Despite having such chest-thumping appellations as Pathfinder, Crosstrek, and Allroad, none one of 11 contenders in this year's competition has frame rails tucked beneath its sheetmetal or a pair of its wheels connected by a solid axle -- all have unitized steel and/or aluminum shells riding on independent suspension. How's that for a sign of the times?

In fact, nine of the 11 contenders are products of front-drive automobile architecture, and six can be obtained in front-drive-only configurations. More telling, turbocharged four-cylinders and naturally aspirated V-6s rule the lineup. There were three V-8 options, but all were offered on the same model.

Every year, our team reviews and refines this program to address market trends and make the process as comprehensive and relevant as possible. One tweak we added this year, in a nod to car-based crossovers overtaking this segment, was a closed handling loop in Santa Maria, California. This nine-turn ribbon of asphalt allowed our judges to test limit handling in heavy, high-riding vehicles in a safe, repeatable way.

For the sixth year in row, we returned to our friends at Tres Hermanas Winery in the gorgeous Santa Ynez Valley to run road loops out of their parking lot by day and eat home-cooked BBQ at night. Part of this real-world testing is a light, 5-mile off-road loop that runs on the ranch property behind the winery. And every year we talk about ditching this portion of the testing, since the vehicles rarely encounter any difficulty, yet always come away filthy, adding another level of tedium to our already packed schedule. But we decided to keep the dirt loop this year, as it does provide a controlled location to sample various AWD systems as well as test technologies like hill descent control. This proved a wise decision.

Though conditions were the same as every year, we managed to consistently get two contenders stuck on the hill, a steep section of shallow ruts filled with chalk-like dust. Every vehicle made it out, though some needed second and third attempts, often at full throttle.

Vehicles in this segment continue to evolve away from what we have traditionally considered an SUV. And as this segment keeps redefining itself, we will continue to adjust our evaluation methods and techniques. Our six key criteria have not changed; we've just sharpened the tools we use when measuring against them.

So, just what kind of sport/utility brings home the Golden Calipers in this time of shifting terrain? Turn the page to find out.

As this segment keeps redefining itself, we'll continue to adjust our evaluation methods and techniques.

The Contenders

Acura RDX
Audi Allroad
Ford Escape
Honda CR-V
Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
Infiniti JX
Mazda CX-5
Mercedes-Benz GL
Mercedes-Benz GLK
Nissan Pathfinder
Subaru XV Crosstrek


The Criteria

DESIGN ADVANCEMENT
The judges are looking for well-executed exterior and interior styling, innovative vehicle packaging, and good selection and use of materials.

ENGINEERING EXCELLENCE
Total vehicle concept and execution; clever solutions to packaging, manu-facturing, and dynamics; cost-effective technology that benefits consumers.

PERFORMANCE OF INTENDED FUNCTION
How well does the vehicle do the job its planners, designers, and engineers intended it to do.

EFFICIENCY
The judges are looking for low fuel consumption and carbon footprint size relative to the vehicle's competitive set.

SAFETY
The judges take into account each vehicle's ability to help the driver avoid a crash, as well as the secondary safety measures that help protect its occupants during an accident.

VALUE
Each vehicle's price and equipment levels are compared with those of vehicles in the same market segment.


The Judges

Edward Loh, editor-in-chief
Allyson Harwood, editor, Truck Trend
Mike Floyd, digital director
Jonny Lieberman, senior features editor
Frank Markus, technical director
Todd Lassa, Detroit editor
Scott Mortara, road test editor
Scott Evans, associate editor
Mike Febbo, associate editor

Acura RDX
By: Scott Evans

We Like: Good handling, great interior packaging, improved fuel economy.

We Don't Like: No more turbo-four, no more SH-AWD, no more unique selling proposition.

The Acura RDX entered our competition like a fish swimming upstream. Where the industry is moving toward small-displacement, forced-induction engines, Acura went the opposite way. Gone are the turbocharged four-cylinder engine and "Super Handling All-Wheel Drive," replaced with an off-the-shelf V-6 and an all-wheel-drive system borrowed from the RDX's Honda CR-V cousin. To Honda, it was a simple business decision. Customers demanded a softer ride, quieter cabin, smoother acceleration, and better fuel economy. The new RDX delivers all those things and more power to boot. While that will make it an easier sell in the showroom, it means that, in our eyes, the RDX isn't nearly the standout it once was. It's now a paint-by-numbers SUV.

