Last month, we announced the Ford F-150 as the winner of our Truck of the Year competition. In this issue, we're at it again, this time putting the latest sport utilities through their paces in our SUV of the Year coverage. This time around, eight SUVs were brand-new or totally redesigned for the '04 model year, and each was thoroughly tested by Truckin' to determine the cream of the crop. Our guidelines for SUV of the Year (and Truck of the Year) are fairly simple. We test those models that are either totally brand-new for 2004, or those vehicles that have undergone a radical redesign. This year, the contestants are: Buick Rainier, Cadillac SRX, Dodge Durango, Lexus RX330, Mitsubishi Endeavor, Nissan Pathfinder Armada, Porsche Cayenne, and VW Touareg.

This year, we have an interesting group of vehicles. We have a couple of very truck-like vehicles, namely the Pathfinder Armada and Dodge Durango, and we have a few vehicles that would almost be classified as sports cars, such as the Porsche Cayenne and VW Touareg. In between, we have an interesting mix, including the Buick Rainier, Cadillac SRX, the redesigned Lexus RX330, and Mitsubishi Endeavor. Each member of the Truckin' staff had plenty of seat time with each vehicle to determine each SUV's strengths and weaknesses. As we drove the vehicles, we paid particular attention to each vehicle's driveability, styling nuances, working prowess, interior amenities, and drivetrain strengths and limitations.

Each attribute of the SUV was scored and tallied to check out the sum of these subjective features. On the objective side, we looked at qualities such as horsepower and torque, curb weight, towing capacity, payload, fuel economy, and, of course, price. In addition, we subjected the sport utilities to a comprehensive set of performance tests, including quarter-mile times, 0-60 acceleration, and 60-0 braking ability. With all of these factors totaled, considered, and scrutinized, we narrowed it down to a few likely contenders.

However, we also considered other variables. Since Truckin' is basically an aftermarket-driven publication, we looked at each SUV from an aftermarket-possibility point of view. In other words, what can you really achieve from these platforms with a well-chosen bevy of aftermarket modifications and upgrades? We also looked at the price carefully and the all-important bang-for-your-buck quotient. Is the vehicle worth the price tag? Do you get what you pay for?

We've divided our special SUV of the Year feature into several parts. These parts include this introduction, then a detailed introduction and photography on each of our test vehicles. We wrap it up with the announcement of our winner and a two-page stats and performance focus.

So, as we prepare to open the envelope and announce our 2004 SUV of the Year winner, read along and see if your choice matches ours.