It’s down to just nine new models, three finalists in each of the three categories for North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year, with the winners set to be announced in less than four weeks.
Three manufacturers overwhelmingly dominate this year’s list of finalists: Hyundai Motor Group, Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. A few familiar names, including General Motors, Honda and Toyota, which have been dominant during the past quarter century among NACTOY finalists and winners, are notably absent. But the list does include one entry each from Nissan and Land Rover.
“In this very challenging year, these nine vehicles emerged as our Finalists out of an unusually strong field of 27 Semifinalists,” said NACTOY president Gary Witzenburg. “Each one of them – especially the 15 in the ultra-competitive utility vehicle category – is excellent in nearly every way. Not to mention the automakers’ unusually difficult challenge of getting our 50 jurors from all over North America into their candidate vehicles for testing and evaluation prior to our later-than-usual voting deadline.”
Hyundai Motor Group landed what appears to be a strong three different finalists in two of the three categories, and they represent two of its three brands: mainstream Hyundai with the Elantra sedan and high-line Genesis with the G80 sedan and GV80, its first SUV. The group’s third brand nabbed its first-ever NACTOY trophy last January, the Kia Telluride named North American Utility Vehicle of the Year.
Fiat Chrysler hits with two models in the Truck category, the Ram 1500 TRX, and the Jeep Gladiator Mojave pickup. If Jeep scores again it would mark a repeat,
the Gladiator, its first pickup in decades, winning Truck of the Year honors in January.
Ford has finalists in both the Truck and Utility Vehicle categories with the F-150 pickup and Mustang Mach-E, its first long-range battery-electric vehicle. It didn’t even field an entry into the Car of the Year competition as it has effectively walked away from the passenger car market but for its conventional Mustang coupe.
Nissan rounded out the Car of the Year list with its Sentra sedan, Land Rover nabbing the third Utility of the Year finalist spot with the reborn Defender.
The NACTOY judging process for 2021 began even as the 2020 awards were handed out at the beginning of this pandemic-plagued year. The 50 jurors from the U.S. and Canada started out by individually testing nearly 50 vehicles. The process was complicated by the COVID-19 crisis as some vehicles were added, some removed from the list due to the disease’s impact on product development and production plans. A group of semi-finalists were brought together for a socially distanced group drive in October.
“Just as individual car buyers have their own purchase criteria, each of our 50 expert jurors has his or her own individual process for evaluating candidate vehicles,” said NACTOY Vice President Jack R. Nerad, “which results in a robust and comprehensive competition that looks at the contenders from every possible angle. We are proud of the vast experience and diversity of our panel of jurors.
Jurors now will begin final reviews, with voting on the eventual winners to take place between Jan. 2-4, 2021. The three trophies for 2021 NACTOY Car, Truck and Utility of the Year will be announced on Jan. 11. Details about the announcement process will be announced in the coming weeks but will include an online presentation.
A closer look at the nine finalists:
Car of the Year:
Genesis G80: The successor to the original Hyundai Genesis that was the first Korean NACTOY winner, the second-generation G80 sedan got a complete makeover for 2021 aimed at enhancing its features and interior refinement, while also adopting the brand’s new signature appearance.
Hyundai Elantra: The Korean carmaker remains a fixture in the passenger car market as others walk away. The new Elantra isnot only better equipped this year but also now offered with a variety of packages, including a hybrid and performance-oriented N and N Sport models.
Nissan Sentra: The Japanese automaker is another brand remaining staying with the sedan market. The next-generation Sentra is larger, roomier and, along with a complete design makeover, gets a class-above update in refinement and features.
Truck of the Year:
Ford F-150: If anything, Ford’s mainstay full-size pickup is being offered in more configurations than ever, what with the launch of the all-new F-150 Hybrid. The F-150, on the whole gets an evolutionary styling update, along with lots of new features and powertrain upgrades.
Jeep Gladiator Mojave: The Gladiator became the first Jeep pickup in years and won the NACTOY truck honors in 2020. Now, it is chasing the trophy once again with this significantly updated version specifically design for those who want to spend serious time off-road.
Ram 1500 TRX: The current Ram is another NACTOY winner, but the TRX marks a major update. It’s wider, taller, roomier. It’s also loaded with plenty of new features designed for use on or off-road. But the biggest new feature is the addition of the monstrous Hellcat V-8.
Utility Vehicle of the Year:
Ford Mustang Mach-E: Ford takes direct aim at Tesla’s hot-selling Model Y and could be the first to get the California EV maker sweating. The Mach-E lifts styling cues from the familiar Mustang coupe – but adopts an SUV body style. It delivers up to 300 miles and Mustang-like performance.
Genesis GV80: Genesis has won rave reviews for its sedans – the G70 named a Car of the Year winner. But it has been slow to catch on with the public, something the Korean brand hopes to resolve with the launch of its first-ever SUV, the GV80 loaded with high-line features and great road manners.
Land Rover Defender: The heir to the original Land Rover Series I has been out of production for five years and missing in action in the U.S. market for more than two decades. It’s back with a new design, a luxurious interior, lots of new features – but even more off-road capabilities than ever.