, as mentioned earlier, a car-based SUV to a full-sized truck-based SUV with a two-wheel drive train. This could result to a vehicle having the key elements of a typical SUV, which are high ground clearance, structural rigidity and payload capability beyond your normal sedan.

Weather is a major consideration in picking the right vehicle for you. Usually, the ability to forge ahead in water is based on how deep the floods you plan to cross. If you’re looking at water depth of just over half your wheels’ diameter, then a car-based platform SUV is more than enough to get the job done. Anything deeper than that and you will need a 4WD drive train with a low range gear to confidently get through higher floods because water is actually heavy. A square meter of water will weigh in at nearly a ton and even if you think water is fluid, do remember that that’s just a square meter so in all probability there is more water ahead of you to plow through than what is in a swimming pool.

Flat unpaved surfaces such as grass and dirt, may look harmless when it’s dry, but add a sprinkling of water from rain and it can easily become a trap that you can’t get out of. So you must have at least above average driving skills to be able to drive yourself out of this mess, so be honest when deciding on which vehicle and drive train you need – an all-wheel drive (AWD) crossover SUV may be all you need if these conditions are a concern. But do remember that a slight incline is more than enough to make things more difficult in dirt and grass even to an AWD crossover, and this is where electronic driving aids such as electronic traction control or at least a winter mode found in some 2WD crossovers are essential. Yes, we may not have winter here in the tropics but winter mode has applications in our local conditions.

Payload and space are also considerations on why people buy crossovers, especially for the fashionable set who don’t like to be seen as being part of the mud-stomping red-necked brute. Buyers in this category like the roominess of a crossover, including the space for cargo. So they don’t need the added weight and handling of a truck-based 2WD SUV. But again, be honest with yourself and have no regrets because your 2WD won’t have the tools to take on more challenging road situations when the need arises.

EVOLVING FROM UTILITARIAN ROOTS
Pick-up trucks of today evolved from their basic utilitarian roots to having amenities such as coil suspension systems up front and in some cases in the rear. The interior design of pick-up trucks could also rival those found in premium SUVs, but there are crossover buyers who still look for the qualities of a sedan in terms of handling and comfort. These crossover buyers who seek vehicles that can deal with moderately treacherous terrain and can still maneuver well in the city are willing to forego durability and payload capacity.

Strictly functioning as people movers, these crossovers require an AWD system with tons of traction aids, some ground clearance and wheel travel. These vehicles are recreational in nature with little need for cargo but they should have the ability to get through non-paved surfaces such as beach sand to lonely unpaved dirt tracks. Anything more than these is already beyond its capabilities, so again be honest if negotiating through moderately treacherous conditions and having the civility for city and urban are all you need from the crossover vehicle of your choice. From my experience, there are little available choices in this segment. Most crossovers will just cater to the truck-like feel of the vehicle but with little or no ability to get through moderately treacherous terrain. So when you make your choice, do go check out manufacturers who are willing to stick their brand of crossover neck out a bit more than its comfort zone, because this may be the vehicle for you. If this is what you honestly think you need to be in, than its important to know that all rules apply in terms of vehicle safety and recovery. This is so because just like the real gear-grinding axle-busting off-roaders out there, it’s not a question of if you get stuck – it’s when. Otherwise, the other choices available are what you may want to be in.

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