Though it may not be the sporty, quirky crossover we loved, it's not bad. The updated V-6 drew strong praise, with Floyd remarking, "The first thing I noticed was its 3.5-liter. Those 273 horses moved this bad boy out in a hurry." The handling, despite the lack of SH-AWD, also earned praise. "Surprisingly fun car to drive," wrote Mortara. "The all-wheel-drive system works just fine, even though it's not SH-AWD." He and others pointed out, though, that the all-season tires had very low limits and quickly put a stop to the fun. "The all-season tires scream like 12-year-olds at a slasher-flick sleepover," quipped Loh. "You're moving pretty quickly, though, despite the howling understeer."

The RDX's interior also drew friendly comments. Markus was impressed with the rear seat room, as was Lieberman. Lieberman, Floyd, and Lassa also remarked favorably on the upscale cabin materials, and the judges agreed that the center stack design was an improvement over the previous version.

When it came to the criteria, though, the RDX just didn't measure up. No one considered the design an advancement, and while we appreciated the refinements, the loss of cutting-edge technologies under the hood and the carryover in-car technology didn't make much of a case for engineering excellence.

While no one really disliked the RDX, no one was particularly enthusiastic about it either, and its Sport/Utility of the Year chances ended there.


2013 Acura RDX AWD
BASE PRICE $35,215
PRICE AS TESTED $40,315
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.5L/273-hp/251-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3816 lb (59/41%)
WHEELBASE 105.7 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 183.5 x 73.7 x 66.1 in
0-60 MPH 6.3 sec
QUARTER MILE 14.9 sec @ 93.9 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 123 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.77 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.8 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 19/27 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 177/125 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.88 lb/mile

Audi Allroad
By: Mike Febbo

We Like: Car-like road manners, combination of torque and fuel efficiency.

We Don't Like: Lack of real offroad prowess. Really is an A4 Avant with plastic flares.

The Allroad returns from a seven-year hiatus leaner, meaner, and based on the A4 rather than the A6. The previous Allroad used an adjustable air suspension that often proved problematic over time, and it was powered by either a twin-turbo V-6 or a naturally aspirated V-8, both of which had a real taste for fuel. This version uses the 211-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 that returns an EPA-rated 27 mpg on the highway.

The overall staff opinion of the Allroad was very positive. The interior was universally praised, with comments ranging from Floyd's "typical Audi: well-executed with top-notch craftsmanship" to Allyson Harwood's "elegant and simple with high-quality materials and cool features." The infotainment system has been upgraded, leading Loh to say, "Google Earth execution in nav makes it appear iPhone-current, while others look Garmin-dated."

The driving experience was even more impressive than the build and material quality. Markus logged, "Least body roll, best grip, strong acceleration and braking. Most fun-to-drive car, er, SUV here." Added Lassa, "Superb handling, and good brakes. It's the one I most wanted to keep driving around the Porsche circuit." The Allroad's sport sedan-like handling and rear-biased AWD made it a favorite on the road course. The seating position, precise steering, and comfort made it a hit on the highway as well. So what happened to this much-loved German?

"If it walks like a station wagon and talks like a station wagon, then it's a station wagon. Enough with calling everything with four wheels and some additional cargo space a crossover," Floyd said. Our staff unanimously agreed the Allroad is a station wagon with a slight height advantage. Mortara summed it up: "If I want an Audi SUV, I'll get a Q7, Q5, or Q1." While we were expecting a significantly refreshed Q5 with Audi's astounding 3.0-liter turbodiesel to show up and play, it missed the boat in Germany, literally.

Several editors decided that, were it their money, the Allroad would be the car they'd take home, but the fact that everyone couldn't stop referring to it as a car ultimately was its downfall.


