The Hyundai Elantra narrowly won a hotly contested three-way race for the North American Car of the Year award Monday, beating the Volkswagen Passat and Ford Focus.
The Elantra certainly deserves the accolade. It has sexy styling, thrifty fuel efficiency and an affordable price. But it also owes its award to Ford’s current problems with technology.
Compared to the Elantra, Ford’s Focus has vastly superior driving dynamics, with crisper, more responsive steering and tauter, better-controlled suspension. By most measures, the Focus was the 2012 winner-in-waiting.
Why, then, didn’t the Focus win?
“It was that transmission,” explained juror John Davis, host of Maryland Public Television’s long-running MotorWeek show. Davis is referring to the Ford PowerShift dual-clutch automatic, the computer-shifted manual transmission that Ford passes off as an automatic in the Focus.
Similar to the abominable MyFord Touch infotainment interface and the obtuse Ford Sync voice control technology, the PowerShift is another technical overreach by Ford that is undermining the company’s otherwise excellent products.
For example, Consumer Reports magazine declined to confer its “Recommended” label on the Ford Edge crossover because of the difficulty using that model’s MyFord Touch interface. And J.D. Power has documented widespread consumer dissatisfaction with Ford’s signature technologies.
Now the company’s poor execution of another advanced technology has undercut its otherwise excellent Focus. In manual transmission guise the Focus is unequalled in the compact segment, but the balky, lurching PowerShift automatic is the transmission most consumers choose.
“I haven’t heard from anyone who likes it,” noted juror Jim McCraw.
For the next twelve months Hyundai will enjoy the ability to tout the Elantra as the North American Car of the Year, while Ford chokes on Hyundai’s dust. What might have been if Ford had employed a properly developed conventional automatic transmission rather than the troublesome dual-clutch computer-shifted manual technology of the PowerShift?