The toughest job the 50 jurors on the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury will have this year is choosing the pickup winner.
There are five very worthy candidates, but three of them are game-changers.
First, there's the biggest surprise, for me, at least: the Ford Maverick. I was prepared to dismiss this new compact truck quickly. After all, it is a unibody vehicle with a transverse mounted engine — two ingredients that have never seen much success in a pickup.
I was wrong on several counts. First: Kudos to Ford engineers for making the Maverick a real truck. The bed offers decent space and is configurable. The powertrain is terrific, delivering snappy performance and, in the hybrid version, 42 mpg on the highway. It feels like a truck when you drive it.
But the price is the real breakthrough. It starts at $21,490 including shipping — and that's well equipped. According to Consumer Reports, the average transaction price of a new vehicle topped $45,000 last month. The Maverick puts a new vehicle within reach of average families, and, with reasonably spacious front and rear seats, it is a suitable replacement for the discontinued Fiesta and Focus cars. With the Maverick, Ford has essentially turned its entry-level vehicle into the body style Americans want more than cars.
The Maverick is a great example of why, when judging cars, I have to leave any preconceived baggage at the curb and let the vehicle stand — or fall — on its own merits. The Maverick may be small, but it stands tall.
Next is the Rivian R1T. I quizzed several jurors after they took their first drives in this all-new battery-electric truck. They echo what I feel: The attention to detail in the manufacturing and the quality of assembly is very high, and the performance and handling are terrific. The truck scores high for its stylish premium interior and numerous hidden storage spaces and thoughtful features. Rivian has just started its first customer deliveries. The R1T is creating a new segment, and, in my view, it will be successful.