Come into our dream garage. Here you'll find our favorites from this year's crop -- cars we've become attached to, cars we cherish, cars that make us smile. You'll find the right car for every situation: The car to take the edge off of your daily commute. The car for ferrying your kids, their gear, their friends. The car for leisurely weekend jaunts, picnics in the country, trips to the beach. The car that will snag the primo valet spot at that hot nightclub. The car for getting away from it all, solo. Our criteria, like those of most car shoppers, were highly subjective, even emotional. We looked for cars that were fresh and good-looking -- and capable of turning heads. They had to be trendsetters, not followers. Then there was the cool factor, a buzz about the car. Fit and finish, and high-quality interiors, were a given. And, of course, they had to be fun to drive. We think our cars will find their way into your heart, too. Maybe even into your garage.
2005 CHEVROLET CORVETTE
We've peeked at the sixth-generation Corvette, due out this fall. It leapfrogs the last generation in every way: The car's 400-hp V-8 bests the old one by 50 hp. The all-new chassis provides a more comfy ride. It rolls on bigger wheels. The interior is classier. Best of all, starting at $43,445, it's a steal compared with European performance cars.
2004 BMW 545i
When it comes to a luxury sedan that's both comfortable and a kick to drive, BMW's 5-Series has long been the benchmark. That hasn't changed with the all-new 545i ($55,000). Sure, the styling's a bit controversial, such as the eyebrow-like turn signals above the headlights. And we'll forgive the techno-excess of the iDrive controller: At least simple climate and audio features now are accessible without it. The car's basics win us over. The 545i's fast and nimble, yet always composed. If you don't need the power of the V-8, the six-cylinder model starts at $39,800.
2004 BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT
When Rolls-Royce and Bentley split up last year, car buffs got to see what direction their new German owners planned for the legendary marques. BMW put forward the Phantom, clearly a Rolls but one with chunky, inelegant styling. Volkswagen offered the Continental GT ($149,000), a sumptuous, sinewy Bentley and the fastest four-seat coupe in the world. The 12-cylinder engine puts out 552 hp, taking the car up to 60 mph in less than five seconds and to a top speed of 198 mph in not much more. The cabin is unapologetically opulent and the price remarkably reasonable for this class of car.
2004 CADILLAC SRX
Few midsize luxury SUVs are as sporty and as much fun as the SRX ($37,995). Its styling and underpinnings come from Cadillac's CTS performance sedan, making the SRX almost as nimble as a car around corners, yet still cushy and comfortable on highways. It's roomy, too: Including a two-person rear bench, which stows in the floor, it will seat up to seven. The V-6 version is peppy enough for us; models with the Northstar V-8 are much pricier and really cut fuel economy. Check out the optional rear-seat entertainment center and the UltraView roof, which opens up five square feet of sky at the push of a button. With that, this SUV is practically a convertible.
2005 MINI COOPER CONVERTIBLE
As if the Mini weren't fun enough for zipping along and darting in and out of traffic, Mini parent BMW is giving us a ragtop. Now topless, it's a great weekend car for trips to the beach as well. It's cheap, too: The 115-hp Cooper convertible starts at $20,950, the supercharged, 163-hp Cooper S at $24,400. We suggest the S because it's so much quicker and has sportier seats and suspension. There's an aluminum roll bar built into the headrests, and the power roof is one of a kind: You can slide it back 16 inches, like a sunroof, or you can open it up all the way. Enjoy the breeze.
Click here for a photo essay
By Larry Armstrong and David Welch