Nothing is evolving faster than the sport/utility vehicle segment. A decade ago, 10 percent of new-car and truck buyers chose SUVs; by mid-2003, that market share was 24.5 percent. Credit all the new models cast as sport/utilities because nobody knows what else to call them. Defining "sport/utility" is like trying to hit several fast-moving targets. A sport/utility used to be a shortened pickup truck with a wagon body built over the bed. Trucky engines roared, transfer-case gears whined, willowy frames shuddered, and knobby treads howled all the way to distant fishing spots.

No internal organ was safe from a road's unfiltered rudeness. Things have changed.

Only four of these 13 competitors for 2004 Sport/Utility of the Year are truck-based. Two, the Buick Rainier and the GMC Envoy XUV, share a platform with previous players, including our 2002 Sport/Utility of the Year, the GMC Envoy. And this year marks a first: a returning champ, the Lexus RX 330. We launched Sport/Utility of the Year in 1999, when the winning RX 300 defied categorization in car or truck contests.

Most of the nine unibody "crossover" SUVs playing this year are wagonlike in their layouts and cargo capacities, but at least two look and drive like tallish sport wagons.

Here's this year's lineup:
·BMW X3
·Buick Rainier
·Cadillac SRX
·Chrysler Pacifica
·Dodge Durango
·GMC Envoy XUV
·Infiniti FX35/45
·Lexus RX 330
·Mitsubishi Endeavor
·Nissan Murano
·Nissan Pathfinder Armada
·Porsche Cayenne
·Volkswagen Touareg

None of this dirty baker's dozen will sell in the 300,000 to 400,000-unit volumes of the GMC Envoy/Chevy TrailBlazer or Ford Explorer. All makers grab what SUV market share they can, even snagging profitable niches of fewer than 50,000 units annually. That's what makes SUVs the most interesting segment today: diversity of the highest order. Makers hunting for the Next Big Thing in sport/utilities are rushing out new model types almost monthly.

Which brings us back to our annual competition. And the many questions we must ask on the way to picking a winner. How important is off-roadability in a modern SUV? What about a third-row seat? Should sport/utility emphasize the "sport" or the "utility"? And exactly what is "sport," delightful on-road driving or competent back-country trekking? We drove this year's crop on-road and off in search of the new model that best does what a sport/utility should do in the year 2004.

The Process
Choosing the Sport/Utility of the Year from 13 models started with instrumented track tests to establish the performance numbers. That was followed by hundreds of miles of city commuting, freeway cruising, and high-speed running on California's lonely, high-desert highways. Barrels of expensive fuel were burned. At a Shell station in Panamint Springs near the China Lake Naval Weapons Center, we shelled out $3.09 per gallon of premium. The Porsche Cayenne gulped $45 worth. In the blazing heat of dusty Death Valley, windshields cracked, heat shields and skidplates chewed rock, good and bad words flew--but when the dust and flies settled in Red Rock Canyon, a consensus winner emerged.

Our selection recognizes excellence in three broad categories: significance, superiority, and value. Significance requires top grades in engineering, technology, design, safety, and packaging: Does the product advance the segment benchmarks in these areas? It also means the vehicle must have serious sales volume within its subsegment. Next, does the sport/utility demonstrate clear superiority in comparison to its direct competitors? And, critically, are you getting what you paid for?

To qualify for a shot at the calipers trophy for 2004 Sport/Utility of the Year, vehicles had to be totally new or significantly updated and on sale to the public by January 1. Of the lucky 13 that made the grade, two--the GM models--are in the significantly updated category. The Rainier takes the place of the Oldsmobile Bravada (of which a few 2004 examples will be built, as the division fades away) and is the first short-wheelbase GMT360 offered with an optional 5.3-liter V-8. The Envoy XUV features a heavily modified rear cargo area with a midgate for handling wet or dirty loads like an enclosed pickup bed. The other 11 contestants are all-new offerings, each representing a roll of the corporate dice in a quest to capture customers looking for something different.

