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Picking The Stars of All-Stars

A taste of how we pick the star cars

Mike FloydwriterAndrew TrahanPhotographer

The team busily shuffles 25 cars around in the dark, waiting on the first rays of light to flicker over the mountaintops, anticipating that perfect shot. As dawn breaks and the camera shutters click, the eclectic group of sedans, coupes, and crossovers comes into focus.

Everything from Jeep's new compact Renegade to Ferrari's drop-dead red 488 GTB shine in the desert's magnificent morning sun, the 2016 Automobile All-Stars contenders ready for their glamour shot. When the photo is bagged, we fire them up to face another day of action and evaluation.

We held this edition of All-Stars out west at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch, the jewel of the Pahrump, Nevada, fireworks, casino, and cathouse metroplex just an hour or so from Las Vegas. There, on a 1.5-mile circuit and on the surrounding roads outside the Spring Mountain compound, we let loose on some of the most engaging new vehicles from across the automotive landscape.

Not every car needs to be a track-destroying superstar to make the field, but it does need to have an appeal beyond simply being the latest and greatest on the market. We don't worry about price caps or limit the field to a certain vehicle type. Our goal is to choose a cache of cars with more character and charisma than the rest.

Maybe it was the casino influence, but from the group of 25 we invited out to Spring Mountain, we eventually whittled the contenders down to a lucky seven All-Stars. We don't draw from exhaustive numbers testing to make judgments or hew to an extensive criteria list to inform our decisions. We evaluate the cars, pick the ones that stir us more than the rest, vote, and tally it up.

A car has to have that extra something to earn the All-Star designation. How you feel as you fling it out of a hairpin or slide it sideways, or how well it handles the bumps and bruises of the open road. All-Stars dazzle us with their tech, their looks, their sound, their feel. They are the cars that have the most editors yakking about them excitedly when they come back to the staging area. They are the cars that always seem to be out on the track or looping around Pahrump because no one wants to get out of them.

Paring the field down to seven meant we left a lot of fantastic vehicles at the curb. The new Audi R8 is a razor-sharp super sports car that's infinitely better than the car it replaces, as is the lighter and nimbler Chevrolet Camaro. The Cadillac CTS-V is a rocket sports sedan that can hang with Germany's best. None of them made the final cut. Neither did the unholy monster that is the Dodge Viper ACR or the classy BMW 7 Series, brawny Mercedes-AMG GT S, or full-size and full-featured Honda Pilot crossover. They all performed admirably.

The crew that picked this year's winners featured several new faces. It was the first All-Star shootout for our executive editor Mac Morrison, features editor Rory Jurnecka, and copy editor Kara Snow, as well as veteran (meaning: old) automotive journalists John Lamm and Steven Cole Smith (old guys rule).

We were thrilled and thankful to have champion race driver/human computer Andy Pilgrim along during the week. None of us will soon forget the hellacious race-pace rides he gave the team in the Viper ACR, and his sage advice and astute observations proved invaluable.

Longtime contributors including Preston Lerner, Marc Noordeloos, and Jamie Kitman also joined our group. Some two dozen folks were along for the ride; ranging in age from 20 to 80, it was a cross section of youth and experience that kept the discussions lively and opinions incredibly diverse.

In addition, no big program like All-Stars can succeed without having the visual assets and creative teams along, helping guide the experience. The folks who get up at 5 a.m. to get that perfect shot. From conceptualizing to shooting, editing, and creating the final product, the people manning the lenses and visualizing how it all goes together are the unsung heroes of any issue, especially one that's this big of a production.

Putting this magazine together for you is one of the best jobs in the world, one we take great pride in, especially when it comes to choosing what we think are the best new cars on the road today. The All-Stars ride begins here, and we hope you enjoy digesting it as much as we did producing it.