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2006 North American Truck of the Year - Honda Ridgeline

North American Truck

The Honda Ridgeline is the 2006 North American Truck of the Year, widely considered the most prestigious award of its type.

While most product awards come from a single media organization, the North American Truck of the Year is the result of voting by a jury of 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," New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough told a large group of reporters gathered to cover the announcement at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

McCullough, one of the 49 jurors, was chosen to open the envelope and announce the winner.

Many jurors cited innovative features as the reason they voted for the Ridgeline. "It's the most innovative pickup truck sold in America," McCullough said.

The Ridgeline features a unique structure that unifies its cab, cargo bed and frame. Its tailgate drops like a traditional pickup's but also swings open like a door, and a panel in the bed opens like a trunk. "It drives like a car-based crossover utility, with a smooth ride and sharp handling," McCullough said, "and its cabin is comfortable and convenient. It's so carlike that I sometimes have to look down at the logo on the steering wheel to remind myself I'm driving a pickup."

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. The fact that the jurors work for different media outlets makes it impossible for anyone to significantly influence the outcome.

The North American Truck 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.

The Ridgeline won the award by a wide margin, with the Ford Explorer and Nissan Xterra nearly tied for second place. Last year, the Ford Escape Hybrid won the award.

"The choice of the Ridgeline as North American Truck of the Year was not without controversy," McCullough said. "The Ridgeline is considered pricey by many observers and hasn't sold all that well. But most of us felt that its innovation and product excellence outweighed that. The new Explorer and the new Xterra are superb sport utilities, but are largely evolutionary in design."

In the past 12 years, domestic automakers have won North American Truck of the Year eight times. Japanese automakers have won three times and European automakers have won twice.

In an unprecedented sweep, Honda also won the 2006 North American Car of the Year with its Civic lineup. (See related story at NewCarTestDrive.com.)