Engineering and Technology
In the making of passenger cars, platform sharing has become a vital engineering strategy for companies eager to find cost-saving efficiencies. Platform sharing among trucks is how the SUV was invented, in that wagon body-on-pickup frame scenario. The blossoming trend now, of course, is for automakers to turn car platforms into crossover SUVs. Usually, this means sharing major chassis pieces, powertrains, suspension bits, seating, and switchgear and hedging the bet by building cars and SUVs in the same billion-dollar plant. The maker can then shift production back and forth quickly and cheaply between variants depending on what's in demand.

The zoomy-looking Infiniti FX has a close mechanical kinship with the rear-drive G35 sedan and coupe (last year's MT Car of the Year). The efficient Nissan Murano has an engineering link with the front-drive Altima sedan. The Lexus RX 330 is related to the Lexus ES 330 sedan, the Toyota Camry, and even the new Toyota Sienna minivan. Cadillac's SRX shares DNA with both the rear-drive CTS entry-lux sedan and next year's STS (formerly Seville) sedan, expected to be available as a rear- or all-wheel-drive model. The Mitsubishi Endeavor shares its architecture (and Normal, Illinois, assembly plant) with the Galant sedan. Even the BMW X3, VW Touareg, and Porsche Cayenne share pieces with their auto siblings. The narrow-angle, 15-degree, VR6 powertrain used in the Touareg also sees duty in the sporty Audi TT and various VW and Audi cars. Several editors speculate that the Cayenne is in a sense the Porsche four-door sedan that one faction within the company pushed for a few years ago or that it might spawn a four-door car. Chrysler's Pacifica is related to the company's best-selling minivan models.

And then there are the truck-style models with their heavier but rugged full-frame platforms. These include the midsize Buick Rainier, the GMC Envoy XUV, the slightly larger Dodge Durango, and the full-size Nissan Pathfinder Armada. The Durango shares its 3.7-liter V-6, 4.7-liter V-8, and 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 powertrains--but not exterior sheetmetal, chassis, suspension, or interior parts--with the Dodge Ram. The big dog of this roundup, the Armada, holds most of its pieces and $1.43-billion Canton, Mississippi, assembly plant in common with the all-new, full-size Titan pickup, although it has a double-wishbone independent coil-spring rear suspension in place of the Titan's solid axle and leaf springs.

Among the coolest pieces of new SUV technology are the premium magnetorheological shocks in the SRX. With ultra-fast adjustment of jounce and rebound damping, these electronically controlled shocks make the SRX feel like it has yards of cushy wheel travel, but with serious levels of body control to keep roll, squat, and dive in check for precise corner carving. It's the best of both worlds: handling performance and creamy suspension tuning.

The Murano's standard continuously variable automatic transmission is another impressive piece of technology. An off-road environment can challenge any transmission. Now, the Murano (and the Saturn Vue) offers customers this innovative, fuel-efficient, and robust choice.

Performance
Once upon a time, it was ludicrous even to discuss on-road performance of sport/utility models. But today, thanks to unibody platforms and advanced powertrain and chassis technologies, several of this year's contestants posted pavement performance numbers that top the average passenger car's.

You'd expect the Cayenne Turbo to be the performance leader of this group, and you'd be right. It'll beat anything else on the way to the off-road path and then continue beating many competitors after the pavement has ended. It scorched the test track with a 5.4-second blast to 60 mph and dusted the quarter mile in 13.79 seconds at 102.47 mph. Just as remarkable is the massive Armada. The run to 60 mph took a scant 7.0 seconds. And despite the big hole it has to blow through the atmosphere, the Armada turned 15.15 seconds at 88.23 mph in the quarter. It bowled over the testing staff with its crisp 134-foot stop from 60. These are full-size benchmark performances, tonnage be damned. Of course, this truck is rated to haul a 9100-pound trailer. A strong motor and serious brakes are vital for that task.

