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2022 North American Car, Truck, and Utility of the Year Awards: A DriveWays Report…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Detroit, Michigan — The Ford Motor Co. won two of the three major 2022 United States and Canada vehicle awards Tuesday, Jan. 11, with all-new entries: the Ford Maverick pickup truck crowned North American Truck of the Year and the Ford Bronco winning the Utility of the Year award.

Car of the Year went to the re-designed 2022 Honda Civic, the 11th generation of a perennial favorite that has held its own against the increasing popularity of crossover sport utility vehicles. 

The awards, which date back 28 years, are sponsored by the North American Car of the Year organization, composed of 50 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada. NACTOY bills itself as the longest-running independent vehicle competition — and the only one unaffiliated with any media outlet.

Journalist members of NACTOY (including this writer) must drive and evaluate all of the nominees for three rounds of voting. This year started with 36 nominated vehicles, which resulted in nine finalists—three in each category. The votes, tallied by Deloitte, an international financial services firm, are kept secret until the final announcement.

Winners were announced at the Huntington Place convention center in downtown Detroit, formerly named “TCF Center” and, before that, “Cobo Hall.” The event was co-sponsored by NACTOY and the Automotive Press Association, an organization of automotive journalists based in Detroit.

The 2022 Honda Civic is available as a four-door hatchback and a four-door sedan. Honda will introduce high-performance Si and Type R models later this year. In 2021, Honda Civic U.S. sales totaled 263,787, good for second place after the Toyota Corolla.

Other finalists for Car of the Year were the Lucid Air, an all-new, stunning and expensive 100% electric luxury sedan built in an Arizona factory by a new company based in California, and the Volkswagen GTI and R, high-performance versions of the VW Golf.

The Truck of the Year Ford Maverick is an all-new, entry-level small pickup truck slotting in below the Ford Ranger. It has a starting price of $21,490 with a hybrid power train, a 4.5-foot cargo bed, a payload of 1,500 pounds, and carries four passengers.

Other finalists for Truck of the Year were the Hyundai Santa Cruz, a stylish small pickup truck built like a crossover sport utility vehicle, but with a near $40,000 price tag fully equipped. The other is the Rivian R1T, an innovative full-size all-wheel drive electric pickup truck with four motors and 800 horsepower but a price tag that can easily exceed $70,000.

The Ford Bronco Utility of the Year is a resurrection of an earlier SUV and a challenge to off-road capable vehicles in the Jeep Wrangler and the Land Rover Defender category. It’s a big, brawny SUV that, in addition to a four-door version, comes in a utilitarian two-door with a seven-speed manual transmission.

The award likely does not apply to the Bronco Sport, a completely different compact crossover SUV with underpinnings similar to the award-winning Ford Maverick pickup truck.

Also-rans for Utility of the Year were the slick luxury Genesis GV70 crossover SUV and the futuristic electric Hyundai Ioniq 5, one of a cache of new fast-charging electrics from South Korea’s Hyundai and Kia. Genesis is Hyundai’s luxury brand.

Car of the Year: Honda Civic

Matt Almond of Honda accepts the award for the 2022 Civic. Photo: Honda.

Runners-up: Lucid Air sedan; Volkswagen GTI and R

Truck of the Year: Ford Maverick

The all-new 2022 Ford Maverick received the 2022 North American Truck of the Year award. Photo: Ford.

Runners-up: Hyundai Santa Cruz; Rivian R1T

Utility of the Year: Ford Bronco

The all-new 2022 Ford Bronco has taken home the 2022 North American Utility of the Year award. Photo: Ford.

Runners-up: Genesis GV70; Hyundai Ioniq 5

2021 NACTOY Winners : A DriveWays Report…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With two out of three wins, the Ford Motor Co. dominated the awards Monday, Jan. 11, in the annual North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year honors.

The new all-electric Ford Mustang Mach-E was judged Utility of the Year, and the Ford F-150 pickup won Truck of the Year. The Car of the Year honor went to the all-new Hyundai Elantra from South Korea, a compact sedan that comes in economy, hybrid and performance models.

