In the 16-year history of Car and Driver's 10Best Cars competition, there has
never been a year when six new vehicles forced their way into our hearts and
onto our annual list of favorites. Until now.
That makes 1998 a very special vintage for new vehicles, a fact that won't be
lost on the more observant followers of this recent cutthroat competition in the
auto industry. Cars that are affordable are steadily becoming more powerful and
more sophisticated, and traditional luxury makers are now reaching toward the
mid-price market in search of more sales. Things change.
Our 10Best rules, however, haven't changed, so we can easily accommodate
these new shifts and shunts in the marketplace. To become a contender, a vehicle
must first go on sale by the end of January 1998. Its base price, including
freight, dealer prep -- and those nasty luxury and gas-guzzler taxes, if they
apply -- must not exceed our price cap, which is $55,000 this year. (That cap
has changed over the years. It is computed by multiplying last summer's average
new-vehicle transaction price, as determined by the National Automobile Dealers
Association, times two and one-half. The cap ensures that our list is not
populated by machines available only to those who spell their names Buffett,
Gates, and Walton.)
Although we'll consider any car, minivan, sport-utility vehicle, or pickup
that meets those simple ground rules, we don't just gather together examples of
the 250-some vehicles on the market. Here's how it works. First, we
automatically renominate last year's winners, provided they are still for sale
and haven't burst through the price ceiling. Then we go over all the information
gathered at new-car introductions over the past year. We also pore over shelves
of press kits and scour our data banks to identify all the models that are new
or have been significantly upgraded since last year. For the record, that
process resulted in this year's field of 56 nominees.
Next, we politely ask the proud parents of those 56 to cough up a vehicle.
The nominees are then secreted to our hush-hush testing facility that is deep in
the woods and winding roads outside our Ann Arbor world headquarters. We bring
in our far-flung staff -- the West Coast crew, the Panama City office, the
chairman of Brockworld, European correspondents Ray Hutton and Peter Robinson,
and select contributors. Total 'em up, and our 16 judges this year came armed,
en masse, with 285 years of experience in automotive journalism. Every day for a
week, these fellows examined and evaluated the nominees (and spent at least one
night poring over the complexities of the hefeweizen and porter stockpiled at
the Sidetrack, a watering hole in Ypsilanti's Depot Town).
At the end of the week, the judges took out their scorecards and rated each
of the 56 vehicles on a scale of 100. What follows, in alphabetical order, are
the 10 vehicles that got the highest average scores.
By Csaba Csere