2013 Audi Allroad Quattro
BASE PRICE $40,495
PRICE AS TESTED $47,395
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door wagon
ENGINE 2.0L/211-hp/255-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3877 lb (53/47%)
WHEELBASE 110.4 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 185.9 x 72.5 x 58.0 in
0-60 MPH 6.5 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.0 sec @ 92.4 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 120 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.85 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.1 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 20/27 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 169/125 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.86 lb/mile

Ford Escape
By: Frank Markus

We Like: Euro-chic styling and handling, turbo oomph.

We Don't Like: Hammer-down gas guzzling, rough-road rattles, fancy-pants price too big for its britches.

Ford's light, lively 2013 Escape was a heavy favorite going into this competition. It had already vanquished the CR-V and CX-5 in a comparison test on the strength of its sleek and fresh styling, astute packaging, and high feature content. (Options include self-parking and a hands-free power tailgate.) That comparo featured a 1.6-liter EcoBoost Escape, and the top-spec 2.0-liter turbo included here delighted us with its even sprightlier scoot and sharper handling. Against its competition, the Escape stands out as the enthusiast's choice. "Takes a nice set after the initial body roll; from then on it's all grip and grins," said boss-man Loh, adding, "So sporty, I wish it had paddles." Nobody loves the (better-than-nothing) manual-shifting toggle switch, and we wish the S mode included sport programming to hold lower gears while cornering, but driving dynamics might be the Escape's strongest selling point.

While the 2.0-liter AWD version scampered right up our rutted and sandy hill, the FWD 1.6 struggled more than other two-wheelers. Some blamed its Conti "Amateur" Contact tires. Others pointed to a traction control system that's buried in a Settings menu, making it hard to switch off. Both trucklets rattled and shook violently over bumps. "The NVH was shocking, as if body panels were about to start popping off," said Lieberman. (They didn't.)

A roomy cargo hold and rear seat and a 2000-pound towing capacity (even for the 1.6-liter) earned high points for performance of intended function. Where the Escape really fell down was in the efficiency and value categories. In our real-world looping, the tidy Escapes earned the fourth- and sixth-best fuel economy ratings of 17.7 and 16.2 mpg for the 1.6 and 2.0, respectively. (The gigantic Mercedes diesel managed 18.5 driven just as ardently.) With a 15.1-gallon tank and an overly conservative gauge, the Escapes were begging for fuel long before the other contenders. It seems EcoBoost is an either/or proposition, and we always opted for the Boost. On the value front, these well-equipped test cars fell short of our refinement expectations for vehicles straddling the $30,000 mark. So while we still believe the Escape to be the best vehicle in its class, it doesn't grab the Golden Calipers.


2013 Ford Escape Titanium
BASE PRICE $31,195
PRICE AS TESTED $34,735
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/240-hp/270-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3791 lb (57/43%)
WHEELBASE 105.9 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 178.1 x 72.4 x 66.3 in
0-60 MPH 6.8 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.2 sec @ 88.8 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 123 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.85 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.3 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 21/28 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 160/120 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.82 lb/mile

Honda CR-V
By: Mike Floyd

We Like: Everything from the B-pillar back, lots of storage, trick folding second-row seats.

We Don't Like: Uninspired driving experience, five-speed automatic. Frumpy-looking exterior.

If we gave an award for coolest feature in this year's SUVOTY field, the Honda CR-V's magically folding, 60/40 second-row seats would have nabbed it. Simply pull a lever and voila!, the spring-loaded system flips the rear seat cushion up against the front seat and the seatback folds down flat. "David Copperfield can't do stuff like that in his shiniest shirt," commented Mike Febbo.

Alas, that was all that wowed us about the CR-V, but there is a lot to like about Honda's five-passenger crossover. Our notes mentioned several positive tidbits, mainly the copious amount of storage space and headroom. Interior packaging is the most impressive part of the CR-V's package. Lack of keyless start and a dated-look nav system were among the demerits, and plus-sized editors felt a bit snug in the cockpit.

The CR-V's ride and handling were acceptable considering its mission and market position, although no one was blown away from behind the wheel. Honda is pushing the CR-V's updated all-wheel-drive system, and although we didn't get a chance to extensively test it, it's impressive on paper. And the CR-V is among the safest vehicles in its class, a key factor in purchase decisions.

