LOS ANGELES – The Mazda CX-9 is Motor Trend’s 2008 Sport/Utility of the Year. The CX-9 reigned supreme out of a diverse crowd of 11 contenders, one of the highest quality fields Motor Trend has seen since it started evaluating sport/utilities. A category once reserved for a few off-road specialists, the sport/utility or crossover class now offers a vehicle for practically any driver, from almost any automaker.

Angus MacKenzie, editor in chief of Motor Trend, noted that this year’s field, while smaller than last year’s, includes significant new entries, including the best Buick in decades — “not just the best Buick SUV, but the best Buick, period” — and a Hyundai that may have car buyers think twice about Lexus.

Mazda’s victory, however, was a unanimous decision by the panel of judges.

To judge contenders for the award, Motor Trend’s editorial staff conducted exhaustive off-road, street, and track testing, and carefully considered essentials, such as driving performance, safety, and features. Sport/Utility of the Year is not a comparison test. Each contender was evaluated against three simple criteria: superiority (engineering, design, utilization of resources); significance (its impact on the market), and value (what buyers get for their money versus the competition).

Sport/Utility of the Year is only open to all-new or substantially upgraded vehicles that have gone on sale in the 12 months from November 1 of the previous year. Motor Trend looks for the pick of each year’s crop of new SUVs and does not revisit vehicles that have been on sale for the past few years.

In addition to the Mazda CX-9, Motor Trend evaluated:

  • Buick Enclave

  • Hyundai Veracruz

  • Jeep Liberty

  • Jeep Patriot

  • Land Rover LR2 Nissan Rouge

  • Saturn Vue

  • Subaru Tribeca

  • Toyota Highlander

  • Toyota Land Cruiser

    MacKenzie noted that this year’s winner, as last year’s, demonstrates the car-like refinement and handling that have become common in the sport/utility category. SUVs have evolved well beyond the mere off-roading capabilities they were originally intended for, to the point where only four of this year’s 11 vehicles come with “rock-crawling” transmissions. Today, functionality, versatility, and a commanding view of the road suit are qualities that American customers demand from sport/utility vehicles.

    “Make no mistake, the sport utility or crossover is enmeshed in the American psyche,” said MacKenzie. “Despite concerns over the economy and rising gas prices, more than two million SUVs rolled off dealer lots in the first six months of 2007 alone.”

    The complete report on the Motor Trend 2007 Sport/Utility of the Year testing and selection will be published in the December issue of Motor Trend, available on newsstands Nov. 6, 2007. High-resolution images of the winner are available upon request and at http://www.motortrend.com/media.