Payne: A Tesla is Detroit News Vehicle of the Year

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 28, 2018

Model 3 Red

Hollywood is determined to expand its Oscars list to offer more diversity. But if it’s diversity you want, check out the field for Detroit News Vehicle of the Year.

I tested more than 60 new vehicles this year. There’s never been such a range of options for every consumer stripe. Let me count the ways.

There are pickups that range from midsizers to mega heavy-duties taller than my 6-foot-5 frame.

Then there are all the sport utilities: So crackers are customers for SUVs that luxury makers like BMW and Mercedes are making SUV “coupes” to mimic sports sedans.

The best SUVs are athletic, all-around value plays like the Acura RDX. Its doppelganger in the sedan segment is the $35,000 Mazda 6, which will make you think twice about spending $20,000 more for an equivalent luxury brand.

In a sea of practicality there is still plenty of eccentricity. This year brought sequels to the Audi A7, Mustang Bullitt and three-door Hyundai Veloster. Speaking of threes, there’s even a Polaris trike out there for enthusiasts.

You want power? Dodge unveiled another Hellcat, the 797-horse Redeye. It does 0-60 in 3.4 seconds, which is still a second slower than the Tesla Model S P100, putting us on notice that batteries aren’t just for tree-huggers.

EVs abound from affordable Hyundai Konas to bonkers Porsche hybrids. The new, new thing — 48-volt battery systems — is found in everything from Audi A6s to Ram trucks for smoother operation.

Like the Oscar judges, I’ve seen a lot of stuff this year. Some new, some small, some epic.

Here are my top new vehicles of the year. The envelopes, please.

Second runner-up: Ford Ranger

This was the Year of the Truck. Detroit’s Big Three brought their best with the all-new Ram 1500, Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra and upgraded Ford F-150 Raptor.

The smooth-riding coil-sprung Ram is in a style class of its own with a sculpted grille and Tesla-like 12-inch console touchscreen. The Silverado is an ugly duckling to the Ram’s swan, but its shrewd use of high-strength steel make it the lightest, best-handling truck in class — and I never tire of its push-rod V-8 bellow.

The Raptor is the most addictive truck made, and the addition of Recaro saddles and Fox Live Valve shocks make it even more irresistible. I rode this 450-horsepower stallion all over Utah and never got close to the edge of its considerable envelope.

But my biggest favorite was the smallest new entry, the $35K Ford Ranger. Think of the F-150’s little brother as a compact pickup. In the Age of Ute, the Ranger gives ute families — say, someone with a Ford Escape — the viable option of a compact SUV with a bed, 7,500-pound towing and daily manners. The on-road ride of the Ranger is that good.

Now, if only Ford would give junior a Raptor option.

 First runner-up: Chevy Corvette ZR1

The front-engine Corvette ZR1 is the last of the breed.

It’s been stretched to the limits to compete against the pinnacle of mid-engine cyborgs: the V-12 Lamborghini Aventador, turbo-V8 McLaren 720S and hybrid Acura NSX. I tested them all this year, and they are sci-fi supercars from the future.

Chevrolet will soon follow these beauties — by May, I reckon — with its own mid-engine Corvette rocket. And no wonder. The front-engine design is pushed as far as it can go, with the engine literally bursting through the ZR1’s skin. To squeeze 755 horsepower from the 6.2-liter V-8, the supercharger sticks out of the hood. An enormous rear wing anchors the beast to the ground.

For raw, unbridled pleasure, there is nothing to rival the $135K ZR1. At Road Atlanta Raceway it consumed asphalt at an awesome rate, the V-8 roaring in my ears like a T. rex.

It’s the perfect automotive bookend to our winner …

Comments are closed.