However, several editors lamented that Honda's once vaunted commitment to engineering seems to have faded, with the powertrain a case in point. Yes, it gets along with a five-speed automatic transmission, and we're guessing most CR-V buyers don't mind or care that it's unexciting. We do. The 2.4-liter four with 185 hp does the job, but it can be coarse under hard acceleration, and we wonder how it would perform loaded with people and gear given its meager 163 lb-ft of torque. "Nothing about this car, from the engine drone to the lack of transmission control, ever goads the driver to have any fun," opined Markus.

And while exterior style is highly subjective, most editors felt the CR-V took a step backward, with an overall appearance best described as disjointed. If the rest of the CR-V were as magical as its rear seats, it might have scored better. But not even David Copperfield could turn it into our SUV of the Year.


2013 Honda CR-V EX-L
BASE PRICE $23,325
PRICE AS TESTED $30,825
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.4L/185-hp/163-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 5-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3451 lb (58/42%)
WHEELBASE 103.1 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 178.3 x 71.6 x 65.1 in
0-60 MPH 9.1 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.9 sec @ 83.0 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 126 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.78 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.8 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 22/30 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 153/112 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.78 lb/mile

Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
By: Allyson Harwood

We Like: Attractive exterior, quality interior style and function, strong value proposition.

We Don't Like: Numb steering, poor handling, turbo's disappointing power.

For 2013, there are two Santa Fes: the short-wheelbase Sport and the long-wheelbase Santa Fe. The Santa Fe Sport rides on the same length of wheelbase as the 2012 Santa Fe, but looks totally different. There are two engines: a 190-hp, 2.4-liter four and a 264-hp, 2.0-liter turbo four.

The 2.0T has significantly more power than the 2.4, yet was only 0.2 second faster to 60. While the 2.0T is quick and throttle response is excellent from a stop, there were noticeable flat spots in the acceleration curve that made power delivery feel uneven. On twisty roads, when accelerating out of a turn, we had to wait--or mash the throttle--for the transmission to downshift. The base engine delivers power more smoothly than the turbo, and while it doesn't feel overwhelmingly fast, it's a decent engine.

The 2013 model is quite attractive, inside and out. The elegant cabin's controls are easy to identify and use, and as is often the case with Hyundai, there are plenty of features available on the Santa Fe Sport. If we could change one thing, it would be to improve NVH -- there were squeaks and rattles, and too much wind noise.

However, the Santa Fe's biggest weaknesses are steering and suspension. There were three different steering modes, yet none provided much steering feel. In addition, the suspension seemed easily confused when driving hard, and as Lieberman explained, "The secondary body motions are horrid. Basically, as you enter a turn, the vehicle leans over not once, but twice. By the time that second rebound is happening, you're more likely than not turning the wheel the other direction. So, you're trying to turn left and the Santa Fe is bouncing to the right." This won't be a problem for most drivers, but we wonder how the suspension will behave during an emergency maneuver. The ride is not as comfortable as that of others in its class, and you can feel more bumps. These are significant problems that for some judges strongly outweighed the Sport's value.

Floyd summed up our views: "It seems we've been talking for generations now about how Hyundai is still a generation or so away from delivering a vehicle that offers as much dynamically as it does with its value and interior packaging. We're still talking about it with the Santa Fe Sport, and that's a shame, because there's plenty to like."


2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport AWD
BASE PRICE $27,025
PRICE AS TESTED $35,625
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/264-hp/269-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3936 lb (57/43%)
WHEELBASE 106.3 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 184.6 x 74.0 x 66.1 in
0-60 MPH 9.1 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.8 sec @ 82.7 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 122 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.80 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.7 sec @ 0.57 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 20/27 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 169/125 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.86 lb/mile

Infiniti JX35
By: Scott Evans

We Like: Quiet cabin, loads of features, sporting pretensions.

We Don't Like: Hyperactive stability control, cramped rear seats, too similar to Pathfinder for the price.

The all-new Infiniti JX slots nicely into a small hole in the brand's lineup between the smaller, sportier FX and the massive QX. With three-row seating like the QX's, but easier entry and egress and better fuel economy, the JX fits the bill for upper-middle-class soccer-team haulers upgrading from a minivan.

