What are the best cars, trucks and SUVs for 2008? If you asked 10 of your closest friends, you'd probably get 10 different answers. Not so helpful, those so-called friends. Now, you could go out and get more friends in hopes of building a consensus. But why do that? You only need one friend, friend -- Edmunds.com's 2008 Consumers' Top Rated® Vehicle Awards. Thousands of people have weighed in on what they think of their cars, and we've tabulated the results. There are 21 awards this year, starting with the humble Sedan Under $15,000 category and ranging to the SUV Over $45,000.
Readers familiar with our consumer awards in years past might notice that the format for 2008 has changed slightly. In the past, winners were selected by votes and feedback by site users. This time, we used our consumer-based ratings system to power the results.
Edmunds.com's 2008 Consumers' Top Rated® vehicles are those that received the highest average rating from our visitors as of April 30, 2008. All 2008 vehicle models that received the required minimum number of consumer ratings were eligible.
Vehicle price for each model was determined by using the lowest base MSRP (i.e., the lowest trim level without options) for which that model was available as of April 30, 2008.
Coupe Under $25,000: Saturn Astra
In the past few years, Saturn has completely revamped its product lineup. The effort seems to have paid off, as the new 2008 Astra is our Consumer Top Rated winner for Coupe Under $25,000. The Astra is sold as a two-door or a four-door hatchback, but it's the sharply styled Astra XR two-door that took honors here. European-influenced and built, the Astra comes equipped with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 140 horsepower and 126 pound-feet of torque. The Astra also comes standard with a full complement of safety features as well as 17-inch wheels and an upgraded stereo. Consumers have commented favorably about the car's upscale interior design and sporty handling. Though it's lacking a few upscale convenience features and needs a better cupholder design, the 2008 Saturn Astra is a compelling choice for a small hatchback.
Coupe $25K-$35K: Audi TT
The Audi TT is a unique luxury coupe that was completely redesigned for 2008. This model features an evolutionary styling take on the original classic shape; however, the bigger news is a sophisticated new chassis and a new turbocharged four-cylinder engine found in the TT 2.0T model. While the TT hardly offers the same level of performance and/or practicality as several other similarly priced coupes, its main attraction is clearly its styling. Almost every consumer review mentioned how much they love looking at their TT and that it was a deciding factor in their purchasing choice. It's easy to agree with both that and the frequent comments regarding front-seat comfort and superb interior quality.
Coupe $35K-$45K: Audi A5
Finally fielding something that challenges other German luxury sport coupes, Audi hits one out of the park with its new A5. As with our staff, many consumers agreed that the A5's sensuous lines were a big draw, with comments such as "Forget turning heads; this car snaps necks!" peppering the reviews. However, they also discovered there's a lot to like beneath the A5's sexy skin.
A handsome cabin with top-grade materials, tight build quality and a large trunk impress when the car is static, causing one owner to pose the rhetorical question: "Does anybody do interiors better than Audi?" In motion, the A5's spirited performance and precise handling prompted quotes as flattering as, "The ride is fantastic…great in corners and smooth and very quiet on highways. Acceleration is very good," and "No car can do everything perfectly, but this one does so many things extremely well."
Coupe Over $45,000: Chevrolet Corvette
Most exotics are hobbled by two significant flaws. The first is an exorbitant price tag. The second is a proclivity for being temperamental; these traits make many of these cars poor choices for those in search of a daily driver. Enter the Chevrolet Corvette. In addition to being a slice of pure Americana, this coupe offers world-class performance at a price that's thousands more affordable than others in its class. It also boasts the sort of rock-solid dependability that makes it an excellent choice for everyday driving. Consumers have expressed appreciation for the Corvette's impressive interior comfort and its head-up display. The car's distinctive styling also earns it a special place in many hearts. Then, of course, there's the prodigious power offered by its 6.2-liter and 7.0-liter V8s. Gushed one consumer: "Acceleration is instantaneous and onlookers are plentiful." Yep -- that about sums up the Corvette's one-of-a-kind allure.
