FEATURES: 2004 All-Stars

March 3, 2004
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We bestow All-Star awards on cars and trucks in fourteen different categories, in much the same way All-Star athletes are recognized for outstanding performance in their particular sports. Just as athletes are getting fitter and faster, the bar in every automotive category is rising every year, making our task ever harder. To capture the spirit of these fourteen vehicles, we asked our photographers to follow a sporting theme while letting their creativity go wild. We hope our choices and their images will inspire you to vote for the Readers' Choice All-Stars at automobilemag.com. Your voices will be heard in Automobile Magazine's May issue.
CADILLAC CTS V
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To create this Clark Kent-edition Corvette Z06, Cadillac jacked up its mild-mannered CTS, upgraded most of the moving parts, and polished away rough edges with a finishing course at the Nuerburgring. Never mind the pushrods; the rumble of 400 V-8 horses galloping through a six-speed stick shift never felt so good. GM's Performance Division fortified the body structure, stuffed the wheel wells with W-rated Goodyear Eagle F1 radials on 18-by-8.5-inch rims, loaded in four-piston Brembo calipers squeezing larger brake rotors, and recalibrated the stability system for more assertive drivers. Inside are satin-chrome and polished-aluminum accents, a more legible instrument cluster, and suede seat inserts. But what clinches the CTS V's All-Star status is sheer speed matched to a bargain price. Photographed by Glenn Paulina
FERRARI 360 Modena
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Many are red, most have a paddle-shift F1 transmission, and all are stunningly fast and deeply rewarding. The entry-level model from Maranello is available as a no-frills coupe, a frivolous Spider, or the hard-core Challenge Stradale. Common to all are tactile steering, communicative chassis, impulsive brakes, and the awesome V-8 engine. The normally aspirated, 40-valve, 3.6-liter quad-cam unit is an assault on your eardrums, your blood pressure, and your driver's license. The performance is still stunning, but the Modena now puts the power down with a surprisingly subtle and seamless style. This is the most involving supercar you can buy. Photographed by Joe Vaughn
MAZDA RX-8
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The risky and ambitious RX-8 is the rear-wheel-drive flagship of a new wave of greatness from Mazda. Most obviously, it looks special, with two rear half-doors that swing back to give unusual access to the snug rear cabin. Kids fit back there, and they love it back there. The RX-8 has the soul of an RX-7 and the moves of a Miata, and it's priced to sell. The normally aspirated, 1.3-liter, twin-rotor Renesis engine is a miracle that produces 238 horsepower you can feel all the way to its 9000-rpm redline. The harder you drive it, the sweeter your reward. The shifter feels like part of your skeletal structure; when you turn the wheel, you get exactly what you request; and it stops on a dime. The RX-8 is our kind of car, a real sports car with heart and chutzpah. Photographed by Tim Andrew
BMW 3-SERIES
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If you are intensely aware of the difference between what is simply very good and what is genuinely excellent, if you love to drive yet are constrained to run a four- or five-seat vehicle, not the mid-engined two-seater of your dreams, then BMW 3-series cars are the perfect answer. Head and shoulders above the many Asian, American, and European models that are "just like a BMW" stands the real thing, representing the Platonic ideal of what an automobile should be (if Plato had had an automobile). With either of its superb in-line sixes--a 2.5-liter or a 3.0-liter--the 3-series chassis is a tool that any sensitive driver will appreciate. The size is right, neither too small nor excessively large. Comfort, agility, and fuel economy make a balanced package still unsurpassed. Photographed by George Saitas
CADILLAC SRX
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Cadillac has had a pretty spectacular year. With the XLR roadster, the CTS V performance sedan, and the SRX sport-utility, the division brought out three top-notch vehicles, each of which was in the hunt for an All-Star award. The CTS V took one, as did the suburban sleeper, the tall, angular SRX wagon. It offers generous room for five (and occasional space for two more), with a commodious and accessible cargo hold. The lusty and sonorous V-8 and the surprisingly capable V-6 are terrific, as is the fluidly shifting five-speed automatic. The chassis is world-class, particularly with the optional Magnetic Ride Control, which makes the SRX the first sport-utility to deliver both a comfortable ride and truly responsive handling. Photographed by Tim Andrew
LAND ROVER RANGE ROVER
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It took a German company full of Anglophiles to deliver the ultimate Range Rover, the one that best fulfills the promise of serenity inside and action underfoot. This third-generation Range Rover was engineered at BMW, whose M3 and M5 may have done a lot for German-American relations but can't ford more than a puddle, can't cling to a rock face, and can't carry much in the way of Irish wolfhounds. Quality, long a British weak point, is evident in the current Range Rover, with a perfect interior, a perfect drivetrain, and a perfect all-wheel-drive system. Yet somehow, the Range Rover exceeds its own hard-nosed perfection with warmth, desirability, and charisma enough to justify the price. Certainly, it's expensive, but for $72,250, you get access to two vehicles in one. We don't mean a luxury car and an SUV, although that's also true. What $72,250 primarily buys is the ultimate British vehicle wrapped around the ultimate driving machine. Photographed by Jason Furnari
MINI COOPER
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We stay between the lines in our off-roaders, we stay within the law in our sports cars, we sit by ourselves in luxury sedans built for five. We are relentlessly pestered to buy things we won't use and don't need. Yet we're only human. We want a little fun, a little style, a little substance. Readers, there is an antidote to conspicuous consumerism: the remarkable, BMW-engineered Mini. The $16,999 Cooper and the $20,399 supercharged Cooper S embrace the basic architecture that made the original Mini so indelible: independently suspended wheels pushed far out to the corners, chairlike seating for four under a tallish roof, a spirited little engine mounted transversely to drive the front wheels. There's also the expected passel of BMW safety and performance features, plus quality, reliability, and resale value. The Mini embodies unfamiliar notions: Spend a little, get a lot; drive small, smile big. Photographed by Ian Dawson
