The face of war has changed. The fight no longer takes place on open ground over great expanses of land. Combat in the 21st century is fought in confined spaces, building to building. The only reasons to leave the security of the home compound are excursions to the tight constraints of strip malls, or, worse, urban combined-use properties, for artisanal cupcakes and organic frozen yogurt.
Three-ton war machines don't intimidate combatants; the winners of conflicts must be fast and agile. A three-row SUV is not so much a luxury as it is a burden. The answer is the smaller, more efficient and carlike CUV, and we invited three of the best to battle it out.
The oldest of these is Motor Trend's 2012 Sport Utility Vehicle of the Year, the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque. Despite the king-size name, the Evoque established a new benchmark in small premium CUVs. It wraps an efficient four-cylinder drivetrain in fashion-forward sheetmetal. The BMW X1 arrives hot on its heels for 2013, despite having been on sale in Europe since 2010. Smaller and sportier than the X3, it is also the first BMW SUV to be offered in rear drive. Last is the Audi Allroad, the slightly hiked-up replacement for the departed A4 Avant wagon.
All our test vehicles are equipped with 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 engines, automatic transmissions, and all-wheel drive. While the Land Rover name certainly carries the best off-road pedigree, none of them is a serious rock-crawler. That's appropriate for the market, as 99 percent of these will never see an unbeaten path. For singles, couples, and small families, this type of vehicle often makes more sense than a full-size SUV. It's aimed at buyers who need more space than a sedan, but want something more rugged-looking than your average hatchback or wagon.
3rd Place: Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
With the Motor Trend SUV of the Year Calipers strapped to its roof, you might think the Evoque would have an easy time walking into this competition. But our expectations are higher for a vehicle we've previously deemed the best in the business, and both the Allroad and X1 had an extra year of training before this showdown. In our SUV of the Year competition, we look at a very wide range of vehicles and requirements. A vehicle is not judged against the other vehicles present, but rather on how it stacks up against its performance of intended function. In comparisons like this, vehicles are evaluated with very specific missions in mind. They are fighting against each other.
Two years ago at our SUOTY competition, we were bowled over by the Evoque's edgy styling and aggressive driving dynamics. It looks and feels futuristic, but with a classic Land Rover flair. Some of that translates into compromises in usability. Rearward visibility is just about nonexistent through the mail slot-sized rear window. To compensate, there are oversized sideview mirrors, which associate editor Benson Kong remarked "definitely affect how quickly you want to turn left and right."
The sporty dynamics also lead to a rough and choppy ride. The other two vehicles here practically float over broken pavement compared with the Evoque. For its tire slap and road and wind noise, the Evoque was judged the loudest of the group. Yes, it was the loudest of a quiet group, but this is a comparison. The vehicle with the most off-roading ability unsurprisingly also exhibited more lateral movement on the highway. Finally, the quick steering needed constant attention on the highway, which, all things combined, made for a tiring experience on the highway loops.
The Evoque's 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline-4 matches the BMW's 240 hp, but has the least amount of torque at 251 lb-ft. The bigger problem in acceleration and fuel economy might be the six-speed transmission being down two gears on the other competitors. While the transmission is good, the other two are great examples of a modern automatic. With the highest weight and least amount of torque, it's not surprising that the Evoque's straight-line performance lags behind the other two -- it shows up a half-second later to 60 mph and in the quarter mile.
We still love the Evoque's interior design and unique high-quality materials. The inside looks like a designer's vision went straight to production without stopping along the way in the accounting or ergonomics departments. The width of the vehicle is apparent from inside. The low seating position forces your legs straight out in front of you, requiring the front seats to be positioned further back, which eats up some backseat space. When fitting our Recaro child seats in the vehicles, the rear-facing seat was noticeably tight in the back of the Land Rover, requiring the front passenger seat to be moved forward. While we appreciate this vehicle as a benchmark in design and crossover off-road capability, it has too many compromises to win as an urban warrior.