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Robb Report's Car of the Year 2003

Brett Anderson et. al

With each season, Robb Report’s Car of the Year contest seems to require more and more tortuous explanation. These literary exertions result in part from our own efforts to refine the process of selecting the year’s best luxury and sports cars. Traditionally, our own staff (Robert Ross, Paul Dean, Christian Gulliksen, and myself) has peopled the panel, alongside a robust array of nationally renowned experts and regular contributors that includes Robert Farago, Ken Gross, Patrick Paternie, J.P. Vettraino, and Howard Walker. This year, however, we increase our investigatory burden by establishing the fresh tradition of a second panel of experts of quite a different stripe: regular readers and businessmen, who are themselves prospective buyers of the vehicles in question. We wondered whether this group of discriminating drivers—ranging from an attorney to the CEO of an electronics company to a real estate developer—would share our own perspectives on this unique cadre of motorcars. The outcome of this brave experiment is discussed below.

Another distinction between 2002 and 2003 can be made in the lineup itself. While the previous pantheon consisted, for the most part, of entirely new models (the Aston Martin Vanquish, the Lamborghini Murciélago, the Maserati Spyder), the current candidates represent more finely tuned or tuned-up iterations of existing designs—the Jaguar XKR is a perfect example, with its nearly 100 additional horses beneath a hood that remains essentially that of the XK8. This is not to say that 2003’s lineup lacks adventure: The Ferrari 575M delivers plenty of power to the mix, while Hummer’s H2 will bring out the thrill-seeker in even the most humorless of Gouda-complexioned CFOs. Only the Mini Cooper, the H2, and Mercedes’ new E500 can be billed as entirely new, though the SL55 AMG’s utterly transformed mechanics might very well qualify it, despite the resemblance to last year’s SL500. In fact, we struggled briefly with the inclusion of the SL because its somewhat more sedate sibling was chosen as 2002’s winner. As you will read, the SL55’s showing more than justified its presence.


As to the particulars: Our official drive-a-thon took place in November at Santa Barbara’s beautiful Bacara resort, situated on a sunny stretch above the Pacific and below the Santa Ynez mountains. Our invitees included Michael Beaudry, master diamond cutter and one of the most sought-after original jewelry designers at work today. H. William Harlan, also present, is cofounder and chairman of Pacific Union Co., a diversified real estate firm with a 25-year history of development, whose holdings include Meadowood Napa Valley. Harlan is also proprietor of Harlan Estate, the eminent winery in Oakville, Calif. Robin Richards, entrepreneur and Internet pioneer, has held a number of positions, including CEO of Vivendi Universal Net USA, president and CEO of MP3.com, and managing director of Tickets.com Inc. Sam Runco, CEO and president of Runco International, is a leader in the video projection industry and the first to incorporate and market cutting-edge line-doubler technology into a multifrequency projector. Pascal Savoy is the general manager–North America for Hublot USA, and has spent a lifetime working within the luxury arena with brands like Baume & Mercier. Tom Konjoyan is development director of Oaks Christian School, a private academy in southern California. Gary Silverman is a preeminent trial attorney, with an emphasis on criminal defense and serious personal injury litigation.

Our guests were asked to judge the cars on the basis of driving experience, ergonomics, styling, and performance, as well as image. Their conclusions contributed to the final scores and their impressions are rendered beside those of our journalists. After a full day of driving, their top three choices were the Mercedes SL55 AMG in first place, the Land Rover Range Rover in second, and the Ferrari 575M in third.

Their verdict paralleled those of the majority of our journalists. Winners were calculated on the basis of 90 points for first place, 80 points for second, and so on, with 10 points allocated for ninth place. Our drive-off participants’ choices were combined with our professional panel’s to produce the rankings that follow. Other than an exact tie for sixth place between the Jaguar and Dodge Viper, the results are straightforward. Of course, all of the vehicles in this year’s competition deserve high praise, and we thank the manufacturers for their cooperation. Each brings to its segment of the market innovation, imagination, and extraordinary quality. Yet, in the end, our task is to choose the vehicle that fills its niche best. And now, our choices . . .

Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMGWinner
Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG

Some cars bestow drivers with a sense of invincibility: the Hummer H2 and Range Rover, for example. Some make you feel like a teenager: the Mini Cooper S and Dodge Viper. Some cosset you in luxury: the Bentley Arnage T and Jaguar XKR. Some push your eyes back into their sockets and pin them there: the Mercedes E500 and Ferrari 575M. (Click image to enlarge)

Obviously, there is a bit of category overlap. The ancient Arnage may not be invincible, but it is the world’s fastest castle. The Ferrari 575M may not have massaging seats, but its leather interior is nothing to scoff at. The Dodge Viper may appeal to midlife crisis survivors, but it will also give a Ferrari a run for the money. Then there is the Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG, which scores highly in all areas. But Mercedes’ über-SL also does something unique, something the other contenders cannot do. It cruises.

