The Sport/Utility Vehicle. What is it? What has it become? The questions have no simple answer. Starting a few decades ago as a four-wheel-drive pickup with seats and cab grafted to its bed, the now-ubiquitous SUV has evolved into not one, but a collection of specialized tools for the public's ever-changing, increasingly specific needs.
SUVs are many things to many people, and these Sport/Utility of the Year contestants embody our diverse lifestyles with a vast array of sizes, shapes, drivetrains, packages, and performance capabilities.
"Everyone smile for Dave." After track testing is complete, we hit the road--and off-road-
Think of a common screwdriver as an analogy. At first, there was simply the flat-head. Besides using it on flat-head screws, we put it to work in ways we probably shouldn't have: prying open paint cans, as make-do chisels and pry bars to varying degrees of success and bodily injury. Then came Phillips, Torx, ratcheting, offset, air-powered, and now electric variants. Similarly, SUVs continue to evolve into specialized utensils of many kinds.
Fundamentally, each of the '03 contenders moves five to eight people and their gear through all sorts of urban or rural environments: wet, dry, snow-covered, on-road, soft-road, or even no road at all. But that's where the similarities end. If we had a theme in this year's field, it was that there really was no theme. In fact, by our count, there are some 63 '03-model-year vehicles we'd classify as sport/utilities (roughly 10 more than last year); 14 of which qualified for our oft-repeated "on sale by Jan. 1 and totally new or significantly updated" minimum criteria and showed up for Motor Trend's 2003 Sport/Utility of the Year. All but the Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator, and Subaru Forester could be considered new as clean-sheet models that didn't previously exist or are so substantially redesigned they could've been renamed.