NACTOY Nuggets

(Detroit Free Press/MCT) -

I recently drove four vehicles nominated for North American Car and Truck of the Year: The 2015 Ford Mustang 2.3L four-cylinder, Acura TLX V6 with all-wheel drive, Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4Matic and Chevrolet Colorado 4X4 V6 midsize pickup.

NACTOY jurors drive competitors back to back over the same roads and get a quick first impression of each vehicle.

Here’s what I learned in my comparison drives, what I liked and where the vehicles will need to convince me when I get each for a full test:

2015 Ford Mustang equipped with 2.3-liter Ecoboost four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission

Price as tested: $34,840 (estimate)

Mustang purists are skeptical about the 2.5L four-cylinder Ecoboost engine. They fear a return to the dreadful four-cylinder Mustangs of the ‘70s and ‘80s. They can stop worrying. The engine’s 310 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque deliver good acceleration and a pleasant, growly exhaust.

The volume and tuning dials rotate with the satisfying precision of a bank vault. Ritzy brown leather covered the seats. The material covering the top of the doors and dash is less impressive.

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4Matic, 2.0-liter engine, all-wheel drive and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission

Price as tested: $44,255

Mercedes calls the GLA 250 an SUV, but that’s true only by the loosest possible definition. The GLA’s roof is a mere 2.8 inches higher than that of a VW Golf hatchback. The subcompact Buick Encore SUV towers over the GLA by 5.2 inches.

The GLA I tested had low-gloss, knotty brown wood on the dash and soft, attractive materials on most other surfaces. The 208-horsepower engine works well with a quick and precise seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

2015 Acura TLX 3.5L SH-AWD ADV

Price as tested: $44,700

Acura’s new all-wheel-drive sedan is a big step in the right direction for Honda’s luxury brand. The 290-horsepower V6 and nine-speed automatic transmission team up with a new chassis to deliver better handling than any other recent Acura. The car has nice interior materials and lots of features for its price. The controls seemed a little confusing at first glance, particularly the pushbutton transmission.

Chevrolet Colorado 4WD Z71 crew cab long box

Price as tested: $35,660

Chevrolet’s new midsize pickup offers a lot of features for the money, including Bluetooth, navigation, voice recognition, 305-horsepower V6 and 7,000-pound towing capacity. It’s refreshingly easy to park, and the four-door crew cab has plenty of passenger room.

The pickup was quiet, but the interior materials are dodgy. The doors, dash and other surfaces are covered in hard, slick plastic.

I look forward to spending more time in these vehicles, and the other semi-finalists on the short list for 2015 North American Car and Truck of the Year. The jury will narrow the field to three finalists for each award in a few weeks. We’ll announce those six finalists Dec. 9, then have a few more weeks of tests before voting for the winners next year.

The 2015 North American Car and Truck of the Year will be announced Jan. 12 at the North American International Auto Show.