Do not underestimate the power of the cruise. Harley-Davidson owners know the score; it is the seductive pleasure of a machine with so much charisma that, as you approach home, you think, “What the hell, let’s take her around the block,” just to hear the motor burble, to smell the summer breeze, to catch the sun’s fading rays, to see and be seen. Top down, gliding along on air suspension in climate-controlled comfort, the SL55 boasts the highest feel-good factor of any car built today.


Top up, and the SL55 redefines cruise as cruise missile. The car’s supercharged V-8 engine churns out a massive 493 hp. Equally important, the 5.5-liter block develops 516 ft lbs of torque between 2,650 and 4,500 rpm.

In other words, the SL55 gives you all its epic power at any speed, in any gear. How much power? Enough to humble the less glamorous Jaguar XKR or the more practical Mercedes E500. Remove the SL55’s electronic restrictor, pop on some proper shoes, put it on the autobahn, and this beast will prove itself a member of the 200-mph-plus supercar club.

Mind you, the SL55 is no sports car. While an alphabet soup of driver’s aids and a beautifully sorted chassis make hard cornering relatively safe and predictable, throwing Mercedes’ 2-ton roadster around bends seems a bit, well, boorish. Again, this car was born to cruise, perhaps at speeds that defy law and logic, but not thrash. All of the SL55’s technology is designed to keep you safe, not turn you into an Indy car racer.

Besides, who would want that job? Far better to kick back in the SL55 and leave behind the races—auto or rat. Thanks to its luxury interior, folding hardtop, and flexible engine, the SL55 never fails to relax you—even as it invigorates. The SL55 is a rare, achingly beautiful car that makes every journey a combination of fun and satisfaction. —Robert Farago

 

“While I had the top up, you could not hear or feel any of the rumbling of that engine. But then when I put the top down, I felt like I was in a totally different car. The excitement and the feel of that exhaust system tuned with that motor—it was a class between Mozart and Frank Zappa.” —Sam Runco

Land Rover Range RoverSecond Place
Land Rover Range Rover

To label land rover’s new Range Rover a mere sport-utility vehicle devalues its true significance. Here is a rival to most of the world’s finest luxury sedans, a vehicle that can go head-to-head with the very best that BMW, Mercedes, or Jaguar has to offer. The appeal of this benchmark 4x4 lies in its remarkable versatility. It is equally at home squelching across a Scottish moor or delivering a party of four to a Manhattan black-tie gala or to the base of Aspen Mountain. (Click image to enlarge)

It is a design masterpiece and a technical tour de force that utilizes muscular BMW V-8 power to deliver a refined, effortless performance. Computers control its air suspension, producing a ride quality that is little short of breathtaking, and its highly sophisticated four-wheel-drive system will take you places that other 4x4s fear to tread.

The Range Rover also looks sensational: bold, towering, elegant, and instantly recognizable. It is an icon evolved. Its beauty is in the detail: Headlamps never looked more dramatic than these, a windshield never so rakish.

The real delight comes when you swing open those giant front doors and step up into the Range Rover’s spacious cabin. There is design brilliance here, from the layout of its dash to the shape of its sumptuous seats to the quality of its woods, leathers, and fabrics. It is a cabin that defines the term “craftsman-built.” Unlike its luxury sedan opposition, the tall-riding Range Rover offers a truly commanding driving position, with a panoramic, big-window view of the world around.


It also drives as exquisitely as it looks. A crowbar-stiff body structure, well-judged suspension settings, and laser-precise steering make the Range Rover an accomplished curve carver. In dicey road conditions, it offers an unparalleled sense of security and well-being.

Less impressive are the 100-or-so switches, knobs, buttons—there are 11 on the steering wheel alone—scattered around the dash. It verges on technical overkill. But the layout is largely intuitive, and the functions quickly grasped.

