Spend a day test-driving prospective new rides and you just might believe that there are no bad vehicles anymore. That’s largely true, but what linger on are the wide gaps in execution in terms of performance, quality, style and more. Within the limits of these criteria the ho-hums sink to the bottom and the exceptional rides rise to the top. That’s where you’ll find the best of the best, the vehicles conceptualized and built with pride of ownership foremost in their creators’ minds. For that reason, they’re each worthy of car buyers’ consideration and one of our 2008 Editors’ Choice Awards.
2008 Editors Choice Awards
Recommendations for the real world
How We Did It
As has become tradition, our editors compiled a list of every new or substantially revised vehicle, assigned them to their respective categories based on factors such as segment and price, and deleted vehicles not driven by at least one editor prior to voting on Nov. 12, 2007. Except for contenders in the Best Car for the Environment, Best Family Car, and Best Car for Teen Drivers categories, all vehicles must have been introduced for retail sale during the 2007 calendar year. Each editor voted for the vehicle they’d most often recommend, with winners determined by a simple majority.
Best Car for the Environment finalists scored EPA ratings of at least 9.5 for pollution and 5 for greenhouse gases. Best Family Car finalists included four-door vehicles starting below $30,000 with at least four stars in every NHTSA category, no safety concerns, and Good IIHS ratings as of Nov. 5, 2007. Best Car for Teen Drivers contenders were equally safe with a base price of $25,000 or less. Small Cars offered 94 cu.ft. of passenger room or less, Midsize Cars offered 105 cu.ft. or less, Small Utilities provided 75 cu.ft. of cargo room or less, Midsize Utilities provided 75-95 cu.ft., and Large Utilities provided more than 95 cu.ft..
Volvo C30: Best New Small Car
Let’s face it, the styling of most small cars is as dull as dishwater. That’s not the case with the C30, which carries familiar Volvo design elements to a hot looking hatch that’s evocative of the automaker’s old P1800. With a stylish and functional interior, Volvo avoids being too cute while not looking like everything else on the road. The C30’s turbocharged, inline-five pumps out 227 horsepower and 236 lb.-ft. of torque, and with crisp handling and capable brakes, the little Swede is a fun drive. Two versions and a long list of options mean buyers can make a C30 to their liking.
Chevrolet Malibu: Best New Midsize Car
Just when you’re about to give up entirely on domestics’ ability to compete in the midsize class, along comes the 2008 Chevrolet Malibu. A car that debuts at the top of its class, the Malibu has the looks, equipment, power and refinement to take the Japanese leaders head-on, and even take some of them to the cleaners. The only hard part for GM will be convincing skeptical buyers, burned for decades by Chevy’s lousy midsizers, that the Malibu is really worth a test drive. But once customers get behind the wheel, the Malibu is good enough that it sells itself.
Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable: Best New Large Car
Ford hit a homerun when it restyled the Five Hundred and reintroduced it as the Taurus. Though not suitable for pink-slip racing, the 263-horsepower V-6 is a huge improvement over its predecessor, offering plenty of off-the-line zip and passing power; optional all-wheel traction provides drivers with an added level of security. Talk of large cars often includes the topic of passenger room, of which the Taurus provides in abundance, especially in the hip and shoulder areas, and the overall comfort level makes the Taurus a first choice on long road trips. If you’re looking for large car accommodations, the ’08 Taurus is a good bet.
Kia Rondo: Best New Wagon
Once a brand known only for selling cheap cars with long warranties, Kia has transformed into a nameplate with an expanding stable of respected vehicles including a bona fide wagon dubbed the Rondo. Others may call it a crossover or a five-door hatch, but as a front-driver with five- or seven-passenger seating and generous cargo capacity, we believe the Rondo clearly qualifies as a family-friendly station wagon. It also happens to be available with four- and six-cylinder engines, an affordable base price of about $17,000, gobs of safety features, and a pleasant driving character, making the Rondo the perfect alternative to larger crossovers and SUVs.
Cadillac CTS: Best New Entry Luxury Car Under $40,000
Talk entry luxury and you’ll end up discussing Audi, BMW, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, and others. Cadillac also makes the cut courtesy of the CTS, though its limited V-Series version has essentially been the only shining star. That changes for the 2008 model year, as the thoroughly-revamped CTS not only blows away its former mold but also kicks the pristine paint off of its competitors’ quarter panels. Exterior styling is aggressive yet upscale, interior materials and layout are arguably class-leading, and performance and handling options deliver everything from a comfortable commuter to an enthusiast’s delight. Germany and Japan, consider yourselves served.
BMW 5 Series: Best New Luxury Car Under $75,000
BMW has been billing itself as the “Ultimate Driving Machine” for years, and when it comes to the new 5 Series, we find it hard to disagree. An unparalleled combination of performance and luxury made it the clear choice for Best new luxury car under $75,000. Further cementing it as the winner is the choice of seven different trim levels ranging from the 230 hp, 3.0-liter, inline-six-powered 528i to the 500-horsepower, 5.0-liter V-10-powered M5. There is even a Sports Wagon version available as the 535xi which might also qualify the 2008 BMW 5 Series as the “Ultimate Cargo Machine.”
