The 2014 Corvette is our twenty-fifth annual Automobile of the Year. Looking back at its twenty-four predecessors, we make no apologies for our brazenly subjective decision-making process.
1990: Mazda Miata
Why it won: It resurrected the simplicity and joy of the classic English roadster but in a modern, reliable, Japanese package.
What we said: “If ever the virtues of low mass and its intelligent distribution need reviewing, the Miata willingly demonstrates them.”
What it beat: Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1, Lexus LS400, Nissan 300ZX
You probably didn’t know: Then-editor-in-chief David E. Davis, Jr., chose the first AOY entirely by himself, then announced his decision to the editorial staff.
1991: Acura NSX
Why it won: It distilled all of Honda’s engineering experience and vast successes over the preceding quarter century while establishing new benchmarks for performance, affordability, and technology in exotic sports cars. It also left Ferrari whimpering in defeat.
What we said: “It performs its assigned tasks with the same lack of drama as a Honda Accord or an Acura Legend. It just happens to be a yowling, clawing, synapse-sizzling supercar.”
What it beat: Ferrari 348tb, Ford Explorer, Saturn SC
1992: Cadillac Seville Touring Sedan
Why it won: Because it was the first serious effort by Cadillac to build a world-class, modern, luxury performance sedan.
What we said: “The STS offers luxury and looks and dynamic behavior to satisfy the pickiest and most spoiled driving enthusiast.”
What it beat: BMW 325i, Lexus SC400, Porsche 968
You probably didn’t know: A faction of editors lobbied strongly for the Lexus SC400 to win.
1993: Chrysler Concorde/Dodge Intrepid/Eagle Vision
Why they won: They were beautifully designed, cleverly engineered, roomy, affordable, fun-to-drive family sedans that introduced cab-forward styling, erased the bad memories of K-cars, and helped set Chrysler on its path to ’90s prosperity.
What we said: “These American cars can hold their own in any company on any kind of road. They are a full-throated rendition of ‘America the Beautiful’ on wheels.”
What they beat: Ford Probe GT, Nissan Sentra SE-R, Toyota Camry XLE
We were surprised that: David E. Davis, Jr., refrained from insisting that his favorite, the Camry, win.
1994: Dodge/Plymouth Neon
Why it won: It showed that an American automaker could make an inexpensive, fun-to-drive, and cheerful small car to go head-to-head with the Japanese.
What we said: “The Neon is the car we have been waiting for Detroit to build. It’s the car we thought Saturn would build but didn’t. The Neon is a small car with big room and an even bigger heart.”
What it beat: BMW 530i, Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang, Honda Accord, Saab 900
1995: BMW M3
Why it won: The E36-chassis 3-series was brilliant, and the M version even more so.
What we said: “The BMW M3 is a perfectly practical car. After all, it shares all the utilitarian virtues of the very popular BMW 325is; it just happens to go faster, and handle and hold the road better.”
What it beat: Chrysler Cirrus, Ford Contour/Mercury Mystique, Nissan Maxima, Oldsmobile Aurora
1996: Honda Civic
Why it won: It once again established a benchmark for small cars and pointed the way to the new automotive millennium.
What we said: “Honda has built the car of the future while everyone else has just been talking about it.”
What it beat: Audi A4, Chrysler minivans, Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable
1997: Toyota RAV4
Why it won: It was one of the first in a wave of compact sport-utilities that we predicted, correctly, would become a major force in the American marketplace.
What we said: “It is an extremely successful answer to the twin SUV problems of rising cost and rising fuel consumption, and one with a great deal of entertainment value. It charmed us the way it has charmed the market.”
What it beat: Ford Escort, Honda Prelude, Jaguar XK8, Toyota Camry
You probably didn’t know: Design editor Robert Cumberford proposed that the GM EV1 be considered but was shouted down by the other judges.
1998: Porsche Boxster
Why it won: Because it was incredible to drive.
What we said: “Invariably, anyone who drives a Boxster comes back enchanted.”
What it beat: Audi A6, Chevrolet Camaro Z28/Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, Chevrolet Corvette, Lexus GS400, Mercedes-Benz CLK, Oldsmobile Intrigue
Trip note: The highlight of that year’s drive, in rural Kentucky and Tennessee, was a visit to the Jack Daniel’s distillery.
1999: Volkswagen New Beetle
Why it won: It beguiled us and everyone else while, at the same time, launching the whole retro-car craze.
What we said: “Nothing else has so captured the imagination of the car-buying public, and nothing else has so effectively pointed out the current bankruptcy of ideas in new car design.”
What it beat: BMW M coupe, Chrysler 300M, Honda Odyssey, Lexus LX470
2000: Ford Focus
Why it won: It brought European chassis dynamics, style, and value to the American small car.
What we said: “It is brilliant in so many ways that, despite a banner year of rival candidates, we were obliged to choose the least expensive and least pretentious car in our test fleet as our Automobile of the Year.”
What it beat: Audi TT, BMW M5, Honda S2000, Mercedes-Benz S-class
2001: Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Why it won: It was a serious and seriously affordable performance car that showed the way for future Corvettes like the new C7.
