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NACTOY’s Best of 2020: DriveWays . . .

by Frank A. Aukofer

Besides singing “Auld Lang Syne,” the end of every year heralds a flowering of “best of” motor vehicle awards from consumer organizations, enthusiast publications, and web sites.

Except for Consumer Reports, which doesn’t permit advertising of its conclusions about the reliability and efficacy of cars, trucks and utility vehicles, it’s something of a business proposition. An enthusiast magazine that names one or more “best of” or “top rated” vehicles typically gets paid if the manufacturer publicizes the honor in its advertising.

CarUtilityTruck copyThat’s also the case with the premier awards from the North American Car of the Year (NACTOY) organization, whose membership consists of 50 professional automotive journalists from all over the United States and Canada. Their reviews appear in newspapers, magazines and other publications, as well as television, radio and  online.

However, those journalists do not personally benefit. They are dues-paying members who vote for what they consider to be the best car, utility vehicle and truck of the model year. Though the NACTOY organization can benefit from advertising charges, the money is used for operating expenses. All NACTOY officers and jurors are volunteers; there are no paid staff positions.

It is that and its widespread reach that leads NACTOY to describe itself as the premier independent organization judging excellence in automotive design, safety, performance, technology, driver satisfaction and value. (Full disclosure: the writer of this story is a NACTOY juror).

There are three rounds of voting. An initial list of new or substantially upgraded vehicles is compiled by the leadership. Members then vote to determine a list of semi-finalists, then finalists and winners in the three categories of car, utility and truck of the year.

The system works something like the movie Academy Awards. Votes are counted in secret by Deloitte, a world-wide financial and accounting firm. Winners will be announced in Detroit on Monday, Jan. 13, 2020.

For now, however, there are three finalists in each category, which have the distinction of winning the votes of the independent jurors. Following are brief descriptions of the vehicles.

Car of the Year

2020 Chevrolet Corvette StingrayChevrolet Corvette Stingray. This is the long-awaited C8 Corvette, the first in the brand’s 65-year history to feature a mid-engine design, with its 6.2-liter V8 mounted behind the driver’s shoulder blades and ahead of the rear axle. It sends 490 j[ and 465 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels through an eight-speed  automatic transmission. Starting price is $67,495.

Large-39629-2020SonataLimitedHyundai Sonata. Redesigned midsize sedan from the South Korean automaker that better competes against the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. It has innovative blind-spot warning in the instruments and a self-parking system. Powered by a 180-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine with 195 lb-ft of torque and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Priced $24,530 to $34,365.

White Front 3q LeftToyota Supra. The resurrection of a storied sports/grand touring car that was produced from 1978 to 2002. In this new guise it features a power train from BMW of Germany with a 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine that delivers 335 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Prices start at $50,945.

Utility of the Year

Large-36538-2020PalisadeThis category is intriguing because two of the three finalists are fraternal twins: the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride from South Korea. Kia is a subsidiary of Hyundai. The two brands share engines and transmissions, though they operate independently and do their own interior and exterior designs, as well as suspension system tuning and other components.

2020 TellurideBoth are critically acclaimed midsize, three-row crossover sport utility vehicles, powered by 3.8-liter V6 engines with 291 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. Available with front-wheel or all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission, their prices range from about $32,000 to more than $47,000.

2020 Lincoln AviatorThe third finalist in the category is the all-new Lincoln Aviator, which competes in the rarified world of mid-size, three-row luxury sport utilities. Available with rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, it is powered by a 3.0-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers that delivers 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque through a 10-speed automatic transmission.

Prices range from $52,095 for the base rear-drive model to as much $83,540 for the Black Label all-wheel drive version.

Truck of the Year

It would be difficult to find a category with more variety among the finalists, although all three are pickup trucks.

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Rubicon on the Rubicon TrailThe Jeep Gladiator is the first pickup truck in 28 years from the manufacturers that got their start building military general purpose, or GP, all-terrain vehicles in World War II. The last Jeep pickup was the Comanche, sold until 1992.

The midsize Gladiator comes in a variety of trim levels for on-road and off-road work and recreation. It is powered by a 3.6-liter V6 engine with 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque delivered via a six-speed manual gearbox or an eight-speed automatic transmission. Prices start at $35,000 and can range up to more than $60,000 for the top-line Rubicon model with options.

RangerFX2_01_HRFord Ranger. This is a new midsize pickup that reprises the name of Ford’s earlier midsize pickup, which had a 27-year run until it was discontinued in 2010. It is a comfortable long-distance highway cruiser, powered by Ford’s 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder turbocharged engine, which makes 270 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. A 10-speed automatic transmission gets the power to the pavement with standard rear-wheel drive or optional four-wheel drive. Prices range from about $25,000 to $45,000.

