Each fall, Motor Trend anoints a winner in its annual Car of the Year competition. And then, about one second after the announcement, loyalists of various car brands begin quarreling with the selection. Why didn’t the Ferrari 458 Italia win? What about the Camaro? Did these guys even drive any cars?
Yes, in fact, they did. But, contrary to the expectations of many a passionate commenter or letter-writer, not all cars are eligible for Car of the Year. First of all, a vehicle has to be all new or significantly revised to warrant consideration. Second, price is a factor. The cap was once $100,000 but has crept up toward $120,000 thanks to inflation. If you can afford a McLaren 12C, feel free to consider it the Car of the Year.
For 2013, those two criteria resulted in a broad field of 22 candidates, ranging from entry-level cars like the Kia Forte and Mazda 3 on up to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the SRT Viper. Both of the latter cars can exceed $120,000 with some options, but base price is what counts.
First, Motor Trend convened the group — which ballooned to about 40 cars, once divergent trims and engine options were brought into consideration — at Hyundai’s California City proving grounds. There, the staff spent several days conducting performance tests and engaging in general tire-squealing good times. They also narrowed the field in half, to 11 cars, for the final three days of on-road evaluation. That’s where I picked up the thread, on the first day of finalist testing on a drive route outside Tehachapi, Calif.
It was a rigorously scheduled proceeding, with all drivers assigned a departure time that assured every judge got to drive every eligible vehicle. No two-hour joyrides in the Corvette Stingray, then. As drivers cycled in and out, mini-debates and impromptu soapbox sessions erupted in the parking lot — senior features editor Jonny Lieberman wondering how the Cadillac CTS 2.0 on hand costs more than the 420-horsepower V-Sport, while, a few cars down, former Chrysler designer Tom Gale critiqued the lines of the Mazda 3.
For all the miles driven, stats quantified and notes taken, the Car of the Year selection ultimately amounts to getting everyone in a room and arguing about cars. And in a year like this, when there is no all-conquering Tesla Model S to sweep every award short of the Daytime Emmys, there’s plenty of debate to be had.
When I left, I honestly wasn’t certain which car would win. But I had a feeling. The topic of discussion shifted from the Corvette to the Jaguar F-Type to the Mazdas, but the focus kept returning to that Cadillac CTS. Which, as it turns out, is Motor Trend’s 2014 Car of the Year.
Maybe you cheer that decision and maybe you don’t, but know that above all else it was not reached lightly. And if you were pulling for the Bugatti Veyron, well, maybe next year.