2021 MotorTrend SUV of the Year: Contenders and Finalists, Day 1!

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 a rugged trail climber and a mall-crawling soft-roader to the fastest zero-to-Montessori ride in the carpool lane. Don’t miss our full rollout of 2021 SUV of the Year contenders and finalists, with new models added to this page every day. And check back Monday, October 19, when we reveal the 2021 SUV of the Year!

At the bottom of this page, you can learn about the six criteria that guide our judges, but first, check out the first batch of our MotorTrend 2021 SUV of the Year contenders:

2021 MotorTrend SUV of the Year Contenders

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Day 1
• Buick Encore GX | Not a Proper Buick
• Chevrolet Trailblazer | Can It Gain Traxion?
• Hyundai Venue | Where It Excels and Fails
• Mazda CX-30 | Stuck in No Man’s Land


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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