However, Hyundai’s luxury brand, Genesis, which had finalists in both Car of the Year with its new G80 sedan and Utility of the Year with its crossover SUV, the GV80, did not score a win — though in 2019 its G70 sedan won Car of the Year.

The awards were announced in a news conference from Detroit by officers of NACTOY, the North American Car of the Year organization.

Dating back to 1994, the awards are determined by votes from a panel of 50 automotive journalists, including this reviewer, from the United States and Canada. They are staff members for publications and web sites, as well as free lances. All told, they contribute to a variety of newspapers, magazines, websites, and television and radio stations. 

 Jurors are dues-paying journalist members of NACTOY, and they are required to drive and evaluate all of the nominated vehicles. The awards, according to NACTOY, are the longest-running new-vehicle accolades not associated with a specific newspaper or other publication, website, radio or television. 

It is not a competition as such because manufacturers do not enter vehicles. The NACTOY leadership determines the initial nominees—43 this year — which are required to be substantially new and potential leaders in their classes. 

They are graded on innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value for the dollar. NACTOY members this year winnowed the initial nominations down to 27 and then, in a second vote, named nine semifinalists, three in each category. The third vote determines winners. Votes are tallied by Deloittle LLP and kept secret. 

Finalists this year were the winning Hyundai Elantra for Car of the Year, along with the Genesis G80 four-door and the Nissan Sentra compact sedan. The Elantra garnered 176 votes to 173 for the Genesis G80. In third place was the Sentra with 151.

In the Truck of the Year category, besides the winning Ford F-150, were the Ram TRX, an off-road racer with a Hellcat V8 engine of 702 horsepower, and the Jeep Gladiator Mojave, also an off-roader with racing credentials.  The F-150 ran away with the lead with 340 votes to 130 for the Ram TRX and 30 for the Gladiator Mojave.

Besides the Ford Mustang Mach-E, an electric crossover SUV, finalists for Utility of the Year were the resurrected Land Rover Defender, a luxury SUV from the storied British manufacturer that has been producing all-terrain vehicles since World War II. The Mustang EV led with 265 votes to 136 for the GV80 and 99 for the Defender.

Photos © Ford, Hyundai

2021 NACTOY Finalists: A DriveWays Report…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Genesis, the five-year-old luxury brand from South Korea’s Hyundai, scored two finalist positions in the 2021 Car, Truck and Utility of the Year awards, voted by an independent panel of automotive journalists from the US and Canada.

The Genesis G80 sedan was one of three finalists for Car of the Year. Also named were the new Hyundai Elantra sedan and the compact Nissan Sentra.

In the Utility of the Year category, the never-before Genesis GV80 joined the Ford Mustang Mach-E electric and the Land Rover Defender, a new luxury rendering of a storied SUV developed in the 1980s from the original 1948 Land Rover. The first Defender was discontinued in 2016.

Finalists for Truck of the Year are the new Ford-F150, the best-selling vehicle in the U.S.; the Jeep Gladiator Mojave, and the Ram 1500 TRX, both designed for high-performance off-roading.

The 50-member jury of automotive journalists, including this reviewer, work or free-lance for independent magazines, newspapers, television and radio stations, and websites. They are required to drive and evaluate the candidates.

The NACTOY — for North American Car of the Year (including trucks and utility vehicles) — awards are intended to honor excellence in innovation, design, safety, performance, value, technology and driver satisfaction.

There are three rounds of voting to winnow a list of eligible vehicles to smaller numbers in each category. This year there were 11 cars, 27 utility vehicles and four trucks. The jurors vote for three finalists and the winners. Ballots are secret and tabulated by the Deloitte & Touche LLP in Detroit. Winners will be announced January 11, 2021 at a location to be determined.

The finalists:

Car of the Year

Genesis G80: This classy full-size luxury sedan behaves more like a capable compact or a scrappy midsize sports sedan. It comes in nine versions, in rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive with a choice of engines: 2.5-liter four-cylinder, 300 horsepower; and 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6, 375 hp. 

Both have eight-speed automatic transmissions. Prices range from $56,475 to $68,675. They have the potential to usurp sales from existing luxury marques.