PORSCHE BOXSTER
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The two-seat roadster segment is based largely on impulse and emotion. New roadsters sell well for a few years until they are deemed passe by the mix of enthusiasts and poseurs who consume them. In this constantly evolving segment, the Boxster is so immediately perfect and timeless that only slight tweaks are necessary to keep it on top. Porsche knows when to change and, more important, when change is unnecessary. A true Porsche, the Boxster feels crafted instead of merely built. It is beautiful to behold, still or in motion, and even better when you are the one putting it in gear. Boxsters speak so clearly through the controls that driving becomes an existential quandary of human getting lost in machine, in the snarl of the flat-six and the gentle pulsing of the leather-wrapped steering wheel. Cynics will claim that there are less expensive sports cars that duplicate, or even surpass, a Boxster's quantifiable abilities, but none has its noble grace, which is rarely found in machines at any price. Mesmerizing and involving, the Boxster is a living being in a segment full of automatons. Photographed by Tony DiZinno
HONDA ODYSSEY
0402 Odyssey 01 S
The Odyssey is like the champion athlete who stubbornly refuses to surrender his title. Recent bouts have brought on the elegant Nissan Quest and the deft Toyota Sienna, among other challengers, introducing features previously unknown in this division: glass roof panels, fold-flat second-row seats, side curtain air bags for all three rows. The Odyssey concedes points here, but by commanding the basic details and unfussily going about its business of being a Honda, it still excels the others. It's impressively nimble, and the powertrain packs a wallop. The ride is serene, the interior unparalleled. Add impeccable dependability and reliability, and the Odyssey still reigns. Photographed by Joe Vaughn
BMW M3
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The latest M3 has everything we like about cars--speed, handling, braking, good looks--just the way we like it, in ludicrous quantities. Deeply sporty, edgy even, it is luxurious and relentlessly smooth yet blindingly fast, an automotive paradox that remains one of the most satisfying rides ever. Although some of us will recall the very first M3, the four-cylindered E30 line, more than a little wistfully, the new car is a rocket ship to the earlier model's skiff-with-a-tailwind. Not all will learn to love the optional sequential-manual gearbox, but it's hard to argue with BMW's finest 333-horsepower six, a mind-blowingly powerful yet addictively silky showpiece of an engine. A Bangle-ized replacement will arrive soon, and it will be hard-pressed to top today's M3. For coupe or convertible, this is surely the most beautiful M3 ever. Photographed by Juergen Skarwan
AUDI A8L
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The long-wheelbase A8L may rate slightly below one or another of its rivals under certain headings, such as sheer performance, but it outscores them all when everything is taken into account. Assets range from the aluminum structure to a turbine-smooth powertrain whose V-8 is complemented by the sweetest of six-speed automatics and by all-wheel drive. Big cars are not the most agile, but this one can be hustled along challenging roads at remarkably high speeds without losing its composure. The clincher is motoring's finest interior, regardless of price. The cabin is just about impossible to fault for space, materials and how they are used, fit and finish, overall layout, attention to detail, and how sci-fi equipment blends with a traditional luxury car's ambience. The A8L is the world's most complete sedan. Photographed by Juergen Skarwan
NISSAN TITAN
0402 Titan 01 S
When Nissan decided to build a full-size pickup, rather than pussyfooting around as Toyota has done for a decade, this Japanese automaker zeroed in on the target: Detroit, where big trucks equal big profits. Right out of the box, the tough-looking Titan is fully competitive with the full-size pickups from Ford, Chevy, and Dodge in every crucial, quantifiable measurement, from power and torque to payload and towing to bed size and cup-holder count. Yet the Titan's most serious kick to Detroit's groin is the simple fact that it is now the best pickup to drive. The Mississippi-built Nissan introduces some clever details, such as extended-cab rear doors that open 180 degrees against the truck's flanks, but it's the Titan's bold, broad strokes that make it an All-Star. Photographed by Tony DiZinno
MAZDA 6
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The Mazda 6 is not the most perfectly polished car in its class, or the roomiest, or even the most powerful. But it is the one family sedan that will bring a smile to your face every time you get in and drive, the only one that is designed to appeal to enthusiast drivers. Whether you choose the 220-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 or the 160-horsepower, 2.3-liter in-line four, the 6 is nimble, responsive, and blessed with a truly sporting mien. It looks good on the outside, and the interior quality is right up there with its mainstream Japanese rivals. Mazda is even bringing a roomy, sporty wagon to market this spring. The best news about the 6? It's a screaming bargain. A fully loaded V-6 likely will cost no more than $23,000, and we have heard of people walking out of showrooms with well-equipped four-cylinder 6s for about $18,000. Photographed by George Saitas
HONDA ELEMENT
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The Element may be the progeny of an unholy union between an ice cream truck and a Honda Civic, but it clearly received the best parts from each parent: Honda engineering meets boxy-but-useful dimensions. The trick interior, accessed via clamshell doors, offers an unobstructed rear-seat view, a full-length bed, or space unheard of this side of a cargo van. The awkward exterior grows on you in a hurry, a refreshing break from a field of increasingly bulbous SUVs. Plus, the Element is pretty close to the Holy Grail of trucklike utility and carlike handling. It drives smoothly and stably, as you'd expect given its Civic-based roots. Add the mobility of all-wheel drive and a tall view of traffic without the need for a footstool to climb into the cabin. The looks are strange, but the overflow of well-thought-out convenience makes the Element easy to love. Photographed by Ian Dawson

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