Ultimately, the car and truck of the year is the one you choose. That's how it works: if you buy more Camrys than Accords, by golly no group of experts can tell you that the Accord is better for you than the Camry. But they can tell you which one drives better, which one looks better and which car - or truck - has more comfortable seats.This year, the North American Car and Truck of Year turned out to be the Mazda CX-9 and the Chevrolet Malibu, two well-designed and all-new cars sure to please many a car buyer. That is, after all, the point, right?
Car of the Year: Chevrolet Malibu
By now you’ve seen the commercials and have heard the praise: This is one Malibu that doesn’t take a seat in the sand. It’s out there riding the mid-size sedan waves with the best of them. Another win for the General, and another win for anybody shopping for a reasonably priced, attractive and comfortable sedan. On all counts, the Malibu delivers.
Truck of the Year: Mazda CX-9
Mazda makes both the CX-9 crossover utility vehicle and the RX-8 sports car. The styling never lets you forget that the former is related to the latter, with its swept-back headlights, aggressive fender flares and overall sporty proportions. But the connection doesn’t stop there. With more V-6 power for 2008 and a sublimely comfortable interior, plus room for seven, the CX-9 is an easy choice for anybody who doesn’t want to compromise driving pleasure when they need a family hauler.
Car Finalist: Cadillac CTS
Wow. This is about as far away as one can get from a Caddy that Zigs. This one, in fact, zooms, right up the charts and away from its previous reputation as a luxury also-ran. A combination that features the same great style with a vastly improved interior, plus ride and handling improvements makes for a strong luxury sedan. We named it our Editors’ Choice Car of the Year for 2008, as a matter of fact.
Car Finalist: Honda Accord
Bigger does mean better when it comes to the all-new Honda Accord. The new model is so big, in fact, that it qualifies as a large car – according to the EPA. After taking a ride in its cavernous interior, we won’t argue. In typical Honda fashion, the Accord comes with very efficient engines and a firm connection to the ground. Negatives include controls that are a bit too confusing in their layout, and a relatively noisy interior. All in all, however, the Accord is the kind of sedan you’d expect from Honda: efficient and comfortable, with a dash of fun mixed in as well.
Truck Finalist: Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid
Hybrids are for environmentalists. Big SUVs are for people who don’t care about spotted owls. At least, those are the stereotypes. However, GM is mixing these two with what could turn out to be the biggest hybrid advancement yet, and we’re not just talking about sheer size. No, the real story here is that improving the mileage of a gas guzzler may well have a larger impact on the environment than improving the efficiency of already-thrifty cars. With 332 horsepower, a 6,200-lb. tow capacity, and the ability to go full-electric under 30 mph, the GM twins could very well be game changers.
Truck Finalist: Buick Enclave
Yes, you read it correctly – Buick. Fact is, the Enclave offers an exceptional balance of luxury and utility, from the power liftgate to the smooth and quiet ride. Roomy and comfortable inside and attractively styled outside, the Enclave rose above the competition on many levels with its available features and overall feeling of quality. Passengers of all ages will be comfortable no matter where they sit, and there’s more than enough cargo space for runs to the hardware and grocery stores. GM has much to be proud of with the big crossover, and buyers in this segment should give the Buick a serious look.
Car Nominee: Audi TT
Completely redesigned with a more grown-up look, the Audi TT is part of the automaker’s recent emergence stateside. Despite its more upscale looks, however, some feel that the TT has lost some of its quirky, fun personality. Its lack of power performance also hurts it against competitors like the Porsche Boxster and Honda S2000. Coming soon: the turbocharged 2009 Audi TTS should put the competition on notice.
Car Nominee: Audi S5
Car manufacturers have personalities. For example, a BMW has a certain feel behind the wheel, as does a Mercedes-Benz and an Audi. Until the S5, that Audi feel was a little different than BMW’s (as in, not quite as good). Now things are different, and Audi’s new V-8 powered S5 combines the best of all worlds: the steering feel and controllability of a BMW, the all-wheel drive of an Audi, and the V-8 roar of an American muscle car.