The Cayenne's mighty four-wheel discs hauled the turbo trailmeister down from 60 mph in just 112 feet (Corvette territory), and BMW's tidy little X3 posted the same figure. Both the Porsche and the BMW have huge calipers and brake rotors the size of small trashcan lids. The third-place stopper was the Infiniti FX45. With a wide footprint and sport-sedan running gear, it charged hard and stopped harder, using just 118 feet of brake lane from 60. The longest stop, notched by the GMC Envoy XUV, was still respectable at 147 feet.

But it's toughest for SUVs, with their off-road tire designs and high centers of gravity, to match passenger cars in handling and grip. For perspective, a midsize Toyota Camry goes through our 600-foot-slalom test at about 62 mph. An Infiniti G35 whizzes through around 66 mph. And Chevy 1500 Silverados woggle through at a trucky 57. Among our 13 SUVs, the champ by a large margin, again, was the Cayenne Turbo, at 65.9 mph. Next, the Infiniti FX V-6 and V-8 models posted nearly identical 62-mph-plus speeds. Fourth was the BMW X3 with a 61.3-mph pass, followed by the Cayenne S at 61.0. Slowest carving the cones was the beastly Nissan Armada with a 53.1-mph average, which, given its size and the fixed lane widths, is a decent run. Obviously, it's not the tidiest model for dodging shopping carts in a minimall parking lot.

Off-Road Competence
This year, Motor Trend drove Sport/Utility of the Year candidates on a hard-packed trail and on soft sand near Death Valley. We also used a nasty 100-foot hillclimb for back-to-back comparisons. The hill's grade ranged from roughly 30 to 45 degrees, with loose, softball-size rocks, hard-packed dirt, soft sand, worn sandstone, a trail split between rough sandstone and loose sand, and then hard sandstone at the peak.

The Pathfinder Armada and Durango could tackle this hill with ease, while most of our car-based SUVs's capabilities were clearly aimed more at rainy, muddy, or snowy roads. There are interesting exceptions. Near the eerily lunar Trona Pinnacles, we drove across a two-track trail that should've caused ground-clearance problems for the X3, Pacifica, and SRX. But our only casualty? We punctured the XUV's oil pan on a rock, pushing its drain plug right into the sump. The area is "protected" by a plastic replica of a skidplate. The sump hemorrhaged, but our driver shut off the engine and saved the Vortec 4200 I-6 from self-destruction. "It's almost silly to have four-wheel drive offered with so little ground clearance on a heavy SUV," notes off-road maven Mark Williams.

The Dodge Durango towed the crippled XUV the 25 miles to Lone Pine, earning the title, "Miss Towgeniality." For standard off-road use, the Durango driver can select 2WD/4WD High/4WD Low settings with a cheesy dial that looks like it was designed to control the air-conditioning. Still, the Dodge outperforms the XUV on extreme paths.

"It just powered through every different type of traction challenge the hill dished out--ruts, sandstone, rocks, sand," remarks John Matthius.

Nissan's armada-size Armada easily is the best off-roader among the traditional 4x4s. "It has much versatility with 2WD, Auto, 4x4, 4x4 Low, and Neutral settings," Williams says. "It lets the driver know that Nissan thinks its owners are smart enough to decide what they want."

But it's the unibody VW Touareg's standard four-wheel drive that really impresses, especially considering its standard ride- and handling-biased street tires. On the rocky steppes at Moab, Utah, where VW had introduced the vehicle to the automotive press earlier this year, the Touareg had proved able to climb and descend as well as a Jeep Wrangler or Hummer H2, and it was just as game in our testing. That's with the Touareg's standard lockable center and optional locking rear differentials and three-level height-adjustable air suspension. If you buy a V6 or V8 Touareg with the standard coil-spring suspension, don't expect quite so much trekking ability. The Porsche Cayenne, also with optional air suspension, is another impressive off-roader, but with a stiffer ride and quicker reflexes.

This real-world testing helps divide the eight soft-roaders into two groups. The Nissan Murano, with a locking center differential, the Lexus RX 330, with adjustable air suspension and a rear-mounted camera good for backing down hills (but not when the sun is low enough to obliterate the view), and the Cadillac SRX, with computer-controlled traction based on steering and gearing, can handle more than bad weather. Tires still are key, though, and the SRX's rubber, which is neither serious for off-road nor serious for pavement performance, can't help it get past deep, loose sand.