Audi TT Roadster Best New Convertible Under $75,000
With a choice of two engines and two transmissions, the sleekly-restyled TT Roadster offers a couple of pleasant dilemmas. Buyers can choose a normally-aspirated V-6 model with all-wheel drive or a turbocharged four-cylinder TT with power delivery limited to the front wheels. Transmission offerings include a six-speed manual or S Tronic, Audi’s dual-clutch gem of an automatic that lets you shift the paddles or just step on the gas and smile. Thanks to a comfortable and convenient interior and precise handling, the Audi TT has you (un)covered for miles of top-down enjoyment.
Audi S5: Best New Sports Car Under $75,000
Car manufacturers have personalities. For example, a BMW has a certain feel behind the wheel, as does a Mercedes-Benz and an Audi. Until the S5, that Audi feel was a little different than BMW’s (as in, not quite as good). Now things are different, and Audi’s new V-8 powered S5 combines the best of all worlds: the steering feel and controllability of a BMW, the all-wheel drive of an Audi, and the V-8 roar of an American muscle car. Of course, it still has Audi’s traditional good looks, flawless interior and a usable rear seat and trunk. A winning combination? You bet.
Chrysler Town & Country/Dodge Grand Caravan: Best New Minivan
For starters, you can stow or swivel inside the Chrysler minivans, which are two handy and exclusive ways to get you and your kids, friends, or gear down the road. From a power perspective, the new 4.0-liter V-6 engine matches up nicely with the best of the import competition, and the inclusion of a new six-speed automatic transmission makes for a smooth driving experience. With suspension changes that have improved its ride and handling character, the 2008 Chrysler Town & Country and 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan should make drivers happy – if a minivan can ever truly do that.
Saturn Vue Best New Small Utility Vehicle
If you told us a year ago that Saturn’s small ute would earn a place on our Best list, we would have laughed until we were purple. So imagine our surprise when the Vue showed up on our doorstep and floored most of us with its style, comfort, power, and interior décor. This is another home-run for GM, a car that cleanly knocks it out of the park against the likes of the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, and leaves many others in the dust. That it comes in a thrifty Green Line hybrid and a hot-handling Red Line is just icing on the cake.
Hyundai Veracruz: Best New Midsize Utility Vehicle
A stigma still clouds the Hyundai name, and that’s unfortunate because it prevents countless shoppers from visiting their local dealer and discovering outstanding products such as the Veracruz. In a bold marketing move, Hyundai positioned its brand-new Veracruz against the Lexus RX400, and by many accounts the vote went to Hyundai. Years of trial and error have culminated in one of the best crossovers we’ve ever driven, as the Veracruz offers an incredibly quiet and smooth ride, top-notch materials and features, an energetic powertrain, upscale styling, genuine comfort for up to three rows of passengers, and value tied to its $26,900 base price.
Mazda CX-9: Best New Large Utility Vehicle
Mazda makes both the CX-9 crossover utility vehicle and the RX-8 sports car. The styling never lets you forget that the former is related to the latter, with its swept-back headlights, aggressive fender flares and overall sporty proportions. But the connection doesn’t stop there. With more V-6 power for 2008 and a sublimely comfortable interior, plus room for seven, the CX-9 is an easy choice for anybody who doesn’t want to compromise driving pleasure when they need a family hauler.
Buick Enclave: Best New Luxury Utility Vehicle Under $75,000
Yes, you read it correctly – Buick. Fact is, the Enclave offers an exceptional balance of luxury and utility, from the power liftgate to the smooth and quiet ride. Roomy and comfortable inside and attractively styled outside, the Enclave rose above the competition on many levels with its available features and overall feeling of quality. Passengers of all ages will be comfortable no matter where they sit, and there’s more than enough cargo space for runs to the hardware and grocery stores. GM has much to be proud of with the big crossover, and buyers in this segment should give the Buick a serious look.
Ford Super Duty: Best New Pickup
Ford trucks have been the ones to beat for decades and that storied tradition soldiers on with the 2008 Super Duty. Continuing with the mandate that it be built Ford tough, the Super Duty arrives decked out in work boots and gloves, yet offers enough party favors to also keep the weekend warriors turning to the Blue Oval. The ride is comfortable, the interior well laid-out, and the built-in tailgate step gives the Super Duty the easiest bed to get in and out of without putting on your pajamas. Not enough? Try maxing out its 24,500-lb. tow capacity and get back to us.
Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster: Best New Dream Car Over $75,000
If you’re going to have a dream car it should represent a dream lifestyle as well. The elegance of rear-wheel-drive, British-powered machinery wrapped in sleek sheet metal and crowned with a convertible top culminates in a vehicle that begs to be driven over twisty scenic two-lanes and through gauntlets of paparazzi. Neither the most powerful nor the most beautiful, the Aston Martin V-8 Vantage Roadster represents the perfect blend of each plus an infusion of luxury and a dash of 007 heritage. Put it all together and it’s the ideal ride for being seen in Hollywood or hitting the back roads of dreamland.
