Ford, Hyundai, startups lead diverse 2022 Car of Year finalists

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Los Angeles — And then there were nine.

Ford and Hyundai led a diverse group of finalists announced Wednesday at the Los Angeles for the 2022 North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year awards, with two nominees each. Hyundai’s luxury Genesis brand also grabbed a nomination. The prestigious awards — judged by 50 independent journalists across North America — led off the show with finalists in three categories.

In addition to the legacy automakers, two startup electric vehicles, the Lucid Air and Rivian R1T pickup, nabbed nominations, reflecting how Tesla's success has emboldened a new era of auto entrepreneurs.

SUV of Year finalist Ford Bronco

“These nine vehicles represent an unusually excellent and diverse group of finalists,” said NACTOY president Gary Witzenburg. “From new automakers to vehicles that have created fresh segments in their categories, these vehicles showcase the industry’s current diversification. This year’s finalists also illustrate how many more EVs are available to customers.”

Ford’s wildly popular Bronco will be the favorite to win SUV of the year. The Jeep Wrangler rival can be stripped of its doors and roof to offer rugged, open-air fun. Its modern technology also aims to make off-road tools more accessible to drivers, including a rotary mode selector and electronic sway-bar disconnect.

Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 EV boasts a sleek design and simple interior as Hyundai tries to follow the Tesla Model Y’s success in the compact EV SUV segment. The Genesis GV70 is a stylish SUV of the familiar gas-fired variety. After years of copycat designs, Genesis has forged its own path with distinctive exterior and interior looks.

Ford also flexes its truck brand muscles with the affordable Maverick pickup. The entry-level unibody truck will be the favorite to win with its $20k starting price tag and creative interior. Hyundai's eye-catching Santa Cruz is also a unibody-based pickup truck and features clever features like a lockable, slide-able tonneau cover.

Startups are in the running for NACTOY awards. This is Truck of the Year finalists Rivian R1T EV.

Startup Rivian created a big splash in LA in 2018 when it debuted the first electric pickup. Founder RJ Scaringe has followed through on the concept's promise by bringing the R1T to market ahead of the Tesla Cybertruck and EV offerings from Ford and GM.  

Sedan sales have suffered from the SUV revolution but the eighth-generation Honda Civic is still going strong and is the favorite for yet another Car of the Year trophy. In addition to its trademark nimble handling, the Civic shows off interior tech and handling to shame some luxury sedans.

Another perennial favorite, the VW Golf GTI (together with all-wheel-drive cousin Golf R) is back to give Honda a run for its money. The GTI pioneered the hot hatch segment and still offers manual-transmission fun.

Startup Lucid offers the priciest entry with the $160,000 Air. The sleek battery-electric sedan was developed by ex-Tesla Model S engineer Peter Rawlinson and aims to best the Tesla in range and design.  

Founded in 1994, the NACTOY awards are the longest-running new vehicle awards not associated with a single publication. Jurors — including the author of this story — narrow the model year’s new cars to a list of semifinalists that are evaluated at an annual test event in Ann Arbor. Finalists are chosen from there.

The fifth generation of the VW Golf GTI is vying for Car of the Year.

“The diverse opinions of our jurors bring together a combination of expertise and individual testing regimens to select these nine outstanding finalists,” said NACTOY vice president Jack Nerad.

NACTOY winners will be announced in early January. 

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne.