Each summer, an intensive three-month Of the Year test cycle begins with Motor Trend's Sport/Utility of the Year award. As in years past, the staff gathered every all-new or significantly changed SUV in August for a thorough evaluation at the track, on the road, and off the road.
Going in to the test phase, the editors may have a few standout vehicles in mind, but truly no one knows who will emerge as the winner. By spending intense time in these varied environments, living with the vehicles, and comparing insights, the most significant vehicles emerge. After long days and serious late-hour discussions, one vehicle stands out as the sport/utility that we're proud to bestow with our Golden Caliper award.
By now, you know the results and hopefully have read the detailed account of the evaluation. Here, we present a candid look at the vehicles and editors as they go through the intensive Sport/Utility of the Year process. Buckle up and join us for the ride.
The intensive Of the Year evaluation process begins with a full battery of instrumented testing.
Road Test Editor Neil Chirico operates the Stalker system during the straightline acceleration runs. Love the hat!
Conderably quicker than its GMC corporate cousin, the Buick Rainier CXL V-8 ran 0-60 mph in 7.9 seconds and negotiated the slalom at 54.9 mph.
Yes, this Durango is packing a Hemi. However, the heavy truck didn't feel like it packed 345-hp. The Dodge ran 0-60 mph in a reasonable 8.5 seconds, though it was bested by the Mitsubishi Endeavor with 130 fewer horses.
At the core of the test process is the all-hands-on-deck, multi-day evaluation drive.
The staffer with the most hands-on experience and exposure to the vehicle's development team gives an authoritative walk-around the group.
Frequent stops through the day allow for analysis, note taking, and vehicle rotations.
The SUVs are driven on all types of roads, with the standout players exceling on highways, mountain passes, loose gravel, and true off-road trails.
For a soft-roader, the Cadillac SRX impressed with its ability to stick with the more hard-core machines.
By combining a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system with a height-adjustable suspension, the VW Touareg transforms from mannered commuter to off-road adventurer with the push of a button.
For light-duty off-roading, the latest wave of luxury SUVs provide a well-damped ride, respectable traction, and abundant comfort features.
A sheered drain plug brought the innovative GMC Envoy XUV to a halt on the trail.
The editorial masterminds Matt Stone, Art St. Antoine, and Kevin Smith (aka Sand People) discuss the field as photographers shoot pictures at Dumont Dunes.
After a day on the trail, the dusty crew cycled the fleet through the only pay-n-spray car wash for miles.
Under Kevin's watchful eye, John Kiewicz sets up a sunset beauty shot with the contenders gathered in a stunning rock basin.
The editors gather for staged, ceremonial discussion photograph.
An overnight stay in the mountains north of Los Angeles created a great opportunity to evalute the cargo capacity and interior flexibility, as the group loaded and unloaded piles of gear.
Early morning rock crawling provides an opportunity to test traction and ground clearance.
Down to the final decision. This photo offers a candid look as editors discuss the merits and flaws of each vehicle, to identify the one standout determined to be most significant for the new model year.
A nimble SPORT/utility, the FX 35 and FX 45 both exceled on the skidpad and 600-ft slalom. They dominated the field on the handling courses, out-performing all but the Porsche Cayenne Turbo.
Production staffers Jackie Manfredi and James Dryden try to stay cool at the blistering track, along with editorial intern Scott "SM2" Mortara.
The GMC Envoy XUV's performance trailed the pack, with acceleration, braking, and handling falling in the bottom 10 percent among the contenders.
The television crew takes every opportunity to grab the hundreds of shots needed for the MT TV show.
The group drove through some beautiful landscape in the search for diverse terrain and a standout SUV.
Senior Road Test Editor Chris Walton takes a closer look at the flexible XUV interior.
With Regular gasoline costing $3 a gallon, this high-desert fuel up made a real dent in the budget.
With hundreds of dollars of gas pumped, it was time to hit the trail.
Trail challenges allowed the staff to evaluate traction and suspension articulation in extreme conditions these vehicles would rarely see in consumer hands.
The Nissan Pathfinder Armada proved quite capable on slippery slopes, racing right up inclines that challenged some other competitors.
The Touareg continued to impress off road. Gotta love the transformation from refined street machine to high-clearance off roader.
The Hemi-powered Dodge Durango proved an excellent tow vehicle as the injured XUV was pulled a couple miles to pavement.
The TV crew did as much hill-climbing as the SUVs, seeking new angles and creative shots.
Teamwork saw the full fleet cleaned in about 20 minutes, and ready to chase sunset light.
A location once used for Star Trek shows makes for a colorful, otherworldy background for our modern machines.
With the potential lead shot in the can, the weary editors filed out for a late dinner.
Back on the trail the next morning for more photography and evaluation.
The Porsche Cayenne would have been termed a success with modest off-road abilities, but even we didn't expect it to be this good.
In the end, it was the VW Touareg that made the biggest splash among this year's players, offering sophistication, performance, value, all-terrain ability, desirability, and value.