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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Inside Line's Editors Most Wanted for 2009

This past year, Edmunds' Inside Line has tested more cars and trucks than any other car mag, more than any other Web site. Since your New Year's Day hangover, there have been hundreds of cars and trucks pushed and shoved around our test track and evaluated by our staff.

Test that many machines and you're sure to find a few losers — cars we'd like to forget. We even sent a few home by truck after they proved incapable of making it under their own power. But there were some winners in there, too. The cars and trucks we simply didn't want to give back.

It's these cars and trucks that have inspired the Edmunds' Inside Line Editors' Most Wanted Awards. Just as the name says, these are the vehicles that the editors of Inside Line want the most. They're simply our personal favorites — the cars and trucks we like best, like it or not.

The Selection Process
Just as it was last year, our selection process is extremely simple. There's only one real rule: Inside Line must have tested the car or truck by November 1. And there's only one hard category: Instant Classic. The other five winners are chosen freeform. In fact, every single car and truck on the market is eligible for all six slots. There's no price cap, and no nonsense about having to be a new model or a redesigned nameplate. Essentially, we could honor any car or truck.

But we don't want to award six supercars either, so we have drawn ourselves a few guidelines. In an effort to keep it real, we attempt to choose a vehicle for each of the following needs: speed, luxury, hauling, commuting and family. However, the editors are not obligated to award a vehicle associated with each. If the Inside Line editors want to award supercars only, we still have that option.

The voting process involved 11 IL editors locked in a room, arguing about the cars they like best. A vehicle needed eight votes to win. It was all over and done with in about two hours and $120 worth of Subway sandwiches. And it was fun. Very little blood was shed and only one punch thrown.

In the end, we ended up with a list of six truly great cars and trucks. Ladies and Gentlemen, the 2009 Edmunds' Inside Line Editors' Most Wanted Award winners are:

2009 Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG
So much for green, but it's hard to cry for poor old Mother Earth after you feel the Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG gather speed. You'd swear it's being towed behind John Force's Funny Car. Even Ed Begley, Jr. would want another rip around the block. Tires smoking, of course.

With 12 cylinders of twin-turbocharged engine pumping out a monstrous 604 horsepower and an astounding 738 pound-feet of torque, trust us, this Mercedes-Benz S65 will get you in a whole heap of trouble, real quick.

You can blast up the left lane and lesser, mere automobiles will scatter to the right in deference to the S65. And when you come up on the dolt ahead who refuses, or is too dumb, to move right, you can quickly dispatch him with disdain as you flick the huge car to the right, tip in a little throttle, then swing back left and around him. Look in the mirror and you're a thousand yards ahead of him. He's no longer even an inconvenience.

It's exactly what you would expect from the flagship of the Mercedes-Benz fleet. Even at the astonishing price of $190,000, the S65 does not disappoint. This car is the absolute king of the road and driving it will make you king of the hill. — Joe Oldham, Inside Line Contributor

2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1
The 2009 Chevy Corvette ZR1 hits the 60-mph mark in just 3.8 seconds (3.5 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and covers the quarter-mile in 11.5 seconds at a staggering 128.3 mph. That's the quickest quarter-mile acceleration of any production car we've ever tested.

The Inside Line records continued to fall in our handling tests; 74.7-mph pass through the slalom (this is the second-fastest slalom speed we've recorded from a production car), 1.06g around the skid pad and a 60-0-mph stopping distance of just 96 feet.

It's even better off the track and in the real world. You know, the real world, where there are ruts and potholes, rain grooves and debris. This is a good thing. The more we drove, the more convinced we became that GM's engineers know a thing or two about ride control. The 638-hp 2009 Chevy Corvette ZR1 manages at once to be both brutally quick and remarkably mild-mannered. Around town it's a pussycat. And an interstate run is no prison sentence.

With the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, GM has created a machine that is engaging to drive and capable of making insane numbers on the test track, but also manages to be a legitimate road car. It's a combination as rare as truth in a presidential debate, and we're proud to experience it in an American car. — Josh Jacquot, Inside Line Senior Road Test Editor

2009 Honda Odyssey
For the second year in a row, the Honda Odyssey is our favorite people hauler.

The reason is simple. It's quiet, beautifully finished and well-equipped. It also handles better than some sedans and is the only minivan that could be considered a driver's car. It's the one Dad can drive without feeling like Mom.

Chassis refinement and driving feel are where the Odyssey shines. This van performs with grace, never losing its composure even when driven with gusto, as body roll is nearly absent and the steering retains accuracy and enough (but not too much) heft. Although it'll never give a Lotus Elise a run for its money, if there's such a thing as a "driver's minivan," the Odyssey is it. No other minivan feels as substantial or refined as the Honda.

