Driving Northwest: The top 11 cars of 2008

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by By TOM VOELK / Special to KING5.com

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KING5.com

Posted on November 13, 2009 at 1:37 PM

Video: Driving Northwest: The top 11 cars of 2008

2008 may have been brutal for the auto industry but there have never been so many great cars.Competition is fierce to say the least.Despite what our congressmen in Washington D.C. may think, everyone, and I do mean everyone is turning out world class product these days. I drove nearly 100 different examples of modern transportation this year and only a couple were duds. Things are just that good. With a tip of my hat to "This is Spinal Tap" I humbly offer up my Top 11 List.

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I base my choices on design, value, overall driving dynamics and how each vehicle stacks up to the competition in its class.There are a few rules I always follow in this yearly ritual.To keep things somewhat sane I have a price cap of $75,000.That keeps the fabulous Nissan GT-R, BMW M3 convertible and Audi R8 out of the hunt.If I didn't drive it then it doesn't make the cut. Embarrassingly it means I have to pass on both major league pickup dbuts, Dodge Ram and Ford F150. I hear excellent things about both. Finally, previous winners are allowed to compete even if I didn't warm their seats in '08. Let's begin in alphabetical order.

. I drove the V8 S5and I can still hear the throaty engine in my dreams.Athletic and full of character, the A coupes ooze sophistication inside and out.We should all be so lucky.This Audi handles both luxury and performance roles with ease.

returns from 2007's Top 11 list.Distinctive knife edged style, dynamic performance and a well crafted cabin keep this car a winner.Available in rear and all-wheel drive, CTS proves The General has what it takes to compete. Leave this performance sedan off your test drive list and you're only cheating yourself.

is also back for a second year.In the white hot sedan market Malibu offers up what people want - an exceptional balance of handsome design, composed comfort and excellent fuel economy. All that at a reasonable price. A friend of mine saw one drive by and assuming it was imported asked "Why can't Americans build cars like that?" They do and it is good.

The perfect '70s time machine has been built and it's the . The Prius crowd may not like the idea of a muscle car revival but this Dodge really draws a crowd.Punch the go pedal and an involuntary grin will stretch across your face. Not only does it have excellent performance and handling, it's perfectly drawn.Challenger gets my vote for design of the year.I prefer the R/T version to the uber powerful SRT8 because R/T offers better bang for the buck.

delivers on their outgoing slogan Bold Moves. It looks like a giant Scion xB or MINI Cooper. This rectangle on wheels is uncommonly quiet, spacious as a limo and can be had with Microsoft's Sync system. There's even an optional refrigerator allowing Ford to quip it's the only vehicle on the road with a Sync and a fridge. If you need to transport seven people, Flex makes it hip to be square.

The small is a big deal.New and improved this year, it'f s frisky, frugal, and functional.It can hold five adults and handle loads of cargo with unique folding seats that have more moves that Juliana Huff.Looking to keep the budget lean? Fit is clearly the most engaging car in its class.Put it on top of your test drive list. I'll have a full report on the Fit in the next week or two.

is luxury redefined.Artistic, theatrical and emotional, the XF delights everyone who comes near it.The start button pulses with a heartbeat and the transmission controller rises up upon engine ignition. At night the instrument panel looks like a character from the classic Disney movie Tron.This is a beautiful car that almost seems alive, especially to a driver.

Who says families have to drive boring cars? has grown up in its redesign.There's generous room for five adults, spirited acceleration with the optional V6, crisp handling and sheetmetal that looks as if it were rendered in Italy.The 6 is one of the most dramatically improved cars of 2008.Check it out.

.Possibly the most overlooked sedan of 2008.Many cars claim to be a budget BMW, G8 comes the closest.A true rear-drive performance machine, it's sized like a 5 Series but priced below the 3. Where I come from that's called a good deal.Available in V6, V8 GT, and soon the extra-strength GPX edition. Screwed together in Australia, G8 is the classic American performance sedan.

At first glance it would be easy to view crossover as the new Lexus RX350. It looks that good. The pleasantly designed cabin will haul five adults and their luggage.Venza is not a radical new kind of vehicle but a steady stream of small details keeps popping up, winning people over. Available in front or all-wheel drive, Venza will keep families happy for the long haul.

Finally, .German engineering that looks and feels more expensive than it is. In the week I spent with this car it served my family's needs perfectly, even enduring a mega shopping spree at IKEA.Available with a clean diesel engine that returns high MPG, SportWagen is fun to drive and useful to boot.If you don't buy in to the misconception that wagons are dowdy, SportWagen just may become your best friend.

Those are my top picks for 2008. You may have noticed the links that will send you to longer written reviews and streaming videos. For the director's cut video, go to Apple's iTunes store and search for "car reviews." My Emmy Award-winning podcast DRIVE will come up.Just a little shameless plug there.

It was unusually tough to cull this list down this year. Other cars I enjoyed in '08 are Acura TL, TSX and MDX, Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Buick Enclave, Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Journey, Infiniti G37, Kia Rondo, Mazda5 and Subaru Forester.All of these were seriously considered as possible Top 11 choices and worth a strong look.

Many of your e-mails this year urged me to give favor to American brands in light of their situation.Sorry. No can do. Car reviews are unique things, based on both hard facts and intangible emotional opinions.I do my best to consider who the car is targeted to and offer up my observations. I won't handicap or compromise.Five of these vehicles may be "Big 3" brands but Challenger is made in Canada and G8 assembled in the land of Oz.Venza and Mazda6 are not only built in the US but unique to our country.See where I'm headed?

As always feel free to comment below, lively discussion is always good.Just keep it polite, OK?Those buying a car in '09 are in luck; the market is ultra competitive.Quality has never been better and dealers are dealing. My best advice?Test drive at least three different vehicles in the category you've chosen. Cars are a big investment and the more of them you experience the morecertain you'll be that the right one for you ends up in your driveway. See you in 2009. It promises to be a fascinating year.

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