North American Car of the Year: And the Winners Are…

Story by Steven Cole Smith

Live from Detroit, almost, it’s the North American Car of the Year awards! Also the North American Truck of the Year Awards! And did we mention the North American SUV of the Year awards?

Inarguably most of the “best of” awards have been presented by now, but for the last 26 years or so, NACOTY has given its awards at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, in January. But there is no NAIAS in January–sagging attendance at what was, just 10 years ago, inarguably the most important new car show in the world caused Detroit show organizers to move it to June, close to the Detroit Grand Prix, where a lot of the show will be outside. By the way, it was 24 and snowing when I got to Detroit last night, but this year, I get to go back to Florida today.

The show reached out to NACOTY and asked us to still present the awards on the save day, in the same convention center, and would fly us in and put us up for the night. So here I am. Here we are!

The presentations were preceded by a couple of brief speeches from the NAIAS folks, telling us how cool the Detroit show will be this year, as holding it in June opens up so much more, literally, for attendees, with the show taking over the outdoor square next-door for exhibitions add six separate ride-and-drives from manufacturers. The motorsports area is sold-out. His name really hasn’t been mentioned, but since Roger Penske’s company owns so many dealerships, it’s logical he is backing the show just as he did, and saved, the Detroit GP.

NACOTY is probably the most coveted award for the manufacturers, because it’s selected by 50 independent auto writers in North America, as opposed to, say, one magazine or website, where the nasty specter of pay-for-play exists (and used to happen, but doesn’t now. Remind me to tell you some stories.) Nobody pays us jurors to play, so the awards are based on what we’ve driven over the year, which is pretty much everything.

A few dozen vehicles are selected by the member–can’t exceed a certain price, have to be new or substantially changed, etc.–and we gather in Detroit to spend a couple days driving the nominees. They we narrow it down to three, (or nine, actually), and vote on those. Until the envelopes were opened at the presentation this morning, nobody knew who won.

But this year, we had a pretty good idea.

  • Truck of the Year nominees were the Dodge Ram Heavy Duty, the Ford Ranger and the Jeep Gladiator. The winner: Gladiator. Some members said they voted for the Ram, which is a pretty amazing vehicle give its size and capability, but I didn’t speak to anybody who voted for the Ranger. It just didn’t turn out the way we truck lovers hoped. I voted for the Gladiator–it’s much, much better than it has to be–but I would have been fine with the Ram.
  • SUV of the Year nominees were the Hyundai Palisade and the Kia Telluride, essentially the same vehicle, and we suspected the two might cancel each other out, giving the win to the Lincoln Aviator. That didn’t happen, and the Kia Telluride won, giving Kia its first NACOTY win ever. I voted for the Telluride; it just seemed a little more handsome, a little more fun to drive that the Palisade, but either works amazingly well for a big SUV. Had the Lincoln Corsair SUV been eligible (not on sale by the required time), it might have been different for me–it’s a startlingly good small-to-medium sport-ute, with the best steering I’ve experienced on any SUV, Rolls-Royce, Maserati, Lamborghini, Porsche and BMW SUVs included. Lincoln? I demand to know who is responsible for this!
  • Car of the Year was, of course, the new mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette, trouncing the very respectable Hyundai Sonata and Toyota Supra. A couple of months ago I was in Italy, at the Mugello track, for the Ferrari Finali Mondiali, the annual celebration of all things Ferrari. Not so quietly, I heard some Ferrari purists making fun of the new Corvette. Maybe not a good idea: Like the Gladiator, this is a car that is way better than it had to be. It absolutely won me over on the racetrack and on winding roads in California, and personally, I like the styling, inside and out. I liked the C5/C6/C7 from the first cross-country drive I did in 1996 in the C5 for Car and Driver and beyond, but the C8–especially for the price–moves the needle.

Disagree with the winners, all of which I voted for? (Stunning, because I can’t get ONE NUMBER right on my lottery tickets.) Don’t blame you–there’s a lot of good to go around this year.

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Comments
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mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth Mod Squad
1/14/20 4:09 p.m.

I've been seeing a poop load of the new big KIA/Hyundai SUV's on the road. People seem to like them quite a lot. 

dxman92
dxman92 HalfDork
1/14/20 4:29 p.m.

They actually don't look half bad. I've gathered nothing but good things about them. 

Dave M
Dave M HalfDork
1/14/20 7:15 p.m.

In reply to Steven Cole Smith :

Is there a worse sort of purist than a Ferrari purist? Barf..... They make me root for Mercedes, which is saying something.

Brett_Murphy
Brett_Murphy UltimaDork
1/14/20 7:41 p.m.

Despite having a locking center differential, the  AWD system in the Kia/Hyundai  seems fairly pavement biased- or at least the descriptions I found regarding it seemed to deal with snow and such.

Adrian_Thompson
Adrian_Thompson MegaDork
1/17/20 10:17 a.m.

"24 and snowing when I got to Detroit last night"

Glad you got to enjoy our lack of winter this year.

Adrian_Thompson
Adrian_Thompson MegaDork
1/17/20 10:32 a.m.

On the SUV thing.  I'm honestly surprised that the Telluride won based on my previous expereince.  I really like what Kia/Hyundai are bringing to the table these days.  I remember how massively unpopular I was at work 15 years ago (I was at Ford at the time)  when I said we needed to view Kia/Hyundai as our competition and stop pretending that we were top the pile when it came to sedans.

Much as I like what I'm seeing, and note I haven't driven a Stinger or new Telluride, I have been sorely disappointed in every Kia/Hyundai product I've driven.  They seem to put together a nice looking package that works on paper, but the driving experience has always been sub par.  The worst was the Kia Soul, it looks so so good, but the driving dynamics and NVH were atrocious.  Ont he freeway it was a nasty, porpoising buzz bomb.  It's one saving grace was that it was so unpleasant to drive at our normal 80-85 that we saved gas by going slower.  Same with the cross over CUV, I forget it's name, the Escape size one.  We had one for four days rental in Tx last April.  Again, it looked great and the specs looked fine, but once inside the touch points were abysmal, the ergonomics were questionable and the driving experience was worse than forgettable, it was unpleasant, especially the trans calibration and tip in performance.  I wont even talk about the older sedans other than I'm surprised they survived long enough in the US market to become a creditable choice.

I am not anti Korean, I work for a Korean company who does hundreds of millions of $ business with Kia/Hyndai, so I have a vested interest in their products doing well.  It's just that so far my driving experience has been poor.  Also I have driven the Aviator and think it's an amazing vehicle inside, outside and to drive (utterly unaceptable launch issues asside).

 

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