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Contributors: Judges, Jury, and Executors

Few assignments are as enviable as the one that requires some of our staff members to join a select group of readers and spend a couple of days each autumn at and around Napa Valley’s Meadowood resort, driving the Car of the Year contestants. But serving as an organizer, judge, and chronicler of Robb Report’s annual automotive extravaganza can be a trying task. “It’s always a challenge to gather so many disparate automobiles and weigh their merits objectively, one against the other. Personal biases inevitably enter into the equation. But that, as they say, is why we have chocolate and vanilla,” says Robert Ross, car cognoscenti member and senior vice president, creative director for CurtCo Media, Robb Report’s parent company. “This year’s group of cars was the most interesting we have assembled thus far, and the participants—twice as many of them as last year—were a very well-informed group of enthusiasts.”

In the five years that he has been involved with Car of the Year, Ross notes, he always has been surprised at how differently participants can react to a car. “What’s interesting is how the same automobile can elicit such antipodal responses from different drivers,” he says. “A few of us had a love affair with the Spyker and Dodge Viper, for instance, where other guys—who have enough driving and ownership experience to render a qualified opinion—just hated those cars.” Ross liked both. In fact, he cast his first-place vote for the Spyker, and not for the sake of being a contrarian. “The Ferrari and Maserati, for instance, are predictably excellent exotics,” Ross explains. “The Spyker, on the other hand, represents a unique vision and a stellar effort on the part of a very small, committed team. The result is not perfect in the way a series production car is expected to be perfect. But what Spyker has achieved, given the odds against success, is absolutely remarkable. That makes it my winner.”

As for the Car of the Year 2007, Ross already is compiling a list of candidates. “Thankfully, choosing the cars that will compete is not brain surgery,” he says. “What will be difficult is selecting a winner.”

Paul Dean, veteran auto journalist, editor at large, and former publisher of Robb Report, recalls when Car of the Year was just a feature, not an event. “In the previous century we rounded up our cadre of freelance auto writers, and I produced a short list based on their suggestions,” he says. “Over the ensuing few weeks, via angry telephone and e-mail arguing, and even the occasional judge quitting in mid-contest, we arrived at a winner.” He is not nostalgic for those times. “I welcomed it when it was decided the Car of the Year would become a Robb event where we collect a dozen or so cars, deliver them to a resort that reflects the elegance of the vehicles, and involve teams of chosen readers, with judging guided, of course, by our in-house editors—car guys all.”
 
Robb Report automotive editor Gregory Anderson, a first-time participant in the Car of the Year event, calls the competition the ultimate fruit basket. “It’s brimming with apples and oranges,” he says, “and there’s not a lemon in the bunch.” As for comparing those apples and oranges, Anderson explains, it is a matter of viewing each in the appropriate context. “Even for seasoned vets,” he says, “no comparison of such a diverse group of cars makes sense until you break them down into digestible pairs.” Thus, Anderson considered the Corvette’s merits versus the Viper’s, the BMW M5’s versus the Cadillac STS-V’s, the Ferrari F430’s versus the Spyker C8’s. “How does anyone compare a two-door, rear-drive convertible sports car to a five-door, four-wheel-drive sport-utility vehicle?” he asks. “The simple answer is, we don’t. But when you consider how well each vehicle matches up to the competitors within its respective segment, you gain access to the most elusive editorial device: perspective. There is no truer test of a car than a car against its competition.” 

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