NACTOY

Ford, Hyundai win big as 2021 North American Car, Truck, SUV of the Year announced

The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E came up with a trophy at the annual NACTOY awards.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

While it's an honor just to be nominated as a finalist, three vehicles stood out to the jurors of the North American Car, Truck, and SUV of the Year (NACTOY) awards. All NACTOY nominees are vehicles that have either been introduced for the 2021 model year or undergone a significant redesign.

Ford and Hyundai earned top honors with the Ford F-150 earning the North American Truck of the Year award, Ford Mustang Mach-E taking the North American SUV of the Year trophy, and the Hyundai Elantra getting the North American Car of the Year nod.

2021 North American Car of the Year: Hyundai Elantra

2021 Hyundai Elantra

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

Hyundai has redesigned the Hyundai Elantra for the 2021 model year taking it from a passive daily driver to an engaging small car with a lot of zip, especially in the Elantra N model where it gets a standard manual transmission and tuning to make it a sleeper. It also has a boatload of high-tech features that make it punch far above its price tag, which starts under $20,000.

2021 North American Truck of the Year: Ford F-150

2021 Ford F-150 TremorPhoto courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford didn't just redesign its F-150, it listened to its customers and made it better for them. Sure, that seems simple enough but while they may get accused of not going far enough, NACTOY jurors appear to have recognized how innovative the redesign is for the average F-150 customer. On-board generator? Check. Collapsable shifter? Check. Fold out work station for the driver? Check. Clamp zones in the tailgate? Check.

Ford recently made news saying that the F-150 will be the latest model that is available with the Tremor off-roading package.

2021 North American SUV of the Year: Ford Mustang Mach-E

2022 Ford Mustang Mach-E

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The Ford Mustang Mach-E is the first all-electric crossover the company has offered and Ford is aiming to do it 100 percent right the first time. Like other electric SUVs, the Mustang Mach-E comes in a variety of battery range levels. Ford is pairing those with options for all-wheel drive and premium appointments, treating the Mustang Mach-E more as a traditional vehicle than an electric outlier.

Ford recently announced a new Mustang Mach-E GT Performance Edition will be added for the 2022 model year.

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The Hyundai Palisade got a mild refresh for 2023.

Hyundai

Earlier this year, Hyundai announced changes to the Palisade for 2023. The list includes a new front fascia, an updated grille with new headlights and daytime running lights, a 12-inch touchscreen with navigation, and more. A new XRT trim joined the lineup as well, bringing brawny off-road styling and dar exterior trim. Today, Hyundai announced pricing for the SUV, which starts at a little more than $32,000.

2023 Hyundai PalisadeA new XRT trim adds rugged styling. Hyundai

The Palisade's powertrain carries over from 2022, which includes a 3.8-liter V6 that makes 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. It's paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and either front- or all-wheel drive. Inside, the SUV got several new and updated technology features, including a more powerful wireless device charging pad, an updated digital key system, and a larger infotainment display.

As Hyundai's flagship SUV, the Palisade edges on luxury territory, with plush leather upholstery and a serene cabin that offers excellent noise cancellation and comfort. Captain's chairs and seven-passenger seating are available, but a second-row bench comes standard and brings eight-passenger capacity to the SUV.

Muscular SUVs are more popular than ever before, so Hyundai gave the posh Palisade an outdoorsy treatment with its XRT trim. The new Palisade XRT builds on the SEL trim with 20-inch wheels, a more rugged bumper and lower body cladding, a sunroof, and leatherette upholstery. To be clear, XRT is an appearance package that does not improve off-road capability to a large degree.

2023 Hyundai PalisadeTop trims border on the quality and design of some luxury brands. Hyundai

Standard safety equipment is generous, and includes forward collision warnings with avoidance, lane keep assist, lane following assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, driver attention warnings, high beam assist, and adaptive cruise control.

Pricing for the base Palisade SE starts at $36,245, which includes a $1,295 destination charge. The top Calligraphy AWD model starts at $52,095 after destination. All-wheel drive is available for all trims as an added-cost option.

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The N Line forms a midpoint between the standard Kona and the Kona N.

Hyundai

Hyundai has a lot going on, with new EVs hitting the market, but the brand has been on a surprising run with performance models lately. The Veloster N is an excellent, rowdy hot hatch, and the brand followed that act with the Kona N and Elantra N. Hyundai’s Kona N takes the hot hatch formula to the next level with an incredible powertrain and useful space, but it’s too much for many people. The mid-point is Hyundai’s N Line, which borrows styling cues from the hottest N variants but lacks the all-out grunt of those vehicles.

2022 Hyundai Kona N LineThe N Line gets aggressive styling cues from its sportier N counterpart. Hyundai

The styling works for the Kona N Line, as it does with the Kona N, but the powertrains couldn’t be more different. Where the Kona N gets a 286-horsepower four-cylinder, the N Line comes with a milder turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 195 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which adds a layer of engagement not found in the continuously variable transmission that standard Kona models get.

That modest output lends the Kona N Line modest performance, with more noise generated than expected. In motion, the powertrain feels decently responsive, but it lacks the razor sharp nerves of steel that the Kona N brings. Shifting into sport mode changes the gauge cluster to a bright red and hastens the vehicle's responses, but again, it's important to temper expectations for a milder experience here.

2022 Hyundai Kona N LineThe digital gauge cluster responds to drive mode changes. Hyundai

Styling is more aggressive than the standard SUV, with 18-inch wheels and mean-looking exhaust tips. The Kona’s front-end design is still busy and will still be polarizing, but the dark trim and sporty aero bodywork help the situation. The N Line’s all-black interior gets red stitching and accents that help break up the otherwise monotonous color scheme. The seats are supportive and comfortable, but could be deeper for better body-holding during spirited driving sessions. There’s plenty of room up front and a surprising amount of space in back, aided by the Kona’s large-ish rear door openings. Parents will find an easy time loading kids, and older children can ride in relative luxury with plenty of legroom.

A 10.25-inch digital gauge cluster is standard, which offers configurable colors and legible information. It’s paired with a standard 8-inch touchscreen, but a 102.5-inch screen with navigation is available. Hyundai’s excellent infotainment software runs flawlessly on both units, and offers an intuitive and straightforward way to interact with the vehicle. A Harman Kardon eight-speaker stereo also comes standard.

2022 Hyundai Kona N LineRed accents liven what is otherwise a dark, monotone interior.Hyundai

The Kona N Line, while not as hot as the Kona N, offers a reasonable styling upgrade for people wanting a small SUV with sporty looks. Enthusiasts should look at the full-on N model for thrills, though, because the N Line should be viewed as more of an appearance package than a performance model.

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