2008 Automobile All-Star Runners Up

November 27, 2007
2008 Aston Martin V8 Vantage - Robert Cumberford
0711 07 Z+2008 Aston Martin V8 Vantage+front Three Quarter
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
0711 02 Z+2008 Audi S5+rear Three Quarter
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
0711 11 Z+2008 Cadillac CTS+front
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
0711 13 Z+2008 Ferrari F430+front Three Quarter
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
0711 05 Z+2008 Ford Taurus X+front Three Quarter
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.
2008 Buick Enclave/GMC Acadia/Saturn Outlook - Jason Cammisa
0711 08 Z+2008 GMC Acadia+front Three Quarter
The world's greatest cars have no ambiguity in their purpose. Everybody knows what a 911's purpose is. Or a 3-series'. Or an Accord's.
Too many SUVs have unclear goals. People buy them as tools to haul people around town, but they were actually designed to haul stuff off-road. You won't see shots of this big SUV crossing a stream in GM's advertising, and for good reason.
GM's Triplets (Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, and Saturn Outlook) have no such ambiguity. Freed of the compromises of off-road prowess, they set a mission - to carry people and their belongings - and completely nail it.
You'll have a hard time finding a vehicle anywhere that can swallow as much stuff as the Triplets - and do it in style and comfort to boot. Forget about the complaints that their 3.6-liter V-6 isn't "up to task." That's true only if the "task" is racing a 911.
Unlike so many cars, the EnclAcadiOutlook's task is so clearly defined and so cleanly executed that it's a winner regardless of whether it's an All-Star.
2008 Honda Accord - Sam Smith
0711 10 Z+2008 Honda Accord Coupe+front Three Quarter
This - this, this, this - this is utter baloney. Horsehockey. Junk. (I'd be more explicit, but you're reading this on a family-oriented website.) If the Honda Accord isn't the most easily electable All-Star on the planet, then my name is Paris Q. Richie-Lohan-Fawcett-Majors the third. It's a good car; no, no, it's a very good car, one deserving of so much more. Leaving the Accord off Automobile Magazine's list of ten wonders of the automotive universe is like saying The Godfather is a lame little movie about some bickering Italians. It's just not right.
Why all the fuss? Simple: The Accord is a four-door family sedan that doesn't cost a gazillion dollars, it's roomy and spacious inside, it's got a decent amount of personality and a great engine, and it's actually somewhat entertaining to drive. (Take that, Toyota Camry.) Yes, the Accord is bigger than it used to be. (For reference, it's now closer in size to the bargelike Toyota Avalon than the original, first-generation Accord sedan.) And yes, interior quality - surprising for a Honda - isn't off-the-charts fantastic. But by and large, the Accord does what it does in a traditionally Hondaesque fashion: It seems indestructible, it revs like crazy, it's both comfy and a decent handler, and it's a relative bargain. Plus, it's deceptively fast. On our annual All-Stars drive through Ohio, the Accord was able to keep up with any number of faster, ostensibly "better" cars. (I'm looking at you, Volkswagen GTI.) I don't love the Accord, but I like it a lot. And, even though I'm only one of a handful of people who voted for it, it should have been an All-Star. There. I said it. Everyone else is wrong!
2008 Jaguar XK/XKR - Joe DeMatio
0711 06 Z+2008 Jaguar XK+front Three Quarter
Oh, my. If there's a car that meets the needs of the Automobile Magazine fraternity, it would be the Jaguar XK and its supercharged sibling, the XKR. How my dear colleagues here failed to cast their ballots appropriately and bestow upon it the All-Star award it so richly deserves is beyond me. Stylish, sleek, powerful, and chic, it is the perfect grand tourer in the Jaguar tradition of pace and grace and all that business from Sir William Lyons.
What we have here is what the XJ should have been: a thoroughly modern Jaguar, not a throwback to the Twiggy era, one that takes the bonded and riveted aluminum construction that Jaguar pioneered four years ago with the old-looking XJ and wraps it in a contemporary and seductive package.
