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Hagerty Employee

Vellum Venom Vignette: Just call a crossover a car already!

Driving a vintage, classic, or antique four-door sedan of any national origin is quite the ordeal on urban roads these days. Yesteryear's low-slung beasts get absolutely lost in a parking lot full of crossover utility vehicles (CUVs), while the minuscule Nissan Kicks looks down upon you in traffic.
Advanced Driver

Liked the article. As usual you get me thinking. Soooooo
1. Will traditional dimensioned automobiles ever make a comeback? Ford says no.
2. Will piston engines ever go completely away, say in the next 20 years. We have several that say yes. I struggle with the intricasies of cross country travel. In and out of a gas station in 10 minutes. In an out of a charger in two or three hours at best. Spend the night at a hotel along with 500 or so of your favorite guests. How does that work?
Community Manager

I agree that the Buick Encore would indeed complement your 86 Olds Calais quite nicely. Thanks for reading! 

Intermediate Driver

Please let me be clear: CUVs are NOT cars. I’m willing to stretch the meaning of sedans to include 5-door hatchbacks, but not a high-riding CUV/SUV. I want a true, 3-box sedan, like our 2017 Honda Accord, or a Toyota Camry-type vehicle. Why the manufacturers have ceded the sedan market to European, Japanese and Korean manufacturers is beyond me. At least they give you choices - I don’t understand why the American manufacturers don’t. It sucks.
Pit Crew

Domestic manufacturers had to give up the sedan game bec they’ve been getting their asses handed to them by Asian manufacturers for 30+ years in this segment. Not saying I like it, but sedan offerings from the Big 3 have mostly been trash for decades. Even this article explaining the demise of the American sedan tried to praise the Chevy Cruze as a good American version, but we all know what piles of crap they turned out to be.

You're mostly right, but...
Our "trash" decades were from around 1973 to the 90's.
All of the Big Three made very fine cars later on. Think Chrysler 300, Chevy Malibu & Ford 500.

Everyone should look at the initial form of the cars launched in early 70s --before the front ends got made bumper-complaint after the design phase.

The period details (opera windows, partial vinyl roofs, etc.) may not be to taste and the colour palette that has never had a fashionable comeback (yet) doesn't help.

I concede some of them veered more wrong towards the 80s --and build quality declined with each refresh and new model that came out from most domestic companies.
New Driver

Sorry Sajeev, but I think maybe you're overgeneralizing for the sake of an article point. CUVs are an outcome of the desire for higher seating position (generally known as 'H-point') combined with the flexibility of a single shared volume for passengers and cargo. In vehicle design, 2-box vs. 3-box cars aren't defined by visual profile but by architecturally dedicated spacial volumes. That means cargo, passengers and powertrain all get separated by structural walls (fold-down rear seats and 'pass-throughs' notwithstanding) and all have their own dedicated real estate. Had your proposition gone back a decade earlier, it might actually had been more plausible, because prior to the 1930's, most 2- (or 3-) row passenger cars had separate, portable trunks that were carried on racks behind the body; THEY were actually the true 2-box architectures of their day. Also, a fine point, but worth note, is that pedestrian standards don't drive the height of the cowl, they drive the height of the HOOD (frunk?) profile, because they are intended to decrease injury to pedestrians in secondary impact to that area.
Community Manager

Thanks for your feedback, this is interesting to ponder. I am having a hard time differentiating between 2/3 box designs and your "architecturally dedicated spacial volumes" comment.


While you are right about the hood, its height can also change because of the cowl height. (Just about every dimension changes because of the cowl height, but I digress...) I wager taller cowls happen for this reason more often than not. Taller cowls seem like a more fail-safe design to ensure a pedestrian won't smack their head on the intake manifold when being hit by a car. Or more importantly, to ensure passengers won't smack their head on the strut towers...and making a taller hood in that area without raising the cowl will have an adverse affect on vehicle design. (Unless you are a fan of the strut bumps on the Mitsubishi 3000GT.) 




Good examples that prove you can still have a low cowl are the Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86 (low slung boxer engines) and Lexus LC (hood poppers). But most vehicles don't have that luxury, so taller cowls were a good workaround ever since 2010 mandate came about. 