Convertible Under $35,000: Smart Fortwo
Judging by the early returns in our consumer commentary, Smart convertible owners are miffed that the automotive press hasn't taken kindly to their pint-size ragtop. One owner opined that the Smart feels faster than its numbers suggest, which prompted the following facetious exclamation from one of our editors: "A 19.4-second quarter-mile? No way. That totally feels like an 18-second car!" Another Smart fan gushed that the paddle shifters yield a racecarlike driving experience, which is kind of like saying that a ride-on lawnmower's raucous engine note lends it a sporty feel. But we have to admit that the Smart Fortwo convertible has its perks. If you want an al fresco 40-plus miles per gallon, for example, the Smart's your only option, and its upright posture means that just about everyone fits inside. As long as you don't mind being the center of attention, this radical runabout could be an appealing proposition.
Convertible Over $35,000: Audi TT
Driving pleasure was the single biggest reason consumers chose the 2008 Audi TT Roadster as this year's best Convertible Over $35,000. Consumers praised the power of the turbocharged four-cylinder and the normally aspirated V6 engines as well as the Quattro version's amazing traction. Others lauded the pleasing exhaust note and the sequential-shift manual transmission with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. On the practical side of the equation, this convertible offers larger-than-expected trunk room. Still others note its iPod connection, heated seats and automatic convertible top. But all agree on one thing, that long trips are a pleasure in this drop top, especially when the road is twisty.
Sedan Under $15,000: Scion xD
When you're paying less than $15,000 for a new car, you're typically not expecting it to be particularly stylish or cool. But the 2008 Scion xD four-door hatchback breaks the small-car mold, offering plenty of flash to go along with Toyota-designed substance. The diminutive, yet distinctively styled xD is motivated by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 128 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque. This engine is a bit more powerful than most other models in this class, yet it still returns excellent fuel economy. As with other Scions, the xD is available with a long list of dealer-installed extras for those who want to personalize their car. It also can be had with a choice of advanced audio systems as well as a navigation system. There are a few downsides to the car -- it's not as roomy as other subcompacts and its gauges can be hard to read -- but overall the Scion xD is a solid choice for a small and inexpensive car.
Sedan $15K-$25K: Hyundai Azera
The 2008 Hyundai Azera, our Consumers' Top Rated Sedan Between $15,000 and $25,000, is a full-size sedan that delivers more bang for the buck than all of its competitors by including a bevy of premium features that one usually associates with Lexus. Buyers with a modest budget who want full-size sedan features, a smooth and powerful engine and a comfortable ride will be pleased with the Azera. Consumers rave about upscale refinements like faux wood accents, a power rear sunshade, rain-sensing wipers, memory seats, a telescoping steering wheel and a new-for-2008 navigation system, luxuries you wouldn't expect in such a relatively inexpensive car. An Azera was the subject of a one-year long-term test here at Edmunds.com, and our editors agree that it's a great choice if you're looking for a family sedan with luxurious touches at an affordable price.
Sedan $25K-$35K: Toyota Avalon
Offering a spacious, well-trimmed cabin, smooth and powerful performance and enough refinement to satisfy a Lexus fan, the Toyota Avalon had no trouble garnering big numbers. Impeccable fit and finish throughout and available premium features such as adaptive cruise control and heated/cooled seats further the impression that this is a Lexus wearing Toyota badges.
In addition to plenty of room for five adults, the Avalon has Toyota's muscular 3.5-liter V6 matched to a seamless six-speed automatic. The result of that marriage is effortless acceleration along with impressive fuel economy. Summing up the appeal of this upscale family sedan was this succinct comment: "Looked at Buick, Cadillac and Chrysler but found the Avalon [offered] superior quality, comfort and [luxury] features."
Sedan $35K-$45K: Audi A6
Further proof of Audi's ever-increasing appeal is evident in the A6's impressive standing in this ultracompetitive segment. Those willing to consider something beyond its status quo countrymen competitors are rewarded with a very well-rounded and stylish sedan.
Specific reasons that consumers rated this dark horse so highly were plentiful and varied. Prime examples include the A6's solid feel on the road ("Driving dynamics are brilliant. The car rides like a train on the rails"); its aesthetically appealing, high-quality interior furnishings ("Warm cabin environment combined with easy and intuitive use of every accessory make this car stand out from the crowd"); and impressive fuel-efficiency on the open highway ("On a 350-mile trip at an average speed of 75 mph I got 30 mpg!").
