by Frank A. Aukofer

Recently, members of the North American Car of the Year organization selected the best 2017 vehicles to compete for three prestigious honors: Car of the Year, Utility of the Year and Truck of the Year.

The jury consists of up to 60 automotive journalists, male and female, from the United States and Canada. All are dues-paying members, independent of any connections to vehicle manufacturers.

Until this year, there were two awards: Car and Truck of the Year. But with the proliferation of crossover SUVs a new category was added.

Although every manufacturer around the world will tout something as new for the 2017 model year, the jurors consider only those that are “new or substantially changed.” They must be “benchmarks in their segments based on factors including innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value for the dollar.”

Journalist jurors vote in secret and the results are tallied, in a process similar to the film Academy Awards, by the Deloitte and Touche accounting firm.

The competition is stiff, with 16 cars, 12 utility vehicles and four pickup trucks vying for the honors. Among cars, there’s a broad range topped by the Acura NSX super car, the Porsche 718 Boxster and Cayman sports cars, and the all-new flagship of the new Genesis brand from Hyundai, the G90.

Utility vehicles range from the all-new Chrysler Pacifica minivan to the Kia Sportage. The four trucks include two from Ford—the F-Series Super Duty, the first major revision of this truck in 18 years, and the brutal F-150 Raptor off-roader. The innovative Honda Ridgeline and the Nissan Titan full-size V8 complete the group.

Regardless of which vehicles win, the entire list can be considered as the best in the business. One winner in each category will be announced at the North American International Automobile Show in Detroit on Jan. 9.

Following is a rundown on the nominees, along with brief comments:

Among the 16 nominated cars, some jurors, citing affordability, questioned the inclusion of the 573-hp hybrid Acura NSX, a superb two-seater but with a price tag that easily can top $200,000. The scintillating 300-hp Porsche Boxster ($79,440 with options) and 350-hp Cayman ($90,060), also are pricey two-seaters.

There are five full-size luxury cars on the list and one that comes close to that designation. The latter is the new Kia Cadenza, which in Limited trim has a price tag of $44,890 but exhibits luxury safety items and features.

Other luxury cars are the Cadillac CT6, Buick LaCrosse, Lincoln Continental and Volvo S90. The last ($53,945-$66,105 Inscription trim) is an all-new car from the Swedish manufacture that carries the same powertrain as the Volvo XC90, which won Truck of the Year last year.

Few have driven the Continental but the Caddy CT6, priced from about $55,000 to $67,000, cossets the driver in lavish luxury; the Buick ($41,000 to about $50,000) is posh but somewhat less so. Compact sedans include the high achievers Audi A4 ($40,350-$54,275) and Jaguar XE ($52,695-$61,385), along with the new Hyundai Elantra, a surprise high performer in its Sport version, which starts at a mere $22,485 and tops out at $24,885.

Remaining car competitors are the superb new Mercedes-Benz E-Class midsize sedan ($55,575 for the E300 4Matic); the Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid ($28,000-$34,000), with an estimated equivalent of 133 mpg, and two new hatchbacks from Chevrolet—the all-electric Bolt   ($37,495-$41,780 before rebates), with a highway range of about 200 miles, and the well-appointed Cruze ($22,765-$26,870).

There are two outliers in the utility vehicle category. One is the only minivan—the all-new, innovative Chrysler Pacifica ($29,590-$47,150). The other is the three-row Nissan Armada ($43,395-$60,985), which is the only true SUV in the group, built on a truck chassis.

All other entries are classified as crossover SUVs, built like cars with unit bodies. There are four three-row models: luxury Audi Q7 ($55,750-$68,925) and Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class (in GLS450 trim $69,625-$78,550); downsized but more appealing GMC Acadia (in Denali trim $47,485-$52,285), and the luxury wannabe Mazda CX-9 ($34,220-$42,215).

Midsize two-row crossovers include the Chinese built Buick Envision ($34,990-$43,425) and Cadillac XT-5 ($55,385-$67,260).

There are four compact crossovers: the best-selling Honda CR-V (prices not available), with a new turbocharged engine; luxury Infiniti QX30 ($37,945-$43,745), which is based on the Mercedes-Benz GLA; luxury high-performance Jaguar F-Pace ($46,595-$71,435), and the stylish and competitive Kia Sportage ($34,859 in SX AWD trim).

The pickup trucks are a disparate group. The new aluminum Ford Super Duty in F-350 4X4 Crew Cab trim can be outfitted like a luxury car—but with a $77,835 price tag. The Ford F-150 Raptor ($49,520-$66,495) is purpose-built to tackle long-distance off-road races. The new Titan V8 encompasses a lineup of new Nissan trucks that includes the off-road capable Pro-X ($46,215-$52,885). Most unusual is the Honda Ridgeline ($30,375-$43,770), a competitive midsize truck that has car-like qualities.

UPDATE: On November 15 during the Motor Press Guild Breakfast at the Los Angeles Auto Show, NACTOY announced its three finalists in each category for 2017.

The finalists are:

Car of the Year:

  • Chevrolet Bolt
  • Genesis G90
  • Volvo S90

Truck of the Year:

  • Ford F-Series Super Duty
  • Honda Ridgeline
  • Nissan Titan

Utility of the Year:

  • Chrysler Pacifica
  • Jaguar F-Pace
  • Mazda CX-9

Winners will be announced at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on January 9, 2017.