2002 Motor Trend SUV of the Year: GMC Envoy

Our largest-ever Sport/Utility of the Year field kept the Motor Trend staff focused for weeks. Each SUV contestant covered better than a thousand miles of highway, traversed several 8000-ft mountain passes, endured Death Valley's tire-shredding rock canyons (not to mention its grueling 115* heat), and was subjected to a full regimen of our instrumented performance tests. We evaluated each vehicle in 10 tough tests, plus the everyday rigors of modern life. All this to help you determine which new SUVs to put on your shopping list.

From the start, we knew the GMC Envoy would be a serious contender for SUVOY: Its smartly beveled exterior design, neatly detailed interior, genuine off-road competence, serious cargo/towing capacities, air-suspended ride, innovative entertainment options, and all-new 270-horse powerplant had us prepared for a solid showing. And in the final voting, it had the Right Stuff to win us over.

2001 Motor Trend SUV of the Year: Acura MDX

Acura's impressive MDX loomed large on MT's radar screen from the start of this 12-vehicle battle. As thousands of miles of twisting asphalt two-lanes, instrumented track tests, and off-road challenges unrolled during our two week test session, it held its position as a top contender. When the driving was done, the voting commenced. Although several competitors lasted until the final round of balloting, there can be only one winner-and we're proud to say that's Acura's all-new MDX.

There are two vital elements of the SUV equation: sport and utility. The Acura easily handled our on-road sport requirement with its torquey, smooth-revving, great-sounding 3.5L SOHC V-6, five-speed automatic transmission, structurally stiff unibody, and sophisticated all-independent suspension. MT's off-road sporting needs were met by the MDX's standard Variable Torque Management all-wheel-drive system and better than expected ground clearance. Even though its main mission in life is not that of hard-core off-roader, the rocks, deep sand, and steep grades of our off-road test area were handled with more than reasonable aplomb.

2000 Motor Trend SUV of the Year: Nissan Xterra

There's no mystery to the Xterra's winning formula. There are no tricks to what makes it such an attractive SUV. When you cut through the Gen-X-style advertising hype, and spend time living with the vehicle on an everyday basis -- tackling the highways, romping through the boondocks -- you really get to see the Xterra for what it is: a back-to-basics, value-packed, honest-to-backwoods sport/utility with a thoroughly youthful twist. At a time when most notable new SUVs are in the upper echelon of luxury and price, the Xterra is a breath of fresh air, with an under-$18,000 window sticker and an edgy active lifestyle appeal. Some of the staff admitted, in fact, that going into the competition they'd underestimated the Xterra. But as the driving sessions got underway, pricing was compared, features noted, and all-around liveability evaluated, it slowly but surely grew to be the favorite.

As straightforward as its appeal, the Xterra's development is based on Nissan's Frontier pickup, using the same body-on-frame design, independent double-wishbone front/leaf-spring rear suspension, as well as headlights, front bumper, hood, A-pillars, and front doors. This shared-platform approach and the fact that it's been designed, engineered and is being assembled in Smyrna, Tennessee, are at the heart of the SUV's value story.

1999 Motor Trend SUV of the Year: Lexus RX 300

They sure don't make 'em like they used to. And one drive in the Lexus RX 300 is all it takes to confirm that. In any vehicle designed for occasional off-road use, we've come to expect compromises in ride quality, noise and vibration, handling, fuel economy, and long-haul interior comfort. But in one well-executed stroke of marketing and engineering brilliance, Lexus has shown us these common sacrifices are no longer required to take advantage of the inherent benefits of a sport/utility. In a competitive market segment that has strived for the last 15 years to make its vehicles more and more "car-like," the RX 300 has posted a new standard by which all future sport/utilities will be judged. Moreover, the untrodden, but highly lucrative, path it's taken into this new product wilderness is one that other major automakers (such as BMW and Porsche) already have their sights on.

This inaugural Sport/Utility of the Year award has been created to honor the vehicle our editorial staff feels is the most significant new model within its class, taking into consideration such variables as design, value, innovation, performance, safety, technical advancement, quality, and market significance. Qualifications for the '99 competition were simple: Eligible vehicles had to be new or significantly improved over the previous model year, they must be designated as '99 models, and they must be on sale by Jan. 1, 1999. This year numerous sport/utilities qualified for the competition. Of those, the Lexus RX 300's innovative design, impeccable quality, attention to detail, high levels of comfort and safety, standout value, and immediate market leadership made it the unanimous choice to be our '99 Sport/Utility of the Year.