With yesterday's focus being on the 2010 North American Car of the Year contenders, it's time to get all Krome on Trucks here with a look at the other side of the ledger today '” sort of. I mean, in theory, the continent's top auto journalists will be picking their favorite truck during the run of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January. But the thing is, there's nary a true truck to be found on the list.
Acura ZDX: See? This is actually a "provocative four-door sports coupe," according to Acura, and it makes not even a nod in the direction of Truckland. Okay, maybe one nod: The specs do include info on ground clearance and approach/departure angles, but I'm thinking the ZDX will spend about as much time off-road as its obvious influencer, the BMW X6. And really, the BMW only advanced the concept behind the Mazda CX-7, which, in turn, was a revival of vehicles like the AMC Eagle, which, in another turn, simply put into production the much-loved tradition of jacking up regular sedans on raised suspensions.
Audi Q5: Slotting under the OEM's Q7 crossover, the Q5 wraps its bigger sibling's functionality and style in a slightly smaller package. That's great, but not award-worthy, especially without the Q7's optional TDI diesel.
Cadillac SRX: Essentially Cadillac's version of the Q5, in that it's a compact luxury crossover, the new SRX is an above-average entry in the segment. On the other hand, whatever the overall improvements compared to the previous-generation SRX, the new one doesn't stand out from the pack the way the old one did.
Chevrolet Equinox: Essentially Chevrolet's version of the SRX, the new Equinox is a definite breakthrough product for General Motors, proving that the General can, on occasion, put together a vehicle that both rivals the best in its segment and does so in a segment in which it can make a difference. As U.S. buyers continue to look for vehicles that retain a certain truck-like style while also achieving car-like mileage, the Equinox should attract plenty of customers away from the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape.
Honda Crosstour: Essentially Honda's version of the Acura ZDX ... hmmm, I'm detecting a theme here.
Land Rover LR4: I'll keep the analogies rolling and say that Land Rover is like the British (Indian?) version of Jeep. It's a brand so dedicated to off-road performance that it pretty much thumbs its corporate nose at things like fuel efficiency. Except that Land Rover takes the same approach to luxury, too. So, the LR4 will swaddle drivers in comfort while still letting them travel just about anywhere in the world that they want'”provided there's a gas station nearby, as the LR4 puts up EPA ratings of just 12 city/14 combined/17 highway.
Lincoln MKT: I've now seen enough of these in person to strike it off the awards list just for its grille alone. But I know design is subjective, and the MKT certainly has plenty of it. But I can't help but feel Ford is going in the wrong direction here, size-wise, with the MKT stretching to nearly 208 inches '” that's almost a foot and a half longer than an Explorer '” and breaking the scales at more than 5,000 lbs.
Subaru Outback: Subaru has been on a roll lately, sales-wise, and because it's for a reason that fits into my preconceived worldview, I'll bring it up again here, just as I did with the Equinox. It's another example of a vehicle designed to attract people who like truck/SUV cues, but not their mileage numbers. In fact, it was one of the first of its breed in the post-AMC era, but therein also lies the reason it's not my award winner'”it's just more of the same, even if the same is pretty good.
Volvo XC60: The XC60 extends the Volvo aura into a smaller segment, but runs into a problem that will continue to dog high-end OEMs in these parts of the market. Packing on all that safety equipment, or luxury appointments, or nifty electronic gadgets means packing on the weight, and the affect of those pounds is exacerbated in smaller vehicles. As a result, the XC60, which doesn't offer a four-cylinder engine, goes 18/21/27 in EPA ratings.
Now, going back over the list of contenders, I can see a fair amount of negativity, but keep in mind the context. We're looking for a truck that breaks new ground in some actual truck-ish sense '” not for the truck that's most like a car. On the other hand, we don't want to honor a vehicle that hews too closely to the bigger-is-better paradigm that used to rule the truck segments.
Which brings us to the Ford Transit Connect. Yes, it's built on the same platform as the Focus, but it's not trying to be a "provocative coupe" or anything like that. What the Transit Connect does do is bring a completely new vehicle segment '” the city truck '” to the U.S., in a high-quality package that addresses the fuel-efficiency question head on.
Which is why the 2010 Ford Transit Connect is my choice for North American Truck of the Year.