All-wheel drive on the remaining five provides no more than severe-weather capability. Most notably, the BMW X3 and the Infiniti FX are heavily biased toward sports-car-style dry-pavement handling. Their advantages over cars are parking-space-spotting ride height, room for mountain bikes, and enhanced traction for damp or snowy pavement.

Styling and Design
Our SUV candidates come in three styling flavors: new-wave sleek, sporty wagon, and traditional upright. The ovoid Infiniti FX, Nissan Murano, Lexus RX 330, and softly boxy BMW X3 typify the first group. Transcending this lively, growing category are the beautifully styled Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne, each with lyrical, zaftig lines and bright brushed-metal or chrome touches that are carlike in tone.

Sporty-wagon vehicles generally have more cargo capacity than the first group, and some offer a small, but handy, third-row bench. These include the Cadillac SRX, Chrysler Pacifica, and Mitsubishi Endeavor. In the case of the SRX, Cadillac is solidifying its defiantly edgy, machine-age Art & Science visual signature. Several editors feel this edgy, spline-line styling is becoming more digestible. Others say the origami look hangs more comfortably on the longer length of the SRX versus the wedgier CTS sedan skeleton. Chrysler Pacifica's zeppelinlike aspect contrasts sharply with the SRX. The Pacifica is a sleek, six-passenger model that might steal driveway spots from premium all-wheel-drive minivans. It looks like a Chrysler van that's been wide-tracked, chopped, and channeled for a zoomy profile, without sacrificing too much interior volume. The Endeavor's look is a cross between the Chrysler's and Cadillac's. With only two seating rows, it's not as long and low-profile as the Pacifica or SRX. One staffer observes that, with its boldly chiseled fender arches, it suggests a leaner, next-gen version of the jaunty Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The traditional-upright models, Rainier, XUV, Durango, and Armada, are large, towing and hauling beasts. They're the sheetmetal equivalent of denim coveralls: honest, tough, and ready for work. Each has a full frame, heavy-duty suspension, and standard or optional V-8 engine. If yanking a trailer while transporting a full complement of passengers and cargo is the game, these are the appropriate tools. Unlike the third-row seats in smaller truck-sporty vehicles, the third row in the Durango and Armada will accommodate large teens and adults. Only the Armada, with its Frank Gehry-esque abstract architectural styling, stretches this buttoned-down paradigm, avoiding a me-too Expedition or Tahoe look.

Interiors
Interior design can make or break cars, trucks, and SUVs in the marketplace. The insides of this year's crop of sport/utility contenders runs from the almost extravagant, near-perfectly executed leather and wood and aluminum interior of the Touareg to the edgy but Spartan vinyl and fake wood of the Cadillac SRX. Staffers dream of the Chrysler Pacifica's more generous interior in the SRX, or perhaps, the SRX's engine and dynamics in the Pacifica.

"The interior isn't half as artful or well-executed as in the Pacifica or Touareg," Matt Stone says of the SRX.

"The SRX's interior design is jarring, chock-a-block," adds Ron Sessions. "The third seat is practically useless--no legroom."

Conversely, VW doesn't even try to fit a third-row seat in its first SUV. The seating positions are tall and upright, with lots of leg- and headroom, for an executive-sedan feel. Contrasting with the SRX's 1970s German-car interior styling, the Touareg blends high-quality leather seats (butterscotch in color in our tester), with red gauge lights surrounded by aluminum rings, real wood and aluminum trim, and blue lighting for heating/air-conditioning system readouts.

Third-row seats always play a part in the Sport/Utility of the Year decision because they can represent such efficient flexibility, although we don't consider them necessary features. The availability or lack of a third row says a lot about the mission of the vehicle. Neither the Touareg nor Cayenne offers one, but they have lots more cargo space than the sporty, tight FX35/45. This is one of those issues that's most dependent on buyer's needs.

