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Audi to Honda, BMW to Nissan: The Weekly Driver's Cars Of The Year, 2008

Audi to Honda, BMW to Nissan: The Weekly Driver's Cars Of The Year, 2008 1The biggest automotive news of 2008 remains the ongoing crisis among the “Big Three” manufacturers — General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. But beyond all the serious stuff, there was a lot of fun and intrigue for automotive enthusiasts in 2008. This year marked the sixth full year of The Weekly Driver reviews.

I reviewed 32 new cars in 2008 — Audi to Volkswagen, BMW to Suzuki. I drove about two dozen other vehicles at car shows and manufacturers’ functions. A few dozen additional reviews from contributing writers also appeared on dev.theweeklydriver.com during 2008.

My friend Bruce Aldrich and I also collaborated on about a dozen car videos in 2008. It was great fun, and I learned something. I said the same word awkwardly in two videos. On both occasions, the word sounded like the nastiest of curse words. Viewers of the videos were harsh with their comments. But the two videos got the most views of any of our videos, I believe, on You Tube, My Space and other social networks. It was unintentional, but here’s the deal: subliminal messages rock.

In 2008, I was fortunate to have several new automotive experiences and write about unique areas of motorsports.

Who would have known the presidential election would include discussions of cars? But it was a story and I wrote about: Senator John McCain and his immediate family own 13 cars; President elect Barack Obama and his wife own one car.

And who would have known that Tata Motors would unveil plans to introduce the Nano, a $2,500 car? And who have guessed that nearly in the same breath the company would buy Jaguar and Land Rover?

Audi to Honda, BMW to Nissan: The Weekly Driver's Cars Of The Year, 2008 2

Early in the year, SmartCar introduced the ForTwo in the United States, the same vehicle prominent in Europe for several years. I haven’t driven the car yet, but it’s on the Wish List for 2009.

I’m not much for motorcycle racing, but in July I reported on the MotoGP, the world’s most lucrative motorcycle racing, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. I spent about two hours during qualifying in the garage of Texas rider Colin Edwards, a former world champion. I watched in amazement in the “operating room” just off the track as a crew of 15 worked frantically on Edwards’ $1.5 million bike each time he came off the track.

There were several highlights in August. With about 10 other reporters and photographers, I interviewed Mario Andretti in a low-key, informal setting at Laguna Seca Raceway. The man personifies “cool.”

And during the same trip to the Monterey Peninsula, I attended with a few friends the ultimate cool party at lavish Casa Palmero. It was the celebration Land Rover’s 60th anniversary, and I can’t remember having a better time.

Earlier in the same week, I attended the second day of the Concours on the Avenue on Ocean Ave. in Carmel. There was cool fog in the morning, ideal jazz playing via outdoor speakers throughout the day and it all unfolded with wondrous cars and their wondrous owners. The highlight: My new favorite car of all-time, a 1954 Kaiser Darrin . . . automotive nirvana. Instead of images of the Cars of the Year, I’ve posted three images of the Kaiser Darrin.

But I digress. Last year, I introduced dev.theweeklydriver.com’s first top-10 cars of the year list. It’s now time for the second edition.

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Experts from well-known automotive publications have reasons for their Cars of the Year and most of those reviewers know of what they speak (and write).

Like TheWeeklyDriver.com reviews, my choices for Best of the Year are chosen from an “Everyman’s” perspective. I’ll let others address technical performance calculations, top-end speeds and manufacturers’ spin. Some cars just “feel” right.

And so . . . here’s the top-10 list for 2008 with a brief part of my review of each car in quotes, a new comment and the price of each car as driven unless noted. I’ve also listed my best cars of 2007 choices for comparison.

2008 Cars of the Year

Audi A4

“The A4’s handsome interior design, attractive body style, exterior color (light silver metallic) and interior color (black) all work well together. But how the Audi shines is not via its color patterns. It’s with its aforementioned superior steering and handling. Every time I drive the car, I’m impressed with Audi’s engineering and the all-wheel drive system. The A4 grips the road, the steering seems ideally weighted and the vehicle gets above-average quietness marks. Combined with the clean interior lines and intuitive attractive instrumentation panel and the Audi is a near front-runner in a class led by the BMW 3 series.” Comment: Expensive option packages, but Audi is back, big time. Price: $41,700

Audi A8 W12

“Friends who know and fawn over cars love the 2008 Audi A8, W12 Quattro. Friends who own cars but view them simply as necessary transportation love the car. Even automobile cynics, for whom cars are among society’s biggest concerns, love it.” Comment: It’s over-the-top. It may get less than 10 mpg in city driving. It’s like a small apartment furnished in leather. It has a refrigerator and solar sunroof. How does that contradiction work? But why fuss? What’s not to like about blasting down the freeway in total control with a sweet Bang & Olufsen sound system blasting Steve Winwood’s new CD? Price: $140,565.

