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by Martha Hindes

Whoever coined the term "crossover" put the best description possible on a segment of vehicles that nobody can quite classify.

Crossovers come in small to very large sizes, have anemic or overpowering engines, and can range from a beefed up wagon to a nearly trucklike rendering with solid offroad credentials. All seem to stress a car-like ride rather than the buck and bounce often associated with trucks.

What seems to differentiate them from the pure autos or trucks that came before are some attributes. Among those usually are a more car-like unit body construction ("unibody," as the industry calls it), rather than a frame of tubes, bars and ladder-type underpinnings that normally undergird a truck. They can feature the bare minimum of amenities such as cloth seats and minimal price to their loaded counterparts powered by gutsy engines and a potpourri of technologically advanced gadgets. Some are nearly like
minivans, minus the sliding doors that can doom it to the "soccer mom" heap, but sporting the enormous room and usability of those vehicles.

Even the crossover designation is undergoing a transformation as this group continues to fragment -- like a sparkler scattering light in ever-increasing directions -- adding "cross utility," "sport wagon," and "sport activity" among the recently coined descriptions. Such variety makes one thing a certainty: As long as crossovers are around, buying a vehicle will never be boring.