I will repeat here what I said in the logbook of our Four Seasons XK last summer: I came off a week when I drove the 2008 Dodge Viper, with 600 hp; a Lingenfelter Corvette, with 600-plus hp; and a Mercedes AMG V-12 coupe, with about 600 hp. Then I got into our Jaguar XK and feared that it would feel slow. Not a chance. It was as light and lithe and responsive as I had remembered. It's an All-Star in my book.
2008 Jeep Wrangler - Rusty Blackwell
0711 09 Z+2008 Jeep Wrangler+front Three Quarter
Sports cars and luxury sedans are great; sure, fine, whatever. But most garages also require a utilitarian steed, a vehicle that can be depended on to take you places too rugged for your suave BMW 3-series while carrying things too bulky for your tiny Lotus Elise. The problem is that most pickups and SUVs that fit this bill - even the All-Star Mazda CX-9 to a lesser extent - aren't anywhere near as fun as the aforementioned sporty sweethearts. Enter the Jeep Wrangler.
For decades, the functionally fun Jeep has served everyone from soldier to Samaritan, hiker to homemaker. Heck, we even named its military forefather one of the twenty-five greatest cars of all-time in our September 2007 issue (page 120).
The newest generation of the basic Jeep, introduced in 2006, takes all of these talents and combines them in a package - the four-door Wrangler Unlimited - that's finally large enough to comfortably contain four adults and a weekend's worth of their gear for activities such as backwoods camping escapades, handyman construction projects, cross-country voyages . . . you name it. Meanwhile, Jeep purists can still buy a shorter-wheelbase, two-door model for less money.
The Jeep's updates haven't diminished the adventurous spirit of the versatile Wrangler. There's simply no other new vehicle in which you can tow your Jet Skis with the top down and the doors removed, all while rowing a satisfying, old-school stick shift.
I know, I know: the Wrangler isn't perfect. It's pricey, fuel economy is less than 20 mpg, the zippers-and-Velcro ragtop can be tricky to operate, and the primitive driving dynamics are - shall we say - exceptionally interactive. But the last two things are also part of what gives the Wrangler its charm. And when you're cruising through town or enjoying a moderate back-road blast, wind in your face, it doesn't get any better in SUV-land.
2008 Maserati Quattroporte - Marc Noordeloos
0711 12 Z+2008 Maserati Quattroporte+rear Three Quarter
There I sat, looking over the giant list of cars that buyers can choose from when it comes time to pony up for new transportation. I had to pick ten cars from the pot that are better than the rest, not an easy task. Logic told me that I should balance the list with a mix-include a truck, an economy car, and some sort of SUV or crossover thing. As the lead in my pencil dulled and the eraser approached the level where the metal housing risked ripping my notepad I said screw it. I am going to pick ten cars that I love, that I want to own because they are fabulous.
Last year, senior web editor Jason Cammisa voted for the Maserati Quattroporte and most of the staff laughed at him. The last time the Italian sedan visited our office, its fiddly and temperamental sequential manual gearbox nearly forced copy editor Rusty Blackwell to abort his honeymoon road trip with his new bride. For the record, I was not one of the staff members who mocked our fearless web guy. I was actually angry that I didn't second his vote.
You see, in early 2007, the Quattroporte gained something that American cars have featured for ages, a proper automatic transmission. The rest of the car was already wonderful. It's graced with a stunning exterior design with aggressive tumblehome, an interior that looks like an Italian designer named Antonio ordered a leather bomb to be exploded in each car before it left the factory, and a glorious Italian V-8 engine that all result in a character that other luxury cars can only dream of. Yes, the Mercedes S-class is a better, more reasonable car. I even included it on my list All-Stars because, when the Maserati inevitably breaks down (they have not been known to be Honda-like in this regard), you need another car to motor on down to the country club. But the German lacks the exotic flare, the sonorous power plant, and the light, tactile handling of the Quattroporte. And that is why my heart ordered me to include the fabulous Italian luxury sedan on my list of All-Stars. Anyone know where I can pick up a good used example with a very long warranty?
