What were the best new cars and trucks of the year? The envelope, please. ..
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The winner of The Detroit News Vehicle of the Year is the Tesla Model 3, which sports a sleek sportback profile similar to the longer Model S. The 3 starts at $35,000 — the S starts at $74,500.
Including $1,000 and $2,500 deposits, this RWD, 310-mile range Tesla Model 3 purchased by Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne cost $57,500. Heʼll get $7,500 of that back on his taxes through a federal tax credit for electric vehicles.
The Tesla Model 3 is almost entirely controlled via its 15-inch touchscreen — making it an iPhone on wheels with a unique automotive operating system.
Self-driving Auto Pilot comes as an option of the Tesla Model 3. Push the steering wheel button on the northwest corner of the display, it turns blue, and the car takes over.
Set a destination via the Tesal nav, and the Model 3 screen plots the range to any Tesla supercharger in the country.
Charging for the Tesla Model 3 can be set automatically. It can also be controlled remotely via a phone app.
The Tesla Model 3 is the hottest-selling sedan in the luxury market. Sales are projected to exceed 130,000 in 2018, nearly double those of its next closest competitor.
Without an engine in front, the electric Tesla Model 3 features a "frunk" for added storage.
First runner-up for The Detroit News Vehicle of the Year is the Corvette ZR1.
The wingʼs the thing. On Road Atlanta race track, the 755-horse Corvette ZR1 impresses with raw speed and nimble handling.
A ferocious monster on the outside, the Corvette ZR1 offers luxurious living on the inside with leather seats, Wi-Fi, smartphone connectivity and other swish amenities. It comes in red, too.
The optional high wing on the Corvette ZR1 helps produce nearly 1,000 pounds of downforce for better stick.
Second runner-up for The Detroit News Vehicle of the Year is the 2019 Ford Ranger. The Lariat SuperCab shown here comes with a 6-foot bed and a $37,305 price tag.
Adventurers wanted. The 2019 Ford Ranger boasts a best-in-class, 1,860-pound payload capacity.
The interior of the 2019 Ford Ranger is upgraded with the latest SYNC 3 infotainment system with Apple CarPlay connectivity. The interior is heavy with plastic, Ford says, for the customer who wants to get it dirty off-road.
The 2019 Ford Ranger pickup is nimble on-road and tough off-road with a steel front bumper, locking rear diff and an FX4 package that includes steel skid plates.
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Hollywood is determined to expand its Oscars list to offer more diversity. But if itʼs diversity you want, check out the field for Detroit News Vehicle of the Year.
I tested more than 60 new vehicles this year. Thereʼs never been such a range of options for every consumer stripe. Let me count the ways.
There are pickups that range from midsizers to mega heavy-duties taller than my 6-foot-5 frame.
Then there are all the sport utilities: So crackers are customers for SUVs that luxury makers like BMW and Mercedes are making SUV “coupes” to mimic sports sedans.
The best SUVs are athletic, all-around value plays like the Acura RDX. Its doppelganger in the sedan segment is the $35,000 Mazda 6, which will make you think twice about spending $20,000 more for an equivalent luxury brand.
In a sea of practicality there is still plenty of eccentricity. This year brought sequels to the Audi A7, Mustang Bullitt and three-door Hyundai Veloster. Speaking of threes, there’s even a Polaris trike out there for enthusiasts.
You want power? Dodge unveiled another Hellcat, the 797-horse Redeye. It does 0-60 in 3.4 seconds, which is still a second slower than the Tesla Model S P100, putting us on notice that batteries arenʼt just for tree-huggers.
EVs abound from affordable Hyundai Konas to bonkers Porsche hybrids. The new, new thing — 48-volt battery systems — is found in everything from Audi A6s to Ram trucks for smoother operation.
Like the Oscar judges, I’ve seen a lot of stuff this year. Some new, some small, some epic.
Here are my top new vehicles of the year. The envelopes, please.
2019 Ford Ranger
2019 Ford Ranger (Photo: Ford)
Second runner-up: Ford Ranger
This was the Year of the Truck. Detroitʼs Big Three brought their best with the all-new Ram 1500, Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra and upgraded Ford F-150 Raptor.
The smooth-riding coil-sprung Ram is in a style class of its own with a sculpted grille and Tesla-like 12-inch console touchscreen. The Silverado is an ugly duckling to the Ram’s swan, but its shrewd use of high-strength steel make it the lightest, best-handling truck in class — and I never tire of its push-rod V-8 bellow.
The Raptor is the most addictive truck made, and the addition of Recaro saddles and Fox Live Valve shocks make it even more irresistible. I rode this 450-horsepower stallion all over Utah and never got close to the edge of its considerable envelope.
But my biggest favorite was the smallest new entry, the $35K Ford Ranger. Think of the F-150ʼs little brother as a compact pickup. In the Age of Ute, the Ranger gives ute families — say, someone with a Ford Escape — the viable option of a compact SUV with a bed, 7,500-pound towing and daily manners. The on-road ride of the Ranger is that good.
