Recognizing that finding Motor Trend's SUOTY now involves evaluating a group of vehicles in many ways as functionally and stylistically diverse as that assembled for Car of the Year, we've expanded the list of criteria each of the contenders is evaluated against from three to six.
Phase one of the process includes a full tech check and weigh-in, then full track testing to establish baseline data for acceleration, braking, and handling. Phase two involves three days of road loops, with each judge getting an hour behind the wheel of each contender under identical conditions.
The 35-mile loop is a mix of freeway, two-lane blacktop, small-town streets, and a dirt-track section. The variety of road surfaces and traffic conditions allows the judges to evaluate ride and handling, engine and transmission smoothness and responsiveness, wind and road noise, and ergonomics. The dirt-track section tests traction, stability, and braking control systems. We kick tires, fold seats, poke under hoods, discuss styling and market positioning. We consider, we debate, then we decide-one judge, one vote.
Our winner may shock you. But it's a thoroughly modern SUV concept: crossover vehicle in the truest sense of the term. It just proves that crossing over isn't necessarily a one-way street.
Stuff we noticed
THE HOTTEST NEW SEGMENT
Bijoux luxury: Audi Q5, Cadillac SRX, Mercedes-Benz GLK, Volvo XC60 are all designed to convince buyers downsized can be upscale-and reassuringly expensive.
A GUILTY PLEASURE
Glass roofs: fitted to seven of the 11 contenders. Glass creates an airy interior, but at the expense of extra weight up high-the last thing any tall, heavy SUV really needs.
BEST PARTY TRICK
Self-parking Lincoln: Amaze and impress your friends as the steering whirls like a dervish all by itself and the giant MKT slots neatly into that tight parking spot.
WHAT EVERYONE WILL COPY
Lexus' haptic mouse controller: So simple and intuitive to a generation that's grown up with computers, it's made every other automotive user interface system obsolete.
Volvo's City Safety system: Automatically stops the car if it senses a stationary object ahead. Perfect for idiots who insist on multitasking instead of driving.
GIMMICK THAT WORKS
Auto-dim headlights: Caddy tried it in 1959, but the Lincoln MKT's system reacts quickly and is never confused. Which is more than you say for some SUV drivers.
SWEATING THE DETAILS
Subaru's roof rack: Simple yet clever foldaway crossbars means the Outback is always ready to carry a load, without you having to endure annoying wind noise