By Marc Lachapelle
The Chevrolet Bolt EV, Chrysler Pacifica minivan and Honda Ridgeline pickup were announced as the latest winners of the coveted North American Car, Utility vehicle and Truck of the Year awards (NACTOY) at the start of media days for the year’s first international auto show, in Detroit. These winners were picked by a fully independent jury of 57 established auto journalists from across the United States and Canada.
The three separate awards are a first in NACTOY’s 24-year history. The newly-established Utility vehicle of the Year award recognizes the ever-increasing attraction of utility vehicles such as crossovers, SUVs and passenger minivans as a whole. The Truck of the Year award can now more specifically address the steadfast popularity of pickup trucks in all sizes as well as light and medium-duty commercial vans, on this continent.
A breakthrough for electric cars
The all-new Chevrolet Bolt EV compact becomes the first fully-electric winner of the North American Car of the Year title. The first-generation Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in electric car with range extender, won the same award in 2011. The only other eco-friendly winners were Ford products: the Fusion Hybrid sedan in 2010 for cars and the Escape Hybrid, winner of the Truck of the Year trophy in 2005.
With a final tally of 364 points, the Chevy Bolt EV was chosen over a pair of all-new luxury sedans, the Korean-made Genesis G90 and the Volvo S90, designed and manufactured in Sweden.
Chevrolet’s new electric car could have been a strong contender simply by virtue of its solid, EPA-certified electric range of 383 kilometres, offered in a far more affordable package than Tesla’s current Model S sedan and long before its more comparable Model 3 will be available. Beyond those attributes, the Bolt EV also impressed jurors with its spacious interior, clever design, efficient controls and systems, surprisingly strong performance and sharp handling. Everything except for its self-sealing eco-friendly tires that squeal at the slightest provocation while cornering.
Placing second in the car category, with a total of 105 points, the G90 is the flagship sedan of the all-new Genesis luxury brand, created by Hyundai. With opulent equipment, refined road manners and generous performance from either the 5.0-litre V8 or twin-turbocharged, 3.3-litre V6, both with standard all-wheel drive, the G90 is aimed directly at the upper crust of luxury and prestige sedans from Germany and Japan.
Built on Volvo’s flexible SPA (Scalable Product Architecture) platform, like the XC90 luxury SUV that won the North American Utility of the Year award last year (2015), the Volvo S90 sedan was a close second runner-up, with a final score of 101 points. Jurors appreciated its original design and innovative control interfaces. They lauded its safety features, inspired dynamics and leading-edge T6 drivetrain, starring a supercharged and turbocharged, 316-horsepower, 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine combined with all-wheel drive.
Bringing a classic into the modern age
The all-new Pacifica is Chrysler’s fresh interpretation of its possibly greatest creation: the minivan. The carmaker had previously won the North American Truck of the Year award in 1996 with its innovative, third-generation family of minivans.
The Chrysler Pacifica racked up a perfectly round total of 300 points while the silver medal went to the slick Mazda CX-9, with 135 points, and bronze to the racy Jaguar F-Pace, with a score of 125 points.
Built on an all-new platform, the Pacifica has sleek bodywork, great interior volume, appropriately flexible seating and a plethora of systems and accessories. It offers the choice between a stout 3.6-litre Pentastar V-6 engine with 9-speed automatic transmission or the first hybrid powertrain ever offered in a minivan. In the Pacifica Hybrid, the V-6 is aided by a pair of electric motors powered by a 16-kWh lithium-ion battery, with a novel electrically-variable transmission. It promises up to 50 kilometres of electric range after a two-hour charge from a 240-volt outlet.
Ranked second in the Utility vehicle category, the all-new Mazda CX-9 is the second generation of the three-row ‘crossover SUV’ that won the Truck of the Year award in 2008. A touch shorter (30mm) than its forebear, the CX-9 is more spacious and agile, thanks to a longer (55mm) wheelbase and short overhangs. It’s also lighter by 130 kg in all-wheel drive form and powered by a turbocharged, 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that develops 227 hp (250 on 93-octane) and a robust 310 lb-ft of torque at only 2,000 rpm. Smooth, practical and fun to drive.