2008 Mazda 3 - Jen Misaros
0711 04 Z+2008 Mazda 3+side
The Mazda 3 is in its fifth model year and, despite having only minor engine and transmission changes since its debut, is still one of the best small cars on the market. When it comes to the small car market, there are always compromises to be made. The cars in this category generally lack one or more of the things that make a car attractive: style, quality, affordability, and, most importantly, fun. The Mazda 3 has all of these in spades. Add the fact that Mazda offers the 3 in a hatch, and you've got a winner.
2008 Nissan Versa - Jamie Kitman
0711 03 Z+2008 Nissan Versa+front Three Quarter
The Nissan Versa may have been an Automobile Magazine All-Star loser this time around, but it's the winner among losers in my Losers' Winners Circle, for it ably answers the question, "Hey, wait a second. Renault is French and they bought Nissan and they cross-pollinated to get themselves both back on their feet, but where did all that Frenchiness go?"
You don't normally think French when you drive a Nissan. But sharing a chassis with the French-designed Renault Clio (and Nissan's European Micra,) and bits with Renault's defiantly French Megane, the Versa is clearly different; it doesn't really fit logically in the Nissan "Japanese modern" sedan progression (Sentra to Altima to Maxima.) Instead, the Versa all but shrieks "Bonjours!," admirably showcasing the uniquely French side of the merged companies and the venerable Gallic habit of elevating one's humblest products by giving them not just a decent ride, but a great ride, thanks to the classical expedient of providing substantial amounts of wheel travel.
Once you get past the big-car smooth and vast accommodation for what appears to be a small car, you are left with the safety and plushness of the Versa's interior as well as its ridiculously low price ... a hair over $13,000. Making it an excellent value in a 35 mile per gallon, five-seater with loads of space. The Versa looks like the avant garde Renault Megane, with which it also shares some of its design elements and chassis pieces. The five-door hatchback is the definitive model in our view, though it is also available as a sedan, with a trunk, looking even more wackadoodle than the oddball Versa hatch despite the nod to convention.
So here, we've discovered, is where the French character in Nissan went. Overstuffed seating for driver and passenger, arm chairs, practically, ring more French bells than Notre Dame, and remind one of nothing so much as an old Citroen or Peugeot.
The Versa handles well and it holds the road like the French hoofer it is. Like many Gallic predecessors, it could stand livelier steering, with more feel. We could also imagine a version sportif with some sporty Michelins, a little more je ne sais quoi under the hood, and a special paintjob -- Gordini blue with the stripes in French racing white -- but now we're just dreaming.
This is as close as French car fans in America can get to a new, French car, and, as a bonus, it's not even French. The really important stuff is Japanese. C'est bon!
2008 Toyota Tundra - Preston Lerner
0711 01 Z+2008 Toyota Tundra+side
Maybe it's escaped the attention of the college-town weenies living in Ann Arbor and its effete environs, but Americans love trucks, the bigger and brawnier, the better. The irony, of course, is that the best full-size pickup on the market comes not from Detroit but from Japan - the all-new Toyota Tundra.
What we're talking about here is a half-ton truck that's able to administer simultaneous beatdowns to several our of All-Stars. Equipped with an optional 5.7-liter V-8 that makes 381 horsepower and tows more than 10,000 pounds, the Tundra can go monster-trucking over an Elise while ferrying a C30 across its bed. It carries more passengers than a Corvette and a Boxster put together, and it hauls from 0 to 60 mph faster than a GTI or a Malibu.
You want utility? Don't talk to me about the CX-9. Mazda calls it a crossover vehicle. I say it's a minivan in stealth mode, and minivans don't pass the no-boring-cars test. Pickups, on the other hand, are loaded with character, and they're equally adept at work and play. I'm the first to admit that the full-size trucks from Ford, Chevy and Dodge are damn fine vehicles, but none of them embody more All-American virtues than the Tundra.
It's big, honest, robust, ingenious, bulletproof, trustworthy and fully capable of opening a can of whup ass on anything that gets in its way. If that's not All-Stars material, then I don't know what is.

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