2020 Ram Power Wagon Crew CabRam Heavy Duty. Though stylish and refined as pickups go, this full-size truck is the brute of the finalists. With three engine options, including two diesels, it is available as a three-quarter ton (2500) model or one-ton (3500) model and single or dual rear wheels.

The stunner is the 6.7-liter Cummins in-line six-cylinder diesel engine with 400 hp and a whopping 1,000 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, making it capable of towing 35,100 pounds with a payload of 7,680 pounds. Prices start at around $30,000 and, depending on trim levels and equipment, go up to the sky.

Photos and Images courtesy NACTOY, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Toyota, Kia, Lincoln, Jeep, Ford, and Ram.

2019 Car, Utility and Truck of the Year: A DriveWays Report…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Detroit, Mich.—South Korea’s Hyundai swept the honors Monday (Jan. 14), winning both the North American Car of the Year and Utility of the Year trophies for the Genesis G70 and Hyundai Kona.

The announcement came at the opening of the annual North American International Automobile Show (NAIAS) here.

large-1094-genesisg70The Genesis G70, the newest model from Hyundai’s separate luxury brand, was voted Car of the Year by an independent panel of 54 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada.

large-34508-2019konaelectricTaking the prize for North American Utility of the Year was the Hyundai Kona, a subcompact crossover sport utility vehicle that is available with a gasoline engine, as a plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid and as a pure electric with 248 miles of range.

2019 Ram 1500 Rebel 12A product of  Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the Ram 1500 was voted Truck of the Year. It features a new system called eTorque that combines a belt-drive electric motor generator with a 48-volt battery, which provides short boosts of extra power for the gasoline engine. It also enables a sophisticated idle stop-start function for improved fuel economy.

The North American Car of the Year Organization (NACTOY) is composed of  automotive journalists from print, online, television and broadcast organizations who pay annual dues and are required to drive and evaluate nominated new vehicles, culminating in the vote for the winners. They are independent of NAIAS and have no connections or relationships with any of the vehicle manufacturers.

The Genesis G70 fared better than its fraternal cousin, the Kia Stinger, which was a finalist for Car of the Year in 2018 but lost the honor to the Honda Accord.

Hyundai owns about 38% of Kia and the two cars share engines and drivetrains. Both the Stinger and the Genesis G70 are four-doors except that the midsize Stinger is a hatchback and the compact G70 is a conventional four-door sedan with a trunk. Prices range from the low $30,000 range to the low $50,000 range.

Both come with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive with turbocharged four-cylinder or V6 engines and eight-speed automatic transmissions. One  advantage for the G70 is that it also is available with a six-speed manual gearbox. The Stinger does not offer a manual transmission.

Hyundai’s Kona is a stylish subcompact crossover with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. It comes with a four-cylinder gasoline engine, as a plug-in hybrid and, most recently as a dedicated electric. Prices range from slightly more than $20,000 for the base gasoline model to nearly $40,000 for the electric, which can be reduced to around $30,000 with tax and other incentives.

Kona models offer such modern safety installations as forward collision warning and braking, lane-keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert, blind-spot collision warning and driver attention warning, as well as torque vectoring braking, which selectively applies the inside brakes to ease cornering.

There were three finalists in each category. Besides the Genesis G70, Car of the Year nominees were the compact Honda Insight hybrid and the Volvo S60 sedan and V60 station wagon, both midsize.

The Kona’s competition finalists consisted of the all-new luxury compact crossover, the Acura RDX, and the Jaguar I-Pace, an all-electric midsize luxury crossover. In the truck category, the Ram’s competitors were the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra.

Chris Paukert, NACTOY’s vice-president, commented, “The Genesis G70 doesn’t just go toe-to-toe with segment mainstays like the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class—it beats them all in driver engagement while positively slaying them on value for the dollar.” Paukert is executive editor of Roadshow by CNET.

“The Kona Electric is the first mass-market electric car that truly works for the mass market,” said NACTOY juror Jamie Page Deaton, executive editor at U.S. News & World Report Best Cars. “A livable EV range, affordable price and practical cabin combine with lively driving dynamics to make the Kona EV a true pleasure.”

“Ram continues to lead the way in making a big truck double as a big family pleaser with as much attention paid to interior conveniences and ride comfort as to cargo hauling and towing,” said John Davis, executive producer at Maryland public television’s MotorWeek.

NACTOY President Lauren Fix, owner of the online The Car Coach, thanked the vehicle manufacturers for ‘taking the time and effort to work with us throughout the year as our jurors rigorously tested, evaluated and debated the best new vehicles on the market. Now in our 25th year, we are proud that both automakers and consumers recognize the value our awards provide to new car buyers.”

