Of particular note is the Toyota. If you recall, the Venza was not part of our 2009 Sport/Utility of the Year field. Toyota, you see, is marketing the Venza as a car. So the thought of it caravanning down dirt roads with a slew of other SUVs, kicking up dust clouds as if it were a Land Cruiser, was not a desirable scenario. Why? Well, just imagine had it triumphed..."The Venza: a car so not-a-car it won Motor Trend's Sport/Utility of the Year." Maybe it's just us, but we can't imagine that was a tagline Toyota was clamoring to advertise. Naturally, Toyota declined our invitation. Yet, you may also recall the Venza did not play in our 2009 Car of the Year contest. But wait, isn't Toyota calling it a car? Yes. But we, you see, view the Venza as a crossover, given its available all-wheel drive, Honda Pilot-beating 8.1 inches of ground clearance, Volkswagen Tiguan-conquering 3500-pound towing capacity, and Porsche Cayenne-embarrassing 34.4-cubic-foot cargo hold. A car? Only if the Tundra were an open-trunk utility sedan.

For this shindig, Toyota sent us a $28,520 Venza V-6 equipped with the $4345 premium package 2 (leather, Xenon headlamps, smart key, power tailgate, backup camera) and a $1090 13-speaker JBL audio upgrade, bringing the bottom line up to $33,955.

Out traversing the beautiful country roads winding their way through Santa Ynez and on the ranch property that was once home to Kiefer Sutherland -- "Imagine the parties that went on here," ponders editor at large Arthur St. Antoine -- we familiarize ourselves with the three crossovers, quickly taking to the shape and style of the Edge. St. Antoine notes, "I find the Edge far and away the best-looking vehicle in this group. Nice proportions, clean lines, aggressive stance." We like the appearance of the Murano, too, but more in a "that's interesting" rather than "that's gorgeous" kind of way. "Has an HR Giger look about it, with its fanged chrome grille and insectoid triple-beam projector lights," observes senior editor Ed Loh. Interestingly, the low-slung, elongated styling of the Venza elicits not one quote. Love the look? Hate it? Crickets.