As automakers walk away from sedans as family transportation, it seems ever more categories and niches are being created for the now-omnipresent SUV. Across these multiple sizes, shapes, and price points, we tested the latest models at the 2021 MotorTrend SUV of the Year competition—thoroughly evaluating nearly 30 vehicles in all, with the group ranging from rugged trail climbers and mall-crawling soft-roaders to the fastest zero-to-Montessori rides in the carpool lane. Below, you’ll find our top six finalists for 2021 MotorTrend SUV of the Year plus every other contender for the award. Be sure to check back Monday, October 19, when we reveal the 2021 SUV of the Year!
2021 MotorTrend SUV of the Year Finalists
• Cadillac Escalade | The Boss Is Back
• Genesis GV80 | Seriously Impressive
• Land Rover Defender | Great Anywhere
• Kia Seltos | Mini Telluride
• Nissan Rogue | Way, Way Better
• Toyota Venza | Lexus Lite
2021 MotorTrend SUV of the Year Contenders
• Audi A6 Allroad | A Wagon at an SUV Party
• Audi SQ7 | 500-HP Family Fun
• BMW X6 | The Best One Yet
• Buick Encore GX | Not a Proper Buick
• Chevy Trailblazer | Can It Gain Traxion?
• Chevy Tahoe/Suburban | Big Redesigns
• GMC Yukon | Middle Child
• Hyundai Venue | Where It Excels and Fails
• Mazda CX-30 | Stuck in No Man’s Land
• Mercedes E450 All-Terrain | Really an SUV?
• Mercedes-Benz GLA | It’s Improved, But…
• Mercedes-Benz GLB | Just, Whatever
• Mercedes GLC-Class | Ex-Champ Updated
• Tesla Model Y | An Everyday EV SUV
• Toyota Highlander | Splits the Vote
• VW Atlas Cross Sport | Polish Wanted
SUV of the Year: Our Criteria
To crown our 2021 SUV of the Year, MotorTrend’s testing team and editors put each SUV in the field through a rigorous 10-day evaluation process of both instrumented and subjective testing . This is not a comparison test; each vehicle is judged on its own merits against our six key criteria:
Advancement in Design: We consider interior and exterior styling, as well as the clever selection and use of materials. We won’t hesitate to tell someone their baby is ugly.
Engineering Excellence: We examine both the vehicle concept and execution in its totality and the use of technologies that benefit the consumer. This can range from new-tech powertrains to new suspension and transmission tech. Inside, we judge the vehicle’s ability to fit people and cargo, plus the success or failure of infotainment systems.
Efficiency: How does the vehicle’s fuel economy compare to the competitive set? Overall operating costs, weight, and recyclability are also part of the discussion. And yes, we consider mpg-e and well-to-wheel equations for electric vehicles.
Safety: We examine the safety measures that protect occupants from harm in a crash, and we test a vehicle’s ability to help a driver avoid a crash in the first place.
Value: How well does each vehicle deliver excellence relevant to its price tag? When applicable, our IntelliChoice subsidiary weighs in with predicted retained value of the vehicle after five years of ownership.
Performance of Intended Function: Essentially, it’s how well the vehicle does the job its designers, engineers, and product planners intended. If you build a luxury car, it damn well better ride like one. An off-roading SUV must surmount every obstacle. And a tire-scorching sports car can’t be sloppy around corners. If there’s ever a case where a tie must be broken, it all comes back to this.
And unlike other automotive publications with lengthy “best” lists, only MotorTrend has the testing discipline—and let’s face it, the guts—to award one vehicle we deem the finest of its class. So read on to see who brings it and who leaves it.
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