Honda Civic GX Best Non-Hybrid for the Environment
There is no arguing that the Honda Civic is a great car offering good handling, ample comfort, and noteworthy fuel economy. So how do you make a car with so many positive attributes even better? Power it with compressed natural gas (CNG), making it not only a good vehicle for you but also a good vehicle for the environment. Factor in top EPA scores for pollution and greenhouses gases, and suddenly selecting the Honda Civic GX as the Best Non-Hybrid for the Environment becomes a no-brainer.
Hyundai Santa Fe: Best Family Car
As the winner of last year’s Best New Midsize SUV and SUV of the Year categories, the Hyundai Santa Fe should feel right at home amongst our 2008 Editors’ Choice winners. Despite running up against vehicles such as the Honda Pilot and a couple of minivans, the Santa Fe took the prize thanks to its value, comfort, available third-row seat, front- and all-wheel-drive capability, and looks that continue to impress. Though there were holdouts, the majority of our editors agreed that the Best Family Car doesn’t necessarily have to be a minivan, as the Santa Fe serves most of the same needs while wrapped in a more desirable package.
Honda Civic: Best Car for Teen Drivers
While not as hip as some other small cars, the Civic offers attractive styling, good performance and the one thing parents worry most about with teen drivers: safety. An affordable base price, very good resale value, excellent fuel economy and low emissions also make the Civic an excellent choice for parents and teens. The non-Si model has the right amount of power – 140 ponies – for inexperienced drivers. With sure-footed handling, antilock brakes and six airbags – all standard – the Civic doesn’t compromise safety for price. Teens want mobility and parents want their kids as safe on the road as possible -- Civic delivers.
Infiniti G37: Most Fun New Car for 2008
Youth may be wasted on the young, but Infiniti’s G37 is so good that it proves more mature folks still know how to party. With a six-speed manual, rear drive, four-wheel steering and stunning good looks, the G37 betters its predecessor with an interior that’s finally worthy of a luxury car. So what if the trunk is small? Who cares if the back seat is only for small packages? This car is about fun, and really, three extra people and a trunk full of stuff is just going to slow you down.
Kia Rondo: Best Kept Secret for 2008
Psst: You don’t have to buy a barge to get family utility. There are plenty of cars (yes, cars) that can handle most needs, and the Rondo is one of the best with an elevated driving position, comfortable seats and a surprisingly roomy interior. Now, if only more people realized that you don’t need room for 12 when you have two children and a dog, well, the world would be a better place. Priced to start at around $17,000 and including a great warranty, here’s hoping that the Rondo loses its “secret” status, and soon.
Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid/GMC Yukon Hybrid: 2008 Hybrid of the Year
Hybrids are for environmentalists. Big SUVs are for people who don’t care about spotted owls. At least, those are the stereotypes. However, GM is mixing these two with what could turn out to be the biggest hybrid advancement yet, and we’re not just talking about sheer size. No, the real story here is that improving the mileage of a gas guzzler may well have a larger impact on the environment than improving the efficiency of already-thrifty cars. With 332 horsepower, a 6,200-lb. tow capacity, and the ability to go full-electric under 30 mph, the GM twins could very well be game changers.
Buick Enclave: 2008 Utility Vehicle of the Year
Our Utility of the Year Award goes to the 2008 Buick Enclave because it excels on so many levels. From the sharp styling inside to the smooth, quiet ride and top-notch build, the Enclave is very well executed. The 3.6-liter V-6 engine delivers plenty of power, and with its comfortable interior, good cargo space and a bevy of standard features and options, GM has blessed the Enclave with one key intangible element: desirability. This vehicle proves that the General has the wherewithal to design and build a superior vehicle.
Ford Super Duty: 2008 Truck of the Year
In a world gone mad with hybrids, it’s nice to know that the Super Duty is still Super. Here is the King of Trucks, with a 6.4-liter turbo diesel engine that generates 650 lb.-ft. of torque and offers more max towing (24,500 lbs.) and payload (6,000 lbs.) capacity than most towns would ever need. You could probably tow all the hybrids sold in Texas with just one Super Duty pickup and still fill the bed with bricks. Inside, the driving experience is exceedingly comfortable and the design says, through gritty teeth and with a growl: Welcome to truck country, boy. Ain’t no Toyotas here. Yet.
Cadillac CTS: 2008 Car of the Year
When one of our editors returned from driving the 2008 Cadillac CTS for the first time, he wondered aloud about being “that” guy who boldly stated “Cadillac is back.” He decided to do just that and when the other editors had the same opportunity, they quickly fell in line. The CTS takes this year’s Car of the Year Award not because it’s a great Cadillac but rather because it’s an excellent automobile, possessing style, comfort, available performance, quality, value, and attention to detail which collectively elevate it far above this category’s broad range of competitors. Yes, Virginia, Cadillac is back.