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2005 SUV Buyer's Guide

by Martha Hindes

The pictures can elicit fond memories. A mountain pass cutting through rose-toned rock, blazing with color from the setting sun. A vast expanse of ocean, sending fierce, white-crested breakers onto a beach. A stand of tall pine trees shrouded in a morning mist. Those were the special places off the beaten path that not everyone could reach. It often took a special vehicle to get there. It took an SUV.

Things have changed since the first off-roaders trooped their way through muddy byways or over rugged outcroppings searching for the elusive, secluded spot to set up camp and drink in the glories of nature. The SUV -- a universal adaptation of "sport utility vehicle" -- no longer is limited just to sport, or barely reachable destinations. They crowd into parking lots at grocery stores, country clubs, school drop-off zones or fancy restaurants. They whisk a bride and groom away from their wedding reception. And inside, they can be as luxurious, technically advanced and absolutely comfortable as an elegant limousine.

Of course, there are variations on the SUV theme, with choices from spartan and spunky to premium and pricey clamoring for attention. For our mid-size SUV Buyer's Guide, we choose a range of offerings to meet almost any true sport utility need.