Its 3.5-liter 24-valve VTEC V6 is also fun to play with. It makes 241 hp and gets this van to 60 mph in a respectable 8.7 seconds.

But the Odyssey's appeal is not only about the drive. This van has won two recent Inside Line comparison tests partly because it also continues to hold an interior space advantage over its rival the Dodge Grand Caravan, as well as large SUVs and crossovers. It easily accommodates seven comfortably, with room enough for their stuff. If you need more room, consider an articulated bus. — John Pearley Huffman, Inside Line Contributor

2009 BMW 128i
The 2008 BMW 128i is not the tail-wagger's dream car. While an M3 begs for tail-out powerslides, the 128i simply carves through corners the way a BMW always has, doing everything in its power to keep its driver on the road. Its near-perfect 51/49-percent weight distribution and 104.7-inch wheelbase make it responsive yet stable, so you don't have to resort to hooliganism to have a good time.

Although this is an entry-level BMW, it has the same MacPherson struts in front and multilink setup in back as the 3 Series, and the Sport package brings you 205/50R17 front and 225/45R17 rear Goodyear Eagle NCT 5 all-season tires, so it corners confidently and predictably. The 128i comes equipped with both stability control and BMW's Dynamic Traction Control as standard equipment, and the DTC can be turned off if you have a hankering to burn some Goodyear.

Its normally aspirated 3.0-liter inline-6 makes 230 hp at 6,500 rpm and 200 pound-feet of torque at 2,750 rpm, vaulting the 128i to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds (5.7 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and through the quarter-mile in 14.3 seconds at 96.5 mph. And its EPA rating of 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway is just frugal enough to keep the guilt away.

Meanwhile, the six-speed manual transmission snicks through the gears with BMW's characteristic smoothness, and the little coupe never feels low-rent or lowbrow. It may not be the ultimate BMW, but the little 128i is pure BMW just the same. — Doug Lloyd, Senior Copy Editor

2009 Dodge Ram
Pickups ride significantly better with weight in the bed than without. Virtually everyone who has driven a loaded pickup has observed this and accepted it as mantra. Yet this is not the case with the all-new 2009 Dodge Ram 1500. Instead, it just rides well all the time.

Its newfangled (well, for pickups anyway) five-link coil-spring rear suspension for the solid rear axle in the 2009 Dodge Ram raises the bar for pickup versatility by providing a supple and refined ride no matter the terrain. Rough roads that send the solid rear axles of other trucks a-skitter don't even faze the Ram, even when there's no payload in the bed that would help keep the axle planted on the ground.

The Ram SLT's interior is also a success. The front seats, steering wheel and optional extending pedals adjust to accommodate nearly any humanoid, and the four bins in the rear seating area are a neat touch. The rear seats flip up in one motion. The road noise that finds its way into the cabin is minimal, enhancing the Ram's overriding impression of chassis refinement.

Under the hood is a 390-hp 5.7-liter Dodge V8. With its 407 pound-feet of torque, the Ram reaches 60 mph in 7.6 seconds (7.2 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and does the quarter-mile in 15.6 seconds at 87.7 mph.

Silverado, pass your torch. Chevy's pickup has been the touchstone of chassis composure among half-tons since it was introduced in 2007, but the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 changes the pecking order. This is an impressive truck, one that bridges the divide between capability and comfort in a way that is sure to be the envy of other manufacturers. — Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

Instant Classic: 2009 Nissan GT-R
For a few seconds, you give in to the spectacle of driving a 2009 Nissan GT-R. This car attracts its own entourage and then takes you along for the ride. It's not just the Skyline mystique, either. It's the fact that even in production sheet metal, the R35 GT-R looks like a one-off concept stolen from a Southern California design studio. It has as many hard contours as a Porsche 911 has soft curves. You have the key fob, and still you ogle it.

Soon, though, you point the GT-R down an on-ramp and plant the throttle. The effortless brutality with which the 2009 Nissan GT-R gathers speed is what you'll describe to your friends — once everyone's tired of talking about the styling, that is.

What you won't tell them is that you suspect your supercar might be a sociopath. It doesn't flow around corners like your E46 BMW M3 did, nor does it transmit feedback through the steering wheel for the sheer pleasure of it.

Instead, the 2009 Nissan GT-R bends asphalt to its will. When it talks to you about tire grip, you get the feeling it's only bothering because you're part of its great plan to break free of Earth's orbit. Should it ever achieve this, you imagine that its conversation will cease and it will simply expel you into the airless void. Until then, though, you have the conn. — Erin Riches, Inside Line Senior Editor