2019 Ram Big Horn Sport Quad Cab 4X2: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Because full-size pickup trucks all do essentially the same chores for their owners, marketing them entails offering new and desirable features, as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has done with the 2019 Ram 1500.

It’s not entirely that, of course, because pickup customers are notoriously loyal to their chosen brands. Still, something on the order of the Ram’s brand-new eTorque mild hybrid system has the potential to prompt alienation of affection.

ETorque combines a belt-drive electric motor-generator with a 48-volt battery, which provides short boosts of extra power for the gasoline engine. It also enables a sophisticated idle stop-start function that, for the time being, is the smoothest and least intrusive system experienced by this reviewer.

2019 Ram 1500 Big Horn

Stop-start, which enhances fuel economy, is popular in Europe, where fuel prices are way higher than in the United States. But the systems are becoming more common on vehicles sold here. In many cases, however, the stop-starts are so annoying that owners switch them off — unless they happen to be on Chevrolets and other General Motors vehicles, which do not have off switches.

In a typical stop-start function, the engine shuts down at stoplights or in other situations when the vehicle is motionless. Lift your foot off the brake or tap the accelerator pedal and the engine automatically starts, often with a noticeable shudder and hesitation before getting underway.

The Ram eTorque is a notable exception. Unless you pay close attention, you are unaware that the engine has cranked up. Ram engineers say the engine re-starts in 400 milliseconds.

2019 Ram 1500 Limited

Vibration and noise are nearly nonexistent, unlike with some systems — especially in vehicles with powerful engines — that cause violent shaking. Stop-starts comparable in smoothness to the eTorque are in low-powered hybrid cars.

For 2019, eTorque is standard equipment on all Ram 1500 pickups with the 305-hp V6 engine, which delivers 269 lb-ft of torque. For truckers who need or want more power, a step up to the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine costs $1,195. For an additional $1,450, the Hemi eTorque is available with 395 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque.

All Ram 1500 trucks use eight-speed automatic transmissions, which like the eTorque go about their business quietly and without drama. Add to that the Ram 1500’s independent suspension system, with air suspension on the rear wheels and vibration damping on the steel frame, and the Ram rolls like a luxury car, even when empty. Most pickups bounce around unless they are loaded.

Many modern full-size pickup trucks, however, also are priced like luxury cars. Some Ram models — the Limited Crew Cab with all-wheel drive, for example — have prices that nudge $70,000 or more, depending on equipment.

2019 Ram 1500 Big Horn

Driven for this review was a more modest Ram1500 Big Horn Sport Quad Cab 4X2 model, which had a base price of $37,340 and, with options, a bottom-line sticker of $43,960. The base price for the entry-level Tradesman Quad Cab with rear-wheel drive is $33,340, including the destination charge.

Ram 1500 pickups come with four doors. Crew Cab models are the roomiest. Quad Cab models have shorter rear doors and tighter accommodations in the back seat. Head room there is generous, but knee room is in short supply. Still, the tested Big Horn Sport had 117 cubic feet of passenger space, which is nearly that of a full-size car.

Out back, the pickup bed measures 6 feet 4 inches and accommodates 62 cubic feet of cargo up to the gunwales. Total payload is 1,910 lbs and the tester had a towing capability of 6,640 lbs.

2019 Ram 1500 Big Horn – Black Diesel Interior

Though it was among the lower priced Ram models, the tested Big Horn Sport was a comfortable road companion that could easily be used as a daily driver.

Mechanical, road and wind noises were minimal, there was plenty of power on tap for passing on two-lane roads and the handling and ride were exceptional given the truck’s bulk and 19-foot length. Comfort was enhanced by supportive seats upholstered in cozy cloth.

The test truck came with full safety equipment, including electronic stability control, roll mitigation, trailer sway damping, back-up camera, hill start assist, trailer brake control and antilock brakes with rain-braking support.

Options included FCA’s UConnect infotainment system with navigation, power-adjustable pedals, powered rear sliding window, audio system with HD and SXM satellite radio, dual-zone automatic climate control, LED bed lighting and 20-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels.

2019 Ram 1500 – 5.7-liter HEMI® eTorque

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Ram 1500 Big Horn Sport Quad Cab 4X2 four-door full-size pickup truck.
  • Engine: 3.6-liter V6 with eTorque; 305 hp, 269 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 19 feet 1 inch.
  • Height: 6 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 117/62 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,891 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,910 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,640 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/25/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,340.
  • Price as tested: $43,960.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2019 Ram 1500 Big Horn Sport

Photos (c) FCA

2019 Ram 1500 Crew Cab Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

2019 Ram 1500 Limited

With a brand-new full-size pickup truck loaded with desirable features as the newly designed 2019 Ram 1500, the standout differences are distilled from increments and embellishments.