The all-new F-Pace, famed Jaguar brand’s first-ever luxury SUV, finished in third place in the Utility vehicle category. Stylish and taut, the F-Pace is quite a looker. Sharp-handling and quick too with a superbly sonorous and supercharged 3.0-litre V-6 engine that develops 335 hp in 35t trim and 375 hp under the hood of the S version. A 2.0-litre diesel engine is also coming.
A second reinvention for mid-size pickups
This is a second win for Honda’s fully-redesigned version of its ground-breaking, paradigm-shifting, midsize pickup truck. The original Ridgeline had the won Truck of the Year outright when it was first launched, in 2006, completing Honda’s sweep of the NACTOY awards that year with the Civic.
The ever unique and innovative Honda Ridgeline garnered 305 points while a very complete Ford Super Duty family of full-size, heavy-duty pickups was ranked second with 193 points and the Nissan Titan third, with a total of 72 points.
The second generation Honda Ridgeline offers a more modern and refined interpretation of the same formula with several features that are still unique in this segment; the clever and practical two-way tailgate and lockable, water-tight storage box under the cargo bed, foremost. It introduces new ones too, such as rear-mounted outside speakers for the perfect beach, cottage or tailgate party. This new Ridgeline is slightly bigger with a longer bed, a stronger unit body and a more efficient, direct injection, 3.5 litre V-6.
Following in the tracks of the F-150 that won the Truck of the Year award last year, Ford’s all-new Super Duty full-size trucks are this year’s winners. The Blue Oval brand’s full-size F-150 pickup, a perennial overall best-seller in Canada, had previously won this award when it was fully redesigned, in the years 1996, 2004 and 2009.
Following in the tracks of the F-150 that won the Truck of the Year award last year, Ford’s new Super Duty trucks are now built with an aluminium body and run on a new fully-boxed frame made 24 times stiffer by 95 percent high-strength steel construction. Power is by the trusty 6.2-litre V-8 or an optional 6.7-litre turbodiesel V-8 with an earth-ripping 925 lb-ft of torque. Towing capacity runs up to 32,000 pounds (14,515 kg). The equipment list is endless with virtually infinite combinations and configurations.
Finally, in the wake of the XD model introduced last year comes a half-ton version of the redesigned Nissan Titan full-size pickup. First out is a four-door, crew cab version powered by a new 5.6-litre, 390-horsepower V-8, in five distinct models. Regular and King Cab versions will come later, along with the choice of a V-6 engine.
Straightforward three-stage process
Today’s announcement comes at the conclusion of an evaluation and voting process that is spread over several months for this entirely self-financed program. Originally inspired by the long-running European COTY program, NACOTY relies entirely on the jurors’ credibility, experience and professionalism. A strong emphasis is put on value to consumers and both innovation and dominance within the new vehicle’s specific category and competitive set.
A first vote, in June, helped jurors whittle the number of possible contenders down from 27 to a more manageable 15 ‘semi-finalists’ in the Cars category. Entries numbered 12 in Utility vehicle and four in the Truck category. Jurors voted again in early November, two weeks after NACTOY’s three-day drive event in Michigan, to pick three finalists in each category.
After a last round of testing, final ballots were submitted in late December and tabulated by the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche. Results were kept secret until the announcement of winners on January 9, in Detroit. Detailed voting results, for all jurors, will subsequently be fully accessible to the public on the NACTOY web site at http://northamericancaroftheyear.org
Spectacular new trophy
The most visible result of the changes initiated by NACTOY’s first elected executive is a striking new trophy, in the shape of a sleek, timeless classic. This sculpture is the work of recently-retired General Motors chief of Design Ed Welburn who mentioned Oscar, arguably the most famous and coveted trophy of all, as an inspiration. A large version of the new NACOTY trophy will be on permanent display, at Cobo Hall in Detroit, with the engraved names of all winners.