Hyundai Elantra: An all-new rendering of the South Korean manufacturer’s compact sedan, which competes against the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Nissan Sentra. 

Exterior and interior styling are new from the tire treads up, though the standard engine is a repeat: 147-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT).

Also: a new gasoline-electric hybrid with139 hp, a six-speed automatic transmission and 50 miles to the gallon mileage. The performance model is the N-Line, with 201 hp and a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed automatic. 

Sadly, the Elantra GT hatchback has been dropped for 2021, although there might be a few stick-shift 2020 GT N Lines still available.

Nissan Sentra: It was the surprise of the 2021 car crop. Previous models were undistinguished but the new one, as we wrote earlier, stands out as a desirable roomy, well-performing, affordable compact sedan with the bones to attract customers who could buy something more expensive.

It uses a new 149-hp four-cylinder engine with front-wheel drive and a continuously-variable automatic transmission. Base price is $22,355 and a loaded Premium came to $25,325. 

Utility Vehicle of the Year

Ford Mustang Mach-E: It’s got a Mustang badge and fine performance but this is all-electric with a crossover SUV hatchback and body style. There’s midsize 101 cubic feet of room inside for five, along with cargo space of 29 cubic feet under the hatch, plus another five cubic feet in a front trunk.

Rear drive is standard with all-wheel drive optional. The tested AWD Premium pre-production model had two electric motors, an extended range battery and delivered 346 hp. Its zero-to-60 acceleration time, Ford says, is 4.8 seconds. The top-line GT model, introduced later, is said to do it in 3.8 seconds.

The Premium’s range is listed at 270 miles with 300 miles for the GT. But a 19-hour charge on a 240-volt charger yielded 236 miles. The EPA city/highway/combined mpg equivalent is 96/84/90 MPGe. The tester had a starting price of $50,800 and $56,400 with options.

Genesis GV80: This is the crossover SUV version of the Car of the Year finalist G80. The GV80 uses the same motivation as the G80, with a 300-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a 375-hp 3.5T twin-turbocharged V6. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard.

Like its sedan garage-mate, the GV80 comes with luxury interiors enhanced by fine materials and craftsmanship, good handling with communicative steering, silent running and long-distance comfort.

The 2.5 and 3.5T each come in three versions: Standard, Advanced and Prestige with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Prices start at $49,925 and can climb to $65,375. The GV80s have two rows of seats, though a 3.5T Advanced model can be equipped with a cramped third row.

Land Rover Defender: In some ways, it’s hard to defend the Defender. For many years, the Defender represented the epitome of Land Rovers that could handle hostile terrain anywhere.

The originals, with back-breaking ride, ear-shattering noise and turtle-like acceleration, are sought-after collector vehicles. But Land Rover, with its Range Rover and Evoque models, has transformed itself into a luxury manufacturer, though maintaining capable off-road capabilities.

Trading on that reputation, Land Rover brings the new Defender 110 X, which has the looks and capabilities of an African King of the Serengeti but a luxury personality. It’s a pricey—$85,750 as tested—three-row, four-door SUV. Next comes the smaller two-door Defender 90.

Truck of the Year

Ford F-150: It’s what you’d expect of Ford’s flagship but it is all-new from bumper to bumper. As with any pickup in this modern era, it can be equipped to satisfy almost any buyer.

The beauty of it is that this four-door 4X4 Super Crew pickup has gotten so refined that, except for its size — 20 feet 4 inches long, six feet six inches tall and 4,810 pounds — you’d be convinced you’re driving a much smaller vehicle. It’s quiet, handles capably in traffic and on curving roads, and has plenty of punch from the tester’s 5.0-liter V8 engine, which delivers 400 hp through a 10-speed automatic transmission.
Its attributes came with a base price of $47,985 and, as equipped, a bottom line of $56,990.

Jeep Gladiator Mojave: This new version of the much-anticipated Gladiator pickup truck is tricked out to validate those advertising videos showing Jeeps racing around dirt roads and going airborne off sand dunes. 

