The 2018 North American Car, Truck, and SUV race has been run and my horses didn’t win the trifecta. Heck, I didn’t even win a two-fecta.
I’m one of 58 jurors for the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year Awards, and every year we separate the industry’s latest models into three neat classes, whittle the contenders to three over a year-long marathon, and then vote our picks. They’re announced Monday at the opening of the Detroit auto show.
The Honda Accord sedan beat my pick for Car of the Year, the Kia Stinger. The Volvo XC60 nipped my Alfa Romeo Stelvio thoroughbred for SUV. Even my only winning entry, the Lincoln Navigator, for truck, feels weird.
The stunning Navigator is an SUV, after all, but was classified as a truck because — in a product cycle anamoly — the only new pickup for the 2018 model year was the ZR2 trim of the Chevrolet Colorado; the truck was introduced way back in 2014. So the truck-based Navigator and Ford Expedition — both built on the F-150’s bones — got pushed into the truck race. Kind of like Clydesdales racing an ox, don’t you think?
I asked Lincoln boss Kumar Galhotra if he really wanted to market the Navi as Truck of the Year.
“It means recognition of the brand we’re building,” he grinned next to the gorgeous NACTOY trophy.
The race for best car was a classic. The favorites were the Accord and Toyota Camry. With nimble handling and sleek, coupe-like shapes, the ’18 models are the best Accord and Camry ever.
But the Accord is on a different level — so good that, when a loaded $82,000 BMW 5-series arrived in my driveway at the same time as a $37,000 Accord Touring tester, I found it hard to justify recommending the BMW beyond the fact that it boasted 100 more horsepower and a two-kidney grille.
Loaded with power, style, tech — even a heads-up display and auto high-beams to match the Bimmer! — the 252-horse Accord’s value proposition was undebatable. My fellow jurors agreed, giving the Accord a whopping 277 points to the Camry’s 77. Game over, yes?
Nope. Because my Kia horse had its own value story to tell.
Baselined to the Audi A7 Sportback — the standard for sedan beauty under $150,000 — the all-wheel-drive Stinger offered staggering performance, hatchback utility, and graceful beauty. In a back-to-back comparo with a $109,000 turbo-6 Porsche Panamera over an autocross course, my $52K turbo-6 Stinger held its own — even surpassing the Stuttgart stallion from zero-60 (4.7 seconds to 5.4).
Put that performance together with Stinger’s redefinition of the once-econobox Korean brand — Kia hired ex Audi designer Peter Schreyer and BMW M-class guru Albert Biermann to craft their Sportback masterpiece — and the poor man’s A7 was my pick for best car.
In the end, it wasn’t Camry and Accord neck-and-neck at the finish, it was Honda and Kia. The Japanese entry won by a tight 31 points.
In the SUV category, I thought the Alfa a shoe-in.
The Stelvio is the first SUV entry for the nascent Italian brand, and what an entry. Based on the same nimble platform as the Giulia sedan — on par with Cadillac’s sensational ATS as best-handling luxury sedan — Stelvio brings impressive performance to high-riding SUV coaches.
Combine athleticism with sultry good looks and the Stelvio is a natural choice for yuppies tired of Audis, Mercs, and BMWs in every driveway on the cul-de-sac.
Back from the dead thanks to its Chinese sugar daddy, however, Volvo proved an irresistible force to my colleagues, who have long enjoyed the brand’s mix of tech and tank-like safety.
As for next year? I can tell you right now it’s going to be about (real) trucks. After this year’s famine, the Chevy Silverado, RAM 1500, and Ford Ranger will be fighting to the finish. It’s gonna be epic.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.