Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, Bob Petersen would have been pretty flattered to see how often the Big Idea he came up with 70 years ago—the MotorTrend Car of the Year—has been imitated. In the United States and around the world, variants of our Of The Year awards are now legion.
But, I’d argue, nobody does it better than we do. Why? An evaluation process that’s transparent, considered, and consistent, combined with a ton of hard work by an awful lot of people.
It starts and finishes with our six criteria—advancement in design, engineering excellence, efficiency, safety, value, and performance of intended function. In between is a rigorous process.
Every contender was put through the full battery of MotorTrend performance tests by our road test team—this year they covered 96 miles on the drag strip alone—to provide accurate performance data for the judges. The judges arrive at a fully equipped proving ground—Hyundai/Kia‘s near Mojave, California, for Car of the Year; Honda‘s is just up the road outside California City for SUV of the Year; and FCA’s a couple dozen miles from Kingman, Arizona, for Truck of the Year—and participate in walkaround presentations that highlight key features and technologies, pricing and rivals, as well as interior and exterior design concept and execution.
Then each judge drives every contender at the proving grounds, working through their own series of evaluations. With their various tracks and special surfaces, the proving grounds allow the judges to explore limit handling and concentrate on evaluating attributes such as noise and refinement, or off-road traction, or fully laden braking performance, in complete safety.
These proving ground sessions easily weed out those vehicles that, against the criteria, are most obviously not potential Of The Year award winners. We then conduct on-the-road analysis in nearby urban areas to get a sense of these vehicles’ real-world abilities.
Under these conditions, the focus shifts to evaluating minutiae such as the smoothness of throttle response and gearshifts under light throttle loads, the effectiveness of safety systems such as lane keep assist and smart cruise control, and how intuitive the infotainment interface is to use while the vehicle is moving. The winner is then chosen by secret ballot, after hours of deliberations and spirited argument.
You’ve probably noticed a theme here: Every judge gets up close and personal with every Of The Year contender, kicking their tires, checking the test data, cranking stereo volume knobs, opening and closing trunks and tailgates, sliding into endless back seats, and then driving them back to back on the same roads under the same conditions.
There are very few new vehicle awards given by automotive media anywhere in the world where the process of choosing the winner is so openly documented and carefully controlled. Some of these other awards, incredibly, allow judges to vote for vehicles regardless of whether they’ve actually driven them.
This year’s three Of The Year programs required a total of 86 people to execute, a crew that occupied a total of 67 hotel rooms over 21 nights. In addition to judges, we had photographers and videographers braving dust, snakes, scorpions, and heat—the temperature topped 100 degrees most days—to capture imagery for use online, in print, and on the MotorTrend video-on-demand and cable TV platforms. We had specialist car wranglers who made sure contenders were kept fueled or charged, and we had fresh tires when needed. And because, like the military, MotorTrend marches on its stomach, one editor was assigned the important task of making sure we were all fed and watered.
By the time you read this, our social media team will have created hundreds of related posts on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram platforms. And MotorTrend editors will have written thousands of words that effectively provide reviews of every new car, truck, and SUV launched in America over the past year.
It’s easy to win a popularity contest. It’s hard to win a MotorTrend Car, Truck, or Sport Utility of the Year award because, simply, what we do is hard to do.