Car Nominee: Chrysler Town & Country
Few automakers know minivans like Chrysler, a point that’s proven by the Dodge Caravan and the Chrysler Town & Country. Both offer families a slew of innovations, such as satellite television, an array of seating configurations including Stow ‘n Go and Swivel ‘n Go, plus more. Heck, Chrysler actually improved the engines, as well, moving up to a 4.0-liter V-6 though some would say they’re still a click or two behind the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey.
Car Nominee: Dodge Grand Caravan
Few automakers know minivans like Chrysler, a point that’s proven by the Dodge Caravan and the Chrysler Town and Country. Both offer families a slew of innovations, such as satellite television, an array of seating configurations including Stow ‘n Go and Swivel ‘n Go, plus more. Heck, Chrysler actually improved the engines, as well, moving up to a 4.0-liter V-6 though some would say they’re still a click or two behind the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey.
Car Nominee: Infiniti G37
Youth may be wasted on the young, but Infiniti’s G37 is so good that it proves more mature folks still know how to party. With a six-speed manual, rear drive, four-wheel steering and stunning good looks, the G37 betters its predecessor with an interior that’s finally worthy of a luxury car. So what if the trunk is small? Who cares if the back seat is only for small packages? This car is about fun, and really, three extra people and a trunk full of stuff is just going to slow you down.
Car Nominee: Infiniti EX35
Though the market is getting crowded with pseudo-luxury crossover vehicles, choice is always a good thing. That's what the Infiniti EX35 give entry-lux crossover buyers: a stylish, safe and sporty mini-ute. Time will tell if that's enough to make it a player in this hotly contested market.
Car Nominee: Mercedes-Benz C-Class
A stylish exterior and two interesting model styles from which to choose help make this sedan a player among its peers. But without a more sporty driving character (see: BMW, Audi), and with an interior that could be improved with better materials, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class falls a bit short. It’s a small, pleasant fish swimming in a pond of full of sharks.
Car Nominee: Nissan Altima Coupe
Nissan’s newest coupe does the three things a coupe oughta: it’s inexpensive, stylish (almost sexy) and really fun to drive…when properly equipped. Take a bright blue coupe out for a spin and you’ll get plenty of stares, to be sure. And while there are better coupes on the market – the new Accord comes to mind – the Altima is a car that delivers on its promise of a stylish good time.
Car Nominee: Scion xB
Car? Lots of you are shaking your head about now. But it's true, kinda. Call it a wagon if it makes you feel better. Toyota’s famous youth box gets a thorough scrubbing for 2008, and the result is, well, more than a little establishment has worked its way into the pores of the xB. That’s bad news when you consider that Toyota had such a raw and bold hit on its hands the first time around. Hint to Toyota: we liked it better when it was a kid’s car. It made us feel young.
Car Nominee: Smart ForTwo
If your goal is great fuel economy, perhaps the SmartForTwo is for you. Granted, that’s a a lot of people, and not many will cotton up to the small dimensions and low power of the SmartForTwo. Especially with the thrashy, whining and gutless transmission that propels this egg on wheels down the road. Cute? Sure. But cute doesn’t stand for much when performance can’t match up to a hyper teenager on a skateboard. Now – where did we leave that Mini dealer’s phone number?
Car Nominee: Subaru Impreza/WRX
With a more refined design inside and out, the Subaru Impreza took a tentative step toward the mainstream in 2008, one we hope is followed by a leap right into the pool with the rest of the automotive world. But please: leave the WRX out of it, for that’s one car that, like Robin Hood, is meant to play and frolic in the woods, on dirt paths, on tracks… Let the tame folk buy the Impreza. Save the WRX for where the wild things roam.
Car Nominee: Volvo C30
Volvo, that renown builder of sexy hatches and other slick designs, has a hit on its hands with the C30 (think P1800). Sure, niggling things get in the way of full appreciation: the interior on the base model is very, uh, base and quite unimpressive. In addition, the cargo area seems larger than it really is, thanks to the way the pillars jut into the cargo hold. Overall, however, the C30 is what you expect from Volvo: stylish and safe, youthful and friendly.
