North American Car, Truck and SUV of the Year: Civic, Maverick, Bronco
Detroit — The envelope, please. . . .
Ford dominated the North American Car, Truck, and SUV of the Year awards Tuesday. The wildly-popular Bronco won SUV as expected while the Maverick overcame formidable competition from the electric Rivian R1T and Hyundai Santa Fe to win best truck.
The Honda Civic rounded out the awards as best car, defeating the battery-powered Lucid Air and Volkswagen Golf GTI/Golf R hot hatch.
The winners were announced at Huntington Place (the former Cobo Center) in Detroit. Rod Alberts of the North American International Auto Show introduced the awards that once coincided with the Detroit Auto Show. After a three-year hiatus, Alberts confirmed the show will return this fall, Sept. 14-25, at Huntington Place.
The six NACTOY finalists were whittled from an initial list of 36 eligible cars, trucks and utility vehicles for the 2022 model year. The finalists tracked trends in the industry as consumers have moved from cars to SUVs and embraced the off-road lifestyle. Following the success of electric automaker Tesla — and under pressure from the most onerous federal regulations in 60 years — manufacturers are also flooding the market with new EVs.
“2021 has been a highly significant year in automotive history,” said NACTOY President Gary Witzenburg. “We have seen the emergence of new vehicle segments and impressive redesigns of familiar models. Meanwhile, a number of all-new, EV start-up manufacturers are proving they are capable of competing with established automakers even with their first product offerings."
The Civic has been a NACTOY favorite for decades and the 11th generation car was no different, winning the award with its sedan, Coupe, and Si performance variants.
But the affordable compact got a surprising run for its money from the Lucid Air, the gorgeous, $170,000 luxury EV from the Silicon Valley startup. The Civic received 241 votes from the jury, the Lucid 170. The Golf GTI/Golf R — the only performance variants of the Golf compact in the U.S. market — received 89 votes in third.
Sedans have fallen out of favor in the American market with Detroit brands like Ford and Dodge exiting the sedan market completely. But cars are still key volume segments for foreign makers and icons like the Civic and and Golf boast near luxury-grade electronics tech to go with their whip-quick handling. Startup makers like Lucid see opportunities to establish themselves in the EV market with beautiful, halo sedans.
“The new Civic shows Honda at its very best. Bulletproof, brilliantly engineered and fun-to-drive, the Civic is the kind of affordable car that every automaker should aspire to,” said juror Lawrence Ulrich.
The Maverick took the truck crown over the Hyundai Santa Cruz and Rivian R1T in a category traditionally dominated by Detroit Three big pickups. But 202 was a year for innovation with the Maverick and Santa Cruz introducing segment-busting truck based — not on ladder frames — but on unibody SUV platforms. The daring Rivian R1T pickup is the first in a wave of electric pickups coming to market, beating EVs from established makers like Ford and Chevy.
The affordable Maverick — its $21,000 hybrid model has a range of more than 500 miles — won with 277 votes over Rivian (126) and Santa Cruz (97).
"Our F-150 truck has been the industry's best-seller for decades, so the Maverick product team went through a thought process that was very customer-based," said Ford North American President Kumar Galhotra after accepting the truck award. "They saw a need for this vehicle in this space and price."
Heavy favorite Bronco won over the Genesis GV70 luxury SUV and Hyundai Ioniq 5, the Korean brand's most ambitious EV to date. SUVs are America’s favorite non-pickup vehicle and now take 70% of the market versus 30% for cars.
The Bronco won with 234 votes, with the Ioniq 5 gathering 153 and the Genesis 113.
“The Ford Bronco delivers on the promise of its legendary name," said NACTOY juror Jack Nerad. "Instead of giving the public a lukewarm placeholder with a nostalgic logo, Ford has pulled out the stops to create a very credible competitor to that other four-letter off-road brand.”
Ford's Galhotra spoke to the challenges of re-creating the iconic Bronco with roots in the 1960s: "It was a huge lift. The expectations were huge. But we couldn't get stuck in the Bronco's history — the team had to take Bronco to a different level."
With independent front suspension, electronic disconnecting sway bar, and all-digital screens, the Bronco proved a new icon for 21st century adventure.
Judged by a panel of 50 independent journalists (including the author of this article) from the U.S. and Canada, the NACTOY awards are among North America’s most prestigious prizes. Jurors convened in Ann Arbor in October for a comparison drive of semi-finalists, then announced finalists in November.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.