The Murano, X3, Endeavor, RX 330, and Rainier also can't carry more than five people. All their manufacturers, except BMW, offer other SUVs with minivan-like passenger capacity, if that's your need. Nothing celebrates its interior capacity more than the Pacifica. It's designed as a 2+2+2, with center-row bucket seats and a tight fold-down third row (Chrysler will offer a seven-passenger version, with a bench-seat second row, later in the model year).

"More wagonlike, yet with generous passenger space" versus the SRX, says Jeff Bartlett. "Clear, easy-to-access controls flanked by faux wood and brushed-metal trim give a feature-rich, luxurious feel."

Nissan designed the Armada to be capacious, and the monster doesn't disappoint. "Forty-thousand dollars gets you a strong V-8, five forward gears, a huge back seat, and 0 to 60 in seven seconds," notes Brian Vance. Cargo volume is 19.5 cubic feet behind the third row; flip down both the second and third rows, and you have 96.9 cubic feet of hauling space. Several staffers liked the interior styling, with silver-on-gray colors in our tester. But others found it a bit stark for an estimated as-tested price in the low $40s.

"Unlike the Murano, it reverts to Nissan's practice of cutting cost out of the interior," says Todd Lassa.

The Murano impresses with its rich, optional leather upholstery and an interior design that matches the unusual look of the exterior. "Outstanding shapes, colors, and materials," Sessions says. "Modern, yet not jarring. Real aluminum. Parchment-color gauges."

Jack Keebler disagrees. "It has Halloween gauge faces," he says. "Not my taste." And several staffers criticize the oddly shaped rear-quarter window for diminishing outward visibility. Still, most agree the Murano has an Infiniti-like interior, but also for an Infiniti-size price.

As for the real Infiniti, the FX's interior will look familiar to anyone acquainted with its platformmate G35, with power seat controls mounted next to the driver's right leg. The contrasting colors are bolder compared with the relatively understated G35. Bimmerphiles will feel at home in the X3, with its shades of gray and muted leather grains and plastics. Two problems stand out, however: a strange dot pattern on the aluminum accent trim and a rather hard rear seat.

Fit and Finish

This year's sport/utility choices prove that all automakers--Asian, European, and American--have improved. The Pacifica and Durango have benefited from Chrysler's relationship with parent Daimler-Benz. GM's three entries, too, are better, although we still notice some second-rate materials inside and out. The Cadillac SRX uses a plastic woodgrain interior trim that does little for the marque's attempt to recast itself as Standard of the World. Buick's Rainier is better finished, with the nice combo of fake aluminum and fake woodgrain giving off a richer air than you find in the Cadillac. Panel fit is much improved, as well, but still isn't up to the standards set by such brands as Lexus and VW.

Inside the Envoy XUV, Keebler judges the dash-top plastics cheap, and Stone thinks the leather seats look more like vinyl. This shows how much the bar has been raised since we gave this award to the standard GMC Envoy two years ago.

The benchmark for fit and finish, and interior quality, is the Volkswagen Touareg. It's brimming with some of the finest materials and assembly accuracy you'll find in modern cars and trucks, from the tight hood and front-fender panel gaps to the rich, fully trimmed cargo-compartment carpeting and its polished-chrome cargo hooks. But the VW isn't perfect: Some of the real wood trim on its door panels started to crack by the end of our testing, the result of either the brutally hot weather or off-road chassis stress.

The Pacifica and Durango illustrate how much Chrysler has improved. "Best fit and finish to date for a Chrysler product," Neil Chirico says of the Dodge Durango, adding "same for the Pacifica. The American makes are finally getting close to the Japanese."

Safety
What a difference two years makes. This year's sport/utility crop has more airbags than last month's California gubernatorial recall ballot, as automakers realize how much side curtains do for a vehicle's safety and image. All but three contestants here have some sort of side-curtain bag. The GMC Envoy XUV and Buick Rainier are based on the GMT360/370 architecture that launched two years ago, before side bags were considered necessary. The Mitsubishi Endeavor offers seat-mounted side airbags as standard on the Limited top-trim-level model, optional as part of a package on the XLS, and unavailable on the LS.