CUV's have their uses, but they are NOT cars, by any reasonable definition. And sadly, so many of them are just plain unattractive, unlike some of the more traditional SUV's around.

I look at the choice of sedans and it's sad to see them go in a way. My biggest thing is the CUV's are mostly boring appliances. The "fun" ones are just too expensive so I'll go get a RWD or AWD sedan. I prefer wagons but there are few and most weigh the same and handle the same as their "CUV" brothers so they have no appeal to me. CUV's are definitely cars as they have nothing truck about them, they are just tall wagons.
Pit Crew

Hands down one of your best articles. The comparison chart was very helpful and those numbers where surprising to me, especially the wheelbase.
Community Manager

Glad you enjoyed it!  Thanks for reading! 


Wheelbase throws people.
Compare Mustang generations, not as different as many assume.

Look at 55-57 Chevy and the "intermediates" that came later.

Actually, I think that the '89 Continental is a pretty car. Ford was making a pretty nice product by the late '80's.
Community Manager

It's a little bit of everything from the past and present. That's what happens when you try to modernize a traditional brand with traditional vehicles...and apparently, ultimately do a poor job of it (but who's counting). 

New Driver

Finally someone calling them what they really are. So many articles and even manufacturers themselves are now calling just about anything that used to be considered a crossover an suv.
Now the comparison shot with the old car is interesting. Maybe we'll see fins again next.
New Driver

I’ve always considered CUVs to be nothing more than hatchbacks on steroids. The auto manufacturers couldn’t give hatchbacks away in North America in the past decades despite their enhanced cargo carrying ability. Most were two door plus the hatch (but not all were) and most CUVs are four door plus the hatch (but not all are). They have taken the hatchback, put bigger wheels and tires on them raising them in height, called it a Crossover, and now the manufactures can’t build them fast enough for the demand. The power of marketing is huge.
New Driver

The 1980 Cadillac Seville re-proportioned with the high beltline of the 1934 Chrysler Airflow would be perfect for 2022.
Community Manager

I like the way you are thinking! 

Intermediate Driver

So in 50 years or so, just how many of these CUV/SUV things will we see at Pebble Beach? I am guessing zero.
Intermediate Driver

It's always been my understanding that manufacturers came up with the CUV at least in part because of federal regulations that are more liberal about gas mileage and safety if the vehicle is a "truck", either as a commercial vehicle or one with off-road capacity. It's a tribute to the marketers that the population accepted the idea. Americans do love their big, big vehicles and it's hard to keep to the CAFE standards if your most popular vehicle is an F-150, so make the F-150 feel like a car, but still be a truck.
Community Manager

Yes and no...and I am glad you brought it up! Have a look at this quote below from this page

In considering the effects of increased CUV popularity on fuel economy calculations, it is also important to recognize that CUVs are classified in multiple ways by different government agencies and industry sources. For example, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) within the Department of Commerce and some industry sources classify vehicles on the basis of gross vehicle weight limits, vehicle appearance, and other criteria. In BEA's data, all CUVs are counted as light trucks.


When implementing fuel economy standards, however, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) categorize CUVs as either passenger cars or light trucks depending on their characteristics and features. For instance, one of the best-selling CUV models is the Honda CR-V. The two-wheel drive CR-V qualifies as a passenger car, and the all-wheel drive CR-V qualifies as a light truck.


Apart from being slightly agricultural in nature, I could mount an argument that my 2004 Forester XT is the best car for the real world. It’s a little low for ultimate visibility in modern traffic, but a great compromise for handling without having to slow down for speed bumps…
Despite that I miss my old E90 3 Series. I can accept all of the 3 box sedan limitations mentioned in the article. However, Sajeev mentioning larger mirrors being useful does bring back memories of the E90’s autobahn-optimised, teardrop-shaped slithers of glass, barely protruding from the doors. Wind noise from the oversized models on my wife’s Koleos (admittedly not as loud as the Forester’s frameless windows) demonstrates BMWs priorities.
Pit Crew

