first the contenders:
So, the car of the year award goes to...By Motor Trend Editors
Photography by Brian Vance, Julia LaPalme, Jessica Germiller
ICONS AND SIGNIFICANT OTHERS
Significance. It's one of the three key criteria against which the contenders for Motor Trend's Car of the Year are judged. And as the competition assembled at the giant Hyundai-Kia California Proving Ground, 100 miles north of Los Angeles in the Mojave Desert, it was clear this year's 18-car field was laden with truly significant vehicles.
The Honda Accord and Chrysler/Dodge minivan twins represented all-new interpretations of high-volume, benchmark vehicles that virtually defined their respective categories. We had reworked icons, too-the second-generation Audi TT, Mini Cooper, Subaru Impreza WRX, and Scion xB. We had new cars with old nameplates that carried the collective hopes of an entire company-Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Taurus, and Mitsubishi Lancer. We had an all-new Mercedes-Benz C-Class, packed with technology and Teutonic swagger, and we had an all-new Audi coupe that may just be one of the most beautiful cars ever from Ingolstadt. And we had the best damn Cadillac in 50 years.
Picking a winner from this lot wasn't going to be easy. We'd spend five days at Hyundai-Kia's 4300-acre complex conducting detailed performance tests and drive evaluations while we kicked tires, poked under hoods, folded seats, looked at paint finish and panel fit, and checked interior gaps and margins. With the field narrowed to just eight finalists, we'd spend another two days driving each of those eight back to back on real world roads under real world conditions. And only then would the 13 judges sit down to vote on a winner.
It's an exhaustive-and at times exhausting-process. There are numerous copy-cat awards in this country; Motor Trend's Car of the Year dates back to 1949 and is the oldest in the world, but none has clearly stated criteria nor is backed by hands-on testing and analysis like ours. It works.
Motor Trend's Car of the Year is unique in other ways, too. Some of our rivals, perhaps desperate to schmooze as many of their advertisers as possible, give multiple awards, like Best Sedan between $25,000 and $25,999 or Best Sports Car You Can Drive Wearing a Tux. Not us. There is only one Car of the Year. That means, this year, 17 unhappy losers. Last year, it was 26. Further, the award is open only to new or significantly upgraded cars on sale from January 1 each year; you don't see our personal favorites recycled on these pages year after year.
You have the background. Now let's go find the winner.
SUPERIORITY - Engineering excellence, advancement in design, utilization of resources and safety. Vehicle concept and execution are important, as are use of materials, packaging, dynamics, styling, and fuel consumption.
SIGNIFICANCE - How well does the vehicle do the job its maker intended it to do? And how does it impact or change its particular market segment, influence consumer perceptions, and transform product development trends.
VALUE - How does each vehicle compare against its direct rivals? A vehicle with a low sticker price might not be as good a value as a more expensive vehicle that delivers outstanding performance, quality, and functionality.
The 2008 Cadillac CTS