The true beauty of this latest offering from Solihull is its uncanny ability to make those inside feel special. The way it cossets and comforts, the way it glides down the road with consummate ease, justifies the outlay of every cent of its $71,865 asking price. —Howard Walker

“The styling and fit and finish are great. This really sets a benchmark for this type of car. The Range Rover’s got terrific suspension, traction, and power. It’s the perfect car for a discriminating mother and father of three.” —Tom Konjoyan

Bentley Arnage TThird Place
Bentley Arnage T

Ben Affleck was recently named the sexiest man alive by People magazine, and he drives a Bentley. If the actor is what he drives, then it follows that his Bentley mirrors his sensuality. That makes the Arnage T just about the sexiest thing around. (Click image to enlarge)

It certainly is strong, handsome, and brooding. It moves smoothly, gracefully, and very quickly without undue noise or a clumsy ride diminishing its charm. It dresses well, with taste and classicism the overriding style elements.

Now, we do not know about the inner man of Affleck, but the Arnage T also has soul, gobs of game, and an impeccable sporting substance that goes back to the 1930s, when clunking Bentleys dominated long-distance racing—Le Mans in particular—just as Audis have conquered it seven decades later.

The bare facts are astounding. This is a sedan that weighs almost 3 tons (or more than two Honda Accords) but accelerates only a wink slower than a Corvette. With a top speed of 168 mph, the biturbo Arnage T is the quickest street Bentley ever and the world’s fastest production four-door. Its V-8 delivers 450 hp, which is close to what the Ferrari 575M Maranello develops from a V-12. By another measurement, the Bentley’s 645 ft lbs of torque reduces the Italian car to a decaf espresso.

In a nutshell, this is a high, heavy, and huge car that has absolutely no right to be traveling at such speeds when powered by only an internal combustion engine, a form of locomotion almost as old as mules and sails. But as the bumblebee flies despite being aerodynamically incapable of such a feat, so does the overwrought, heavyweight Arnage T make any highway passage an exercise in disbelief—and absolute exhilaration.

Although this is the first Bentley designed, developed, and produced with the hand of new parent Volkswagen on the tiller, its styling, luxury, and performance could not be truer to the Bentley heritage had it been drawn by W.O. Bentley’s grandson. Some have criticized the Arnage T for its unchanging ways, for a shape and an interior that preserve old school tie decadence and for mechanicals that have not rushed to embrace high technology.

Others happen to think that in these days of programmed obsolescence and edgy designs for the sake of innovation, it is comforting that a company sticks with the proven and popular. They recognize the Arnage as an unfailing symbol of luxury motoring, a whispering tank with carpeting as thick as lambswool and woodwork richer than the cocktail cabinets at the Savoy. —Paul Dean

 

“Technologically, they don’t seem to be on top of it at all. But when it all comes down to it, you’re still driving a Bentley. You’re looking at tradition rather than technology, and I think that’s what they hang their hat on.” —Sam Runco

Ferrari 575M MaranelloFourth Place
Ferrari 575M Maranello

In the course of 50-some-odd years perfecting the grand touring formula, Italy has served up some of the most desirable cars on the planet, and topping that list are the great V-12 GTs from Ferrari. Their newest offering represents a refinement of a car familiar to us since 1997, but different enough to be counted as new. (Click image to enlarge)

Lucidity escapes me after a few days with Ferrari’s reworked Maranello—up 30 horsepower from the 550 and now called the 575M. The Ferrari appeals in the same manner as the Bentley: extreme but utterly tasteful and simply different from the logical solutions proffered by the more aloof Teutonic, Japanese, and American carmakers. Never mind that the Ferrari is no more a performance car than Dodge’s new Viper (and does not, incidentally, get as many looks). And forget investment considerations, as historically these Ferraris depreciate six figures in just a couple of years. None of this matters when you get down to the business of driving this well-developed Italian V-12, as its designers intended.

The Maranello delivers an irresistible combination of power, handling, and luxury best exploited on the autobahns and only barely glimpsed on our interstates. Cruising speeds quickly tickle triple digits with the driver unaware, so smooth and effortless is the power delivery once you’re under way. The exhaust note is intoxicating but refined, and never intrudes like those of louder and more aggressive cars, whose noises can become tiresome on long trips.


What’s not smooth and seamless is the 6-speed paddle-shift gearbox. Try as we might, we found it impossible to elicit perfect upshifts without a jarring transition of power, regardless of throttle modulation and rpm. Manually executed paddle downshifts were equally abrupt, and more irritating still were downshifts in the automatic mode. Proponents will surely contend that ham-fisted operators are at fault, but we know better. Any shortcomings of the F/1-style gearbox can be alleviated by the 6-speed manual transmission, and a 575M so equipped would be our incontrovertible choice.

