Welcome to our second annual Best New Cars list -- my picks for the best new and redesigned cars introduced in the 2008 model year. Here they are, in alphabetical order.
Read more: The cars that didn't make the list
With its mid-mounted 420 horsepower engine, all-wheel-drive, and supermodel looks, the R8 qualifies as a natural-born supercar. But that's not why it's on this list. Your average Italian exoticar is a weekend warrior -- one that really doesn't start to strut its stuff until you're well past the state speed limit. But the R8 is a car you can enjoy every day -- it's every bit as enjoyable on a run to the store as it is on a run up Mulholland Highway. (Gotta love the German sense of practicality.) Concerned that two seats won't be enough? No problem -- for the same price of an entry-level Lamborghini or Ferrari, you can get an Audi R8 and an Audi A6 wagon.
Lest you think the Malibu is here as our token domestic car, let me make this perfectly clear: The Malibu earned its place on the Best New Cars of 2008 entirely on its own merits. Compared to its Japanese and European competitors, the Malibu is quiet, comfortable, and exceptionally well trimmed out. And aside from the somewhat-dorky taillights, it's also quite handsome -- much better looking in person than it is in pictures. It still remains to be seen whether American buyers will put their trust in the Malibu; build quality will remain an unknown until the first few owners start racking up the miles. One thing we do know: Feature for feature and dollar for dollar, the Malibu has what it takes to run with the Camry, Accord and Altima.
If I had to pick a favorite on this list, the G37 would tie with the Audi R8. It's handsome, fast, elegantly trimmed out, and an absolute joy to drive. Plus it's a heck of a deal: $35k buys you 330 horsepower, leather interior, automatic transmission and proper luxury-brand cachet. Me, I'd go for the $36k Sport model with its 6-speed manual transmission, tighter suspension, bigger brakes and limited-slip differential. Beautiful to behold, brilliant to drive, and a bargain to buy, the G37 isn't just one of the best new cars of 2008 -- it's one of the best cars on the market, period.
I guess I'm just a sucker for a good-looking rear end, because that's the main reason the Altima is on this list -- from a styling perspective, it's an absolute coup. (And the award for the worst pun of 2008 goes to... me!) But the Altima's charms go beyond its good looks: It shares its underpinnings with the Altima sedan, my favorite mid-size family car. It's not the most practical front-drive coupe out there, nor is it the best value (especially if you want any options, most of which are tied into expensive packages), but it is arguably the best looking, plus it's exceptionally easy to live with -- and that's why I love it.
For 2008, Scion has expanded the xB into a proper family-size car, endowing it with plenty of room for a family of five. A new, bigger engine addesses the old xB's lack of muscle on steep hills. And yet the xB has lost none of its original charm -- it still boasts stand-out styling and a big, boxy cargo bay that can swallow all sorts of bulky and oddly-shaped freight. The new xB combines the passenger and cargo space of a small SUV, the fuel economy and road manners of a mid-size car, and the peace of mind that comes with buying a vehicle engineered by Toyota. All in all, it's an excellent alternative to boring sedans and fuel-guzzling SUVs.
The Smart Fortwo is the first mass-market microcar to go on sale in the US, and for that alone it could earn a place on this list. But the fact is that the Smart Fortwo is a really fantastic car to live with -- it's got plenty of room for two and lots of cargo space, plus it's good looking and lots of fun to drive, even with the leisurely pace set by its miniscule 3-cylinder engine. If you live in a crowded urban area, the Smart Fortwo is absolutely brilliant -- it has a turning circle the size of a nickel and it will fit into half-size parking spaces. And besides all that -- it's just so darn cute!
There's been quite a bit of debate about whether the new WRX is better or worse than the old WRX. I don't care about that, because compared to everything it competes against, the new WRX is absolutely brilliant. Its turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes it feel lightning quick, and its all-wheel-drive system makes it cling to earth like Spiderman. Behind the wheel, the WRX makes every driver a hero. Maybe the styling's a bit dull and the interior is a little too grown up, but I'm all about the driving experience -- and few cars, particularly those at this price point, are as invigorating to drive as the WRX.
Volvo's new slick-looking compact coupe could have won a place on this list based on exterior styling alone. It could have won on interior design alone. It could have won based on its fun-to-drive factor, especially with its standard turbocharged 5-cylinder engine. It could have won on practicality -- the C30 has plenty of room for four, and with the seats folded it makes a great mini-moving van. Or it could have won just on value -- at $23.5k it's a bargain for a European luxury marque, undercutting the Audi A3 by over 3 grand. Put it all together, and you have an outstanding car that's also an outstanding value -- and a shoo-in for the About.com Cars Best New Cars of 2008.