Sedan Over $45,000: Lexus GS 460
This midsize luxury cruiser was revised for 2008, with a more powerful V8 engine bumped up from 4.3 liters to 4.6 -- good for an increase of 52 horses. Although this boost gives it more competitive power, the GS 460 is hardly a vehicle with a high-performance bent. This luxurious sedan is designed for buyers who want to be isolated from the hustle and bustle of the world going by. The eight-speed automatic transmission slides through gears without notice, providing seamless acceleration and smooth downshifts. The standard adaptive suspension offers a plush ride, while the Sport setting firms things up for those times you want to be a little more connected to the road. However, those looking for a more involved driving experience may want to consider the GS's competitors. Also, for more power and fuel economy, the hybrid GS 450h is virtually identical and only $2 grand pricier.
Wagon Under $35,000: Volkswagen Passat
Americans' love affair with the Volkswagen Passat dates back a decade. Following a seminal redesign in 1998, this midsize sedan and wagon duo became the ones to beat in the family car class -- if not in annual sales, then in out-and-out desirability. Ten years later, the Passat wagon continues to be a favorite of car shoppers wanting functionality as well as premium German engineering. Available with either a turbocharged four-cylinder engine or a 3.6-liter V6, the 2008 Passat provides plenty of power as well as security -- all-wheel drive is available as an option. Inside, the Passat is comfortable and upscale, and fit and finish is superb. This midsize wagon can also haul with the best of them -- folding the rear seats down reveals about as much space as you'll find in an SUV. The Passat can be rather pricey when equipped with options, but its top ratings indicate that consumers feel it's well worth the price.
Wagon Over $35,000: Mercedes-Benz R-Class
Offering an attractive blend of practicality, luxury and safety, the Mercedes-Benz R-Class has grabbed our top spot from consumers for the best Wagon Over $35,000. Seating up to six, the R-Class is available with a V6 gas engine or a diesel powertrain for added fuel economy. A seven-speed transmission smoothly manages the power, and steering-wheel paddles allow easy shifting in the manual mode. But it's the cargo capacity and third-row seat that make this wagon a solid favorite with families. Consumers report that even the third-row seat offers great legroom. The rear tailgate opens automatically by remote control and the panoramic roof provides an unlimited view of the sky. Mercedes has made a lot of fans by providing luxury and safety in one stylish package.
SUV Under $25,000: Jeep Patriot
The Jeep Patriot isn't perfect, but our editors point out that this capable compact SUV has a couple of things going in its favor. One key asset is styling. Many cute-utes are uncomfortably heavy on the "cute" aspect of the equation. The Patriot has an angular aggressiveness that's less puppy than it is urban piranha. Guys won't feel emasculated when they're behind the wheel, and women will appreciate piloting a vehicle endowed with an aesthetic that's sharp and striking. Another highlight of the Patriot is its off-road capability. Most compact SUVs are designed to function only on pavement; this makes sense when you consider that for most buyers, this is where virtually all of the action takes place. If you're one of those who like to kick up dust off the beaten path, however, the Patriot is a winning choice. Consumers who championed the Patriot as the winner in this segment praised the SUV's outstanding fuel economy and spacious cabin.
SUV $25K-$35K: Buick Enclave
Americans love a comeback story. Just when consumers were ready to write Buick off for good, the 2008 Enclave came to its rescue. The all-new crossover SUV accommodates up to eight passengers in upscale comfort. Easy third-row access, a maximum cargo area of 116 cubic feet and a long list of convenience and safety features make it a natural alternative to both stodgy minivans and rough-riding, truck-based SUVs. Powered by a 275-hp V6 with a six-speed transmission, it has good power across the range, though slow downshifting dampens the driving experience. Handling is competent, but not as sporty as its Mazda CX-9 competitor. Consumers love the quiet and smooth ride, OnStar functionality, adult-friendly third row and well-designed interior. "Like flying first class," "a home run" and "an eye-catcher" are common refrains. Consumers are happily trading in their foreign-made luxury vehicles for this American comeback kid.
SUV $35K-$45K: Lincoln MKX
Many Lincoln MKX buyers cited most of the same positives we noticed in this five-seat luxury crossover. The MKX's expansive feature content drew accolades, including items like the heated/cooled front seats, panorama sunroof, power tailgate, THX sound system and Ford's innovative Sync system. The ride is also comfortable, with both rows of seats offering an excellent amount of space and comfort. Styling is also a strong suit of this crossover, as it applies retro Lincoln touches to the modern lines of what is essentially a Ford Edge. The MKX does have some low points, however. Specifically, we discovered the MKX's braking distances to be noticeably poor, while the interior materials and fit and finish were not up to the quality of other luxury models. So although buyers have been happy with their Lincoln MKX, it's important to note there are worthy competitors.
