And the Winner Is…

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
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and the winner is

Once again, it's time for the yearly pseudo-slugfest known as The Car of the Year. Across this great country of ours, every car-related newspaper, magazine, radio station, TV outlet and website (excluding this one) are busy awarding their favorite manufacturers an automotive attaboy. Once again, both the choices and selection process fall perilously close to farce.

Far be it for me to claim that the various juries are inherently biased. Like the majority of the panelists charged with sorting the wheat from the Ford 500's, I'm also a middle-aged white man. While I don't share my colleagues' sanctimonious regard for cars whose novel propulsion systems and dubious mileage figures are their best– if not only– distinguishing characteristic, I grew up with the same infatuation for speed and style. So none of their non-PC nominees come as any great surprise.

Well, actually, what the Hell is a Chevrolet Impala SS doing in Car and Driver's list of potential 10Besters? While the 240hp version of the whitebread sedan may be a great car– a matter of not much debate amongst pistonheads– what makes it better than Subaru's new Legacy? A lubed-for-life chassis? Of course, I can't second-guess this seemingly odd choice, as I've never driven the souped-up Impala. On the other hand, by its own admission, neither has C&D. Along with four other nominees (Mercedes CLS500 and SLK55 AMG, Mercury Montego, Chevrolet Cobalt and Porsche Boxster), the SS was "not available for evaluation".

That strikes me as more than a little strange. Don't get me wrong: I respect any organization that can find a bunch of car guys willing to complete a test drive on a Suzuki Reno (another surprise contender). But why did Car and Driver include theoretical cars in a subjective competition? Surely it's hard enough trying to rate "how each car performed its intended function, as we perceived it." With that caveat safely on board, nothing's out of bounds. Hell, you could give GMC's Vortec-powered Sierra Hybrid pickup truck the highest honor for 'fulfilling its intended function as the world's fastest electric generator'.

Actually, C&D offers no less than ten honors, including "Best Muscle Car". Cynics amongst you might wonder if this new category was concocted for the sole purpose of giving the Ford Motor Company a nod, but I couldn't possibly comment– other than to point out that the current muscle car market consists of exactly two vehicles (the Ford Mustang and Pontiac GTO). And while we're at it, what's the precise difference between Best Sports Coupe, Best Performance Car and Best Sports Car? My mind's a little muddled on that point– especially as C&D's editors laud the Coupe-winning RX8 as a "practical sports car".

Fortunately, Motor Trend's Car of the Year award avoids this sort of Miss Congeniality-style comprehensiveness. The 300C is it and that's that– unless you want to know why the 300C is more worthy of their ultimate honor than say, the Kia Amonti . MT's explanation of their selection process is remarkably detailed, stocking enough adjectives to fill up three books of Mad Libs. With fine print like that, the magazine could have given their beloved golden calipers to the new John Deere 5525 tractor.

AutoRox, a Spike TV show hoping to become the automotive Oscars, added a little democracy to the mix; the producers gave viewers a chance to vote on some of the aspirants for their as-yet-unnamed hood ornament. Of course, the nominees were all chosen by a distinguished panel (i.e. The Usual Suspects). While Spike's televisual hipsters added a bit of spizzarkle to the tried-and-true categories– "Most Jammin' Truck, The Mid-Life Crisis Car, Tastiest Tuner" etc.– it's hard not to conclude that the network is presenting the same old fish in an MTV rapper.

I'm sure I'm not the only pistonhead who finds all these awards a highly dubious enterprise. But then, the awards aren't designed for our consumption. A die-hard car enthusiast is hardly likely to regard an accolade from C&D or Spike TV or any other representative of the mainline automotive press as the final word on a vehicle's desirability. No, these awards are targeted at the non-enthusiasts, consumers who know next to nothing about cars. Manufacturers use the titles to convince automotive atheists that a given product has received the experts' blessings. In short, the awards are a kind of Christmas kickback from the motoring press to their prime benefactors.

The awards process may be tainted, but everyone in the biz knows it's all in the name of fun. There's only one fair way to identify the "best" car in any given segment. Look for the one at the top of the sales chart.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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 1 comment
  • Mikey Mikey on Jan 06, 2009

    OK: 36 years of reading sales reports,so I figure out if I could go 6 months without being layed off.It wasn't just wasted time thanks. 2005 Impala car of the year eh! Whod'a thunk

  • Tassos Unlike Tim, I don't use this space as a wastebasket for ANYTHING BUT a proper used car.If you seriously need a car AND you are as destitute as Tim's finds imply, HERE IS A PROPER ONE FOR YOUR NEEDS:You can probably get it for only $4k, WITH Leather, Factory Navigation, plenty of room and a V6. even considered getting it myself as an extra reliable car.
  • Jeff Of all the EV trucks I like the Rivian the best but I am still years away if ever from buying an EV.
  • Kwik_Shift I definitely like the looks of the newest 300s over the Chargers.
  • SCE to AUX "Should car companies shack up with tech giants in order to produce legible infotainment systems and the like? Or should they go it alone?"Great question(s).The River Rouge days are gone, where Ford produced whole cars out of raw materials entering the plant at the other end. Nearly everything is outsourced these days - sometimes well, sometimes disastrously.But the problem with infotainment systems is that they are integrated with the car's operation. VW has delayed entire products for issues with infotainment.For me, the question boils down to a contractual arrangement - who owns and maintains the code forever? Since more and more of the car's function is tied to the infotainment system, I'd argue that the car mfr needs to own it - especially the larger ones.Do mfrs really want to share intellectual property with Huawei just to fast-track some code they've managed themselves in the past?
  • Kwi65728132 I always did like the styling of the 300C and it was on my short list for a new (to me) rear wheel drive, naturally aspirated V8 luxury sedan but I found a Hyundai Equus that was better optioned than any 300C I could find and for several grand less.