Now, if only Ford would give junior a Raptor option.
2019 Corvette ZR1
2019 Corvette ZR1 (Photo: GM)
First runner-up: Chevy Corvette ZR1
The front-engine Corvette ZR1 is the last of the breed.
Itʼs been stretched to the limits to compete against the pinnacle of mid-engine cyborgs: the V-12 Lamborghini Aventador, turbo-V8 McLaren 720S and hybrid Acura NSX. I tested them all this year, and they are sci-fi supercars from the future.
Chevrolet will soon follow these beauties — by May, I reckon — with its own mid-engine Corvette rocket. And no wonder. The front-engine design is pushed as far as it can go, with the engine literally bursting through the ZR1ʼs skin. To squeeze 755 horsepower from the 6.2-liter V-8, the supercharger sticks out of the hood. An enormous rear wing anchors the beast to the ground.
For raw, unbridled pleasure, there is nothing to rival the $135K ZR1. At Road Atlanta Raceway it consumed asphalt at an awesome rate, the V-8 roaring in my ears like a T. rex.
Itʼs the perfect automotive bookend to our winner ...
Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne put in his order for a Tesla Model 3 on April, 2016. His long-range, RWD toy arrived in fall, 2018.
The Tesla Model 3 is available with AWD or RWD. This is the RWD version.
Including $1,000 and $2,500 deposits, Payneʼs Tesla Model 3 cost $57,450. Heʼll get $7,500 of that back on his taxes due to a federal EV tax credit — though Payne will probably just blow it on more wheels or something.
The Tesla Model 3 is almost entirely controlled via its 15-inch touch screen, making it an iPhone on wheels.
Charging for the Tesla Model 3 can be set automatically. It can also be controlled remotely via an app. Driven in chilly November weather in Detroit at 80 mph highway speeds, the battery returns just 60 percent of advertised battery range.
The Tesla Model 3 features a very detailed Google Earth map in the screen.
The Tesla Model 3 gets regular, over-the-air updates. Version 9.0 added the ability to adjust vent positioning on the screen.
Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne took his Tesla Model 3 on track at M1 Concourse in Pontiac.
On track at M1 Concourse, the Tesla Model 3 makes no sound. Only the chirp of tires and exterior wind noise invade the cockpit at full flog.
After a few hot laps, the Tesla Model 3ʼs brakes cried uncle.
The Tesla Model 3 and Jaguar I-Pace are two of the latest EVs on the market.
The Tesla Model 3ʼs styling simplicity is striking next to fellow EV Jaguar I-Pace. The interior is even more spare.
The minimalist interior of the Tesla Model 3 is similar to Apple products.
Compared to the Tesla Model 3, this Jaguar I-Pace interior seems conventional.
After a rain, the Tesla Model 3 roof will turn orange — thanks to a UV ray-reflector in the sunroof.
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Winner: Tesla Model 3
Tesla made history in 2018. The first viable startup automaker in my lifetime, the American brandʼs first volume vehicle soared to the top of the luxury sales charts over Germanyʼs formidable brands (I bought a Tesla to follow the journey first-hand. I also own a Subaru, Honda, Ram and Porsche).
To put the Tesla Model 3’s achievement in perspective, InsideEVs projects sales to eclipse 130,000 units this year. Thatʼs nearly double the next best-selling luxury vehicle, the Mercedes GLC SUV. And the Model 3 is a sedan in a sedan-averse market.
Tesla achieved this despite regular predictions by industry experts of its imminent doom, the near-meltdown of its mad-genius CEO, and manufacturing mishaps while rushing to fill a record 450,000 pre-orders.
The $55,000 Model 3 succeeds because it is Apple on wheels. Musk re-imagined the car like Steve Jobs re-thought the phone — as a study in design minimalism that is both gorgeous and more efficient than established platforms. Privately, other automaker execs tell me they admire Tesla for innovations that are pushing the industry forward: over-the-air updates, better connectivity, better user interfaces.
As different as the Teslaʼs operating system is, it sacrifices little in performance to segment athletes like BMW and Alfa. Despite its inherent weight disadvantage, the porky 80.5-kWh battery is integrated to the chassis low in the car, making for good vehicle dynamics. In a head-to-head track test by Motor Trend ace Randy Pobst, the all-wheel drive Model 3 Performance version was just a second off the class-best athlete Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio.
The Model 3 is also notable for its shortcomings.
Now in wide use across the country — not just the sunny Left Coast — it exposes the disadvantage of EVs in cold-weather range and spare infrastructure. And with states like Michigan banning Tesla dealerships, customer service will be tested. If the $7,500 federal tax credit evaporates next year, Tesla will be challenged to maintain its galloping sales pace.
A showcase for autonomous features like summon and automatic lane-change, the high-tech Model 3 reaffirms the joy of driving.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.
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