"Driving a vintage, classic, or antique four-door sedan of any national origin is quite the ordeal on urban roads these days. Yesteryear’s low-slung beasts get absolutely lost in a parking lot full of crossover utility vehicles (CUVs), while the minuscule Nissan Kicks looks down upon you in traffic."
So how do you think it feels driving around in my VW Karmann Ghia convertible? And back in the late '80s/early '90s I had a Porsche 914. Both made "interesting" drives at night, with the headlights of even small cars at rearview mirror level.
Community Manager

Stop it, you're scaring me! 😀

Intermediate Driver

To me the original CUV is actually the Station Wagon, as they were meant for pretty much the same purpose as the CUV, for people that wanted cargo space but didn't want a truck, or SUV, this need died when minivans came out, along with the Station Wagon, but now people don't like minivans as much and they want something more sporty so they brought back the Station wagon but are now calling it a CUV to avoid the old bad reputation that station wagons had in the late 80's and early 90's when they were severely underpowered and earned them a reputation as nothing but grocery getters, GM solved this in the last three years of their full size rear wheel drive B-body cars, with Buick only putting an iron head detuned Corvette based LT1 under the hood of all roadmasters, sedan or wagon, while Chevy put it in the Impala SS, and had it as an option for the Caprice sedan and wagon.

Curious spin trying to make image-conscious, having-it-all types feel better about bombing around in what look like -- regardless badge -- wheeled hamsters in heat. The '34 Airflow, Aerodynamic Hupp, '36 Cord, Lincoln Zephyr, Panhard Dynamic, '38 Cadillac 60S were not new modes of transportation. They were stylistic departures, some of them constructed differently.

Attempted reassurance like the above article could only appear in a mass market publication catering to people already inured to the oxymoron of "sport utility vehicle."
New Driver

SUV CUV they all look the same, they're all f- - - ing ugly.

I am not a fan of the rear cargo area that is not a separate space. I just really like having a box that is safe from prying eyes that locks separately from the passenger compartment. That's just my preference. That said, my long distance traveling car is a Toyota Sienna that has nothing covering the cargo area but tinted windows and a moving blanket.

Also for all you luggage aficionados, those suitcases shown in the back of that Ford are Oshkosh Chief Suitcases, they were the top of the line American suitcases of their day and still go for a hefty sum if you want to get a set. Think American Louie Viton. I carry a Chief trunk in the cargo area of that Sienna when I take my 2 week vacations, it is quite the piece of luggage.
Advanced Driver

CUV/SUV & whatever--these New names are confusing--People calling All 4 wheeled vehicles "Cars"--(including Vans & pickups) (my car is an F 100) ????? I call my old Mitsubishi Endeavor a Truck because it's Not a car (built on a truck frame) I call my small economy car a car because that's what it is-- When I say to my dogs--Were going for a ride in the truck--they understand which one is the car & which is a Truck--& go to the right one--Some of my friends Don't--
Intermediate Driver

Saloon ?

Was this written by someone in Europe ?

With a Lincoln town car in the garage ?
Intermediate Driver

Yeah, you know what they say: "The U.S. and the U.K. - two great countries divided by a common language."
Advanced Driver

I have to agree with "the CUV is a modern sedan" idea! Compare it to an even older car, like the Model A Ford, and it's even more apparent than a later 30s car. Even some of the 50s cars have a high enough seating position to make the point, though they have more of an extended trunk area. The underpinning of a modern CUV are pretty much the same as the sedans they replaced also, which gives them the more comfortable sedan-like ride versus the older small SUVs with a more truck-like ride -- say the old Escape vs. the newer one. Performance and handling is much better also, on a par with the sedans they replaced. I haven't really looked into it, but I'm pretty sure the later Escapes are based on the Fusion platform...
Pit Crew

I've been saying the same thing, but a little differently. I see the shift in terms of driving ease. Cars in the 80's and 90's were easy to drive around, you didn't have to worry much about potholes or scraping the underside getting in and out of parking lots. You could see easily through large glass panels and thin pillars. Modern sedans are increasingly low to the ground, have low profile tires that easily bend or curb rims, blow out sidewalls. People choose CUV's because they just want something practical that's easy to drive around. Your Lincoln, or even any basic Toyota Tercel, Corolla, or Camry has much of the driving characteristics of modern CUV's.
Pit Crew

Look up "Moab Crown Victoria" and you'll see what I mean about older sedans being more capable.

