DARNESTOWN, Md. – It was quite a year. We road-tested a boatload of cars — everything from a tiny Honda Fit (what a name!) to a Porsche Cayman S. Then it was off to the Northwest for two days in beautiful Oregon behind the wheels of three Ferraris.
We got a glimpse of where General Motors (GM) is going, and we can tell you there is lots of life left in the company. CEO Rick Wagoner and Bob Lutz, his No. 2, might just pull the nation's biggest car company out of the swamp.
As we said last year, all the cars in our best-of share a common trait: They're fun to drive. Judging from your notes, a lot of you love to drive, and we've tried to share that passion for the open road with you.
Drum roll, please:
Car of the Year
Granted, at $200,000-plus the Ferrari F430 coupe and convertible doesn't fit many budgets. But if you have that kind of a bank account, you simply couldn't do any better in the market for high-performance sports cars. A big mid-ship 483-horsepower V8 that rips you to 60 mph in four seconds is matched with the handling of a pure thoroughbred.
The F430 stirs the blood, raises the pulse, and produces big grins for enthusiast drivers. Just magnificent.
Best Sports Car
For the price of the F430, you could purchase two of our selection — the Porsche Cayman S — and have cash left over. So from one perspective, the Cayman's a deal, but it's much more than that. It's also the perfect blend of performance, quality, and luxury that people expect from this storied brand. We simply couldn't get enough of the great sounds the Porsche six made from just a few inches behind your head. See the Cayman S review.
The Hyundai Azera is the first car from Hyundai that could keep the folks at Toyota and Honda awake at night. With a base price of $24,535, the Azera is a high-quality piece of work that is brimming with standard equipment.
It wasn't a great year for sedans, but the Toyota Camry SE stands out for its combination of price, quality, durability, performance, and in the case of the SE, a touch of handling. It does everything a family could want in a car, shy of a performance standard that would only attract those with blue lights on top of their car.
Best Family Vehicle
As we noted in our road test, the Mercedes R350 is, by any measure, a van. And what won us over was the way Mercedes designed a vehicle that can truly carry six people — three rows of two seats each — in first-class comfort. While we voiced some quality-control concerns, if you want six happy campers, this is the vehicle.
Best Gas Sipper
One drive-thru attendant said it all about the Honda Fit — "Cool car." The Fit's a high-quality economy car that is also a hoot to drive around town. It offers crisp handling, adequate power, and EPA rated mileage of 33-38 miles per gallon. We still like the European name — "Jazz" — better.
Proof that Detroit Ain't Dead Yet
It's the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, hands down. A pure American hell-raising car, it's as hot as Shelby's chili. An even 500-horsepower nets a 4.5-second run to 60. This one handles, too.
It's the kind of car that we couldn't wait to take out for one more drive — just one more, please!
Best Uber Alles Car
We found the Bentley Continental Flying Spur powerful, luxurious, and a joy to drive. Under the hood is a knockout 6.0-liter, 551-horsepower V-12 that kicks the Spur to 60 in 4.9 seconds — just right for fleeing the paparazzi. If you want to show the world you've made it but aren't up for a Rolls, the Flying Spur's the way to go.
Best Hardtop Convertible
Tight, bright, and fun to drive, the Volkswagen Eos easily won in this category. We very much like cars with a nice balance of handling, power and quality construction. The Eos had all these, and an easy-to-take base price of $27,990. And it doesn't look like a Beetle.
Keep a sharp eye on the Saturn brand. GM's giving it some love. We've driven and very much liked the new Aura, which packs a lot of value for the dollar, and we've gone over from stem to stern the new Outlook crossover vehicle. With more goodies down the road, Saturn's sun seems to be rising.
Copyright (c) 2006 MarketWatch, Inc.