At the end of the year the automotive community is inundated, inevitably, by Car of the Year awards (or the myriad variations of same), underwritten by the enthusiast pubs, consumer pubs, media associations and – of course – Family Circle. And in each instance, the pub or association determining these awards attempts to balance what the judging entity likes or respects with what its intended audience expects. Motor Trend will typically make their selection in a manner different from how Automobile will pick its All-Stars or Car and Driver selects its Ten Best. And as you’d guess, the Texas Auto Writers approach their selection of Truck of Texas differently than the New England Motor Press establishes its criteria. Forgawdsake.
At txGarage, we’re a collection of enthusiasts ranging in age from their 20s to our 60s, with life experiences encompassing journalism and tech to event planning and PR. We all like our cars, many trucks and some SUVs. But we’d be hard-pressed to select just one vehicle per category. So, here are our individual nominees for Car, Truck and SUV of the Year, just like the big-name panelists do it at Motor Trend. Of course, we do it without an expense account.
Car of the Year: Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited
This segment is so crowded it’s hard to pinpoint the best. From small to large, most sedans are not selling very well today; many buyers are moving to SUVs. I am leaning toward the Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited, as it not only looks good inside and out, but is a great value. It has all the techie stuff and now has the Alexa app. And an estimated EPA average of 43 miles per gallon makes it an even better value. The Limited comes with all the Toyota safety systems and a great JBL® sound system to make your ride a dream on long trips. Driving has been improved with an all-new platform. The Avalon is great to drive, with the convenience of four doors.
Truck of the Year: Ford F-150 Limited
Ford has been building trucks since 1908. Fast-forward to 2019: Ford’s F-150 Limited has so much tech, and is class-leading in hauling cargo in the bed or towing a trailer when properly equipped. A new 10-speed transmission is part of the package. And if you tow a trailer, know it has seven cameras on board and the system is available on all models. The Raptor’s 450 horsepower, 3.5-liter high-output EcoBoost is the same engine that is now standard on the Limited model. Inside the Limited is a Ford Alexa app, and with SYNC 3 you have access to voice navigation and traffic info, and is available with Android Auto. The B&O® audio system is just like a high-end home system, while luxury leather surrounds you in the cabin. Power equipment is standard on all functions like mirrors, seats etc. The 2019 F-150 Limited continues to set the bar for luxury trucks.
SUV of the Year: Volvo XC40
The SUV is gobbling up the car business. Given how many choices we have in this category, identifying but one is a difficult decision. The Volvo XC40 is the right SUV for these times, stylish Swedish luxury in a compact design. The 2.0L 248 HP inline 4-cylinder has good power, and the XC40 T5 AWD is ideal for any weather. Interior is pure luxury, and the exterior is very refined. And we’ll give a nod to the Dodge Durango SRT. It’s quite the warrior on the road, supplying tons of power, and yet OK for meeting everyday needs.
Car of the Year: Honda Accord
Although my only seat time in the new-gen Honda Accord was on a race track, it left a lasting impression. The 2018 Honda Accord changed my earlier opinion, which was based on the Accord’s reputation as just an ordinary (but reliable) sedan. The entire vehicle exceeded expectations in interior space, performance, ride quality, and value. Its 2.0-liter turbo engine has a hair trigger for delivering power when you need it. Even on a race track the Accord handled its weight like a dancer, making for a comfortable ride during aggressive driving. Finally, the interior space can rival full-size sedans with much higher MSRPs.
Truck of the Year: GMC Canyon Duramax Diesel
The GMC Canyon is an ideal truck for medium duty and everyday commuting. It may only be a mid-size truck, but in an era when full-size trucks are so dramatically upsized, it’s nice to have a variety of choices. (Today’s mid-size trucks are bigger and taller than full-size trucks of the 1990’s.) The GMC Canyon offers everything a truck buyer wants, without giving you anxiety in parking garages. The 2.7 liter Duramax diesel engine gives great fuel economy, good performance on the highway and peace of mind while towing or hauling. And perhaps best of all, the Canyon looks good; it’s a clean design with modest looks and just the right amount of chrome. The only downside is the lack of interior creature comforts offered in the Canyon’s standard spec.
SUV of the Year: Lincoln Navigator
The big Lincoln is a full-size SUV with a six-figure price tag. I spent a week with the Navigator to find out if it was worth its weight in luxury. Massaging seats, knife-through-butter steering and a Cloud Nine ride quality made me fall in love with the 2018 Lincoln Navigator Black Label. Its twin-turbo V6 – delivering 450 horsepower – makes the big Lincoln light on its feet, and the available 4×4 powertrain allowed me to float over light off-road terrain, getting dirt on its 22-inch wheels. The 2018 Lincoln Navigator may be expensive, but that expense is expected when reaching for the top shelf Black Label.
