2008 Automobile All-Star Runners Up

2008 Aston Martin V8 Vantage - Robert Cumberford

How can our 2007 Design of the Year not be an All-Star now? Simple economics. A few of our readers (and you know who you are, even if we don't) can afford to buy any car on sale anywhere in the world, maybe even two or three of them. But most readers are pretty much like us; you have tastes that exceed your pocketbook's ability to transform desire to reality. We do not let vehicle pricing have undue influence on our decisions, but we do keep in mind that there is true value in attainability. It is not surprising that long-term dwellers on the All-Star list - early Mazda Miatas and perpetually desirable 3-series BMWs come to mind - are affordable to a wide range of our readers and ourselves.

So we love the Aston V8 less than we did last year? How could we? It is still a delight to the eye, a visceral pleasure to drive and a joy to hear in full cry. But it is also very expensive, well beyond the means of all of us and most of you. Should the All-Star roster include only Ferrari FXX track cars, Bugatti Veyrons and Maybach limousines? We don't think so, and we believe that you don't think so either. We will never exclude a car because it costs a lot, but we will not keep it as an All-Star year after year when there are so many economically viable choices we can collectively embrace. The Aston Martin V8 deserved its awards and accolades last year, and it merits our approval now. But it is not - it cannot be - an All-Star again this year. "Been there, done that, got the T-shirt" is a pretty profound philosophical statement if you really think about it.

All the same, we love the V8, we still want one, but we still can't have one. So it's not an All-Star this year. So there.

2008 Audi A5/S5 - Jean Jennings

I'm an Audi fan, maybe even a little nutty about Audis. My first All-Star thought after BMW 3-series was Audi S5. I had just driven the S5 test car, but it was in the office the week everyone - but Joe Lorio and I - was at the Frankfurt auto show. We had it to ourselves for five days. Actually, I think I drove it the entire week. That must have been the problem. No other editor or freelance contributor had driven it.

No one else had the sumptuous experience of slipping in behind the wheel and seeing the exquisitely sculpted dash for which Audi designers have become renowned. Every instrument binnacle, every gauge, every button, every knob is a work of art, a purposeful expression of luxury and precision. The buttons are not only beveled, but rows of buttons are beveled in sync, creating a single organic sweep across the dash. The simplicity of the MMI controller and the neat array of four buttons around it belie the complexity of the electronic functions (audio, navigation, climate control, other vehicle systems) it so naturally manages.

No one else had experienced the fantastically supportive drivers' seats, the perfectly placed foot pedals, the sublime gearing of the six-speed manual transmission, and the rush of power from the 345-hp, DOHC thirty-two-valve aluminum V-8 engine. Blessed with permanent four-wheel-drive (the sort of four-wheel drive that has nothing to do with dirt roads and everything to do with maximum high-performance tarmac traction), the S5 can manage sub-five-second 0-60 mph times despite its nearly two-ton curb weight. It's fast like a freight train, gorgeously sleek, and wears its strikingly large chrome grille more confidently, more perfectly than any Audi before it. It feels like it's worth about 50% more than its sub-$60,000 (loaded) tag.

This is the car for which I long. My Private All-Star.

2008 Cadillac CTS - Don Sherman

It's time someone cheered for the home team. Cadillac has traipsed the path of righteousness for nearly a decade, systematically phasing out to its soft-riding, fat-laden cruisers in favor of cars and trucks that combine smart design with functional behavior. Clearly, Cadillac has dug fun-to-drive out of the advertising muck to make it a top engineering priority.

The 2008 CTS is Cadillac's best work. Building on the best attributes of the first generation sport sedan, the new edition is striking to behold, entertaining to drive, and a legitimate threat to the evil imports. With more than 300 horses in its arsenal, the CTS now has the firepower to counter the best Audi, BMW, Infiniti, Jaguar, Lexus, and Mercedes have to offer for $40,000.

I'm most impressed by the CTS's steering and handling gains. Thanks to a stiffer unibody, a new German-sourced rack-and-pinion steering system, and astute chassis tuning, this Cadillac is always game for an impromptu back-road chase.

After my dream garage was duly loaded with a sports car for each day of the week, I'd make room for a CTS, the Cadillac with an itch to smite the bluebloods.

2008 Ferrari F430 - Joe Lorio

We've called the Ferrari F430 the best Ferrari ever, but it's not an All-Star? Seems like an oversight to me. Perhaps it's just a presumed All-Star, so we don't have to mention it. Everybody already knows it's great, so no point in piling on.

2008 Ford Taurus X - Ezra Dyer

When Ford killed the Taurus nameplate in favor of the Five Hundred and Freestyle, they acknowledged that years of neglect had tarnished a once mighty brand. By the time the last ovoid rental-fleet Taurus rolled off the line, it was hard to remember that there was a time when the Taurus was so cool and futuristic that it was the police car of choice in RoboCop. Upon the Taurus' demise, Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" declared, "Ford canceled the Taurus this week, which means that thirtysomethings everywhere are going to need to find a new way to tell the world that they've given up on life." When SNL bothers to make fun of your car, it's probably a sign that it's best buried for good. Just ask the Dodge Stratus.

But Ford apparently put the Taurus in the pet cemetery, because it's back from the dead and stalking the streets looking for vengeance. The main problem with the Five Hundred/Freestyle was that its powertrain consisted of boiled turnips and rubber bands. Now there's a powerful 3.5-liter V6 hooked to a proper six-speed automatic. To my mind, this upgrade vaults the Taurus X into position as one of the most underrated cars on the road, and it's why I gave it an All-Stars vote-it's a fine car on merit alone, but it also offers crazy value. Think about it: A base Audi A6 Avant has 255 horsepower, all-wheel-drive and a six-speed automatic for $49,000. The top-of-the-line Taurus X AWD Limited has 263 horsepower, all-wheel-drive and a six-speed automatic for $32,185. Is it more amazing that a Taurus wagon compares favorably with an Audi, or that the Taurus is good enough to prompt that comparison in the first place?

The Taurus X also has useable third row seating. It's handsome, inside and out. It's quiet and refined. They call it a crossover, but the Taurus X is really the great American station wagon that nobody admits to making anymore. The Taurus' main problem is the jarring disconnect between its moniker and its virtues-it's a kindly philanthropist named Adolf, an angelic, brilliant valedictorian named Anna Nicole. If you really can't imagine driving a Taurus, then go buy some Freestyle badges. I'll bet they still fit.

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