For our fifteenth-annual Ten Best Cars competition, we’ve finally added pickups to the ranks of the cars, minivans, and sport-utility vehicles eligible for Ten Best honors. Contrarians familiar with our glacial thinking will take this as proof positive that truck sales have finally peaked.
Interestingly enough, adding trucks has resulted in a substantial increase in the price cap for our Ten Best nominees. As always, our price cap is calculated by multiplying the average new-vehicle transaction price by two and a half. But when we added pickups, we changed our source for the vehicular transaction price from the Commerce Department, which does not include truck sales in its survey, to the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), which does. The resulting higher transaction price bounced last year’s $48,000 price cap all the way to $54,000. The Commerce Department includes fleet-sales data not included in the NADA figures, but the $2400 jump in the transaction price suggests that trucks are upscale purchases.
As always, to be eligible for Ten Best consideration, a vehicle’s base price—including freight, dealer prep, and any applicable gas-guzzler and luxury taxes—must fall below this limit. Obviously, it’s easier to build great vehicles when cost is no object. Our price cap reserves our recognition for those vehicles within the financial reach of those of us who are not recognized on the Forbes Four Hundred list of the richest Americans.
Otherwise, to be eligible for nomination, a vehicle had to be a 1997 regular production vehicle that would be on sale no later than the end of January 1997. We automatically renominated those winners of last year’s Ten Best competition that were still on sale. Then our entire Ann Arbor staff scrutinized press kits and scanned our data banks for every new and significantly upgraded 1997 model. These efforts resulted in a gaggle of 59 nominees.
We marshaled this prodigious fleet at our secret Ten Best testing venue, we flew in our far-flung contributors from all over the country and the world, and we hunkered down for a week of driving, dissecting, and examining these cars.
After rating each nominee on a scale of 100 and submitting our ballots to the tech department for tabulation, the following winners emerged.Continued...