Picking the top car, truck, SUV in US is no easy task – USA TODAY
DETROIT — If you think the national election is hard to predict, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
The automotive writers who select the North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year will narrow the field of more than 30 contenders to three finalists for each award this week. I’m president of the jury and have been a juror for a decade, and I’ve never had less of a clue which vehicles will make it.
My quandary got deeper after the jury’s recent evaluation of semifinalists.
It’s hard to think of a better way to spend a couple of days than driving fine new vehicles through southeast Michigan’s bright fall foliage. The few things that can improve on that include this October’s convertible-ready 80-degree afternoons and a bumper crop of vehicles.
The event gives the jury — about 60 leading automotive journalists who report for the Internet, newspapers, magazines, TV and radio across the U.S. and Canada — time to get reacquainted with vehicles that arrived this year, a first look at some vehicles going on sale late in 2016 and the opportunity to drive contenders back to back on the same roads.
The comparison usually lets me eliminate a few vehicles from contention, but this year I found more vehicles demanding attention.
•Electric vehicles strike back
Gas prices are low, but plug-in hybrid and pure electric vehicles should generate a lot of attention in 2017.
The Chevrolet Bolt surprised everyone with its EPA-rated 238-mile range on a charge. Its price and practicality — a small car with a ton of passenger and cargo space — turned heads.
Plug-in hybrids have been slow to catch on because of their cost and a combination of features from hybrids and electric cars confuses some buyers.
A pair of new plug-ins could change that. The Prius Prime hatchback offers 25 miles on a charge, a major improvement from the previous plug-in Prius’s unimpressive 11 miles.
Chrysler’s Pacifica minivan will bring plug-in technology to a new audience with a 30-mile range that could allow many parents to electrify their kid-hauling.
A spate of accidents involving cars with Tesla’s autopilot put a scare into other automakers this year, leading them to downplay self-driving features in new cars.
The hype may be missing, but the technology is still there as the new Mercedes E-class and Volvo S90 luxury sedans come closer to driving themselves than any mass-market vehicle before.
Both cars combine existing features like lane departure assist and adaptive cruise control to create cars that can essentially steer and brake themselves on the highway and in traffic. Unlike Tesla’s troubled system, though, they require the driver to keep a hand on the wheel — most of the time.
The E-class and S90 represent a significant step toward cars that will pilot themselves from on-ramp to highway exit with no input from the driver. The autonomous vehicle in your rearview is closer than it may appear.
•’Yuge’ year for big American luxury cars
The Cadillac CT6 and Lincoln Continental represent the pinnacle of GM and Ford’s luxury brands, but they’re very different.
The CT6 is a sportier car, developed to compete with leading European luxury cars like the Audi A8, BMW 7-series, Jaguar XJ and Mercedes S-class. It uses a brand new architecture that emphasizes performance and dynamics in addition to comfort and convenience.
The Continental has very different aspirations. It’s only a couple of inches shorter than the CT6, but costs less and does not attempt to match European luxury cars’ performance and handling.
The Continental modernizes the styling and technology of Lincoln’s best-known nameplate.
The CT6 and Continental represent interesting new initiatives by America’s luxury brands.
•Jaguar pounces on open segments
Jaguar Land Rover is already benefiting from sales of the new Jag XE sport sedan and F-Pace SUV, with plenty more to come in 2017. The XE, a compact that competes in the best-selling segment of the luxury car biz, is already Jag’s best-selling car, nearly matching total monthly sales for Jag’s other three cars.
The sleek F-Pace SUV competes with vehicles like the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Cadillac XT5. It was Jaguar’s best-selling vehicle in the US last month, a development that’s likely to continue in 2017.
Jag took its sweet time getting into two of the most popular parts of the luxury business, but the move has paid off, bigly.
•Hail to utility vehicles
This is the first time the North American Car of the Year jury will present an award for SUVs and minivans, which previously competed with pickups and commercial vans. The competition is intense.
Luxury models like the Audi Q7, Buick Envision and Jaguar F-Pace will square off against family vehicles like the Chrysler Pacifica minivan and GMC Acadia, while the new Honda CR-V could make a bid to become America’s best-selling vehicle.
Buyers keep finding new reasons to buy SUVs, and this category is likely to keep growing for several years.
The car of the year jury will announce finalists for the three awards Nov.15 in the first news event at Automobility LA — the new name for the Los Angeles auto show. After more testing, we’ll vote on the winners and announce them Jan. 9 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Semifinalists for North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year
North American Car of the Year
Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan
Porsche 718 Boxster and Cayman
Toyota Prius Prime
North American Utility Vehicle of the Year
North American Truck of the Year
Ford F-series Super Duty pickup
Ford F-150 Raptor