2015 Utility Vehicle of the Year Award

Crossovers are continuing to gain in popularity, replacing the mid-size sedan and minivan as the family vehicle of choice.

This is making the utility vehicle of the year award arguably just as important as the Car of the Year Award. With improved efficiency, practicality and ease of use, it’s no wonder crossovers are so popular.

ALSO SEE: Honda Civic Wins the 2016 Car of the Year Award

As is the case with all our yearly awards, we’ve gathered the best new vehicles from each major segment of the market – subcompact, compact, mid-size and luxury. All four of these vehicles made a big impact when they were introduced and put their competitors on notice. Here are the four nominees.

Nominee: 2016 Honda HR-V

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Representing the booming subcompact segment is the Honda HR-V. Based on the Fit, the HR-V is positioned below the compact CR-V. But unlike a lot of its competitors, the HR-V doesn’t really give up that much interior space, considering its size. Rear seat legroom is more than generous, the cargo area can actually hold a lot of gear and to make things even more flexible, the HR-V comes equipped with Honda’s Magic Seats.

Although this crossover is a bore to drive and is a bit low on power, other than the Mazda CX-3 and Nissan Juke, so are most vehicles in this class. And unlike the CX-3 and Juke, the HR-V can actually carry more than a passenger or two.

The HR-V has proven to dominate its class, coming out on top in two separate comparison tests. If Honda gave the HR-V the 1.5-liter turbo engine introduced in the Civic this year, this baby crossover would be near perfect.

Nominee: 2016 Hyundai Tucson

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Stepping up a size, the Hyundai Tucson is easily the most important new entry into the massive compact crossover segment this year. No longer one size too small, the Tucson has grown in size for 2016 and now matches up much better with segment heavyweights like the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.

But matching isn’t what Hyundai was after. It actually wanted to one-up competition. To do this, a turbocharged engine and a dual-clutch seven-speed transmission have been installed. Not only does this give the Tucson impressive fuel economy, but it also gives the CUV a lot of usable power and performance.

Inside, the Tucson has one of the nicest interiors in the segment and, of course, features a ton of equipment for the price. We were so impressed with the new Tucson, that in a head to head comparison test, it actually beat our perennial favorite crossover, the Mazda CX-5.

Nominee: 2016 Honda Pilot

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It appears that Honda is on its crossover game this year, as here we have another entry from the brand. Representing larger, three-row crossovers in our competition is the Honda Pilot. We’ve put it in three separate comparison tests this year and neither the Ford Explorer, Kia Sorento or Toyota Highlander were any match for the Pilot.

Larger and rounder than before, the Pilot seems to do the impossible. It offers more space inside than most of the competition, but it’s also lighter. Power is rated near the top of the segment, yet with the optional nine-speed automatic, the Pilot returns impressive fuel economy that’s hard to match in a three-row crossover.

But let’s go back to what a larger crossover is designed to do – carry people. I’ve yet to find a crossover that offers a more livable third row seat than the Pilot’s and when it comes to accessing it, the optional single button second-row seat slider is fantastic. Honda really has focused on how to make the Pilot the most user friendly vehicle possible, well, expect for the HondaLink audio system.

Nominee: 2016 Volvo XC90

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When it comes to luxury crossovers, no other vehicle this year has made as much of an impact as the Volvo XC90. The XC90 has been transformed from has-been to front runner. First there’s the styling. The exterior is gorgeous and the interior looks like nothing else on the market – which is just as refreshing as it is elegant.

Some of the controls take a while to get used to because Volvo has decided not to follow what every other manufacturer is doing and instead went their own way, which, in many ways, is  much better.

But it’s the mechanics that are the real story here. While other luxury brands are sticking with big V6 engines or smaller turbo six-pots, Volvo is making the same amount of power using a supercharger and a turbocharger strapped to a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. And you know what? It works.

The transition from supercharger to turbocharger is seamless and this engine feels every bit as powerful as its 316 hp state. Want more power? Volvo isn’t going with a traditional V8, but instead sticking with the twin-charged four-cylinder engine and adding a few electric motors to make V8-like power.

And The Winner Is…

Volvo XC90

So what’s the best of the year? What made the biggest impact? Well, let’s recap what each nominee brought to the table in 2016.

The Pilot and the Tucson are massive improvements over the outgoing models, but aren’t exactly revolutions. The HR-V has set the standard for subcompact crossovers, but again, just stuck to good old ingenuity and fundamental engineering to achieve this.

It’s the Volvo XC90 that really is making the world stand up and take notice. New technology abounds in this crossover but more importantly, it works. It might be the most expensive vehicle here, but compared to its competitors, it’s still cheaper. Oh, and like any Volvo throughout history, it’s loaded with safety technology.

The 2016 Utility of the Year Award winner is the Volvo XC90.

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