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10 Best Cars

For 1998, 2 BMW's are in Car and Driver's Top Ten


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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.

BMW 328i/M3

BMW 5-Series

By Csaba Csere

 


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