1. 2008 AUDI R8 ($110,000)
I’ve driven some impressive cars this year, including the $1.4 million Bugatti Veyron 16.4. Yet I was unprepared for the wide-eyed adulation that greeted Audi’s challenger to the Porsche 911. Everywhere the R8 went, cameras clicked and cellphones spread the word. Young dudes in a Dakota pursued the R8 across New Jersey on Interstate 80, sometimes hanging out of the windows in ecstasy. Adoring crowds gathered in parking lots. Isn’t this why people spend $100,000 and more for a trophy car? (Along with the fact that the R8 handles beautifully and makes a growl that stirs your soul.)
2. CADILLAC CTS ($47,590 as tested)
Like the Corvette, the CTS proves there’s life left in Detroit. The CTS is not only the best American luxury sedan, it’s a no-apologies rival to models from Europe and Japan. It handles with creamy precision and is as quiet as any Lexus or Benz. A sophisticated interior replaces the old Caddy-shack design.
3. HONDA ACCORD ($21,995-$31,105)
The first time I got into this elegant new sedan and drove off, I had to ask myself, “Have I accidentally stolen a BMW?” This latest Accord, all new for 2008, positively oozes style, sophistication and mechanical savvy. Always very good, the new Accord has graduated to great.
4. FERRARI 599 GTB FIORANO ($320,000)
It is the finest automobile on the road — too bad they are already sold out and so expensive few of us will ever drive one. The 599 is indeed costly, but it has features found only on million-dollar cars — like its Enzo-sourced 612-horsepower V-12 engine. Despite its 3.7-second 0-60 capability and 205 m.p.h. top speed, this is a car that is also tuned so that it can be a docile everyday driver. The sophistication and beauty of this latest Ferrari elevates it from a sublime piece of machinery to fine art.
5. 2008 PORSCHE 911 GT3 (base price $108,360)
I’ve never fully warmed to the turbocharged, all-wheel-drive 911s, and the GT3 reminded me why. This rear-drive, naturally aspirated, 415-horse Porsche is not only the quintessential 911, it’s the quintessential sports car, a street-legal racecar with no hyperbole attached.
6. ROLLS-ROYCE PHANTOM DROPHEAD COUPÉ ($407,000)
The world’s most expensive four-seat convertible, this opulently appointed land yacht is worthy of note because BMW, which began producing Rolls-Royces only in 2003, has done an admirable job of capturing the essence of British luxury — better than the British are doing these days, in fact.
7. 2008 GMC ACADIA ($44,860)
G.M.’s dreadful minivans are gone and its unrefined midsize S.U.V.’s, like the Chevy TrailBlazer, will soon follow. In their place are three impressive crossover wagons. (The Saturn Outlook and Buick Enclave are closely related.) Among big people movers, these rank up there with the Mercedes GL-Class and the Honda Odyssey, and that’s a nice crowd to hang out with at the tailgate party.
8. 2007 BMW 335i CONVERTIBLE ($54,540)
If style, speed and sun are your travel criteria, this convertible is a ticket to paradise. The BMW drives like a sports car, yet it’s suited to an elegant top-down cruise for four. The 300-horse twin-turbo 6 is a marvel of compact power; like having a superhero under the hood.
9. 2008 CHEVROLET MALIBU ($21,470)
Sure, G.M. kept promising that this all-new sedan would be a winner, but didn’t it say the same thing about the 20 or 30 midsize sedans that preceded it? This time, Chevy really does seem to have gotten the Malibu right, as a mainstream car that is refined, quiet and handsome. It may be the most satisfying midmarket midsize sedan from G.M. since the 1970s, and for about $20,000 the 4-cylinder version is a screaming deal.
10. PORSCHE CAYENNE ($43,400-$93,700)
This polarizing Porsche is the best S.U.V. you can buy. If you can get over the fact that the venerable German sports car maker has stooped to making S.U.V.’s, the Cayenne has a lot going for it: high-quality materials, unparalleled driving dynamics and a hip factor missing in other S.U.V.’s. And where else can you find a Porsche V-8?