Payne: What I got right (and wrong) in my 2022 Car, Truck and SUV of the Year vote

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 13, 2022

Detroit — The auto Oscar winners have been crowned, and I picked two of three of them.

Every year, I join 49 other North American Car, Truck and SUV of the Year judges in voting for the best new models. It’s the continent’s most prestigious prize given by an independent group of journalists — complete with this week’s posh ceremony at Huntington Place (aka Cobo Center) with dramatic envelope openings. This year (drumroll, please) a drone flew the envelopes on stage.

Kumar Galhotra, Ford Chief for the Americas, accepts the 2022 NACTOY award for Best SUV for the Bronco (foreground, right).

We sorted 2022’s 36 new models into their respective categories and then flogged them hard, testing comfort, performance and whether they moved the needle for their segments. The year was particularly fascinating as automakers brought a wide variety of films — er, cars — to market. Like the Academy Awards for Best Picture, nominees ran the gamut from blockbuster remakes by big-name directors to artistic gems from tiny production companies.

My pick for best SUV — Ford’s epic reboot of the Bronco — won. As did my favorite for Truck of the Year, the Ford Maverick. However, my choice of Car of the Year — the Volkswagen Golf GTI — was not shared by fellow scribes.

Let me explain, beginning with the latter.

The Golf GTI redefined small cars waaaay back in ’83 when it combined utility and performance in an affordable package. That “pocket rocket” formula has been replicated since by virtually every other automaker with tasty treats like the Honda Civic Si, Ford Focus ST, Hyundai Veloster N, Mazda3 Turbo, Subaru WRX and more.

Multiple GTI generations have followed but few as significant as the eighth-gen, 2022 model. In addition to the expected steroid boost — the $30,540 GTI wrings a ridiculous 241 horsepower, 273 foot-pounds of torque from its wee 4-cylinder engine — the latest hot hatch delivered a wardrobe and state-of-the art, digital interior to rival its sibling Audi S3. If that wasn’t enough, GTI’s Golf R cousin further spiced the recipe with all-wheel-drive and 315 horses.

Honda American Motor Co. zone manager Matt Almond with the award for Car of the Year, given to the Honda Civic.

Not good enough, judged my peers. While offering the GTI/Golf R as performance halos for its lineup, VW ditched the standard Golf. Not Civic, which continues to offer a full model menu, from the base, $23,365 sedan to the $25,115 Sport Hatchback to the sensational $28,315 Si apex-carver. All followed the Golf GTI with next-level interiors.

“The Civic combines just about every positive attribute you can think of — low-cost, high fuel efficiency, utility, comfort, dependability, and fun to drive among them,” said veteran juror Jack Nerad.

My fellow judges grumbled that the knob-less GTI interior is obsessed with its hi-tech touchscreen to the point of annoyance. Whereas the Honda (learning from its own bout of tech-itis in the previous gen) includes user-friendly dials to negotiate essentials like climate control.

Speaking of hi-tech, underdog Lucid Air racked up an impressive 170 points to the Civic’s 241 (Golf garnered just 89). The $80k Air is the Silicon Valley startup’s first vehicle — but what a vehicle. Bringing a new brand to market is a gargantuan task, yet electric Lucid has hit its marks with best-in-class range, staggering power of up to 1,111 ponies and gorgeous looks. With continued execution — and more affordable models — Lucid could be a future winner.

Lucid was inspired by fellow EV maker Tesla’s success (its CEO was the Model S’s chief engineer) — as was another startup sensation, Rivian.

Kumar Galhotra, Ford president of the Americas and international markets group, with the award naming the Maverick compact pickup as the truck of the year Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, at Huntington Place in Detroit.

The brand’s $74k R1T pickup is a knockout with its Tesla-simple interior, big frunk and off-road abilities. Its fresh approach to the pickup market should have won this year were it not for another fresh approach, the $21k Ford Maverick.

We jurors like affordable prices, and I picked Maverick for its irresistible combination of value, innovation and performance. Sharing a unibody platform with Ford Escape and Bronco Sport, Maverick offers an SUV ride while delivering trucky qualities like 1,500-pound payload and underseat rear storage. That versatility also defines the unibody, $25k Hyundai Santa Cruz, which brought a box-full of innovation like sub-bed storage and a lockable, sliding tonneau cover.

Maverick (also my Detroit News Vehicle of the year) ran away with 277 points, but all three entries foretell a pickup segment that is expanding beyond its traditional, light-duty roots.

Like Hollywood, Ford sees profit in remakes and it had a lot riding on “Bronco: The Sequel.”

Ford's Bronco outpaced rivals from Hyundai and Genesis to win the NACTOY SUV of the Year award.

Not only was Bronc tasked with taking on box-office king Wrangler, it also leads a recasting of Ford as an SUV brand. The 2022 remake hits it out of the park.

Jurors agreed Bronco was the Jeep’s dirt-kicking equal with removable doors and detachable sway bar, and that its stylish looks and high-tech features rivaled more expensive off-roaders like Land Rover.

I though Bronco would walk away with Best Ute (I gave it 8 of my 10 points in SUV balloting). But in a nod to the rampant innovation in the industry, my peers gave 153 points to the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and 113 to the Genesis GV70, both superb debuts in their respective EV and lux segments. Both face formidable brand challenges — Ioniq what? Genesis who? — in competing against Tesla and BMW, but their fresh designs are hard to miss.

As for my miss, I still recommend the Golf GTI. Mrs. Payne judges the best movies as the ones you’d see over and over again. Big things come in small packages, and I enjoyed driving the affordable Golf GTI and Civic Si day after day after day.

Car of the Year voting:

Honda Civic, 241 points

Lucid Air, 170

VW Golf GTI/Golf R, 89

Truck of the Year:

Ford Maverick, 277

Hyundai Santa Cruz, 97

Rivian R1T, 126

SUV of the Year:

Ford Bronco, 234

Hyundai Ioniq 5, 153

Genesis GV70, 113

Comments are closed.