Is a "crossover" like the Toyota Highlander a good choice to avoid SUV tippiness?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 01, 2007

Dear Tom and Ray:

I've always owned an "old lady" car (i.e., Pontiac Bonneville, Oldsmobile 88, Buick LeSabre). But I recently bought a 2007 Toyota Highlander. While I love the vehicle, I'm concerned about how easily SUVs "tip" over. I know there's a higher percentage of these vehicles that end up in the "turtle on its back" position. My husband assures me that my driving skills will not tip it over; it's just the idiots who think they can do anything because they have an SUV. Am I worrying for nothing, or do I have to learn to drive all over again and not take corners like I did in my old-lady cars? Thanks. -- Cheryl

RAY: I don't think you have to worry, Cheryl. But I think Toyota might be concerned that its Highlander is winning the "old lady" market!

TOM: First of all, your Highlander is not a traditional SUV. It's what is often called a "crossover." Not to be confused with my brother, who is often called a "cross-dresser."

RAY: The term "crossover" usually refers to a vehicle that looks like an SUV and has many of the advantages of an SUV, but is actually built on the underpinnings of a car. In the Highlander's case, it's based on the chassis of the Toyota Camry.

TOM: That means its center of gravity is lower to the ground, it handles better and it's less likely to flip over. Think of it as more like a station wagon than a truck. And as an old lady, you certainly remember when station wagons ruled the earth.

RAY: Plus, the Highlander comes with electronic stability control, which is a wonderful safety enhancement that works with the anti-lock braking system to help prevent you from losing control of the vehicle, even if you do something stupid (up to a point), like turning too sharply.

TOM: Can you flip it over? I'm sure, given enough effort, you could -- or given an unfortunate set of gravitational circumstances in just the wrong kind of accident. But that's true of almost any vehicle.

RAY: But your Highlander is much closer to the old-lady cars than to traditional SUVs. So, drive reasonably -- which I'm sure you do, Cheryl -- and you'll be fine.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One