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DETROIT – Last week, most of the 57 jurors who will vote for the North American car, truck and commercial vehicle of the year gathered in a hotel east of Ann Arbor and spent three days testing about 70 vehicles.
My Automobile news Colleague Sharon Silke Carty and I, along with the other jurors, will soon reduce that number to nine. The finalists will be announced at the Los Angeles Auto Show next month, and the winners will be named at the Detroit Auto Show on January 14 during the media days.
I have a pretty good idea which competitors have the finishing touches. This year's semi-finalists are strong, but there were some surprises – good and bad.
My method of testing NACTOY candidates is to group the class contenders (cars, trucks and utility vehicles) together and drive them back to back. This helps me to recognize the defects and strengths of the vehicles in an orderly manner.
Here is my attitude.
I left this year's ride concerned about General Motors and Ford. GM has four vehicles in the race: the Cadillac XT4, the Chevrolet Silverado, the GMC Sierra and the Buick Regal TourX cars. Ford's entry is the Lincoln Nautilus Crossover.
GM and Ford pour billions into self-driving car technology. There's only so much money, and I'm worried that product development is suffering from both automakers, because the resources for financing technologies that do not yet have a business case are hugely stressed.
Take a Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn for a ride and you know you're in a great truck, one that makes you feel special about the $ 50,000-plus you've just spent.
Good, but not good enough?
The GM cars are all good but not good enough to win. All have some major shortcomings that jeopardize their sales potential. GM's newly designed pickups are clearly designed and built to demonstrate GM's enormous depth and breadth as a premier engineering and manufacturing company. They are as smooth and quiet as Cadillacs (good some Cadillacs – more on that later). Despite the fact that the rear suspension still uses the 200-year-old leap-leaf technology, the ride is pliable and quiet and the pickup copes well with bumps and turns.
But it is a pity that the product development budget did not contain enough money for interiors that went so dramatically as the innovative lightweight body and advanced powertrains of the pickups. You drive the Silverado and the Sierra and you know you are in a very good pickup. But other companies are moving faster and moving on.
Take a Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn for a ride on the same driving course, and you know you're in a great truck, one that makes you feel special about the $ 50,000-plus you've just spent. The interior is finished with high-quality, soft materials that not only feel good, but also appeal to your eyes. The filigree filigree on the bright metal paneling is not unlike what you might find on an expensive bespoke saddle.
And the stop-start system in the eTorque Hybrid version of the Ram is the best I've ever tested. It is undetectable. The engine will turn on and off without any apparent noise or vibration. The infotainment system may be the best on the road. It's intuitive and does not distract your eyes from the road. The Ram 1500 is the complete package and checks all boxes. Sure, the Ram 1500 will get my vote for Truck of the Year.
I've heard rumors that GM is already on major upgrades of the Silverado/ Sierra interior and that could appear in about a year. If you do not do that, you have to kick water for another generation of pickups.
Ford F-150 pickup – the vehicle that traditionally generates much of the company's profits – is now vulnerable as the oldest of the best-selling trucks.
One vehicle that I was looking forward to was the one Cadillac XT4 crossover, Well, for me, this vehicle is beautifully designed inside and out. I especially like the instrument panel and its bottom row of switches, which are a bit like the famous Cadillac V, which in some classic versions uses the brand's crest and wreath logo.
I did not get far until I came to the conclusion that the XT4 does not carry a Cadillac badge.
The grumpy 2.0-liter engine has the behavior of an angry chainsaw running at full throttle. The suspension system was as unobtrusive as a children's birthday party. Conclusion: Not competitive, not even close. With the XT4, I'm wondering if GM has any funds left to adequately render a Cadillac badge.
The Buick TourX is a good vehicle that lets GM die by not promoting its unique features of an SUV-like utility in an easy-to-drive and parked car. I recently visited a dealer and a salesman told me he did not even sell a TourX. There are no leases and no specific ads for the car. Too bad. TourX with proper promotion and marketing could be a cult hit.
I have no complaints about that Lincoln Nautilus, Cool name, very competent in all areas, very chic and stylish interior. An engineer told me that the vehicle used the thickest carpet ever used in a Ford or Lincoln vehicle.
But Ford was beaten by Toyota and several other automakers to the hybrid utility market. Ford, you'll remember, was the first automaker with a hybrid crossover, the Escape, that sold well until Ford killed him in 2012. A new version is coming, but it is very late.
Now for some good surprises: There is no doubt in my opinion that Hyundai has arrived as one of the world's elite automakers. The Genesis G70 Sports sedan is a real threat to BMW, Audi and Mercedes. The 3.3-liter twin-turbo V-6 is a rocket amplifier of an engine. The chassis is solid. The steering and the brakes are perfectly chosen.
Despite the imitation of German influences, the G70 was the best car I tested this year.
Another Hyundai I tested is the one Kona compact crossover, I drove the battery electric version and was very impressed with its refinement, range and overall quality.
Acuras RDXalthough he was inspired by a comedian Jimmy Durante, is a terrific turnout – quiet, supple, equipped with safety technology and equipped with a great-sounding 2.0-liter turbo engine, which is coupled with a 10-speed automatic transmission.
But the Jaguar I-Pace get my vote as a benefit of the year. It may have four doors and a higher ride height than a coupe, but it drives like a pure sports car. The torque of the double electric motors is powerful and instantaneous. The interior is typical Jaguar – high quality and very stylish. Sure, the infotainment system can be picky, but you forget that when you drive. The I-Pace will get my vote for Utility of the Year.
The NACTOY judges all use different criteria to rate vehicles. Some attach great importance to rear seat space, cargo capacity and equipment.
While these aspects are important to me, nothing is more important to me than how a vehicle is designed and built, and how it relates to the price of the sticker. And for me it was these three qualities that raised the Ram 1500, Genesis G70 and Jaguar I-Pace this year over the rest of a strong field.
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SOURCES: CARSCOOPS BMWBLOG MOTORAUTHORITY
CLASSICCARS MOTOR1 JALOPNIK FOURTITUDE INSIDEEVS
DUPONTREGISTRY AUTONEWS OLDCARSWEEKLY
INDIANAUTOSBLOG CARCOMPLAINTS LUXUO AUTOPARTSWAREHOUSE
HYBRIDCARS CORVETTEBLOGGER MERCEDESBLOG