Mercedes Car Group’s Smart fortwo
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Best of 2007: Rumble Seat

Smart Fortwo

Upside: Cute? Oh my God, yes. It couldn’t be any cuter if it were buried up to its neck in kittens.

Downside: In my short time in the Fortwo, I adopted the kind of hyper-vigilance/paranoia I usually reserve for riding motorcycles. The religiously minded may consider investing in icons of the plastic dashboard-mounted variety. Know thyself. -- Dan Neil (AFP / Getty Images)
Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec

Upside: Squeeze the throttle of the E320 Bluetec and things start to happen sehr schnell: The turbo spools up, a rutting-warthog snarl fills the cabin and the car delivers a kick to your keister with crisp Prussian precision.

Downside: There’s one other problem with these big-displacement, high-tech diesels, and that is simply they are not as efficient as smaller diesels. I’m afraid that the availability of these thrifty powertrains will tempt consumers to continue to buy enormous vehicles, thereby negating some of the big-picture benefits. -- Dan Neil (Mercedes-Benz U.S.A)
Porsche 911 GT3 and Lotus Exige S

Upside: To paraphrase Bill Murray, what we have here are two heavily armed recreational vehicles.

Downside: As the saying goes: Speed costs money. How fast do you want to go? -- Dan Neil (Stefan Warter)
BMW 335i Coupe

Upside: What Partagas is to cigars and Fender is to guitars, so BMW is to cars.

Downside: This is not the handsomest coupe on the market but it’s certainly presentable for class reunions and business meetings. -- Dan Neil (Stephen Osman / Los Angeles Times)
Jaguar XKR

Upside: It was strange, really, to walk out to the garage and find people gathered around the XKR in twos and threes, murmuring and bright-eyed, as if they were warming themselves beside some sacred campfire of automotive culture.

Downside: The XKR’s interior decor is perfectly functional -- but not particularly gracious or satisfying. -- Dan Neil (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano

Upside: Gonzo fast, awesomely cool, harder than Simon Cowell’s heart yet with a deep sense of owner preservation, the 599 reminds me that I don’t want much in a car, as long as I can have everything.

Downside: Wait. Did I say $320,000 was the price as tested? Yup. -- Dan Neil (Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times)
Land Rover LR2

Upside: Land Rovers are positively lousy with charm, not to mention having the aristocratic, landed-gentry vibe going on.

Downside: What used to be said of Lamborghinis can now fairly be said of Land Rovers: They sit in the garage at night thinking of ways to break your heart. And yet, like an abused spouse, the Land Rover buyer keeps coming back. -- Dan Neil (Ford)
Quattroporte Automatica

Upside: This effortlessly gorgeous hunk of Italian swank, this sinister spark from coachbuilder Pininfarina’s grinding wheel, ignites envy and major car-jealousy wherever it lands.

Downside: The nav system is CD-based, not DVD-based, and it feels really primitive compared with the class of the field. QP drivers will forgo the pleasures of iPod and Bluetooth. There is no smart-key available, no power trunk closure, no road-following headlamps. -- Dan Neil (Don Bartletti/ Los Angeles Times)
Lexus LS600h L

Upside: What we have here is the automotive equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster, a creative and technical tour de force, a tent-pole under which all the other Lexus cars can bathe in the shade.

Downside: There’s only one problem, and that is the car, wrapped in endless layers of refinement and cottony quiet, networked and sensor-ed to beat the band, is just so damned uninvolving. -- Dan Neil (Toyota)
Nissan Versa and Chevrolet Aveo

Upside: Both are, I discovered, pretty endearing little cars. To drive them is to benchmark how far cheap transportation has come since the days of the death-wishful Ford Aspire and Chevy Celebrity.

Downside:These cars have the erotic charge of abstinence-based education, the epicurean frisson of room-temperature tofu. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)