Sajeev it's hard for me to believe people spent the time to argue against your point. In fact before even reading I thought "this is so obvious, do I really need to read it?" But great points made and a worthwhile read.


What we're really seeing is just another manufactured good running its course. Pick virtually any product you like; let's use "refrigerator" as an example. Early versions from the 1920s were essentially an ice box with a compressor strapped on (horseless carriage era). By the late 30s they started to get streamlined, just like the cars of the time. The 50-60s were a golden era of chrome and wildly optimistic colors/gadgets. They lasted an inordinate amount of time, because new models could be sold to an expanding market or fashion-changes. The 70-80s saw a gradual decline in styling with fewer color choices. By the 2000s manufacturer consolidation occurred as they became indistinguishable rectangles in stainless for the "haves" and back/white paint for the "poors". Now they're chip-dependent, heavily regulated, global commodity products made with low-bid parts that will last for about 3 cell phone upgrades before being scrapped. Of course concurrently, there were always commercial models. Consider those the 3/4 and 1 ton trucks. Some people started buying those for home use as the residential models became flimsier.


Other than not standing out as an eyesore, who considers refrigerator styling anymore? Make the same point with radios, televisions, washing machines, furniture, etc. 


Crude But Functional>

Visual Functional/Improvements Introduced>

Technology Mastered, Product Sells On Styling/Image>

Market Saturation, Consolidation Occurs>

Back To Functionality, Commodity Product Now Sells On Price>

No One Cares Anymore. 


Of course it will take a bit longer because we've always bonded more with our cars than our washing machines. We don't take a refrigerator on vacation or a first date. But the change is inevitable. The Auto Industry is now at a stage where the CUV is recognized as the most practical shape and styling is just an afterthought. A few diehards want a sedan or a manual transmission just like someone was disappointed to learn "Harvest Gold" was no longer offered on refrigerators, so they settled for "Almond". When that one died, they just bought whatever was on sale. 


When all cars are legislated to be electric/autonomous, and share a similar practical shape, how will you sell them on anything but price?  There will be niches, just as exist now, but for the most part they'll be priced out of the masses realm.  Many of us (and our grandchildren) will live in virtual worlds with nothing but memories.  




This is an interesting take Sajeev. I'm glad that you thought of it and brought it up.

I want to make some points for clarity. The CUV and cars from the 1930's-1940's do appear very similar, but their intended purposes are very different than one might think.
CUVs are a branch of the SUV. That’s where their rooted no matter how car-like they are. SUVs by-and-large became popular due to their appearance. The SUV broke-up the van phase that had captivated America in the '70's and early '80's. I don't mean mini-van, I mean full-size van. And my historical reference to SUVs here is the increase in sales of SUVs that led to today, being a starting point to that with the 1970 Chevrolet Blazer.
Everybody seemed to want a van by 1978. Van popularity explosion was based in the style and image, not its use. And the SUV was the next hit to sweep America, and again based in style and image.
I'm not saying that vans and SUVs don't have a purpose, they do, but in both cases most people who bought them didn't have a use for their intended purpose, such as an SUV in order to get home by way of climbing a snow-covered mountain path in Vermont. Style and image are the intended purpose. And the popularity of the CUV is the same.
The modern CUV, like the SUV doesn't have any real purpose other than people like the image of military looking vehicles and they want to sit up higher. That's it. Part of the proof is increased purchases of two-wheel drive versions.
While sitting up higher makes a difference when one is driving a motorhome, or other large truck. I can't see any need to sit higher in a daily driver, especially since just about every vehicle in traffic is another SUV/CUV that’s at the same height. The vehicle I choose is for significant reasons, not the height I'm sitting at. But that's me.
Overall, when it comes to cars American's do a lot of monkey-see-monkey-do, and it's been that way since the van phase.
Now, the difference with the design of cars from the 1930's and 1940's is that those designs had a purpose. You might think I'm nuts, but this is true. They were designed tall because back then everyone wore tall hats. The tall height of cars predates the 1930's back to the time when cars were first being enclosed from being an open car, and hats played the same role. But for simplicity let's use Sajeev's comparison of 1930's-40's cars.
So, people demanded a high ceiling because of hats. Look back at photos from the era and just about all men wore hats that were roughly six to eight inches above their forehead. And of course, women wore hats too. Hats had significance, and enough to influence automotive design. Back in those days they didn't think of hats the way we do about our baseball hats, basically us now throwing one on in lieu of brushing hair or just giving us a look that we like. Whereas back then a man's hat, like his shoes, completed his look. Very important. And hats made a statement, his status in life, his taste, and to an extent places he would favor. A diner and newspaper stand patron? A country club gentleman?
Hats made the cars tall back then. Not style and image. As hat popularity decreased the auto designers lowered the roofs, and we entered the period when men took off their hat and placed it on the car seat, or on the rear window parcel shelf.
The similarity of cars from the 1930’s-40’s and the CUV are just that. But the reasons for the two have nothing in common.
Community Manager