For performance of intended function, then, it hits the nail on the head. Judges were impressed with the JX's quiet, luxurious cabin, sporty performance, and long list of features.

"The Infiniti's cabin isolation at speed is on another level from its Nissan sibling," Floyd wrote. "I had it turning nearly 5000 rpm in Sport mode in fourth gear out on the highway, and I could barely hear the engine running. It was wild." Several judges remarked on the rich interior materials, with Loh calling the cabin "comfy and inviting."

The JX was also praised for its sporty side. "This is the first CVT that actually feels eager versus elastic," noted Loh. "Throttle response is excellent in sport mode, and this is the most fun I've had 'shifting' a CVT. 'Gear changes' are crisp, with the expected drops in rpm."

Unfortunately, there were caveats. Several editors complained about excessive stability control interference on the winding road segment. Markus logged: "This thing seems to be forever on the brakes. Remember the driving school idea of a string from the wheel to the brake, pulling the brake off as you turn in? Here the string works the opposite way, seemingly pushing the brake any time you turn the wheel."

Judges also took issue with the Infiniti's similarity to its Nissan sibling. "There should be more for the JX buyer," Loh said. "Not enough product separation from the Pathfinder," Lassa added, and Harwood wrote, "It's a shame that you'd theoretically pay $15K more for the JX than the Pathfinder, only to get the same engine and a different transmission tune."

There's a lot to like about the JX, but with lingering questions about its value and handling, it didn't have what it takes to be Sport/Utility of the Year.


2013 Infiniti JX 35
BASE PRICE $42,500
PRICE AS TESTED $54,800
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.5L/265-hp/248-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION -speed cont. variable auto
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4541 lb (55/45%)
WHEELBASE 114.2 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 196.4 x 77.2 x 67.8 in
0-60 MPH 8.2 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.3 sec @ 88.5 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 120 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.76 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 29.3 sec @ 0.56 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 18/23 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 187/147 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.97 lb/mile

Mazda CX-5
By: Mike Febbo

We Like: Looks good, fun to drive, great base model value.

We Don't Like: It's low on power, and options add up quickly.

From the styling to the specs, everyone expected the CX-5 to drive like a lifted Mazda3. In the handling department, no one was disappointed. The small CUV was easy to hustle around the test track and rotated smoothly with a little lift-throttle oversteer.

But sad to say, the trip from corner to corner was a bit too long. The CX-5 is powered by the 155-horse Skyactiv 2.0-liter I-4, which seems adequate in a small hatchback, but inadequate in a larger, heavier, and lifted hatchback now called a CUV.

Power arguments aside, we consider the basic version a real value. Harwood logged, "There is a tremendous value here. That the front-drive CX-5 had an as-tested price of, what, $22K, shows that you can get a crossover for hatchback money." Said Floyd, "The bare-bones version is one of the weakest interior executions I've seen in a while, but it's a pretty sweet deal at under $22K, and it's sporting a six-speed manual." The interior space is decent, but you won't want to stuff adults in the back seats for long periods of time. The CX-5 does have cool touches like fold-down rear-seat pass-through; grippy, supportive seats; and nice, shiny piano-black trim.

The Mazda made a strong case for itself, but was put in its place by its training partner the Ford Escape. Both CUVs are based on the same platform, and while the Ford can realistically make the best-in-class claim, the Mazda simply can't. Even though several judges preferred the exterior's Kodo styling, the features and powertrain options on the Ford make it clear who the title contender would be between just these two vehicles.

We hope Mazda will fill out the CX-5 a little more in the future. Differentiating a sport and a luxury trim with different suspension tuning and interior trim would go a long way. More standard features or more attractively priced option packages might increase perceived value of the better-equipped trims. For the knockout punch, Mazda needs to add the turbodiesel option rumored to be hitting other platforms in the coming year.


