Is Volt the best car, really?

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Well, color me surprised.

Imagine that, at the Detroit auto show, the North American Car and Truck of the Year were awarded to Detroit 3 brands.

Sure, the Detroit 3 are resurgent and showing new life, and the Chevrolet Volt and Ford Explorer are impressive enough entries. But how significant are they, really?

At $41,000, the Volt is going to appeal to a splinter of a small segment of early-adopter greenies. And since GM's claim that the Volt is a true electric car has been disproved, it basically should be judged as a Prius that costs twice as much.

The Ford Explorer shows Ford arriving late to the car-based crossover party. And while the new Explorer is significant for Ford, its projected volume is far less than what the truck-based Explorer did at its peak.

So, let's look at the runners-up. The Hyundai Sonata has redefined the public's perception of Hyundai, with high quality and innovative design. Owners no longer need to make excuses for buying a Hyundai.

The Nissan Leaf hardly breaks the mold for an electric vehicle, as no automaker can exceed 100 miles to a charge, but it does change the dynamic of EV affordability. And as a technology gamble, it far exceeds the Volt.

On the truck side, not even making the list of finalists was the Honda Odyssey, a minivan so good it redefines the segment. That the Odyssey was left off the list for two passable platform-sharing cousins -- the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango -- is particularly surprising.

My suspicions go back to a comment I heard from a COTY juror a few years ago, when the Saturn Aura defeated the Honda Fit and Toyota Camry for top honors. I asked the juror -- based in Detroit, of course -- whether he thought the Aura really was the better car.

His response, “No, but it's the best car GM has ever made. It's almost as good as the Camry.”

OK, so we should have given Aura a trophy as Most Adequate Car of the Year. If it was so good, it would have saved Saturn from the scrap heap of history.

And two years from now, when Volts are piling up on Chevy lots because most Americans can't afford one, let's ask again why it got this award.

You can reach Mark Rechtin at mrechtin@crain.com. -- Follow Mark on Twitter

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