Significance. It's one of the three key criteria against which the contenders for the 2008 Motor Trend Car of the Year are judged. And as the competition assembled at the giant Hyundai-Kia California Proving Ground, 100 miles north of Los Angeles in the Mojave Desert, it was clear this year's 18-car field was laden with truly significant vehicles.
The Honda Accord and Chrysler/Dodge minivan twins represented all-new interpretations of high-volume, benchmark vehicles that virtually defined their respective categories. We had reworked icons, too--the second-generation Audi TT, Mini Cooper, Subaru Impreza WRX, and Scion xB. We had new cars with old nameplates that carried the collective hopes of an entire company--Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Taurus, and Mitsubishi Lancer. We had an all-new Mercedes-Benz C-Class, packed with technology and Teutonic swagger, and we had an all-new Audi coupe that may just be one of the most beautiful cars ever from Ingolstadt. And we had the best damn Cadillac in 50 years.
Picking a winner from this lot wasn't easy. We spent five days at Hyundai-Kia's 4300-acre complex conducting detailed performance tests and drive evaluations while we kicked tires, poked under hoods, folded seats, looked at paint finish and panel fit, and checked interior gaps and margins.
It's an exhaustive - and at times exhausting - process. There are numerous copy-cat awards in this country - Motor Trend's Car of the Year dates back to 1949, and is the oldest in the world - but none has clearly stated criteria and is backed by hands-on testing and analysis like ours. Furthermore, there is only one Car of the Year. That means this year there will be 17 unhappy losers. The award is open only to new or significantly upgraded cars on sale from January 1 each year.
Here are this year's contenders:
Chrysler Town & Country
Dodge Grand Caravan
THE CRITERIA - How the vehicles are judged.
Engineering excellence, advancement in design, utilization of resources and safety. Vehicle concept and execution are important, as are use of materials, packaging, dynamics, styling, and fuel consumption.
How well does the vehicle do the job its maker intended it to do? And how does it impact or change its particular market segment, influence consumer perceptions, and transform product development trends.
How does each vehicle compare against its direct rivals? A vehicle with a low sticker price might not be as good a value as a more expensive vehicle that delivers outstanding performance, quality, and functionality.
Stay tuned to MotorTrend.com for a separate blog on each contender, along with video highlights and much more as the countdown to the official announcement draws near.
What do you think of this year's field? What is your favorite to take home the 2008 award?