2009 Automobile of the Year - Vile Gossip

Excuse me while I duck yet another phone call from a cable television news channel that wants me to predict exactly which day the evil Cerberus will be folding its tent and blowing town, leaving Chrysler in a smoldering heap. Or exactly who, what, when, where, how, and why General Motors will finally be going bankrupt. Well, let me dust off my honorary degree from Kirtland Community College, ponder those mysteries for about three seconds, and leave town via the back roads with the rest of the staff.

It's time for the annual Automobile Magazine Automobile of the Year drive, which feels a whole lot more productive at this point than wringing our hands live on national teevee. The far-flung staff and contributors of Automobile Magazine have been conducting this exercise for twenty years now, and although the venue and cast of characters changes each fall, it remains one of the best weeks we spend together.

This year's festival of fast roads took place, uh, somewhere. A place we haven't been before, in a state far, far away. Somewhere the police wouldn't be waiting for those two dozen shiny new cars and their speedy little out-of-town drivers. Or, the police wouldn't have been waiting if the manager of the hotel hadn't decided it would be a thoughtful and responsible gesture to call the local cops and have them do a little extra nighttime parking lot surveillance while we were there. Swell. And what do you suppose they thought we were doing with the blue Corvette ZR1 sandwiched between the red Dodge Challenger R/T and the silver Porsche 911 Carrera 4S that was parked alongside the sleek Jaguar XF? Car show, maybe?

Thankfully, our very organized and crafty road test editor, Marc Noordeloos, had devised a new test procedure. Rather than breaking the cars into two groups that would then chase each other in a long, fast, law-breaking caravan through the countryside, we had a choice of six routes that we used randomly over the course of a couple of days, traveling solo, returning to base to swap cars and make notes. Not only were we less of a visual menace to the locals, but there was a lot less of the competitive driving we tend to indulge in when two of us are on the same road. If you know what I mean.

We had a great time, drove a lot of fantastic cars, and came up with our winner. As you now know, we surprised ourselves by choosing a car that every person in the room had something to complain about. And yet, it was our unanimous choice, a very rare outcome indeed. You should know that, despite our immense affection for many of the cars we considered for Automobile of the Year, only the exquisite Jaguar XF Supercharged offered any serious competition to the Nissan GT-R-at least in the talking phase leading up to the actual vote.

Next month, we'll give you the rest of the story-our ten 2009 Automobile Magazine All-Stars.

This is the second time Nissan has won Automobile of the Year, the first being awarded in 2003 for the 350Z. Over the course of two decades, fifteen manufacturers have won the big prize, and only three other than Nissan have won it more than once. Volkswagen's 1999 Beetle and 2007 GTI were winners, and so were BMW's 1995 M3 and 2006 3-series. Only Chrysler has won AOY three times: two years in a row-in 1993 for the LH cars (Chrysler Concorde, Dodge Intrepid, and Eagle Vision) and in 1994 for the Neon, produced under the expert guidance of then-president Bob Lutz-and in 2005 for its last big hit, the mighty 300C. Is it any wonder that Chrysler's sad situation is so heart wrenching? We are just waiting for the thirty pieces of silver to change hands.

(May I take a brief moment to point my finger back in time at the real devil in this deal? That would be Lee Iacocca, the man who ensured the collapse of Chrysler by installing the wrong Bob as his successor, in a haughty bitch slap to the too-big-for-his-britches Lutz. Yeah, well that worked. The legacy of chairman Bob Eaton will forever be that he was hoodwinked into selling the once proud Chrysler Corporation to foreigners, taking an obscene chunk of money to help assuage his guilt and shame. And Chrysler has never been the same, if it is still here at all.)

It's worth noting that, over the years, our AOY has randomly gone to a Japanese manufacturer eight times, and six times each to the Germans and the Americans. I point this out as a bit of proof that we really aren't biased toward foreign cars. In addition, eleven of the twenty cars we've named Automobile of the Year have cost $30,000 or less.

When we say, "No boring cars!" it's not about money. This magazine is simply a celebration of cars that you will love to drive.

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