SUV Over $45,000: Lexus LX 570
When it comes to luxury SUVs, consumers think very highly of the Lexus LX 570. It's no surprise, since Lexus has spent the past 10 years perfecting luxury vehicles that offer Toyota reliability combined with excellent value. Those who rated the all-new LX 570 highly, frequently mentioned abundant interior features, the quiet cabin and a powerful but smooth engine in their explanations. A revised navigation system and Bluetooth functionality are also cited as reasons some consumers chose the LX 570 over other luxury SUVs. A 5.7-liter V8 is the only engine offered, so low fuel-efficiency is often mentioned as an area that could improve. A few buyers also want more navigation functionality when the car is moving and more room in the third-row seats. Still, though there are plenty of luxury SUVs on the market, our consumers rate the LX 570 highest in the pack.
Compact Truck: Toyota Tacoma
Toyota's been a leading manufacturer of compact trucks for decades, and its current entrant in this segment, the Tacoma, is a worthy heir to Toyota's past pickups. Just ask our consumer reviewers, many of whom are loyal Toyota truckers, having owned and enjoyed multiple pickups from the Japanese giant over the years. Their comments on the Tacoma jibe with our own: They appreciate the ample power of the optional V6 and the efficiency of the base four-cylinder unit, and they're generally pleased with the Tacoma's pumped-up dimensions relative to its forebears. Refinement is another oft-praised virtue, as is Toyota's reputation for reliability, which evidently remains sterling in the compact truck segment. The few consistent complaints concerned stereo sound quality, fuel economy with the V6 and seat comfort on long trips. Overall, though, consumer satisfaction with the Tacoma reflects what we've been saying for years: that this is unquestionably one of the best trucks on the market.
Large Truck: Chevrolet Avalanche
The Avalanche is an outlier among large trucks, featuring a unique "midgate" movable partition that separates the cabin from the bed. Judging by the enthusiastic consumer response, other truckmakers would be well advised to develop midgates of their own. When the rear seats and midgate are flipped forward, the Avalanche's standard 5-foot-3-inch bed transforms into a full-size bed that stretches more than 8 feet. Under normal circumstances, the truck functions as a five- or six-passenger people mover with a still useful open cargo area. Avalanche owners love the versatility that this design affords, and they also appreciate the virtues of the current GM full-size truck platform on which the Avalanche is based. Like its various platform mates, the Avalanche boasts a smooth and quiet ride, surprising maneuverability and muscular performance -- all traits singled out for praise in our consumer reviews.
Minivan/Van: Mazda MAZDA5
Whether it's in reaction to rising gas prices or to the general humdrum personality of full-size minivans, consumers rated Mazda's compact minivan, the Mazda5, high enough to beat out all other contenders in the Minivan/Van category for 2008. Whether you call it a compact minivan, a mini-minivan or a multipurpose vehicle, the Mazda5 is a budget-friendly minivan alternative that seats up to seven passengers and is still fun to drive. Plus it features handy dual sliding doors and ample storage capacity without the lumbering physique or bland styling of most full-size minivans. "Not too big and not too small," "good value for the money," "a sporty vehicle that fits the whole family." That's just some of the praise consumers had for the Mazda5, a small minivan that gets better fuel economy than larger family-oriented vehicles, while offering great utility and easy parking. In the world of family haulers, consumers think Mazda scores big with its little van.
Hybrid: Mercury Mariner Hybrid
In what is certainly one of the more notable upsets in this year's awards, our readers have frozen out the longtime sales champion, the Toyota Prius, to crown the Mercury Mariner Hybrid king of the hybrid segment. It's hard to argue with the Mariner Hybrid's charms. Our editors have praised the compact SUV for its impressive mileage and roomy backseat. The hauler has also been hailed for offering the sort of impressive acceleration that will most certainly satisfy those who associate hybrid powertrains with meager performance. Consumers took their hats off to the Mariner Hybrid's interior design and ergonomics, as well as its accommodating versatility; the SUV's easy-to-use navigation system also won kudos from buyers. Most appreciated of all, though, was the Mercury Mariner Hybrid's frugal way with a gas pump. Consumers reported mileage that was even more impressive than EPA estimates (which are 34 mpg city, 30 mpg highway for the front-wheel-drive version and 29/27 for the AWD version).