2013 Mazda CX-5 Skyactiv
BASE PRICE $21,790
PRICE AS TESTED $21,790
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/155-hp/150-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3109 lb (57/43%)
WHEELBASE 106.3 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 178.7 x 72.4 x 65.7 in
0-60 MPH 9.2 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.9 sec @ 82.9 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 123 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.81 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.2 sec @ 0.55 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 26/35 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 130/96 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.66 lb/mile

Mercedes-Benz GLK
By: Scott Mortara

We Like: That Mercedes is finally giving the U.S. a small-displacement diesel engine.

We Don't Like: That Mercedes isn't letting us get our hands on it until next year.

When you first lay eyes on the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK, nothing pops out as significantly changed, but according to M-B, there are more than 1000 new parts on the revised SUV. The most notable change for the GLK is the introduction of the new 2.1-liter, four-cylinder diesel engine.

The exterior gets a slew of minor changes. A new nose has the GLK looking more like the rest of its kin in the M-B lineup. New headlamps get LED running lights; the upper and lower grilles have been reworked; the new taillights have LED accents; and there are new exhaust tips and a redesigned chrome skidplate.

The interior styling is more luxurious than the previous-generation GLK's. The shifter has been moved from the center console to the steering column to allow for a few more cupholders. The rectangular dashboard vents are replaced by huge round ones poached from the SL. One of the nicest improvements is the massive piece of burled wood covering the dash from edge to edge.

While the exterior and interior changes are definitely appreciated, it's what's new under the hood that really impresses. Mercedes is finally giving us a small-displacement turbo diesel in addition to a reworked natural V-6. The new diesel is, of course, turbocharged, putting out 190 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque while promising extremely good fuel economy when it arrives in the spring. The refreshed V-6 gets direct injection and an increase in compression, giving the GLK a power bump to 302 hp and 273 lb-ft while improving fuel efficiency.

Most of the judges liked the styling changes, and everyone agreed the GLK is an exceptionally fun car to drive. It's quick, nimble, and confidence-inspiring, with exceptional braking. And the nanny wasn't overly intrusive, allowing you to slide the GLK a bit through the turns in Normal mode. In Sport mode, everything gets even better; it's not every day you find an SUV that rotates and lets you steer with the throttle.

The 2013 GLK is better in every way compared with the previous generation, but M-B didn't move the bar enough to warrant crowning it the 2013 SUOTY.


2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4Matic
BASE PRICE $39,965
PRICE AS TESTED $48,525
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.5L/302-hp/273-lb-ft DOHC -valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 7-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4183 lb (52/48%)
WHEELBASE 108.5 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 178.3 x 00.0 x 00.0
0-60 MPH 5.8 sec
QUARTER MILE 14.4 sec @ 96.4 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 121 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.76 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.5 sec @ 0.55 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 19/24 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 177/140 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.93 lb/mile

Nissan Pathfinder
By: Todd Lassa

We Like: Comfort and capacity, ride and handling for suburban adventurers, seamless CVT, fuel economy.

We Don't Like: Torque steer despite AWD, and it's still a CVT.

Febbo rechristened it the Nissan Mallfinder. He's right, though Nissan's move from trucky, body-on-frame, longitudinal engined sport/utility to the Altima-based, unibody, transverse-engined alterna-minivan was necessary. (See Ford Explorer and Chevrolet TrailBlazer-Traverse for precedence.) The market for truck-based SUVs that aren't Suburbans, Jeeps, or Land Rovers has left the building.

Now the Pathfinder is a long, tall Altima wagon, the Quest that the Quest will never be. Its single powertrain option combines Nissan's venerable 3.5-liter, VQ V-6 with perhaps the best continuously variable transmission extant. Towing capacity is 5000 pounds with front or all-wheel drive, and AWD can be locked in. More important, the second row has fore-aft and seatback-angle adjustment.

The base rental lot Pathfinder S stickers at $29,095 and weighs about 4100 pounds, which is impressively low for such a capacious SUV. The mid-level SV (cloth seats) and SL (leather) are in the $32,355-$35,295 sweet spot. Our AWD Platinum tester falls short of its richer brother Infiniti JX35 only in terms of leather quality and the latest automation safety features. Each has distinct interior and exterior designs, like the Buick Enclave versus Chevy Traverse. This premium trim-level Pathfinder has everything new age wagoneers expect, including a cushy ride.