Side curtains are standard on the Cadillac SRX. The Caddy's system covers the front and second row, but not the optional third-row seat. Dodge offers side curtains for all three rows as an option on the new Durango. The other two vehicles in our competition that have three rows of seating--the Chrysler Pacifica and Nissan Armada--have three-row side curtains as standard equipment.

BMW doesn't use side curtains, per se, but has its own system, an inflatable tubular structure, that covers the front- and rear-seat passengers of the compact X3. It's offered with optional rear-seat side airbags as well, for a total of eight bags, if you count the inflatable tubes as one bag per side.

All 13 have dual-stage front bags, and most have side bags, mounted in the front seats, either standard or optional. Automakers used to consider seat-mounted side bags superfluous on big, full-frame SUVs. But bags or curtains that keep occupants inside and away from the side glass in case of a rollover have become de rigueur in SUVs.

Besides airbags a-plenty, Xenon headlamps, power-adjustable pedals, three-point belts even in center-row seats, hill-descent control, belt pretensioners, tire-pressure monitoring systems, and stability control are common. All 13 SUVs have Lower Anchors And Tethers for CHildren (LATCH) child-safety seat connectors and four-wheel anti-lock brakes standard, most with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.

Standout safety features include the Durango's thick headliner, designed to better protect its occupants in a rollover accident. However, its engineering compromise is headroom. Anyone six feet or taller will want to remove his hat in the Durango.

As the incompatibility of SUVs and conventional sedans in collisions becomes a hot safety issue, Dodge touts low bumper heights on the Durango to prevent it from running up and over a passenger car in an accident. That safety feature translates into an SUV that has a kind of hot-rod stance, with a tall greenhouse quickly tapering to a low snout. One more thing: The Durango has an occupant-sensing system for the front-passenger airbag that automatically turns it off if it detects a child-safety seat.

Other cool ideas include side tubes in the sills of both the Cayenne and Touareg. The BMW X3 has a front driveshaft placed through the oil sump for a low center of gravity and better handling. The RX 330 features adaptive headlamps that pivot left and right, Tucker-style, as it turns corners. Both the Murano and FX35/45 have active head restraints for the front seat, and the Infiniti offers a preview option for its standard brake assist. The system uses intelligent cruise control to detect a vehicle in the same lane ahead and pre-pressurizes the brake system for better braking response.

Value

Sport/utility vehicles tend to cost more than the family sedans they've replaced in so many households. With V-6 engines and all-wheel drive, popularly priced crossovers, like the Mitsubishi Endeavor and Nissan Murano, average about $30,000, compared with prices in the low $20s for the typical four-cylinder midsize sedans sold by such manufacturers. That makes the value equation especially important for sport/utilities.

The Pacifica had a troubled launch because dealers got well-equipped examples with prices in the $37,000 to $42,000 range. The vehicle is designed, in part, to help Chrysler restore its reputation as an upper-middle-priced marque. But even with its Mercedes-inspired interior, most buyers will find front-drive Pacificas listing at $32,000 or less a better bargain.

Similarly, our Dodge Durango has an as-tested price of $41,490. Keep a tight lid on the options sheet--avoiding the Hemi V-8 option will be tough--and the price should be in the low $30s, the sweet spot of the middle market. Nissan's Armada isn't far off that spot. With a middling list of options and cloth interior, ours came in at about the same price as our full-boat, leather-upholstered Nissan Murano. Both the Murano and the Mitsubishi Endeavor midsize crossovers would be proper bargains under $30,000 to meet or beat the better-established Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot.

Customers who want a climbing and cargo-hauling SUV with performance superior to most passenger cars will find value paying nearly $90,000 for a Porsche Cayenne Turbo. If you think that price is stiff, consider this: You're getting sports-car performance and luxury-SUV capability in one package, saving at least $70,000 over the price of buying the sports car and the SUV.

