North America’s Best | Ford F-150 & Volkswagen Golf

North America’s Best | Ford F-150 & Volkswagen Golf

By BOB GRITZINGER, Contributing Editor | @bobgritzinger

We channel what’s good and not-so-good with the tip of the spear this year

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I’ll admit to being somewhat surprised that Ford didn’t sweep the North American Car and Truck/SUV of the Year awards for 2015, with the Mustang and F-150 taking top honors. I was half right, but only because the Chevrolet Colorado midsize pickup couldn’t pull as many votes from the NACTOY jurors as it did from the MotorTrend staff, which the mag anointed as its top truck (MT did concur on the Golf, however).

So what makes the F-150 and Golf tops, especially against such top-notch competition?

Both are major leaps forward for their nameplates — the F-150 for its all-aluminum body and the Golf for its ability to take what was already a highly regarded model to new heights.

North American Car of the Year: 2015 Volkswagen Golf--TSI, TDI and GTI.

North American Car of the Year: 2015 Volkswagen Golf–TSI, TDI and GTI.

For the Golf, the answer is simplicity. This is a car that is true to its purpose of being great transportation, a hatchback with few frills getting in the way of function. You won’t find keyless entry or ignition here, just a simple key fob to unlock the doors and a steering column ignition tumbler for the key. Settle into the driver’s seat, make a few small adjustments, and you’d think you’d owned this car for years. Intuitive.

The 2015 VW Golf features a simple interior with intuitive controls.

The 2015 VW Golf features a simple interior with intuitive controls.

I drove two 2015 Golf models, the 1.8-liter turbo gasoline-powered TSI Sport and the 2.0-liter turbodiesel TDI SE, over the course of two weeks and found very little to dislike. Both were within a few hundred dollars of $28,000, so price is no barrier. The diesel bests the gas model in fuel economy—31 city/43 highway/36 combined for the diesel vs 25/36/29 for gas—but both vehicles are economical. For most buyers, the decision might come down to drive quality, with the TSI having the edge in the silky smooth department thanks to its standard automatic transmission. The TDI offers plenty of low-end torque, but suffers from some hesitation at start as the robotic clutch engages in its six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission. May we suggest a stick shift (available across the lineup).

With the Golf, what you see is what you get. No wonder it wowed the judges.

What about the F-150?

North American Truck of the Year: 2015 Ford F-150

North American Truck of the Year: 2015 Ford F-150

Any year that Ford rolls out an all-new version of America’s best-seller, it’s an odds-on favorite to sweep every award on the planet. In this case, Ford not only brought out an all-new truck; in a bid for better fuel economy, it opted to sheathe the entire body in aluminum to strip some 700 pounds from the curb weight. The result? Mixed, so far. My tester, fitted with a 365-hp, 420-lb-ft 3.5-liter EcoBoost turbocharged V6 engine and a six-speed automatic transmission was punchy and quick, but fuel economy wasn’t great. The EPA puts fuel economy at 17 city/23 highway/19 combined, but my truck recorded between 10 and 13.6 mpg in my short jaunts. I’m sure it’d do better on a long trip, but then a heavy load or a trailer might drag down fuel efficiency.

But capable? Suffice to say, the truck’s resume reflects an ability to handle whatever one might throw at it–from ferrying a family of five in total comfort to towing up to 12,000 pounds (!) to carrying up to 3,050 pounds in the bed. Inside, the cabin is quiet and my Lariat featured nearly a dozen ports, plugs and outlets (110- and 12-volt) for powering whatever equipment one might bring on board. Seats were heated front and rear, and the huge moonroof made the entire interior seem bigger than life.

2015 Ford F-150 boasts a luxurious interior, with every possible option.

2015 Ford F-150 boasts a luxurious interior, with every possible option.

On the road, the F-150 handles it all: Steady and quiet on the highways, reasonably responsive on the corners, and able to smooth out all the bumps on the harsh back roads. Most surprising? Ford engineers managed to incorporate enough feel into the steering that you have some idea what the tires are actually doing.

Where the F-150 (or any big truck—suffers) is in running errands or making a quick stop at the grocery store. Parking requires careful forethought to fit into a space. Thanks to the 360-degree camera system for the assist and the backup camera and cross-traffic detection for the help backing out.

My test truck, which carried a whopping $59,000 sticker price, had the full FX/4 off-road package ($770), a trailer tow package ($495) and 36-gallon fuel tank ($195), and everything from a $1,300 twin-panel moonroof to a $905 Technology package.

The F-150 will do it all. The question is, how much do you really need your vehicle to do?

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Bob Gritzinger got his first taste of grease and oil as a kid tearing down small engines and repairing go-karts, mini-bikes, motorcycles and cars in the backyard. That eventually led to his first real job as an auto mechanic while still in high school, but Bob’s career took a sharp turn into journalism when he joined the high school newspaper staff. Read more about Bob here.