Car of the Year: Honda Civic Type R
The 2018 Honda Civic Type R transforms the bland Civic Hatchback into a car that’s so much darn fun. That ‘most fun’ title used to fall to the Civic Si, but the latest Si iteration is just disappointing. The Type R does not disappoint. Fitted with a 306 hp, 2.0 liter direct-injected, turbocharged four-cylinder engine, this is a little car with a lot of power. And that alone adds up to loads of fun. Rightly so, it’s only available with a six-speed transmission and is fitted with an adjustable suspension that includes Comfort, Sport, and R+ modes. With a base MSRP of $35,700, that’s a lot of performance at a bargain price tag.
Truck of the Year: Ford F-150 Diesel
The Ford F-150 Isn’t new this year, but its 250 hp, 3.0 liter Power Stroke Turbo Diesel engine is. Mated to a ten-speed transmission, this powertrain gives the two-wheel drive truck an impressive EPA estimated fuel economy rating of 30 mpg on the highway, and that’s what positions this truck just a cut above the rest of the pack. The diesel is surprisingly quiet – you ’ll forget you’re not driving a gasoline engine. Of course, with gas prices hovering just under $2 a gallon and diesel fuel costing more than premium gas, new diesel-powered F-150s may be scarce on Texas highways.
SUV of the Year: Jeep Wrangler
The 2018 Jeep Wrangler is all-new. Yes, it can still crawl up a mountainside without breaking a sweat. But that’s no big deal – it’s what you expect from all Wranglers. It’s the quiet and refined ride that marks this Wrangler as special. With that, the newest ‘JL’ Wrangler can legitimately double as a family SUV. But be warned: it will stand out in the elementary carpool line. In this Wrangler you can actually drive down the highway and carry on a conversation without shouting, and the suspension doesn’t bounce you out of your seat when going over potholes. The new JL Wrangler is refined enough to attract crossover buyers who want an SUV without – of course – the rough handling. And good for Jeep.
Car of the Year: Buick Regal TourX
With the number of exciting intros during this calendar year, I’ll go with the one leaving the most indelible of impressions: Buick’s Regal TourX. Built on an Opel platform and manufactured in Germany, there’s a lot to like in this expansive wagon. And while pitched as an Outback-inspired crossover, this is in virtually all respects a highway-gobbling station wagon with all-season capability. We like its design, its utility and (generally speaking) the way it drove. And we certainly liked its well-equipped, under $40K price point. The TourX is a screaming deal, but without any marketing support from GM it’s not really screaming; on the showroom, you’ll have to ask for it.
Truck of the Year: Ford Ranger
On the truck end, know I have to park any press truck in a basement parking garage. And while other residents of our parking garage park their full-size trucks in it, I’d prefer not to. For me, then, the midsize truck is the perfect complement to what I laughingly call an active lifestyle. And while I’ve yet to drive Ford’s new Ranger, it’s tough to argue with what it brings to this particular gunfight. It’s right-sized, offers a 2.3 liter EcoBoost four as its one powerplant, and it appears to be right-priced, with a comfortably equipped 4X4 FX4 offered in the mid-$30s. I’d kill for a Raptor version selling in the mid-$40s, but from all reports, I’ll grow hair – and another four inches in height – before that happens.
SUV of the Year: Hyundai Kona
Among crossovers, the decision is made tougher by the number of crossovers coming into the market every model year. The one standing (or riding…or parking) tallest was Hyundai’s Kona. With a 1.6 liter turbocharged four and DCT transmission, Hyundai has finally added some driving fun to a heretofore sleep-inducing segment. Add a bit of funky detailing to its exterior, along with a spacious cargo capability, and you’ve got the makings of an entertaining, long-term relationship.
Car of the Year: Corolla Hatchback
In looking back on my year and all the cars I’ve driven, it’s always a difficult process of picking one over another for my top pick of the year. Do I pick the most expensive and luxurious car I drove? Do I pick a car I didn’t get to drive at all? Do I pick the car I had the most fun in? Actually, I try and avoid thinking about these metrics, altogether. When choosing a Car of the Year, or any other award like that, I try and look at metrics like most improved, new and noteworthy, something interesting for actual car buyers, and – lastly – something I could see myself purchasing if I was in the market in that particular segment. All of that being said, my pick for Car of the Year is the all-new Corolla Hatchback. The improvements to the car over the previous iM are just great. It’s easily a car I’d recommend to someone in the market for a small, fun, and well-designed hatchback. And to underscore this, I’d buy it as well.
Truck of the Year: 2019 Ram 1500
We first got a glimpse of the 2019 Ram 1500s early in the year at the Houston Auto Show. Then I was able to get behind the wheel and drive a few during a dinner held in Dallas by Ram. There are a lot of great options in the truck market today, but the level Ram reached with the new 1500 is more than noteworthy, and is definitely a truck I see myself in.
SUV of the Year: Hyundai Kona
I had the unique opportunity to travel to Hawaii with Hyundai and drive the all-new Kona. And while on the Big Island I really grew to love this small CUV. During these events, though, I always have to wonder if it was just the experience in a new and wonderful place that got me excited, or was the car really that good. Well, I also had the opportunity to drive the Kona a few more times this year back in Dallas during my normal day-to-day life, and I have to say: I think Hyundai has hit it out of the park with this vehicle.