Payne: Where NACTOY awards went right... and wrong

Henry Payne
The Detroit News
People check out the 2019 Ram Power Wagon after its introduction Monday.

The 2019 North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year were announced Monday, and what you want to know, dear Detroit reader, is why we jurists voted Ram the King of Trucks. A lot of angry Chevy and GMC partisans are banging on my car window.

I’ll get to that.

But first, I feel like the movie fan who wonders how "Blade Runner 2049" or "Wonder Woman" didn't get an Oscar nomination for best movie in 2018, but "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” did.

Similarly, my fellow NACTOY jurors snubbed some impressive, mainstream models for car and SUV of the year when voting for three finalists from each category. 

Not that the finalists weren't good cars. In this hyper-competitive age, today's vehicles are remarkable pieces of hardware with even the cheapest compact getting technology and styling luxury-makers would have dreamed of last decade. Car nominee Honda Insight, for example, is light years beyond the first, 2000-model year Insight in style, power and capability.

How does Jeep Wrangler, with its astonishing off-road capability, an open-air interior and updated creature comforts, not make the SUV list?

But how did voters pass over the Mazda 6, a stylish mid-size sedan with luxury looks, great handling and technology for $20,000 less than a comparable Audi A6? The Mazda was the sedan I benchmark all cars to this year (along with the Honda Accord, which won 2018 Car of the Year).

The Mazda 6 was passed over for the Volvo S60 and Insight which are fine, but hardly class benchmarks. I voted for the eventual winner, Genesis G70, an impressive debut by Hyundai's upstart luxury brand in the compact sedan segment. But, so good is the 250-horsepower Mazda, that I would buy it over the smaller, pricier 252-horse Genesis.

The Genesis G70 was named the Car of the Year by the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year automotive media jury.

Even more puzzling were the finalists for utility of the year. 

How does Jeep Wrangler not make the best movies — er, SUVs — list? The Jeep icon is an adventure film all in itself with astonishing off-road capability, an open-air interior and updated creature comforts for daily driving.

For 2019, the Jeep went on a 200-pound diet, introduced a turbo-4 engine with better fuel economy, and upgraded its best-in-class UConnect infotainment screen while not sacrificing its drop-the-front-window, lock-the-axles, let's-rule-the Rubicon athleticism.

Wrangler, benchmark is thy name.

Other brands from Ford (Bronco) to Toyota (4Runner) covet the Jeep's cred. Sure, the Jeep is pricey (a $2,500 premium bump from the last generation), but icons are like that.

Another hometown favorite of mine was the Cadillac XT4, the brand's first compact SUV and a real find with class-competitive room, look-at-me styling and user-friendly infotainment. Alas, the bigger Acura RDX was an even more impressive bargain with sharp, AWD handling, standard moonroof and tech galore for an absurd $38,000. 

The Mazda 6 was passed over for the Volvo S60 and Insight ,which are fine, but hardly class benchmarks.

In NACTOY's tightest race to the wire the Acura got bronze (156 points) to the electric Jaguar I-Pace's (181 points) silver and gold-medalist Hyundai Kona (202). The Kona's affordable EV variant put it over the top with jurors.

Which brings us to the truck wars. What a heavyweight battle it was. Well, on paper anyway.

Ram, Chevy and GMC have been chasing Ford since 2015 when the F-series shocked autodom with an aluminum-bed truck. The Chevy Silverado responded with an even lighter truck, shedding 450 pounds while still rolling its brawny bed out of steel. Coupled with an upgraded V-8 that can run on one cylinder for fuel efficiency, the bow-tie bruiser was impressive. 

The GMC got brother Chevy's steel treatment, but the Sierra made its own headlines with a Swiss Army knife-like, "MutliPro" tailgate that could be configured six ways. To me, pickups are about the bed and the Sierra's new benchmark plus sharp styling was my pick.

But my picky peers couldn't get past the GM twins' static interiors — little changed from last gen.

This is where Ram shined with good looks, a huge Tesla-like console screen and tech-terrific features like rotary shifter and adaptive cruise-control. The Ram has flown off the shelves and become the driveway pride of truck guys across the land.

Voting wasn't even close, with the Ram pounding the General's boys into the ropes with a total of 407 points versus just 69 for the Chevy and 64 for the GMC. Ouch.

I have to say, the Ram would look really good in my garage — right next to a Mazda 6.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.