Car of the Year 2006: The Competition

It was perhaps worth the reader’s while to pause at the threshold of so much automotive wit and wisdom to weigh the value of a “Car of the Year” feature in what is, properly speaking, a lifestyle magazine. Certainly, inquiring readers can choose from a variety of dedicated car digests whose editors have scoured the marketplace for their four-wheeled prey, which they then herd together for sacrifice. Like high priests before the temple of an all-consuming consumer god, they perform their rituals, crunching numbers, kicking the proverbial tires, and examining the vehicles’ entrails for omens good or bad—all with the object of resting, at the close of their rites, a golden laurel upon the hood of the most worthy. The Chosen One, in these instances, tends to be the car that appeals to the broadest range of buyers, while inducing the mildest case of sticker shock. The portion of the public who will purchase an automobile once every three to five years—and whose selection must do duty as daily commuter, occasional opera coach, and bus for various unruly children and wildlife—is well served by these annual sacraments; but a minute and meticulous segment of the car-buying populace will predicate its decisions in 2006 not on common denominators and practical considerations, but on individual passions informed by a measure of rational judgment.

For these enthusiasts, different models and makes suit different moods and moments. Owning one car is like owning one suit: A frequent change is both desirable and salubrious. And in this respect, the Robb Report Car of the Year competition differs from that of any other magazine. Although we take into account technical specifications and comparative performance, our goal is to gather together only the very best sports and luxury cars in order to discover how each of them excites the imagination and the senses.

To accomplish this, our staff assem­bled a group of distinguished panelists (see “The Driving Force,” page 150), all of whom are potential owners of these vehicles, which included the following 2006 model-year contenders: the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Audi A8 L W12, Bentley Continental Flying Spur, BMW M5, Cadillac STS-V, Chevrolet Corvette Z06, Dodge Viper SRT-10 Coupe, Ferrari F430 Spider, Fisker Tramonto, Land Rover Range Rover Sport, Lexus RX400h, Maserati GranSport, Mercedes-Benz CLS55 AMG, and Spyker C8 Spyder. Two groups of roughly 20 intrepid drivers put these 14 automotive masterpieces through their paces over the course of two days at the Napa Valley Reserve, a members-only vineyard and winery located in St. Helena, Calif., adjacent to the Meadowood resort. Their somewhat nebulous instruction was to choose the vehicle that most successfully accomplishes its intended purpose: The designers of the Lexus hybrid SUV, for instance, clearly had objectives for that car quite distinct from those of, say, the Ferrari.

As one would expect in a group of conspicuous individuals, each marque had its promoters and apologists, and so readers of these pages should not be surprised if the mix of opprobrium, approbation, and faint praise that follows—all of it culled over long and liquid dinners at Shafer Vineyards, Spring Mountain Vineyard, Rudd Vineyards & Winery, and Staglin Family Vineyard—does not always appear to be in sync with the final rankings, which reflect the combined scores of the participants and editors. The extent to which you agree or disagree with the views expressed will depend upon your own personality: After all, cars are lifestyle. If you believed otherwise, you’d be holding Motor Trend in your hands right now.

1. Ferrari F430 Spider

2. Bentley Continental Flying Spur

3. Aston Martin V8 Vantage

4. Maserati GranSport

5. Mercedes-Benz CLS55 AMG

6. Chevrolet Corvette Z06

7. Audi A8 L W12

8. BMW M5

9. Lexus RX400h

10. Spyker C8 Spyder

11. Fisker Tramonto

12. Land Rover Range Rover Sport

13. Dodge Viper SRT-10 Coupe

14. Cadillac STS-V

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