• Oct 8, 2007
An hour ago, as I write this, I was just completing two days of driving all kinds of cars and trucks for the 2008 North American Car and Truck of the Year Awards. This is where a bunch of us automotive journalist jurors gather to do back-to-back driving comparisons of the cars and trucks that have come out so far this year. Except that the cars we just drove are the ones that made it through our winnowing process to qualify for our short list.
This year, like last, our center of operations were based in Hell, Michigan which offers a surprisingly good selection of twisty, undulating, and heaving roads that are liberally sprinkled with patches of rough pavement and impact strips. Ideal for finding out what a car is really like.

By driving all the vehicles over the same roads, at the same speeds, and using the same places for steering, acceleration and braking, you can quickly get good comparisons of one car to another.

I can't tell you everything I learned at this year's NACTOTY driving session. For one thing, Chevy made me sign a form promising I wouldn't publish any driving impressions of the new Malibu until November 2. (I wonder if they'll able to keep a lid on this one, because I think everyone came away extremely impressed with this car.)

But the other reason I can't tell you everything I have learned is that I just don't have the time! We had 28 different vehicles at our disposal, plus a couple of competitive models for comparison purposes. So here are some of the highlights as I saw them:

Big surprise was the Infiniti EX35, a five-passenger, luxury crossover. To be perfectly honest I didn't even know this thing existed. But my notes show it feels nice and tight, has an excellent interior, offers very car-like ride and handling, and has plenty of power that you can put down with effect because it also has all-wheel drive. The power comes from, what else? The ubiquitous 3.5L V6 that Nissan puts in everything. But the real importance of this car is that it offers a really interesting nuance on what the crossover segment can become, an interesting blend of passenger car with the look of utility.

Another surprise for me was the smart fortwo. A lot of people are attracted to this car, but wait 'till they drive one. Whoooo doggie, this little car sure got a whole lot shake, rattle and roll goin' on! Worse, every bump is jarring, leaving you to dread "the feel of the road." On the plus side it turns quick and has an extremely short turning radius. But the automatic gearbox is enough to make you blow your brains out. There is a huge lag between every shift, with the car momentarily bogging down until the next gear engages. Ugh, a most unpleasant feeling.

A quick glance around the parking lot showed the unremitting growth of the crossovers. Besides the aforementioned EX35, we drove the Nissan Rogue,
Toyota Highlander, Saturn Vue, Buick Enclave, Hyundai Veracruz, Mazda CX9 and Kia Rondo. Whew! All of this new product ensures the crossover segment will continue to surge forward.

GM's product resurgence was also in full display since it has more finalists this year than any other automaker. The list includes the Cadillac CTS, Chevrolet Malibu and Tahoe Hybrid, Buick Enclave, and Saturn Vue.

This just skims the surface of what went on during two very productive days of driving. I'll have more to write about what I learned in the future and I'm sure you'll see plenty more detailed reviews of these cars from my fellow jurors.

Soon we'll be starting the voting process to winnow the short list down to the three finalists for the car category and three for the trucks. That vote takes place in early December. Then we announce the winners at the 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January. I'd tell you my favorites, but I haven't decided yet!

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Autoline Detroit
Airs every Sunday at 7:00AM on Speed and 10:30AM on Detroit Public Television

Synopsis of next week's show - "The Best In Cars...so far"
At the halfway point of 2007, the auto companies have released a spate of new products from performance cars to heavy duty trucks to everybody's vehicle of the moment, "the crossover." For the next two shows John McElroy and a couple fellow NACTOY (North American Car and Truck of the Year) jurors evaluate the latest offerings from the OEMs so far to see what may make the finals come the end of the year.

Starting with cars, this week John along with Natalie Neff from AutoWeek and Gary Witzenburg from autoMedia.com look at vehicles like the new MINI Cooper, the Chrysler Sebring Convertible, the Volvo S80 and everything in-between. Then next week they all take a turn with the trucks, SUVs and CUVs.

Last week's show - "Middle Ground"

Autoline Detroit Podcast
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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 5 Comments
      • 7 Years Ago
      "An hour ago, as I write this"

      Ok John, what time space continuum are you breaking, and who shot JFK?

      "I think everyone came away extremely impressed with this car."
      Right, so you can't write what you thought about it, but what did the others say? Or did they cover that loophole?

      All things aside I keep hearing great things about the new Malibu. As far as I can tell it looks far better than the current version which shares its headlights with the Honda Odyssey Van(at least in looks). It will be good to see some better cars come from GM, hopefully they can fix those body gaps that are plaguing some of their current, and yet to be refreshed models.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Show some respect for a guy that actually wrote an interesting article. His opening line may seem weird to you, but was correct in grammar. He was saying that just an hour ago from while he was writing he was finishing his driving of the vehicles. Why pick a fight because you would have written it differently with maybe less commas? As for him reporting, he is reporting an observation, not studied fact so why pick a fight there. I think you can tell in a room of like minded people whether or not they generally impressed by something. Just like you can tell if the crowd is enjoying a band that is on stage, their faces may tell a story just by their expressions.

        I hope for your sake you thought what you wrote was funny, because as the casual reader it seemed rude and unnecessary.

        I for one look forward to seeing the conclusions this panel gives us. Having driven the notorious roads of MI, I will say the experiences are vastly different than what car can make it around a racetrack faster. Truly a great place to examine the dynamics of chassis, suspension and other systems all working together. Case in point, the Smart ForTwo comments may have been vastly different on a closed course with kinder asphalt.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Jeez, It was a joke.

        I wasn't picking a fight about the No Comment policy, I was just stating the obvious loophole. As stated below in another comment I've watch Johns show for along time.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Funny, I didn't know John McElroy existed until I saw the episode with John Neff. I did know about the EX35 though.

      I like McElroy. He brings a somewhat different perspective to Autoblog. I look forward to his entries.
        • 7 Years Ago
        That's odd. Autoline has been on forever. I remember watching the late runs of that and AutoWeek TV since middle school.