Well said, and I agree. There's no direct connection between the two, only that both were popular because their design was more beneficial to a large swath of the buying population. The popularity element is what I want to focus on. 

Pit Crew

Saab was so ahead of the curve, still love that 900S we had, not tall though.
Ah ride height, I had a 012 Focus hatch, got so tired of hauling my sorry butt up out of that low deep seat, had to hook my elbow on the b pillar to lift out…off’d it for the then new (now rare) HRV w/ 6 sp and never looked back. Funny though it doesn’t bother me to climb out of the Miata RF.
New Driver

I've had the same thought of CUVs being a refinement of the styling of 30s and 40s. Modern hatchbacks also albeit lower to the ground. The three box design seems more inefficient.
Intermediate Driver

The traditional "3 box" sedan of the '50s, '60s, and '70s had a full frame,, seating for 5-6, a large trunk, a V8 engine, and was capable of pulling a trailer. The theme is still very much with us. But it is no longer the Chevy Impala or Ford LTD. Now it is the Silverado and F150.
New Driver

I tried a SUV some years back and have had sedans since, my preference . I must comment on this pictoral, I didn't think there was any of those old 89-94 Continentals still out there, they were horrible cars and gave owners lots of trouble , per the Lincoln Mercury Service dept

I have felt for some time that we were being sold bumpback sedans with a hatch hiding the bump --so I agree with Sajeev.

A further connection is that while practical, this car design (again agree just call them cars) with some exception is not what was idealized by the market nor considered cool. Airflow was too advanced and the public/media of the day mostly called them ugly. The irony is they are much cooler to most modern eyes.

I also agree with the person commenting that anything with the "swept back coupe roofline" is probably only useful at being a coupe whether it has 4 doors or the 2 is should have.

3 box design remains king of the marketplace though. It just isn't 60s Impala sedans it is crew cab F150s. My grandfather used his 1974 Monte Carlo more like a truck than the vast majority of truck owners do today (offroad on logging trails, gas! and chainsaws in the trunk, trailer behind it).

It would be some work, but if you broke down today's sales along something like this (may need a couple more categories --convertibles?):
-3-box seats 5-6 adults
-2 box seats 4-6
-coupe roofline seats 2-3 tall adults with reasonable ergonomics

I wonder if the customer base is really doing anything that different 1933, 1957, 1966, 1999, 2022?

Sajeev, excellent read. Well done.
I owned a '93 Lincoln Signature, and it was certainly adequate for anything I carried in it as
well as its road manners. I won't go near an SUV . Beyond their atrocious design is the
silly technology. I had the '93 on California Freeways and congestion and the car was no problem.
Community Manager

I remember you mentioned your Conti a while back!  It's a shame modern sedans don't have trunks as long as the Conti (or even as long as a BMW of the era) because they are so much more practical, but still nice and low to the ground. Oh well, those days are long gone, we got what we got now.