Big pickups have been getting better — and more popular — for at least a decade. For the Ram, the climb started in 2009 when it became a stand-alone brand after many years as the Dodge Ram.

In 2009, sales totaled 177,268. By 2017, sales had nearly tripled to 500,723, lifting it into the top triumvirate of full-size pickups—third in sales behind the Ford F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado.

2019 Ram 1500 Limited

One big factor in the Ram brand’s success was an embellishment — its adoption of styling that mimicked that of the tractors of the 18-wheelers that ply the nation’s highways.

Now, it could be argued that the 2019 Ram has fully matured, oozing with safety, convenience, comfort and entertainment embellishments that should make it shine during what promises to be a year of cutthroat competition, especially against perennial sales leader Ford, and Chevrolet, which has a new Silverado coming.

2019 Ram 1500 Limited

Pickup truck buyers are notoriously brand loyal. It’s rare for a Ford guy or gal to switch to a Chevrolet or GMC, or a Chevy customer to bail in favor of a Toyota Tundra or Nissan Titan. This new Ram, however, has the stuff to turn customers’ heads.

Though there will be many versions of the Ram 1500 from six models with a starting price of $33,340 for the base Tradesman, the version tested for this review at the national introduction in Scottsdale, Arizona, was the top-of-the-line Limited Crew Cab four-door with optional four-wheel drive.

It was powered by Fiat Chrysler’s venerable 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine with 395 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque. Power gets to the four corners through a new eight-speed automatic transmission. A dial on the dash enables the driver to choose rear-wheel drive or automatic all-wheel drive for highway duty, or locked four-wheel drive in high and low ranges for off-road adventures.

2019 Ram 1500 Limited

Other versions are in the works for later introduction, including V6 and V8 engines with a mild hybrid eTorque <sic> system that combines a motor generator with a 48-volt battery to enable stop-start for fuel economy. With rear-drive, the Ram has a city/highway/combined rating of 15/22/17 mpg.

Equipped as well as some luxury cars, the Limited had a base price of $60,630. With other options, including air suspension, panoramic sunroof and 22-inch aluminum alloy wheels, the sticker price came to $63,520 — also in luxury-car territory.

Except for its sheer size and weight — common now with full-size pickups — the new Ram can easily please anyone accustomed to luxury transportation. It is uncommonly quiet on the highway, with little intrusion of road, mechanical or wind noise.

2019 Ram 1500 Limited

Contributing to the hushed ambiance are clever engineering devices called active tuned mass modules (ATMM). Mounted on the side frame rails — which by the way are now 98% made of high-strength steel for rigidity and durability — the modules cancel out even miniscule vibrations when the Hemi engine switches automatically on the highway from eight- to four-cylinder operation for fuel economy.

Though you can’t toss it around like a sedan, the Ram drives smaller than its near 20-feet length and 2.5-ton weight would indicate. The steering is responsive and accurate, and the empty ride, abetted by the optional air suspension, frequency response shock absorbers and supportive seats, was comfortable for a big pickup.

2019 Ram 1500 – Rear Flat-load Floor

The Ram’s designers stretched the cab by four inches, most of which went into the back-seat area, where three people can sit with plenty of head and knee room thanks to a flat floor. An enjoyable bonus: the Ram now has a rear seatback, split two-thirds and one-third, that reclines for long-distance comfort. There’s also 5.3 cubic feet of storage space in the cabin.

Passenger volume totals 134 cubic feet and the 5-feet, 7-inch cargo box has 54 cubic feet of space. The tested Limited has a payload of 1,980 lbs and it is capable of towing up to 8,190 lbs.

2019 Ram 1500 Limited

The tester came with FCA’s UConnect infotainment system with a 12-inch vertical screen that displays navigation and other functions, including an overhead surround-view camera that facilitates hooking up a trailer. Android Auto and Apple Car Play also are included, along with upgraded SXM satellite radio, 4G WiFi hotspot and what Ram claims is the most powerful Harman-Kardon audio system ever available in a pickup.

2019 Ram 1500 Rebel

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Ram 1500 Crew Cab Limited 4×4 pickup truck.
  • Engine: 7-liter V8; 395 hp, 410 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with selectable four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 19 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 132/54 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,925 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,980 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 8,190 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 15/22/17 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $60,630.
  • Price as tested: $63,520.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2019 Ram 1500 Limited

Photos (c) Ram.

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