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Two (SUOTYs) For The Road: From Sendai to Kyoto in Our Recent Winners

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 4/14/2015 Ron Kiino

As part of our Sport/Utility of the Year competition, participating automakers agree to provide us with a long-term vehicle, should their SUV win. Not only does this arrangement give us 12 months to fully assess the champ's pros -- and inevitably its cons -- but the lengthy loan also paints a more complete picture of why the SUV earned the coveted golden calipers. Recently, I had the opportunity to sample our past two award-winning SUVs, the Subaru Forester (2014 victor) and the Honda CR-V (2015) -- not in sunny SoCal, but in my temporary home of wet and chilly Japan.

Our first road trip took my wife, Diane, me, and our two kids -- 5-year-old Julian and 2-year-old Coletta -- from Tokyo to Sendai, roughly a four-hour jaunt. Our transporter? A limited edition 2015 Subaru Forester X-Break dressed in Desert Khaki paint (U.S.-spec models are shown here). The JDM version, unlike the U.S. Forester's 2.5-liter FB25 base engine, uses the smaller 2.0-liter FB20 that motivates American Imprezas. In the larger Forester, the FB20 felt plenty adequate, offering enough gusto to make our loaded-up X-Break feel more potent than poky, if only slightly. About halfway to Sendai, we veered toward the Numajiri snow park to grab hot coffee and let the kids play in the powder. Traversing the white fluff up the narrow mountain road would've been a white-knuckle endeavor had it not been for the Forester's trusty X-Mode AWD and set of Michelin X-Ice tires. About as sure-footed as a badger, the Forester reminded me why Subaru is so popular across America's snowbelt.

Two (SUOTYs) For The Road: From Sendai to Kyoto in Our Recent Winners

2014 Subaru Forester XT© Provided by MotorTrend 2014 Subaru Forester XT Following a dozen sled blasts down the slopes and four hot bowls of ramen, we were back on the road in the warm, quiet confines of the X-Break. If the Forester isn't the quietest small crossover out there, it's certainly in the top three. The kids knocked out within minutes, thanks in part to a hot cocoa coma. Note to Subaru: Bring the X-Break's water-resistant cloth seats to the U.S. Snow and spills are rendered harmless.

I had the opportunity to sample our past two award-winning SUVs -- not in sunny SoCal, but in wet and chilly Japan.

We said sayonara to Sendai and then to the Forester. After dropping off the X-Break at Subaru HQ in Ebisu, I headed straight to Honda HQ in Aoyama. Iguchi-san, my Honda PR contact, informed me McLaren-Honda F1 pilot Jenson Button and wife Jessica Michibata had borrowed this exact CR-V for a getaway to a Hakone hot spring the week prior. My family's trip to Kyoto, I thought, wouldn't be quite as serene or romantic.

2015 Honda CR V Rear Three Quarter View In Motion 2© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Honda CR V Rear Three Quarter View In Motion 2 After just a few miles behind the wheel, I noticed something strange: the transmission was shifting. "Man, this CVT isn't that smooth," I mumbled to myself. I asked Diane to check the spec sheet in the door pocket. It was mostly in Japanese, but when she read "5AT," it became clear. Apparently in Japan, the CR-V is viewed as large and expensive -- the opposite of how it's seen in the U.S. -- which equates to sales of less than 4,000 per year, or about how many are sold over four days in America. Thus the JDM CR-V is last in line for the mid-cycle refresh (DI engine, CVT) that helped the U.S. version secure our trophy. Still, my five-speed tester possessed most of what made the CVT model our SUOTY winner: a spacious back row with a nifty "Magic Seat" flip/fold feature, a cavernous cargo area with a low load floor, and a rewarding chassis infused with the sporty lightness that makes a Honda a Honda.

Back home, I asked Julian which he liked better, the Forester or the CR-V. "I think I like the Forester." Why? "Because it was that cool sand color." Sometimes a 5-year-old's logic makes all the sense. Rest assured, whether in Japan or America, both are winners.

More from The Kiinote:

2015 Subaru Forester Front Side View© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Subaru Forester Front Side View
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