Brave New World: The SUV Reinvents Itself Again
“It’s a changing world, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the rapidly evolving field of sport/utility vehicles. While SUVs have typically been rugged, truck-based vehicles, this is no longer a prerequisite. SUVs that are more car than truck are proving immensely popular, and their buyers want to hear more about such things as safety, foul weather performance, ride quality, and ease of entry than about boulder-crawling capability, tall ground clearance, or mounds of pulling power. More than ever, the SUV market is expected to be all things to all people—except perhaps a truck. And the current trends in engineering and marketing in the segment reinforce that.”
Our new proving ground allowed us to divine a true standout, our winner.
Seventeen years ago, these words opened our first-ever Sport/Utility of the Year award. In this year’s field, there isn’t a single new truck-based SUV in the group. Two attempt to redefine what qualifies as an SUV with sedanlike bodywork (which their makers insist on calling “coupes”). All but two are front-wheel drive or FWD-derived all-wheel drive. More than one has the same ground clearance as your typical sedan. Two offer plug-in hybrid drivetrains, and one of those features an engine both turbocharged and supercharged. We’ve even rebranded our award SUV of the Year, rather than Sport/Utility of the Year. What’s more, for the first time we can remember, we have more vehicles contending for SUV of the Year than Car of the Year. It’s a brave new world.
Stay tuned to MotorTrend.com as the 2016 Motor Trend SUV of the Year contenders and finalists are revealed in advance of the official winner announcement on the evening of November 16. Read about our SUV of the Year contenders below.
We’ve also introduced a new proving ground to our test regimen. A ranch northwest of Tehachapi, California, offered a more challenging off-road evaluation loop and direct access to an excellent handling evaluation road and the freeway. Two loops, one long and one short, were designed with off-road, on-road, and freeway segments. The short loop allowed us to separate the contenders from the finalists, which would be subject to additional testing on the long loop to divine a true standout, our winner.
Informing our decision was, of course, our standard battery of objective, instrumented testing and careful consideration of consumer expectations and demands. After intense scrutiny and judging, one SUV stood above all the others.
2016 Motor Trend SUV of the Year Contenders:
- BMW X6
- Chevrolet Trax
- Fiat 500X
- Ford Edge
- Ford Explorer
- Honda HR-V
- Hyundai Tucson
- Jeep Renegade
- Kia Sorento
- Land Rover Discovery Sport
- Mazda CX-3
Advancement in Design
Well-executed exterior and interior styling, innovative vehicle packaging, and a good selection and use of materials.
Each vehicle’s price and equipment levels compared with those of vehicles in the same market segment.
Performance of Intended Function
How well the vehicle does the job its planners, designers, and engineers intended it to do.
Fuel efficiency and carbon footprint size relative to the vehicle’s competitive set.
The ability to help avoid a crash, plus secondary safety measures to protect occupants during an accident.
Total vehicle concept and execution; clever solutions to packaging, manufacturing, and dynamics; and cost-effective technology that benefits consumers.
- Jason Cammisa
- Chris Clonts
- Scott Evans
- Ron Kiino
- Jonny Lieberman
- Edward Loh
- Frank Markus
- Christian Seabaugh
- Chris Walton
Testing and limit handling
Before leaving the crowded confines of Los Angeles County, we take all the SUV contenders to our test venue at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. There we run each sport/utility through a standard battery of straight-line (0-60, quarter mile, 60-0) and limit handling (lateral g, figure eight) tests. Once the numbers are crunched, we compile a monster spreadsheet of stats that we scrutinize and utilize to compare segment foes.
Short qualifier loops
Out at our 50,000-acre Loop Ranch base camp in Tehachapi, it’s time to get down to business. Here we kick the tires, pop the hoods, conduct backseat tests, fiddle with infotainment systems you name it. Then, using an eight-mile short drive loop that includes a half-mile section of low-friction dirt roads and steep grades followed by 7.5 miles of on-road evaluation, we drive each SUV, jot down notes, and at the end of the day, huddle up to cut the field from 16 contenders to five finalists.
Extended final-evaluation loops
With our final five set, the drive loop gets longer and the stakes higher. The off-road section expands to about one mile with more high-speed sections, giving our judges a better sense of suspension tuning and stability/traction systems. Then it’s on the road again, where the pavement portion expands to 30 miles, with bits of twisty mountain esses, sweeping country roads, interstate highway, and stop-and-go city streets. Driving done, it’s time to debate and vote.