2006 North American Car of the Year - Honda Civic
The 2006 North American Car of the Year is the Honda Civic. The result of voting by a jury of 49 independent automotive journalists, the award is widely considered the most prestigious of its type.
"A lot of automotive awards are given out each year," New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough told a large group of reporters gathered to cover the announcement at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
"Some of these awards use the phrase 'car of the year' and some of them have panels of jurors," McCullough said. "But the North American Car of the Year and North American Truck of the Year awards are different. Rather than coming from a single media organization, these two awards are decided by 49 independent automotive journalists. These jurors, as we call them, represent the best automotive journalists from print, radio, television, and the internet, both in Canada and the United States."
McCullough, one of the 49 jurors, was chosen to open the envelope and announce the winner, a scene somewhat reminiscent of the Academy Awards that was broadcast on more than 112 television stations and published in hundreds of newspapers across America.
"I'm really honored they let me make the announcement," McCullough said. McCullough has served as the editor of New Car Test Drive for nearly 10 years.
The award covers the entire Civic line, from the $14,560 DX sedan to the well-equipped $18,260 EX, up through the coupes to the sporty Si, as well as the super-clean, miserly Civic Hybrid.
"The Civic received my top vote for several reasons," McCullough said. "For starters, it's very affordable.
"As always, there was some controversy surrounding the winning car," he said. "Imagine getting 49 automotive journalists to agree on something, much less members of the media who weren't on the jury. Some of my colleagues from the enthusiast magazines groused that the BMW 3 Series did not win the award. I understand their point of view. The 325i and 330i are terrific sports sedans. I'd be happy to drive one on a daily basis and would not hesitate to recommend one to anyone shopping for a sports sedan in its price range. But they range from about $31,000 for a 325i to about $37,000 for a 330i. That's a big difference in monthly payments: $360 a month for a five-year loan for a Civic EX sedan vs. nearly $600 a month for a BMW 325i. That's part of the reason people buy three times as many Civics as 3 Series BMWs."
Honda sold about 308,000 Civics in 2005 compared with about 107,000 BMW 3 Series cars. The BMW 3 Series finished fifth in the voting. Finishing behind the Civic in descending order were the Ford Fusion, Pontiac Solstice, and Hyundai Sonata, all less expensive vehicles than the BMW.
"Another appealing aspect of the Civic is that it's available in a broad range of models," McCullough said. "Whether you want an inexpensive, fuel-efficient, reliable, comfortable sedan for the daily commute or a hot coupe that can win autocrosses or the environmentally friendly Hybrid, there's a car for you." The Civic Hybrid is rated 50/50 City/Highway miles per gallon.
"Third and most important, the Civic is a superb product."
"As good a job as Honda has done in designing four distinct models of the new 2006 Civic, it's done an even better job of delivering four, distinct driving experiences," wrote Tom Lankard in his review of the Civic lineup for New Car Test Drive.
"The LX sedan is the most comfortable and confident Civic we've driven," Lankard wrote. "Ride was solid but comfortable, with less road noise and wind whistle expected for the class. Shifts were smooth . . . brake feel was solid, steering response certain. The Si's six-speed manual was a delight of precision. The view out the front of the new Civics, with the expansive windshield, low cowl and sloping hood, is unparalleled in the class."
"Three decades ago the world of small cars was forever changed when the original Civic was first introduced, said John Rettie, a NACOTY juror and a correspondent for New Car Test Drive. "Similar cars from other companies caught up and even surpassed the Civic in the eyes of many. Now, Honda has rejuvenated the Civic line with a selection of innovative models that will appeal to a wide range of buyers."
The all-new 2006 Ford Fusion was a solid runner-up in the voting and McCullough said the Fusion was his No. 2 choice as well.
"The Ford Fusion is a midsize sedan that's well engineered and competitively priced," he said. "I found both the four-cylinder and V6 models enjoyable cars to drive. I hope to see Ford achieve success with that car."
Media outlets the jurors represent include USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, the Plain Dealer, the San Jose Mercury News, the Boston Globe, Car and Driver, Road & Track, Popular Mechanics, Fortune, AutoWeek, Automotive News, MotorWeek, Autoline Detroit, and New Car Test Drive, a leading Internet content provider of car reviews. This makes it impossible for anyone to significantly influence the outcome.
The North American Car of the Year award is designed to recognize the most outstanding vehicles of the year based on many factors, including innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value. To be eligible vehicles must be "all new" or "substantially changed" from the previous model.
Dozens of new 2006 car were eligible. The jurors whittled the field down to 14 cars in early October, then cast their votes December 5. Steve Laughman, a partner at accounting firm Deloitte & Touche in Detroit, tallied the votes. He kept them secret until handing a sealed envelope to McCullough January 9 at the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Hall in Detroit.
In an unprecedented sweep, Honda also won the 2006 North American Truck of the Year with its innovative Ridgeline pickup. (See related story at NewCarTestDrive.com.)
With the Civic, Japanese automakers have won the award three times in the past 13 years. American cars have earned the award six times and European automakers have won four times.
The 2005 North American Car of the Year was the Chrysler 300.