Twelve contenders, 11 judges. Technical inspections (would you believe only two of the contenders arrived with tires inflated to the correct pressures?) were followed by three days of track testing. Then came three more days of back-to-back drives around a 35.6-mile road loop and our compact, but challenging, off-road evaluation course--all interspersed with the sort of tire-kicking, hood-slamming, seat-folding, and cupholder-counting needed to really get under the skin of each vehicle.

We were surprised. We were impressed. And, yes, we were disappointed, too. But, as always, the process led us to the winner. Even if it wasn't the vehicle many of us initially expected it to be. Here are the players.