By Jeff Gilbert

Right before casting my vote in the Presidential election, I got to cast my first vote for North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year.  This is to narrow the field down to three finalists.

The deadline has past; the three finalists will be revealed next week. Now it’s time for me to explain and defend my choices.

This is an interesting year, with many great vehicles, and no stand out choices…and for the first time, a third category for utility of the year.  For me, it required a lot of thinking…and interesting ways to rank vehicles.  I took a different approach in each category.

For cars, I narrowed it down to five vehicles that I felt were “game changers” and deserved notice.  So I ranked them in descending order.  It was a tight vote between the Lincoln Continental and the Cadillac CT6 to get the top vote.  I gave the Lincoln a one point edge because of its uniquely American feel.

On the utility side, I didn’t find any vehicle that broke new ground, but I did found four vehicles worth extra merit.  I gave the Buick Acadia the edge for new technology–like the back seat reminder–and the hard work that came with shedding 700 pounds, and still building a great vehicle.

This leaves the truck vote, where we will narrow down the field of four to three.  With such a small field, everybody got a vote…but the Ford Super Duty and Honda Ridgeline stood out.  I gave the Ridgeline the extra point because of its car-like handling and unique amenities.

We will learn the three finalists next week…and take yet another vote, where we get to distribute ten points.  The winners are announced to start the North American International Auto Show.

Now time for a some quick impressions on all of the “eligible” vehicles this year.

North American Car of the Year

Acura NSX — 3 points. The NSX is not only a great sports car, but a unique test bed for technology.  Normally, I’d be reluctant to give an expensive “supercar” any points, but this vehicle does fit into the category of ground breaking, and deserves recognition.

Audi A4 — 0 points.  A very nice midsize luxury car, and could definitely help Audi grow some share in the mid size luxury market.  But, there’s nothing that makes it stand out for a Car of The Year award.

Buick LaCrosse — 0 points.  An upgrade from the previous model, but not a ground breaker.

Cadillac CT6 — 6 points  Definitely breaks ground for the Cadillac brand and certainly adds technology and refinement.  I asked for a second drive so that I could adequately judge it.  Could have just as easily been a points leader for me.  But I gave a slight edge to the Continental for originality.

Chevrolet Cruze — 0 points.  A very nice small car, but no ground breaker.

Chevrolet Bolt — 4 points.  The first mass market EV to top a 200 mile range deserves consideration.

Genesis G90 — 5 points.  A great start for a new luxury brand.  Edged out, in my view, by the Cadillac and the Lincoln, but still a great vehicle, at a competitive price.

Hyundai Elantra — 0 points.  See “Chevrolet Cruze.”

Jaguar XE — 0 points.  Great to drive, great to look at.  But in a year with so many ground breaking vehicles, there will be some great cars that don’t get “Car of the Year” points.

Kia Cadenza — 0 points.  A big car, a bargain, but not as refined as I would like.

Lincoln Continental — 7 points.  Wins a narrow competition with the CT6 because of its originality and Lincoln’s willingness to target a market of buyers who want luxury, but aren’t enthusiasts.  While others target the German luxury brands, the Continental is All-American–which should serve it well in the U.S. and China.

Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan — 0 points.  See “Jaguar XE”

Porsche 718 Boxster and Cayman — 0 points.  They are Porsches.  They are fun to drive.  But, that’s what you expect when you spend your money for a Porsche.

Toyota Prius Prime — 0 points.  The prime is certainly the best Prius ever.  But it is a variant of an existing vehicle, and that’s not enough to give it a vote.

Volvo S90 — 0 points.  This car is very similar to the Volvo XC-90, which won Truck of the Year last year.  But, the XC-90 has had some reliability issues, which causes me to look at the Volvo brand with a more critical eye.   Also, what was groundbreaking last year is just nice this year.

North American Utility Vehicle of the Year

Audi Q7 — 0 points.  A very nice luxury SUV, but not ground breaking.

Buick Envision — 0 points.  The only vehicle that I didn’t get to drive.  I doubt it is ground breaking, but you can’t give points to a vehicle you don’t drive.

Cadillac XT5 — 0 points.  See “Audi Q7”

Chrysler Pacifica — 5 points. I slaved over this one.  I don’t consider it a ground breaker, but it is a significant upgrade.  I also had some design issues during my test drive.   But. after going back and forth, I figured it deserved something.

GMC Acadia — 8 points.  There were no significant ground breakers on the utility side this year, but this came the closest.

Honda CR-V — 7 points. Just had a quick drive of the vehicle and was impressed with its handling, layout and design.  If it’s a finalist, and I get more time in it, my points in the next vote could go up or down.

Infiniti QX30 — 0 points.  Solid, but not spectacular.

Kia Sportage — 0 points.  A very decent SUV

Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class — 0 points.  See Infiniti QX30

Jaguar F-Pace — 0 points.  Jaguar’s first SUV.  I thought about giving it a point or two just for that, but, at the end of the day, I didn’t.

Mazda CX-9 — 5 points. Good looking, fun to drive, but not ground breaking.

Nissan Armada — 0 points.  Too many compromises.  Tight front seat, not as many amenities as the competition.

North American Truck of the Year

Ford F-series Super Duty pickup — 9 points. A great work truck.  Interior close to luxury level.

Ford F-150 Raptor  —  2 points.  Probably too unique to get the award, but in such a small field, I thought it was worth getting a couple of points just for fun.

Honda Ridgeline —  10 points. Great pickup, lots of extras that competitors don’t have.  Very car like handling.

Nissan Titan — 4 points . A nice upgrade for a nice pickup.  In a larger field, that may not have been enough for this to get any of my points, but, with only four vehicles, somebody has to be the third finalist.


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