The Cayenne S, though cheaper, is less of a value, especially compared with the FX45. The V-8 version of Infiniti's crossover offers close to the same levels of on-road performance for substantially less, albeit without the Porsche's great broken-road ability. Similarly, the X3, with its on-road prowess, is a great buy at roughly $32,000.

The Envoy XUV brings the flexibility of the midgate and retractable top, but with the standard inline-six instead of the Rainier's optional 5.3-liter V-8 for about $40K. Again, flexibility rules: serious lifestyle types will love the XUV's hose-out rear cargo area.

The best-value prospects are the sport/utilities that offer the greatest cargo capacity, street manners, trail competence, and overall flexibility. This year, they are the Lexus RX 330, the Cadillac SRX, and the VW Touareg. The RX is a highly polished piece, but it's tough to cut a deal on a desirable vehicle with an awesome residual value. The Cadillac surprises our staff with its terrific driving character, though at an estimated $50,000 for a well-equipped V-8, it's not the greatest bargain here.

Thus, our value standout is the Volkswagen. The Touareg does everything expected of a premium sedan in terms of handling, refined power, and high-level attention to finish and design. And it can scale Death Valley's equivalent of Everest, with style. Yes, it's a tall price for a VW. But there's big value in an upscale Volkswagen with attitude at altitude.

Details, Details

Cool stuff
·Envoy XUV's hose-it-out cargo compartment: A down-and-dirty pickup and an upscale SUV all in one.
· SRX's impressive magnetic-fluid shock-absorber system: Crispy handling with a creamy ride.
· Durango's car-level bumper height: Lowrider look in the name of safety.
· Touareg's optional height-adjustable suspension: With locking differentials, this VW steps up to rocky roads. RX 330 and Cayenne have something similar; all are cool.
· RX 330's Adaptive Front-Lighting System: They swivel to illuminate turns and curves, and they self-level.
·Pacifica's speedo-mounted nav screen: Easy reading for the self-directed.
·SRX's optional UltraView Plus sunroof: "Seven square feet of sky" and power sunshades.
·RX 330's illuminated front cupholders: Drinking in the dark is just all wet.
·DVD Entertainment systems: Several players had them; they all should.

Not-so-cool stuff
· Envoy XUV's low ground clearance: A not-so-big bump still took a bite of the sump.
·FX45's on-road ride harshness: 20-inch wheels give bling-bling look, bang-bang ride.
·X3's black rubber bumpers: Cheap look for BMW's price and image.
·No manual transmission in the Cayenne: And yet, the badge says "Porsche."
·SRX's optional rear seat: Cool power-folding trick, but really cramped.
·FX35/45 power-seat-button location: On the wrong side of the seat, just like the G35.
·SRX nav-screen readability: It gets washed out in bright sunlight.

Performance Data
Vehicle0-60 mph, sec1/4 mile, sec @ mphBraking, 60-0 mph, ft200-ft skidpad, g600-ft slalom, mph
BMW X37.515.39 @ 88.38112 0.8161.3
Buick Rainier CXL V-87.915.81 @ 86.341400.7154.9
Cadillac SRX V-87.1 15.10 @ 92.991280.7558.3
Chrysler Pacifica AWD9.916.97 @ 80.611300.7359.5
Dodge Durango Hemi Ltd8.516.11 @ 84.82 145 0.6854.5
GMC Envoy XUV9.816.89 @ 81.76147 0.6752.2
Infiniti FX357.315.49 @ 91.00123 0.7962.4
Infiniti FX456.514.72 @ 92.501180.8162.5
Lexus RX 330 8.716.34 @ 83.86124 0.7156.1
Mitsubishi Endeavor XLS8.416.20 @ 83.841310.7559.1
Nissan Murano SL AWD 8.115.89 @ 88.431350.7458.0
Nissan Pathfinder Armada7.015.15 @ 88.231340.7153.1
Porsche Cayenne S7.515.41 @ 90.81120 0.8061.0
Porsche Cayenne Turbo5.413.79 @ 102.471120.8565.9
Volkswagen Touareg V610.817.57 @ 78.901320.7557.4
Volkswagen Touareg V87.915.55 @ 88.83126 0.7659.4