What we said: “The Chevrolet Corvette Z06 is, at long last, a real, 100 percent, no excuses, no explanations, no footnotes American sports car that can hold its own with just about anything on the road.”
What it beat: BMW Z8, Lexus LS430, Porsche 911 Turbo
2002: Subaru Impreza WRX
Why it won: It brought rally-inspired, affordable performance coupled with Japanese reliability and practicality to a new generation of American enthusiasts.
What we said: “America’s hottest performance car isn’t supposed to come from Subaru, but guess what? It does.”
What it beat: Acura RSX Type-S, BMW M3, Ford SVT Focus, Ford Thunderbird
You probably didn’t know: Our Ford SVT Focus tester ended up on its roof in a watery ditch in Tennessee, passenger Jean Jennings and its driver suspended by their seatbelts. They both made it to dinner.
2003: Nissan 350Z
Why it won: It rekindled the love affair with the Z-Car that we’d established thirteen years earlier, and it affirmed that Nissan still cared about enthusiasts.
What we said: “A real sports car doesn’t come along every day.”
What it beat: BMW 7-Series, Infiniti G35 Sport Coupe, Porsche 911 Turbo
2004: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
Why it won: In an era when cars were becoming more sanitized, a maker of boring, second-rate family cars produced a raw rocket sled.
What we said: “Some inexplicable, age-defying alchemy is stirred up by its linkages, firing pistons, and brake calipers, and so the impact of the driving experience is always undiminished.”
What it beat: Cadillac CTS-V, Mazda RX-8, Pontiac GTO
You probably didn’t know: It came very close to losing to the RX-8.
2005: Chrysler 300C
Why it won: It was an affordable, great-looking, rear-wheel-drive American sedan with German bones and serious street presence.
What we said: “At a time when the American auto industry needs heroes, the 300C wins the medal of honor, hands down. Chrysler’s 340-hp, Hemi-headed honey has taken America by storm.”
What it beat: Lotus Elise, Mazda 3
2006: BMW 3-Series
Why it won: Aside from the 1995 M3, we’d never before named the 3-series, one of our favorite cars of all time, as AOY, and this new E90-chassis was still the gold standard of premium sport sedans.
What we said: “No one at BMW has lost sight of why the 3-series is so important and why people love driving it.”
What it beat: BMW M5, Mazda MX-5 Miata, Pontiac Solstice
2007: Volkswagen GTI
Why it won: It was the first GTI that no longer made us pine for the Mark 1 car from twenty-four years earlier.
What we said: “What the world really needs is not cars that are fast, but cars that are practical, fuel-efficient, and fast.”
What it beat: Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Infiniti G35, Mercedes-Benz S-class
2008: Audi R8
Why it won: It showed that Audi had emerged as a top-tier luxury brand and had translated its modern-day racing success to the street.
What we said: “By turns thrilling, poised, comfortable, fast, fluid, composed, and enormously capable, the R8 absolutely captivated everyone who got behind its flat-bottomed steering wheel.”
What it beat: Chevrolet Malibu, Mazda CX-9, Volvo C30
A dual winner: The R8 was also our Design of the Year.
2009: Nissan GT-R
Why it won: For years we’d watched with envy and fascination while Japanese and European car guys went crazy for it and we had to settle for playing Gran Turismo.
What we said: “Not all that pretty. Rides like a subway car. Sounds like an appliance. Weighs a ton. And you know what? We’re still naming it our Automobile of the Year.”
What it beat: Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, Ford Flex, Jaguar XF, Mercedes-Benz
2010: Volkswagen GTI
Why it won: Because for the second time in four years our judges all looked at each other and said, “I could really be happy driving this car every day.”
What we said: “What’s cool about the 2010 VW GTI is its universal appeal.”
What it beat: Audi S4, BMW Z4, Chevrolet Camaro
2011: Chevrolet Volt
Why it won: It showed that GM could be innovative and could once again be a leader.
What we said: “The most sophisticated, most important vehicle on the road today.”
What it beat: Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon, Hyundai Sonata, Jaguar XJ
You probably didn’t know: The CTS-V, the Sonata, and the Volt all had their supporting factions, but an impassioned, late-night speech by columnist Ezra Dyer tipped the vote in favor of the Volt.
2012: Audi A7
Why it won: It combined everything we’d come to love about Audis over the previous fifteen years — design, beauty, performance, luxury, Quattro — into an incredibly desirable car.
What we said: “Mesmerizing to look at and seductive to drive, the Audi A7 is a car to aspire to.”
What it beat: Fisker Karma, Ford Focus, Hyundai Veloster, Range Rover Evoque
2013: Tesla Model S
Why it won: Elon Musk overcame incredible odds to establish his own car company and succeeded not only in breaking new ground technologically but in creating a car that is desirable for its looks, features, and driving pleasure as much as it is for its all-electric drivetrain.
What we said: “Tesla has managed to blend the innovation of a Silicon Valley start-up, the execution of a world-class automaker, and, yes, the chutzpah of its visionary leader.”
What it beat: Honda Accord, Porsche Boxster, Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S
He couldn’t help himself: Ezra Dyer arranged an impromptu drag race between a Model S and a BMW M5.
The Tesla won.