Behind the Scenes at MotorTrend’s 2022 Truck of the Year: Horse Mats, Mojave Thai Food, and Serious Business

Behind the Scenes at MotorTrend’s 2022 Truck of the Year: Horse Mats, Mojave Thai Food, and Serious Business


Horse mats weigh 100 pounds. Speed limits at Honda Proving Center of California are brutally enforced. And the best Indian food in the Mojave Desert is found in a karaoke bar. Such are the lessons you learn while determining MotorTrend‘s 2022 Truck of the Year winner.

Pickups have a job to do—several jobs, actually, and that’s what makes TOTY so challenging. One person’s family hauler is another’s towing-and-hauling workhorse. Yes, trucks must be all things to all people, and we’ve got a week to separate the can-dos from the can’t-dos.

This year we brought the trucks to our SUVTOY stomping grounds: Honda’s Proving Center, tucked away in a secret corner of the Mojave Desert (north on 14, take Phillips Road to Neuralia Road, can’t miss it). Honda stops its testing and hides all but the most cleverly camouflaged cars as MotorTrend and our TOTY contenders (10 trucks representing eight nameplates) take over. Ten trucks: It seems like a small number until you realize how many sides of each vehicle’s personality we must investigate to choose a winner.

We start with our mise en place: Disconnect the trailers we’ve hauled up to the Mojave, stow the quarter-ton of junk food that fuels the photo team, and unload the horse mats we use for payload testing. These diabolical rubber annoyances make weight measurement easy but are awkward to move, with scratchy undersides that make our hands feel like we’ve been juggling cacti. We will come to both despise them and use them as references in various settings, e.g. “If Gold keeps eating like that, he’ll put on half a horse mat.”

Our time at HPC might look like barely controlled chaos, but it is in fact a carefully choreographed exposition of chaos: Seven editors serving as judges, three members of the test team, and a gaggle of photographers, all doing completely different jobs with the same trucks in the same place at the same time.

The photographers’ task is made more challenging by the desert’s dusty environs. The test team has relocated its entire operation from our Los Angeles headquarters and will run its standard battery of measurements, with and without trailers and horse-mat payloads, in half the time usually allotted. The judges, meanwhile, rotate through the various test scenarios we’ve set up at HPC.

The Honda Proving Center is designed to simulate all sorts of driving situations, from the meager traction of ice and snow (replicated surprisingly well by fine sand) to a carbon copy of L.A. ‘s 110 freeway. There are gravel roads, dirt roads, bumpy roads, smooth roads, and a winding road full of whoops and whirls. There’s a high-speed oval and high-speed off-road tracks, and if no feature in this vehicular playground replicates the exact experience desired, there’s a giant asphalt lake where you can speed, swerve, and spin as needed.

All goes smoothly but for grumbles about early-morning EV-charging runs and people stealing the Hummer EV to play with its CrabWalk function. On day three we run out of Coca-Cola, causing a similar uproar among the photographers until they are mollified with a giant bag of candy. This causes a near revolt among the judges when they realize someone has stolen all the Skittles.

But there are far more bright moments. The shooters need dramatic pictures, and we are only too happy to ham it up on the dirt track. Photographer William Walker fuels the fire by loudly and publicly proclaiming that anyone who fails to spray him with enough dirt has a small roostertail. Inspired by the fighter jets buzzing us from a nearby military installation, we discover the trick that a low-flying photo drone is an expedient way to clean a dusty pickup truck.

We also discover that Tehachapi, California—where we return to our hotel each night and heretofore regarded as a rival to Cleveland for sheer touristic appeal—is a culinary hotbed. Amid the expected temples of the deep-fat fryer, we find several fine eateries, including the well-disguised Indian place and a brilliant Thai joint appropriately called ThaiHachapi. Drivin’ and eatin’ are good in the desert.

Unfortunately, when time comes to leave HPC and deliberate on the finalists, we stumble upon Tehachapi’s one culinary failure, a steak and beer place that is out of all steaks and most beers, a shortcoming it makes up for by overcooking our burgers with commendable zeal. Some of us wonder if we haven’t just been served our own horse mats.

Unlike the mastication of our dinner, settling on finalists is easy. All the contenders are good trucks, but it’s the last three of our six criteria—efficiency, value, safety, performance of intended function, engineering excellence, and advancement in design—where TOTY will be won. Before our barely digestible food can cool to room temperature, four trucks have made the cut.

The next day, judges cycle through the finalists on an extended test route. This is the OTY equivalent of Miss America interviews, a chance for each truck to tell us one on one why it deserves the Golden Calipers. The seven judges crawl through cabins, peer under hoods, and hop into (pickup) beds together. We play with the Hummer’s CrabWalk feature one more time. And then we deliberate.

Consensus often emerges quickly in OTY judging, but not now: We know which two trucks won’t go the distance, but hashing out the top spot turns convivial banter into heated debate. When everyone has exhausted their say—some rather loudly—the time comes to vote. Often this is a mere formality; this time we genuinely have no idea which truck will win.

Features editor Scott Evans tallies the votes and announces the results. Third place is unanimous, but first and second place are as close as close can be: The winner claims the title of 2022 MotorTrend Truck of the year by one single vote.

So we have our 2022 MotorTrend Truck of the Year. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been at least 20 horse mats’ worth of fun.

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