Last man standing
We had some issues with the old Charger: It had an interior made of recycled sporks, and firing up the base 2.7-liter V-6 was like lighting a giant sign that said, "I got the full-size upgrade at Enterprise!" Also, its styling was akin to a giant hood ornament in the shape of a middle finger.
The new Charger is more polished in style and execution, but it's like a reformed criminal or an Australian -- beneath the dapper duds, you know it's capable of some mayhem. Just because the Charger is now available with highfalutin options like an eight-speed automatic transmission and a Nappa leather interior doesn't mean that it has forgotten its role as the quintessential un-front-wheel-drive mainstream American sedan.
The Charger is a big car for big people who like big power. With the new Pentastar V-6 as the base engine, you're getting 292 hp. Hooked to the optional eight-speed automatic, the V-6 shoves this battleship to a 31-mpg highway rating. Want all-wheel drive? You can get it. Want 0 to 60 mph in less than five seconds? You can have that, too, with the SRT8. But at $30,820, the 370-hp R/T is the sweet spot. You know you're getting a lot of car for the money when the closest competition is a two-year-old Hyundai Genesis.
You can't even complain about the interior anymore. That big piece of aluminum-looking trim around the gauges is an actual hunk of aluminum. Another telling detail: the A-, B-, and C-pillars are upholstered in fabric, which doesn't sound like a big deal but is one of the many small signifiers that Chrysler cared about getting this car right.
Chargers are all over the place. We're used to them. But every now and then -- like now -- we need to take a step back and celebrate the fact that Dodge still makes a car like this. Because nobody else does.
-- Ezra Dyer
BASE PRICE RANGE: $26,220-$46,620
ENGINES: 3.6L V-6, 292 hp, 260 lb-ft; 5.7L V-8, 370 hp, 395 lb-ft; 6.4L V-8, 470 hp, 470 lb-ft
Ferrari 458 Italia & Spider
Rationalizing a no-brainer
You might think naming a Ferrari an All-Star is a no-brainer. It's not. We drive dozens of high-performance, high-style, high-dollar machines that, at the end of the day, aren't much more than a regular car wrapped in a svelte body and stuffed with oversize machinery. The 458, the first Ferrari on our All-Stars list since 2004, is nothing like this.
The 458 isn't built of enlarged versions of parts that are found in economy cars. Instead, it's a roadgoing interpretation of everything that Ferrari has learned in Formula 1 racing. Part of what makes the 458 so alluring is that it's not trying to be sexy: its sultry sheetmetal looks as good as it does because it achieved the correct aerodynamic function in a wind tunnel.
The F355 existed for its sex appeal, with a mezzo-soprano forty-valve V-8 and the feminine looks to match. The 360 Modena's V-8 matured into a tenor, but the car introduced awkward technology that wasn't quite ready for street use. The F430, although no work of art, was brilliant to drive, and, frankly, we didn't think a supercar could ever outdo its baritone V-8 and its single-clutch automated manual.
Then came the 458. The trademark Ferrari flat-plane V-8's vocal chords have once again deepened, but at 9000 rpm, the thundering bass exhaust note is no less intoxicating than before. The technology that held back previous Ferraris now only serves to make this one faster: a computer-controlled differential, a dual-clutch automatic transmission, and stability control that ushers a 458 around a racetrack as if guided by the hand of a supreme being.
Add a perfectly tailored cabin stuffed with rich materials and endowed with genuine usability, and the 458 marks a genuine departure for Ferrari. In graduating from finicky objet d'art to engineering masterpiece, this 458 has become one of the most desirable cars of the modern era.
-- Jason Cammisa
BASE PRICE RANGE: $236, 182-$263,350 (est.)
ENGINE: 4.5L V-8, 562 hp, 398 lb-ft