1. Car Buying Advice
  2. /
  3. Car Research
  4. /
  5. Automotive 101: Is There a Difference Between a CUV versus an SUV?

Jeffrey N. Ross | Oct 09, 2019

Exterior view of a white BMW SUV

The answer is yes and no. There is a technical difference between a CUV versus an SUV, but that line has been disappearing with the popularization of the SUV in general. First, though, let's look at the differences between the two. While you may not think it, the Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-9, and Jeep Grand Cherokee are technically all CUVs, yet all are categorized as SUVs. Vehicles such as the Lexus CT 200h, Mazda CX-3, and BMW X1 are crossovers. All the vehicles listed in this paragraph are technically CUVs due to their chassis, yet most of them are marketed as SUVs, so there's something more to this term than meets the eye.

Shop SUV Inventory


CUV versus SUV: Storage Space

Exterior view of the Honda CR-V

CUVs and SUVs will share a similar storage space area, since they sometimes use the same bodies and design cues. Sometimes they will have nearly identical body outlines, due to popular styling and aerodynamics.To achieve good miles per gallon, there's a specific shape that should be adhered to for minimal drag coefficient. Mid- and full-size SUVs will also offer third-row seating, whereas few CUVs will have that optionally or standard.Size-wise, the CUV and small SUV offer around the same amount of storage space. However, mid- to full-size SUVs have a different shape (usually boxier) and much more storage. CUVs don't come in mid- or full-sizes- those are just called wagons.


Shop Honda CR-V Inventory

CUV versus SUV: Ride Height

Exterior view of the Ford Expedition

One of the key differences will be ride height. A CUV will have a ride height closer to a sedan or coupe. They differ from wagons in that they have a smaller cargo area, even though they share the ride height and general shape.They may actually share the same ride height, too, as many CUVs offer all-wheel drive and a slightly taller ride height than some cars for 'light' off-roading. The Ford Explorer comes with a rather low ride height when compared to other Ford utility vehicles based on unibodies, so ride height isn't too much of a differentiating tool.

Shop Ford Expedition Inventory

CUV versus SUV: Drivetrain

Exterior view of the Hyundai Palisade

You can fit practically any engine with any transmission and connect it to any of the available wheel drive configurations. The same is true of the CUV versus SUV debate. CUVs offer the same engines, transmissions, and even wheel drive configurations as their truck-based SUV counterparts.Since SUVs tend to tow more objects, they also tend to have a higher torque output for mid- or full-size SUVs. Compact SUVs and CUVs will probably be powered similarly.


Shop Hyundai Palisade Inventory

CUV versus SUV: Chassis

Exterior view of the Subaru Ascent

A SUV, traditionally, has is based on a truck's chassis, whereas a CUV is based on a car's. This has been the difference, historically speaking. Now, however, the lines are getting rather blurred. CUV and SSUV are often used interchangeably with SUV.The CUV chassis will usually be a unibody chassis, with a body and frame being one whereas the SUV will be a body on frame, much like that of a pickup truck. While this is the technical difference between the CUV versus SUV, even those lines are being blurred more and more.


Shop Subaru Ascent Inventory

CUV versus SUV: Perception

Exterior view of the Acura RDX

Perception is the reality. If a person perceives or the manufacturer wants people to perceive that a vehicle is 'capable, rugged, or off-road-worthy' then it's an SUV, if the vehicle is more suited to speed-tests or street corners than sand pits then it's probably a CUV. When people want a spacious and safe vehicle that offers a sporty drive, they look for a crossover utility vehicle. However, many CUV vehicles are rather capable at off-roading. The inclusion of all-wheel drive makes most vehicles able to take on light off-roading, such as snowy or muddy conditions. Some compact SUVs, however, can do just as much off-roading as their larger SUV counterparts, even if their city-sized stature is rather demure.

Shop Acura RDX Inventory

Read articles about SUVs, CUVs, crossovers, midsize SUVs, and more

SUV Research

More Americans are climbing into an SUV to get from here to there. Find the best SUV for you.

More Research

Browse more automotive research than you can shake a stick shift at.

Find great SUVs with AutoNation Drive research

Test Drive Reviews

Our automotive experts at AutoNation Drive weigh in on price, safety, and performance of popular cars, trucks, and SUVs.

Find great cars, trucks, and SUVs with AutoNation Drive research

Car Buying Advice

If you're buying a car, truck, or SUV, the chances are - you need help. Don't worry. Our automotive experts are here to help.