Oh the Variety! Why Our SUV of the Year Test is so Interesting imageIt feels weird admitting it, but from the first time I turned the steering wheel I knew that the Range Rover Evoque would be our 2012 Motor Trend SUV of the Year. Yes, one single turn of the steering wheel is all it took and I just knew there was something quite special, quite different about this particular Range Rover. Now granted, I was driving the red 3-door (aka "The Shooting Brake" as I insisted on calling it) that had the fancy Dynamic mode and magnet-power suspension, but I still knew. This newfangled Evoque is one special kind of SUV.
And oh look, a "new" Jeep. A Wrangler, specifically. Totally, almost comically old school. Do two solid axles even count as a viable technology in the age of Twitter-powered Middle Eastern revolutions? Isn't that more of a novelty? Case in point: associate editor Scott Evans and I ran to the hardware store to buy some hex-wrenches and discovered that with a little practice, we could get both doors off and leaned against a wall in about three minutes.
Yes friends, in the age of multiple airbags and Federally mandated traction control, you can still unbolt the Wrangler's doors and fold down the windshield. Sure, they stuck a new engine and transmission in her, but that just moves the Wrangler from Mesozoic to Cenozoic. And yes, you big fat nerds out there, I'm talking the Eocene as opposed to the Pilocene. Also: hi Mom. Best Wrangler ever? Without question. But compared to the Evoque? Well, you know how dogs and seals evolved from a common ancestor? The Jeep's that ancestor.
The larger point here is the burgeoning diversity within the SUV category, and how much of that diversity we experienced at this year's SUV of the Year competition. Last year we had just two entrants with traditional body-on-frame construction, the Infiniti QX56 and the Lexus GX 460. This year there was only one: the "new" Jeep. Next year? Could be zero, but then again, since diversity rules, it could be eleven (though probably wont be). We just don't know.
And let's not forget the rest of the field. How are the Dodge Journey, Mercedes-Benz ML and Mini Countryman even related, beyond four wheels? Besides ground clearance, are they? And that's really the thing with modern SUVs - there's no template. No right way to do it, though I can think of several wrong ways. Unlike Car or Truck of Year, we just don't know what we're going to get our hands on year to year. Like the winning Evoque. Evolution, as it turns out, is a beautiful thing.