"Ride quality is quite plush, though some bumps did excite the exterior trim," Markus said. "Fair amount of tire squeal on esses, but body lean seemed reasonably un-nautical for a softly sprung 'ute." He liked the VQ engine tuning and Pathfinder's value versus the Hyundai Santa Fe, though there's a lot of highway wind noise and a muddy-sounding stereo to drown it out. Also unlike the Infiniti, the Nissan has no CVT sport mode to provide step-style upshifts and downshifts. We noticed, though the average buyer probably won't. For all this seamlessness, the Pathfinder handled our off-road hill as if it was the old, truck-based Pathfinder, only smoother.

"It's bland and not really remarkable in any way," Febbo concluded, "but it's just decent all around."

After its smooth, seamless competence earned the Pathfinder a post-first-cut playoff berth, the SUV's vanilla flavor ultimately left a sour taste. We'll need a direct comparison before we can proclaim it equal to the Mazda CX-9, our favorite in the segment.


2013 Nissan Pathfinder 4WD Platinum
BASE PRICE $39,995
PRICE AS TESTED $43,895
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, 4WD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.5L/260-hp/240-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION Cont. variable auto
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4536 lb (54/46%)
WHEELBASE 114.2 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 197.2 x 77.2 x 69.6 in
0-60 MPH 7.6 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.9 sec @ 90.1 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 124 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.75 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 29.2 sec @ 0.53 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 20/26 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 169/130 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.87 lb/mile

Subaru XV Crosstrek
By: Todd Lassa

We Like: Agile handling, supple ride, steering feedback, value, and fuel efficiency.

We Don't Like: Merely adequate power. NVH matches low-rent '90s interior.

Nothing beyond the Subaru XV Crosstrek's "Impreza Outback" styling suggests "new" or "breakthrough." The transmission has just five gears, and we suspect the continuously variable transmission option would drain the old-school driving fun.

So it might surprise you that the Subie made our first cut of Sport/Utility of the Year candidates. But it's greater than the sum of its parts, and was more fun than most on the Santa Maria airport tarmac's handling course. It's 148-horsepower slow, though tossable while maintaining Subaru's typically supple ride.

The Crosstrek handles and parks like a compact car, will carry sporting accoutrements and friends, and is capable of light off-roading if you want to sustain that conceit. It's a great Michigan winter vehicle, and it's cheaper than the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V. At 22.4 mpg from hard, real-world driving, it was nearly 4 mpg better than the second-best Mercedes-Benz GL350 Bluetec.

"One of the things that won me over was its honesty and value," said our most serious off-roader, Truck Trend editor Harwood. "This cabin is pretty retro, with cheap materials, but for the price it's what the XV should have. Who would put a muddy dog in a leather-wrapped cabin?"

With short overhangs, the XV has 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Subaru added a molded notch at the back of the roof rack to gain 0.1 point in its drag coefficient, and negate the rack's fuel-economy effect. These features make the Crosstrek the poster-vehicle for driving to that mountain bike trail in the woods.

Frequent readers will note the Crosstrek is basically a raised version of the Impreza hatchback CVT that did so poorly in the 2012 Car of the Year competition. True enough. Ordering the manual gearbox over the CVT can make a big difference, and it's part of the XV Crosstrek's value proposition. The base trim level, enigmatically called Premium, starts at $22,790. The $25,290 Limited adds automatic climate control; automatic headlamps; a better radio; and leather-trimmed seats, steering wheel and CVT gearshift knob.

Yes, the Crosstrek Limited comes only with the CVT, and we think the combo of higher price and no third pedal would remove the old-school stick-shift fun that makes it not the winner, but the one many of us would buy.


2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek
BASE PRICE $22,790
PRICE AS TESTED $22,790
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/148-hp/145-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve F-4
TRANSMISSION 5-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3038 lb (58/42%)
WHEELBASE 103.7 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 175.2 x 70.1 x 63.6 in
0-60 MPH 8.8 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.6 sec @ 81.5 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 122 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.80 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.5 sec @ 0.54 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 23/30 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 147/112 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.75 lb/mile