2014 Motor Trend SUV of the Year: Subaru Forester

Subaru has a knack for making the right size vehicles for the marketplace, with just the right level of capability people want. As the SUV landscape has changed and traditional body-on-frame SUVs have been overtaken by unibody crossovers and sport/utes, Subaru has changed as well. It moved from selling smaller wagons to making unibody crossovers, and these vehicles resonate with buyers. The company's Forester and Outback have gotten larger over time, but not so large that they scare off loyal Subaru fans. Subarus aren't over the top or ostentatious; they're honest and smart.

The redesigned 2014 Subaru Forester has better efficiency, added power, and increased cargo volume, without a significant increase in overall size. The new Forester provides a comfortable ride with a roomy interior. Its off-road capability is plenty for the majority of sport/utility buyers. It offers a lot of value for the money. And it accomplishes all this while still being fun to drive.

2013 Motor Trend SUV of the Year: Mercedes-Benz GL

SUVs have changed. For the first time ever, we didn't have a single body-on-frame example in our annual SUV of the Year competition. Remember, when Bob Lutz and Stephen Ross cooked up the Ford Explorer -- the vehicle most responsible for cupiding America's still-raging love affair with the SUV -- it was little more than an enclosed, four-door Ranger. For our 2013 competition, the overwhelming majority of the competitors were car-based. However, there was one vehicle that wasn't, and in the words of Frank Markus, "did more of what we expect an SUV to do." That vehicle is the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL.

The flavor didn't matter. From the fuel-sipping, diesel-powered GL350 to the "how can this be the weaker of the two V-8s?" GL450 to the "3-ton objects should not move this quickly" 429-hp GL550, Mercedes has built an SUV that's better than the rest. Not just in its competitive class: The new, second-generation GL is the best new SUV on the market period, and the winner of our prize.

2012 Motor Trend SUV of the Year: Land Rover Range Rover Evoque

In the enthusiast's dream, all sports cars have manual transmissions and all SUVs are body-on-frame. But as so often is the case, reality does not intersect with our fantasies. Ferraris -- save for one -- no longer have manual transmissions, and car-based crossovers are rapidly pushing traditional SUVs to the brink of extinction. In a world that appears increasingly hostile to an all-SUV brand like Land Rover, adaptation is the only option. Some adaptations are failures. Others are Motor Trend Sport/Utility of the Year winners. The Range Rover Evoque is most certainly the latter.

But how? The Evoque is, after all, based on the Land Rover LR2, a vehicle many of you would be surprised to learn is still on sale today. Just as the LR2 was an impressive improvement on the Freelander, the Evoque is an evolutionary leap over the LR2. Though we can confirm that Land Rover did not consult us on the Evoque's development, you'd be forgiven for wondering if the R&D team used our six criteria as guidelines, as the vehicle satisfies each one so completely.

2011 Motor Trend SUV of the Year: Porsche Cayenne

We realize this looks bad. A bunch of unabashed car-loving adrenaline junkies invite a high-clearance sports car to an SUV contest and go all wobbly-kneed with excitement, crowning it champ. We can hear the hate mail composing itself from here: "That high-falutin' Porsh is an even stupider pick than last year's Scooby-doo station wagon! Cancel my subscription! (Again!)" We beg your indulgence as we build our case around the six key criteria.

It's that breadth of performance capability, combined with the Cayenne's roomy and comfortable interior and reasonably capacious cargo hold, that helped it nail our performance of intended function criteria. With strong showings in the engineering excellence and efficiency areas, attractive exterior and thoughtful interior design, a full roster of active and passive safety gear and the value rating fig leaf of the V-6's affordable opening price, the Cayenne won over the thoughtful adults as well as the boy-racers to win by a supermajority. Of course, it's the boy-racers who are helping spec out our long-termer.

2010 Motor Trend SUV of the Year: Subaru Outback

It's right there in the photo: a spacious, tough, thoroughly modern, exceedingly capable sport/utility vehicle. You're forgiven if all you can see is a svelte station wagon. There's magic at work here.

For the first time since any of us can recall, an automaker has claimed the Motor Trend Sport/Utility of the Year title two years in a row. Last fall, deftly balancing efficiency and size, the all-new 2009 Subaru Forester went home with the Golden Calipers trophy. For 2010, fighting off several tough adversaries -- and undoubtedly some unspoken but very real bias among our judges against repeat winners -- Subaru's new, fourth-generation Outback scored a decisive 10-1 victory in the final voting.

2009 Motor Trend SUV of the Year: Subaru Forester

It would be easy to say that this year's winner is a knee-jerk reaction, that the editors of Motor Trend responded to the skyrocketing cost of gasoline like the rest of the driving public by abruptly abandoning the traditional SUV formula for something smaller, more fuel-efficient, greener, more, well, forest-y. It would be easy to categorize our selection of the Subaru Forester as Motor Trend's 2009 Sport/Utility of the Year as a choice made solely at the pump, but it wouldn't be true.

Sure, our Subaru Forester 2.5XT contender posted the best observed fuel-economy numbers (16.0 mpg) for an all-wheel-drive SUV in this year's competition, but that's not the whole story.

2008 Motor Trend SUV of the Year: Mazda CX-9

You've heard Mazda's marketing spiel before. From "Zoom-Zoom" to the "Soul of a Sports Car," the brand's ad gurus have pushed harder than starving telemarketers to convince shoppers that Mazda's cars and trucks are sportier and more fun to drive than the competitions'.

Generally, those slogans hold true, as Mazda's vehicles-from the rotary-powered RX-8 and the exuberant MX-5 to the minivan-esque Mazda5 and the rakish CX-7-indeed deliver quick, agile (okay, zoomy) sensations that are akin to, well, a sports car. As the only Japanese car company to ever win the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, Mazda knows a thing or two about sports-car DNA and, more important, how to inject it into just about everything it slaps the winged badge on.