Car of the Year: Emotion in Motion

For much of the magazine’s 35-year history, the Robb Report Car of the Year competition has furnished four-wheeled fodder for an audience interested in unique motoring experiences. Since the 2003 contest, however, our readers have been, as it were, in the driver’s seat. Prior to that time, our team of seasoned automotive journalists was charged with selecting the new model of sports or luxury car that, in its collective opinion, most gratifyingly addressed the human love of locomotion. Yet nine years ago, we decided to take an experimental detour on a road less traveled. Given that so many of our readers are avid automotive aficionados and collectors, we reasoned, why not invite a group of them to participate in the judging process?

This editorial leap of faith was unusual. We editors, after all, are paid for our opinions, which are very near and dear to our ink-stained hearts. Professional habit, however, can sometimes make us myopic, and the interested nonprofessional brings added insight and emotion to this contest of incomparable cars. While our tribe of journalists is inclined to assay a vehicle’s virtues and faults with a detached eye before moving on to the next prospect, our guests tend to regard each offering with the personal passion and finely tuned instincts of a suitor sizing up a potential mate. No matter how alluring the lines of one car may appear or how seductively the engine of another might purr, few if any of our judges are swayed by appearances or the thrill of the moment: In the end, each of them must choose the model—or, in some cases, models—that will ultimately be parked in his or her own garage.

As potential owners of these vehicles, rather than simply admirers, this year’s panelists (see "Steer­ing Committee," page 128) looked beyond the surface trappings and storied badges in search of substance. These discriminating consumers carefully considered not only power and performance but also finesse, comfort, attention to detail, and integrity of design before determining which of these contenders best realized the tacit promise its engineers made to the driver. As in past competitions, the task was far from simple, given the diverse missions of these luxury sedans, coupes, and sports cars—not to mention the fact that this year’s lineup included multiple models from two marques. The roster of would-be winners included the Aston Martin Rapide, Aston Martin V12 Vantage, Audi A8L, Audi R8 V10 Spyder, Bentley Mulsanne, BMW Alpina B7, Cadillac CTS-V, Ferrari 458 Italia, Jaguar XJ Supersport, Lotus Evora, Maserati GranTurismo Convertible, Mercedes-Benz CL63 AMG, Porsche 911 Turbo S, and Rolls-Royce Ghost.

In keeping with tradition, the evaluations took place during daylong driving sessions headquartered at the Napa Valley Reserve, a members-only vineyard club located adjacent to the Meadowood resort in St. Helena, Calif., where the judges lodged. At the end of each session, the drivers collected their notes, fortified themselves with a glass of Krug Champagne, and gathered to discuss their findings over prodigious feasts at Blackbird Vineyards’ Ma(i)sonry, Far Niente Winery, Spring Moun­tain Vineyard, and Staglin Family Vineyard. The views expressed were as colorful and complex as the wines that filled the glasses, but as bottles gradually emptied, the results contained on the following pages emerged. And so we invite our readers to turn this page to discover which of the 14 participating vehicles their peers finally chose as Robb Report’s Car of the Year 2011.

Visit your local newsstand or RobbReport.com as we unveil what our editors and judges have to say about these magnificent machines.

Photo by Gerald Farber Photography
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