Each year since 1990, the editors of Automobile Magazine have picked an Automobile of the Year. The list of winners is interesting and instructive. 1990: Mazda Miata. 1991: Acura NSX. 1992: Cadillac Seville. 1993: Chrysler LH sedans. 1994: Dodge/Plymouth Neon. 1995: BMW M3. 1996: Honda Civic. 1997: Toyota RAV4. 1998: Porsche Boxster. 1999: Volkswagen New Beetle. 2000: Ford Focus. 2001: Chevrolet Corvette Z06. 2002: Subaru Impreza WRX. 2003: Nissan 350Z. 2004: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. 2005: Chrysler 300C.Studying that list, and giving free rein to my most subjective and prejudiced impulses, I would happily opine that the best of the best, the Automobile of the Year that will survive all the years with reputation intact, is the BMW M3. My number two would have to be the Honda Civic, and my number three is the Corvette Z06. To explain myself, I am helplessly in love with all M-type BMWs. I have nothing but respect for Honda’s good works over the years, and I support the Civic for that reason. My third pick, the Z06, reflects the important role that Corvettes and the people who created them have had in my life and my pursuit of automotive pleasure. The Acura NSX has been around since 1991, and even today it goes unnoticed in traffic, while almost any Corvette is an automotive icon that will never fail to turn heads.
I put 700 quick miles on a 2005 Toyota RAV4 in recent weeks, and it is just as competent and pleasurable now as it was in 1997. I’d be delighted to own one, and I think the current model is incredibly good-looking. The fact that other Toyota and Lexus models have failed to capture the attention of Automobile’s editors never ceases to amaze me. After countless arguments on the subject, I-who once called the Toyota Camry the best car built in the United States-console myself with the notion that Toyota is simply too good to be great. On the other hand, we did pick the Chrysler LH cars in 1993 (Chrysler Concorde, Dodge Intrepid, Eagle Vision), genuine yawners without the redeeming benefit of Toyota quality.
The most recent Automobile of the Year, the Chrysler 300C, certainly has taken the USA by storm, and it is both an astonishing departure from its predecessors and a surprisingly nice car. I have not been able to embrace its appearance, but I am clearly in the minority. There’s something cartoonish about its proportions. The high sides and the firing-slit windows seem to come straight from the comic books we read in years gone by. And, no matter what anybody says, the Chrysler 300C does most emphatically not look like a Bentley Arnage.
If the Mazda Miata were more nearly my size, and if its suspension handled the hideous road surfaces of metro Michigan better than it does, it would have made my final cut. It is still a knockout, still huge fun to drive, and still great value for reasonable money. I always wanted one with a hard top, white with broad blue racing stripes and classic American Racing mag wheels.
The Porsche Boxster didn’t make my final three because it bores me. I have never made a secret of my obsessive affection for Porsche coupes, especially Turbos and Carrera 4s, but first impressions do make a difference, and my first impression of the Boxster was less than enthralling. It failed to measure up to the 911 coupes I loved, and furthermore, it made me want to call Bob Snodgrass at Brumos Porsche in Jacksonville and ask him to build me a Porsche 914/6 Le Mans replica.
If memory serves me, it was the Cadillac Seville of 1992 that first made us believe Cadillac was capable of a major turnaround. My family car now-after I’ve been the satisfied owner of a half-dozen Chevrolet and GMC Suburbans over the years-is a perfect 2003 Cadillac Escalade ESV. Cadillac is leading GM out of the doldrums. I’d like to suggest that we were prescient in naming the Seville Automobile of the Year that year, but it is more likely that we were just lucky.
Actually, our batting average has been pretty good. We saluted the Mitsubishi Evo just in time, as that company seems almost certain to run aground. If I’d had my way, we probably would have given the award to the BMW M coupe about three years in a row. I don’t know how we failed to honor Mercedes-Benz once in sixteen years or how we managed to recognize only one SUV, but the New Beetle, the Ford Focus, the Subaru WRX, and the Nissan 350Z all maintain our tradition of “No Boring Cars.”