For 45 years until 1992, Jeep marketed a variety of trucks, the last of which was the Comanche. The 2020 Gladiator arrived as a traditional off-roader, equipped to handle even the famed Rubicon Trail in California and Nevada, so rugged it is driven mostly at walking speed.

Now comes the Mojave. Though can do some of the same rock crawling as other Jeeps, it can manage higher speeds in races through the rough outback.

The base Gladiator with a six-speed manual gearbox had a base price of $35,040 and, as tested, came to $36,330. The Mojave model came with a starting price of $45,370 and, with many options, climbed to $61,795.

Ram 1500 TRX: This brute starts out as a Ram 1500 pickup but gets a shape-shifting transformation into a mighty dune busting, rock climbing, Baja California racing truck. Its Dodge Hellcat V8 engine snorts out 702 hp through an eight-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels.

Despite its 6,866-pound curb weight, a test by Car and Driver magazine clocked the TRX at 0-to-60-mph acceleration in 3.7 seconds. Nicknamed “T-Rex” by its enablers, the TRX comes with a host off-road goodies that enable it to rocket off hills and sand dunes, and cushion its landings.

With a base price of $71,690 and $87,570 as tested, it has a classy interior with carbon fiber accents. A long list of standard and optional equipment includes full-speed collision warning and emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, and high-performance dampers and brakes.

Photos courtesy OEM.

2020 NACTOY Winners: A DriveWays Report…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Detroit, Mich. — North American automotive journalists, voting in secret ballots,  revealed on January 13, 2020 that they had selected two quintessentially U.S. vehicles and one from South Korea — but built in the U.S. — as the best newcomers of the past year.

In an announcement at TCF Arena, usually the home of the North American International Auto Show at this time of the year but now moving to June, the journalists picked the all-new mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette Stingray as the Car of the Year and the Jeep Gladiator as Truck of the Year. The Gladiator is manufactured by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA).

2020 TellurideThe all-new Kia Telluride, a midsize three-row crossover sport utility vehicle from the South Korean company but built in a plant in West Point, GA, was awarded Utility of the Year.

The 50 professional automotive journalists who made the selections are dues-paying members of the North American Car of the Year organization. They represent newspapers, magazines and other publications, as well as television, radio and online outlets in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. All NACTOY officers and jurors are volunteers; there are no paid staff positions.

NACTOY describes itself as the premier independent organization that judges excellence in automotive design, technology safety, performance, driver satisfaction, technology and value. (The writer of this article is a member).

Voting is done by secret ballot. A starting list of eligible vehicles, substantially new or redesigned, is drawn up by the leadership. Members then vote for semi-finalists, finalists and winners in the three categories. Votes are tallied by Deloitte, world-wide financial and accounting firm.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette StingrayThe Corvette Stingray, the Car of the Year, is the first in the brand’s 65-year history to feature a mid-engine design. Its 490-horsepower, 6.2-liter engine is mounted in back, ahead of the rear axle. Previous Corvettes had front engines and rear-wheel drive. The transmission is an eight-speed automatic that can be manually shifted. Prices start at $67,495.

Runners-up for Car of the Year were the all-new 2020 Hyundai Sonata midsize sedan and the 2020 Toyota Supra sports coupe, which uses an engine and drive train from BMW of Germany.

The Utility of the Year, the Kia Telluride, beat its fraternal twin, the Hyundai Palisade, in the voting. Kia is partly owned by Hyundai and the two brands share engines and transmissions, though they operate independently and do their designs.

The Telluride’s prices start at around $32,000 and climb to more than $47,000. It is powered by a 291-hp, 3.8-liter V6 engine with an eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel or all-wheel drive.

Besides the Hyundai Palisade, the third nominee in the utility category was the 2020 Lincoln Aviator, a luxury three-row SUV with prices that range up to $83,540.

2020 Jeep® Gladiator North EditioThe Jeep Gladiator’s two competitors for Truck of the Year were the midsize 2020 Ford Ranger and 2020 Ram Heavy Duty, with the Gladiator all pickup trucks but different in personalities, design and execution.

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.

2017’s Outstanding New Vehicles: A DriveWays Review…

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.

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