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“The goal”, says the NACTOY website, “is to select a car and a truck that set new benchmarks in the classes in which they compete.” By that standard, the Chevrolet Malibu and Tahoe Hybrid, the winners after last year’s voting, are as good as it gets in their respective segments. Ahem. “Jurors evaluate the vehicles on factors including value for the dollar, innovation, handling, performance, safety and driver satisfaction,” says the NACTOY ‘About NACTOY‘ section.

In other words, the Malibu is better than the Honda Accord (also on last year’s ballot) and the Toyota Camry and the Hyundai Sonata and the Nissan Altima; by those standards. The Malibu receives some love here at GCBC, so don’t take this as pure sarcasm. The Tahoe Hybrid had no direct competitors in the voting and no real direct competitors in the marketplace either. However, it was perceived to be more dominant in its class than the Hyundai Veracruz was in its class or the Mazda CX-9 in its class.
With the candidates released for the upcoming NACTOY, winners to be declared at the auto show in Detroit, it is easy to sense The Good Car Guy’s skepticism. After all, displays twelve cars to own and won’t hesitate to point out that some aging cars are far better than newly introduced models. And it appears as though the voting members react in a predictable fashion. Wait and see. We all know that certain cars should win or become finalists. But we all know that its a different batch of cars that will actually stand a chance.
Among the 2009 candidates for car of the year, it appears as though the Cadillac CTS-v is the most exciting, along with the Dodge Challenger and Nissan GT-R (hampered by its country of origin). Important vehicles like the Volkswagen Jetta TDI and Jaguar XF are too niche. The Audi A4 and BMW 1-Series would make great finalists. The Lincoln MKS stands little chance; the Ford Flex is stuck between a rock (COTY) and a hard place (TOTY) and will be rejected on that basis alone. Honda’s Fit, the Mazda 6, and the Toyota Venza are strong mainstream Japanese competitors. Any one of the three could be a dark horse. That leaves the Pontiac G8 and Hyundai Genesis, two cars that compete directly…. sort of.
Which car should win? Ah, that’s easy. The Hyundai Genesis is a trend breaker. Stop paying too much for luxury and V8 performance. Get it all for less. Which car will win? If the 50 voters are swayed by their hearts, count on the Dodge Challenger. If voting goes as usual, either the most expensive car (Nissan GT-R) or least expensive car (Honda Fit) look likely. I place no bets.
In the truck of the year category, it seems likely – or at least very possibly – that the Ford F-150 or Dodge Ram could take the crown. Sure, truck sales are trending downward. But trucks are better than ever, and it’d be a heartwarming story if one of those struggling truckmakers got a boost from the TOTY win. Even auto journalists like a heartwarming story every now and then.
We can all hope the BMW X6 won’t win. The Chevrolet Traverse’s platform-mates have played and lost before. It will sell in big numbers, but surely won’t be perceived as a potential finalist. Honda’s Pilot is an ugly duckling, but truly capable of many things. Winning isn’t one of them. Sporting SUVs are rarely as dramatic as the Infiniti FX, but it brings nothing new to the table. Introducing a lumbering SUV at this time seems ridiculous, but Kia’s Borrego is good at what it does. People just don’t want it to do those things anymore. Mercedes-Benz’s diesel ML, the ML320 Bluetec, seems very deserving. A TOTY win could bring even more much-needed attention to the diesel cause in America. Few small SUVs are as capable and fun as the Subaru Forester. Place it in the dark horse category. As for the Nissan Murano and Saturn Vue 2-mode hybrid, read the comment after the Infiniti FX. Volkswagen’s Tiguan is terrific in so many ways…. and terribly expensive.