Adapting to customer needs and trying to achieve efficiency levels proposed by the governing bodies, manufacturers had to shift whole production systems to accommodate their factories for efficient SUV and crossover production. However, the tough body-on-frame design of traditional SUVs simply did not cut it anymore. SUVs became too heavy, too ungainly, and too expensive to maintain. Then, some automakers started to experiment with unibody construction for their SUV-looking cars. Soon, what was a misfit became the norm and today with crossovers being the only way forward. Even the famous off-road specialists like Jeep and Land Rover had to make changes and some famed names from history sacrificed all that made them famous in the first place.

Ford Explorer

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Replacing the Ford Bronco in 1990 with the Explorer, Ford made one of the most surprising twists in the world of SUVs. Around that time, the SUV world we know today started to emerge, and the Explorer was one of the first modern family-orientated, mass-produced SUVs to shape this future. However, it was based on top of a truck chassis - with a body-on-frame design giving it exceptional off-road competence. Ford managed to keep the Explorer on body-on-frame construction for as much as 21 years, changing it to unibody in 2011.

The change to unibody construction was an expected turn of events as Ford was searching for new ways to save money and increase efficiency in the midst of that horrific economic crisis. The new 2011 Ford Explorer, based on top of the same platform shared with the Ford Flex, lost some of its off-road validity but gained in terms of efficiency, safety, maintenance costs, and convenience. Those who were saddened when the Explorer actually transitioned from a traditional SUV layout to a crossover will rejoice in a year or two when Ford showcases the new Bronco.

Read our full driven review on the 2017 Ford Explorer.

Chevy Blazer

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Ford already disclosed that reinventing their famed SUV Bronco nameplate will include building it on top of the body-on-frame construction. Interestingly enough, Chevrolet did not decide to do the same with the famed Blazer. The last batch of Blazers produced on top of a truck chassis (Chevrolet S-10 underpinnings) was issued in 2005. Ever since then, the Blazer name was silent. That was until a few weeks ago when the new Blazer surged into the world - largely transformed as well.

Now looking sharp and muscular, the Blazer brought looks similar to that of the Camaro. However, all the things that made it tough and visceral are gone. The new Blazer is a unibody crossover fitting perfectly between the Equinox and the Traverse. All the features it presented point to one direction only - it is merely a family crossover.

Unlike the contemporary Blazer, the old one was a rather formidable off-roader and was even available with the ZR2 off-road package. With that, it gained a three-inch lift, a 3.9-inch wider frame, new axles, and new tires, among other things.

Obviously, drivers of the new Blazer can’t expect anything of the sort. What they can do is link their iPhones or Android phones seamlessly.

Read our full review on the 2019 Chevrolet Blazer.

Chevy Trailbazer

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The TrailBlazer was considered to be a soft, family version of the Blazer. Yet, the TrailBlazer and the Blazer did not have much in common except being based on the body-on-frame chassis. Not the same one, though. The TrailBlazer started its market adventure in 2002 but was renamed in 2009 as the Traverse - a rather bland, but family-centric crossover, losing its body-on-frame status in the process. As is the case with the Ford Explorer, the Trailblazer was a victim of shifting customer needs, the economic crisis, and trends in the industry that last to this day.

The latest generation of the Traverse shares its tech and underpinnings with the rest of crossovers based on top of the C1XX platform. They include the Cadillac XT5, the GMC Acadia, the Buick Enclave, and the new Chevy Blazer. Although AWD is available for every one of them, all of them are basically FWD crossovers.

Jeep Cherokee

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It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that the Jeep Cherokee should be a proper off-road machine. After all, rooted in magnificent off-roaders from the Seventies, the Cherokee is the epitome of adventure and risk. That’s not the case with the latest KL generation, though. After Jeep experimented with the Liberty name, the company returned to their ways in 2013 by introducing the new Cherokee. This time as a unibody crossover based on top of the Chrysler 200 chassis. Obviously, this was not an off-road convincing car. Nevertheless, it was a move Jeep had to take with the new generation of buyers who appreciate the image of a traditional SUVs, but also the convenience, comfort, and efficiency of, say, an MPV. The car is available with four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines, including diesel for markets outside the U.S.

Read our full review on the 2019 Jeep Cherokee.

Nissan Pathfinder

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The name says it all. When one hears the Pathfinder name, it’s hard to expect anything else on the road apart from a full-fledged, body-on-frame truck. The three-door Pathfinder from 1986 was just that - an unchained off-roader worthy of its name.

Later on, Nissan started to experiment with unibody construction and introduced the Pathfinder as a unibody SUV in its second generation. Nissan made the change back to the body-on-frame in 2005 with the third generation, only to bring back the unibody in 2013. The latest generation actually rides on the Nissan D platform. Despite its illustrious name, I doubt the next-gen Pathfinder will go back to its roots.

Read our full review on the 2017 Nissan Pathfinder.

Land Rover LR4

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The new Land Rover Discovery proved that we actually do not have to fear the use of unibody construction for previously powerful offroaders. This car replaced the famed Land Rover LR4 - possibly one of the best-executed off-roaders of all time - and Land Rover marketed it persistently as a really capable off-roader. Jeep did something similar with their unibody Cherokee, but the Discovery is more off-road centric. All Disco cars feature an 8-speed automatic transmission and, with a bit more money thrown in, one can add the low-speed transfer case, locking rear diff, air suspension, and Terrain Response 2 system.

The question is, can all of this, with an advanced Terrain Response 2 which controls the wheel slip, wheel speed, approach and departure angles, as well as the suspension setup, actually replace the classic LR4 design? Perhaps it can - the new Discovery is up to 1,060 lbs lighter compared with the LR4 - but it’s still no body-on-frame SUV.

Read our full driven review on the 2015 Land Rover LR4.

Honda Passport

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Honda did not hide from the SUV craze of the Nineties or the 2000s. Introducing the Isuzu-Rodeo-based Honda Passport in 1993, the Japanese successfully entered the market offering an SUV with a body-on-frame chassis. However, it seems that they foresaw the trends in the industry in the early stages when they replaced the Passport with the Pilot in 2003. The new crossover, based on a unibody construction, was a fine sales success for Honda. Based on the same chassis as the Acura MDX or the Odyssey, the Pilot offers all the safety and comfort tech Honda develops. Needless to say, its a soft family hauler like every other model on this list.

Acura SLX

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The Acura SLX of the Nineties was actually an upscaled version of the Isuzu Trooper. Acura offered it only in the U.S. obviously cementing the way for newer SUVs. Poor sales crippled its success, and Acura decided to change the Acura SLX’s name to MDX in 1999, after only four years on the market. Yes, it was better suited for off-roading compared to the newer crossovers on the market.

The new car, bearing the name of the MDX, appeared in 2000. It features futuristic styling, unibody construction, and powerful engines made it far more popular than the Isuzu-based SLX ever was at the cost of its off-road prowess. Three generations later and it still keeps steady sales at above 50,000 per year as a family hauler.

Read our full review on the 1996 - 1999 Acura SLX.

Safet Satara
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