BMW 128i

“Grab the steering wheel, step on the gas, maneuver through traffic, power around corners and merge onto the freeway ramps with authority. Think open roads in Germany or winding country treks in the Northern California wine country. With a smaller convertible that still weighs nearly 3,300 pounds, the 128i is the vehicle that will only add to a picturesque driving experience.” Comment: This is the BMW consumers who previously couldn’t afford a BMW can buy without hesitation. It’s a great little convertible. Price: $33,875.

Cadillac CTS

“A mid-size entry level luxury car, the Cadillac CTS was introduced in 2003 as a replacement for the Cimarron. Five years later it’s become the manufacturer’s first success story in recent market campaign to sell vehicles to younger buyers. The CTS, in fact, is credited with rekindling the popularity of the Cadillac, whose sales dipped heavily in the 1990s in favor or Lexus, BMW and Mercedes. After its debut at the North American International Auto Show, success arrived quickly for the CTS after its public debut last August. Motor Trend magazine selected the CTS as its 2008 Car of the Year. After five years of the first generation CTS, it was redesigned for 2008, and it’s easy to see and feel why the car has generated glowing reviews.” Comment: This ain’t your daddy’s caddy. It’s hip, stylish and what a ride. Price: $38,840.

Honda Accord

“As one of the country’s most successful vehicles, Honda needs little help with the Accord. But for 2008, the Accord was redesigned and it’s a prime of example of taking a vehicle already an industry leader and making it better.” Comment: I often get asked, ‘what’s the best car to buy?’ I have no idea. But the Accord is hard to beat.” Comment: When all is said and done, the Accord may join the Model-T and Toyota Corolla as the most successful trio of cars in history. Price: $30,260.

Honda Civic Hybrid

“The 2008 edition continues the second generation of the Honda Civic hybrid, which was introduced in 2006 and has maintained a strong share in the ever-expanding hybrid market. In fact, with the exception of the Toyota Prius, which dominated hybrid sales in the United States in 2007, the Civic hybrid is the country’s most popular hybrid. Like I experienced when I first test drove the Civic hybrid in 2004, the current version in exceedingly quiet. During stops, for example, it seems the vehicle’s engine has stopped. Instead, it’s the engine operating solely on electric power.” Comment: Honda doesn’t make a bad car; the Civic hybrid may be its best. Price: $24,350.

Honda Fit

“The subcompact is in its second year in the United States and eighth worldwide since its debut in 2001 in Asia. By either name, Honda’s entry-level vehicle in 2008 is much the same as it was last year. Which is to say: For about half the average price of the “average” new car in this country, Fit owners benefit from one of the most economical, efficiently constructed and versatile vehicles available. The best part of the Fit is its surprisingly nice drive. With its 109-horsepower engine, the car isn’t about to establish any speed records. Yet, since it’s lightweight and efficiently constructed, the Fit moves around pretty nicely, with 0-60 mph in less than 10 seconds. Cornering and maneuvering is confident and at all speeds, although the Fit can’t boast of a quiet disposition.” Comment: Is there a better car in the United States for the money? Price: $16,070.

Kia Amanti

“Amanti’s refined looks and its generous features are also complemented by a swell drive. The Kia flagship accelerates well in traffic and cruises with a nice, quiet ride in highway situations. The power steering is near effortless and the car maneuvers in and of tight situations without hesitation. Five years ago, I concluded the debut Amanti was a surprising newcomer and that its more luxurious cousins would do well to keep a close watch on their half-priced relative. What I can’t figure out is why the Amanti still hasn’t become more of a family category leader.” Comment: It looks a Mercedes, an Audi and a Lincoln Towncar. Nothing wrong with that, is there? Price: $31,695.

Mini-Cooper Clubman

“It may not be possible to have any more fun driving than while scooting around town or plowing down the road in a Mini-Cooper. Add the new Clubman body style (it has rear storm doors) into the mix, and there’s nothing more unique on the road. Mini Coopers have always just exuded playfulness, and it seems that’s just what the engineers had in mind to very cool extremes with the retro design of the five-door Clubman. Comment: Some retros work, some don’t. The Clubman works on every level, with the exception of a vast price range. Good value at entry level, expensive at top-end. Price: $32,950.

Nissan Altima

“Nissan redesigned the Altima sedan last year and it received a good share of praise from buyers who liked its new sportier approach and improved comfort. With the 2008 Altima coupe, the improvements continue with more design changes. The two-door features unique body panels that share only the hood. Additionally, the wheelbase and overall length has been shortened and it the coupe has an upgraded suspension. The result is a Euro-styled machine that garners further attention from passersby and deserves even more consideration after it’s driven.” Comment: Easy to overlook, but no regrets from those who didn’t. Price: $20,050 (base).

The Weekly Driver’s 2007 Cars of the Year

Cadillac CTS, Honda CR-V, Honda Fit, Honda Ridgeline, Hyundai Elantra, Lincoln MKZ, Mini-Cooper, Saab 9-3, Saturn Aura, Volkswagen EOS.

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