Truck Nominee: Hyundai Veracruz
A stigma still clouds the Hyundai name, and that’s unfortunate because it prevents countless shoppers from visiting their local dealer and discovering outstanding products such as the Veracruz. In a bold marketing move, Hyundai positioned its brand-new Veracruz against the Lexus RX400, and by many accounts the vote went to Hyundai. Years of trial and error have culminated in one of the best crossovers we’ve driven in quite some time.
Truck Nominee: Jeep Liberty
Granted, the design has been improved, thanks to a new more muscular stance and sheetmetal design. We're a bit surprised that the Liberty made it as a nominee, however, given the amount of competition it faces, the less than satisfying interior execution and the somewhat less-than overwhelming applause it received. That noted, it remains a nicely convenient and capable vehicle that offers plenty of functionality.
Truck Nominee: Jeep Patriot
The selection of the Patriot as a serious nominee baffles us. Certainly, it's styled nicely and does offer some interesting options such as MyGig, Jeep's entertainment and information system, as well as all-wheel-drive. But the poor interior execution and shoddy road manners makes this vehicle ill-suited for an award as prestigious as the NACTOY.
Truck Nominee: Kia Rondo
Psst: You don’t have to buy a barge to get family utility. There are plenty of cars (yes, cars) that can handle most needs, and the Rondo is one of the best with an elevated driving position, comfortable seats and a surprisingly roomy interior. Now, if only more people realized that you don’t need room for 12 when you have two children and a dog, well, the world would be a better place. Priced to start at around $17,000 and including a great warranty.
Truck Nominee: Land Rover LR2
Buyers are gradually shifting, or at least considering a shift to smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles, which makes it the perfect time for Land Rover to sell a more desirable and competitive small SUV like the LR2. There are a number of premium and luxury suvs on the market – the Lexus RX 350, Acura RDX, and Volvo XC90 are just a few examples – though the LR2 might trump them all in terms of off-road capability. It’ll need to – none of the competitors have the Freelander to wash from buyers’ minds.
Truck Nominee: Nissan Rogue
The reason for this growth in crossovers is obvious – shoppers want capable vehicles that are relatively fuel efficient. The Rogue fits the bill and offers a fun (all-wheel-drive available) driving experience. Cargo room is a little cramped, though that’s easy to overlook when you get crossover convenience with car-like efficiency and Nissan design.
Truck Nominee: Saturn Vue
If you told us a year ago that Saturn’s small ute would get so many honors, we would have laughed until we were purple. So imagine our surprise when the Vue showed up on our doorstep and floored most of us with its style, comfort, power, and interior design.
Truck Nominee: Toyota Highlander/Hybrid
With the RAV4 essentially edging its big brother out of its own space, the Highlander had no choice but to move up a notch in terms of power and size. Such a move makes sense, and better positions the Highlander to compete with the myriad of crossovers that have emerged since its introduction six years ago. We’re talking about models like the Saturn OUTLOOK, Ford Edge, Honda Pilot, and Mazda CX-9. After a few drives in the Highlander, we have to say that we were not very impressed with Toyota's best-selling Ute.
Truck Nominee: Toyota Tundra
This ain’t no 9/10ths truck, no sir. Indeed, Toyota could put another name on this beast, such is the change between the 2006 model and the all-new 2007 version. It's a complete makeover, with new or revised powertrains, along with every inch of the Tundra, inside and out. The interior is bigger than most cubicles, with large controls and compartments. There’s a 10,000-plus tow capacity and a payload capability that puts it among the class leaders. The design has also changed – some would say for the worse – but it does what it was meant to do, namely communicate the New Big Daddy of Truckdom.
Truck Nominee: Volvo XC70
The XC70 has a reputation as a capable vehicle, not a hard-core off-roader, but certainly a more than acceptable crossover for those who still eschew the trucky look of most of those vehicles. By upping the power and the level of content, the XC70 will likely continue to do well for Volvo. Even with the funky bumpers and ride height, it still manages to look better than a lot of other crossovers out there, and you won't even notice it from the elegant interior. All in all, the new XC70 looks like a good upgrade to an already solid vehicle from where we sit.