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Grand Prix
2004's Most Significant New European Car

By EC Staff
Photography: Rob Hallstrom, Les Bidrawn

We've got this love-hate thing with european car's annual Grand Prix award. Each year, for the past 6 years, our test crew has loved getting out on the road to sample some of the best new cars in the world...but they hate the fact that we have to decide on a winner. Like a lifeboat captain, though, Editor Brown keeps telling them that there's no going back on this one.

We've considered how to alleviate the pain of making a choice. Should our competition be more objective, utilizing some sort of timing and scoring scheme? Should our opinions be bolstered by megabytes of data and hours of testing? Should a computer program spit out a winner?

No. Here's how it goes at european car: The cars are driven over the course of a week's time, over all types of roads, and opinions are formed, reflected by notes in each driver's judging manual. Then, instead of getting numbers at the track--an unfair playing field for passenger cars--we engage in hours of open debate, referring to our notes and memories, calling upon our years of experience to ferret out the essential natures of the competitors. Then, it's very simple: A decision is made and a winner named.

What do we argue about? Our disputes tend to focus on handling, steering, brakes and engine. And usually in that order. Cars standing still provide their own fascination, but we prefer to judge our vehicles on how well they get down the road--preferably a windy one, of course, where the force of gravity, our equilibrium's best playmate, exerts its stimulating influence on body and mind.

The Contenders

Audi S4

Audi TT 3.2 DSG

BMW 545i

BMW 645Ci

Mercedes-Benz CLK500 Convertible

Mercedes-Benz E500 Wagon

Volkswagen Phaeton

Volkswagen R32

Volvo S40

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