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Crossing Lanes

The new crossover vehicles are hybrid. But not in that hybrid-electric way

Die-hard fans couldn’t get enough of the new sport utility vehicles and trucks displayed at the annual International Auto Show in Honolulu last March. It was hard to pinpoint which models won the most raves. One thing was for sure: popular at this year’s show were “crossover” vehicles, newcomers that have made their way into showrooms in the past year.

Mixed Features: The Mitsubishi Endeavor is an SUV that stands somewhere between the Montero Sport and the Outlander.

Built like SUVs but with car drivers in mind, crossovers vehicles get their designs by stealing features from sedans, trucks, SUVs and minivans. A mix-and-match approach to manufacturing, if you will. These are hybrid vehicles, but not in that electric-hybrid way.

Industry leaders say that as gas prices inch past $2 per gallon, the popularity of crossover vehicles isn’t going to go away anytime soon. In fact, manufacturers famous for trucks and vans also have hopped on the crossover bandwagon. “We’re seeing the beginning of it,” says Earl Highbarger, assistant sales manager at Mitsubishi Motors. “We’re going to see new styles and variations, improved safety and more cargo room.”

He’s right. Take, for example, the Chrysler Pacifica, a smaller, sporty crossover vehicle that looks like an SUV but does not bully parking lots and highways like most SUVs. Touted by Chrysler as the “sports tourer,” the Pacifica is the modern, hip cousin of traditional Chrysler minivans. Women drivers and young executives with new families are the target audience of this vehicle, which starts at $30,000.

More Hip Than The Minivan: The Chrysler Pacifica is targeted at women drivers and executives with families.

Forever pegged as the brand that only grandmas and grandpas adore, Cadillac shed its image last year, when it launched the luxury SUV Escalade. This year, the Escalade ESV’s wheelbase is 22 inches longer than the base Escalade. Nothing worth bragging about.

Its crossover counterpart, the 2004 Cadillac SRX, however, is scheduled to hit showrooms sometime in December. Schuman Carriage representatives say that the SRX will be smaller than the Escalade and will have a starting price of $45,000. The SRX seats up to seven passengers, thanks to a power third-row seat that can fold into the floor at the push of a button. All seats are theater-style: the second row sits 2 inches higher than the first, and the third row sits 5 inches higher than the second. The SRX also comes with six airbags, including side-curtain airbags installed into the roof for better protection for passengers’ heads.

The crossover-vehicle trend comes at a time when auto leaders across the nation are pushing for new standards and regulations addressing the safety of SUVs and trucks. One major issue, brought to light at a Washington conference earlier this year, is the safety of car passengers riding lower to the ground, when hit by larger trucks or SUVs built on higher frames. Crossover vehicles, because of their unique, half-SUV, half-car designs, fall somewhere between the two extremes. In addition, “crossovers have a lower center of gravity to decrease the rollover problem [a problem that sometimes occurs when heavier trucks and SUVs drive at high speed],” says Highbarger.

Last April, Mitsubishi celebrated the arrival of the 2004 Endeavor, a crossover vehicle that lies somewhere between two existing SUVs: the Mitsubishi Montero Sport and the car-based Outlander. Nationwide, Mitsubishi anticipates that it will sell roughly 70,000 Endeavors in the first year. Although its design is curvy and sleek, it boasts heavy-duty front and rear bumpers and a forceful, 3.8-litre, V6 engine. “It’s a nice vehicle that is easier to drive in traffic,” Highbarger says.

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