2022 MotorTrend SUV of the Year: How We Choose the Winner

After a one-year hiatus from the Honda Proving Center of California, we were excited to return to the venue for our MotorTrend SUV of the Year program. For nine consecutive days, we drove, tested, and photographed a large crop of vehicles, all of them either new or updated significantly for this year. The mission: to narrow the field until we elect one of them the best the industry has to offer. We drove them across multiple surfaces, including a winding road, a powersports track with a sand oval, a gravel road, and a course that mimics several freeways across Los Angeles.

We split our program into three phases, as we do each year. Phase 1 mostly involves the test and photo team doing their thing collecting data and imagery during the first four days. Phase 2 marks the official judges’ arrival, followed by three days of driving the contenders across the various test venues. Phase 2 culminates in our finalist cut, when we decide which contenders advance to the ultimate stage. Phase 3 takes place in Tehachapi, California. There, judges drive the finalists back-to-back on a 27-mile loop that combines hill climbs and descents, canyon roads, railroad crossings, city streets, and highways. The debates then begin as we deliberate on our way to crowning the 2022 MotorTrend SUV of the Year.

Those deliberations are thorough and at times can become a bit heated, but we ultimately consider each contender on its own merits, not against other contenders, but against our six key criteria:

Advancement in Design: We dissect the quality execution of exterior and interior styling, as well as the clever selection and use of materials.

Engineering Excellence: In other words, the integrity of the total vehicle concept and execution and the use of technologies that benefit the consumer. This can range from new-tech internal combustion engines to elegant alt-fuel systems to new suspension and transmission tech. Inside, we judge the vehicle’s ability to fit people and cargo and the success or failure of infotainment systems.

Efficiency: Fuel economy relative to the competitive set, plus overall operating costs, weight, and recyclability. And yes, we consider mpg-e and well-to-wheel considerations for electric vehicles.

Safety: We examine 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: What’s the damage to your pocketbook, not just at the time of purchase, but over the typical ownership period? The cheapest car to buy isn’t always the most economical to own or the best overall value in the long run.

Performance of Intended Function: Essentially how well the vehicle does the job its designers, engineers, and product planners intended. An off-roading SUV must surmount every obstacle, for example. If there’s ever a tie-breaker situation, it all comes back to this.

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