Those among us who are logical and without children or canines (dogs, not teeth) would acknowledge Mercedes’ magnificent SL55 as the Car of the Year for 2003. And they would be correct; it is even superior to the groundbreaking SL500, which I unctuously extolled this time a year ago. But while my official choice is the SL, my personal pick has to be the Ferrari. The looks, the driving experience, the extra cylinders, and, frankly, the ethos of the prancing horse make the Maranello impossible to resist. —Robert Ross

“You may want to bring a spare pair of underwear after getting in this car. My heart’s still pounding. We lit ’em up at the entrance to the freeway, and it just felt like home right away. Very comfortable, but like a very sharp knife.” —Michael Beaudry


Mercedes-Benz E-500Fifth Place
Mercedes-Benz E500

Mercedes-Benz has redefined its traditional best-seller with a profusion of new technology, a sensually athletic new look, and more vigorous driving dynamics. Simply put, the new E500 balances traditional Mercedes values with the belt-tightening demands of the dog-eat-dog luxury car industry better than any other automobile. (Click image to enlarge)

Mercedes-Benz is placing a renewed emphasis on style, and the 2003 E-Class is a vivid illustration of this effort. In terms of design, it is a success inside and out. It has the cutting-edge electronic management systems and the safety enhancements you expect in a Mercedes. Fast? Wickedly so, with acceleration and cornering potential that surpass the limited-production, Porsche-engineered 500E (which cost $90,000 in the early 1990s and is still revered by auto enthusiasts and Mercedes collectors nearly a decade after its production ceased).

With the E500, you have to invest some energy finding anything that warrants a gripe: The rear cabin feels a tad tighter than the previous E-Class, thanks largely to the elegant new look, and the multilayer audio and telephone controls, arrayed around a handsome LCD display screen, will require even more effort to master.


Yet the biggest issue is barely tangible—more a matter of sentimentalism than genuine criticism. With demands for new technologies and more standard equipment, and increasingly stringent government emissions and fuel economy standards, luxury car builders have been compelled to trim weight where they can. Consequently, the E-Class’ doors do not thunk with quite the same authority that they once did. Some might interpret this as a small step toward mediocrity.

Such are the times, and the times demand value. With rarities such as fully automatic four-zone climate control, triple-mode air suspension, and electronic drive-by-wire braking included in the base price, the E500 delivers. Nonetheless, the option list is long. Add preferred equipment such as the sport package, radar-managed cruise control, parking obstacle warning, and touch-start, and the E500 can quickly approach $70,000, squarely in the full-size S-Class price territory.

However, this is not an S-Class—by design. The E500 delivers a unique balance of space, safety, comfort, practicality, status, and athletic performance that only a midsize sport-luxury sedan can. —J.P. Vettraino

“Beautiful car. The engine is very smooth—power for when you need it. I feel comfortable inside. The braking system is impressive; I was flying when I tried it. Very luxurious. Everything is high quality.” —Pascal Savoy


Jaguar XKRSixth Place (Tie)
Jaguar XKR

When Sir William Lyons unleashed the Jaguar XK120 in 1948, its combination of performance and beauty set a sophisticated precedent that endured—with varying success—throughout Jaguar’s XK and E-Type production runs. After the unlamented demise of the XJS (which surfaced in the 1970s under British Leyland) paved the way for the XK8 in 1996, a completely new car developed under the aegis of Ford, which bought Jaguar in 1989. A return in spirit to the cats of yore, the XK8’s 4.0-liter V-8 and sexy sheet metal paid unmistakable homage to the E-Type. Six years later, its timeless lines remain fresh, and the V-8’s displacement has grown to 4.2 liters. Jaguar has also added an XKR variant, the all-important “R” in its nomenclature signaling the presence of niceties like a supercharged 390-hp motor—nearly 100 more than in the standard engine—and race-bred Brembo brakes. (Click image to enlarge)

 

Given our Car of the Year lineup, it is difficult to avoid comparisons between the XKR and the Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG, which are both “hot” versions of already-accomplished luxury roadsters. There is no question that the SL55 is the better car. (And it should be, coming $25,000 dearer and based on much newer architecture.) But the two cars are not designed to achieve the same end. Where the SL55 has a 100-hp advantage on the XKR and is a spare-no-prisoners performer, the Jaguar, like the Bentley Arnage T, is a posh car made that much better by a surprising level of athleticism. Until you apply firm pressure to the gas pedal or enter a corner at a clip, the XKR’s luxury belies its capabilities. Nothing about the car’s appearance—from the bustle of the folded top to the interior awash in leather and wood—quite prepares a driver for acceleration that comes on as a seamless, building rush, taking the XKR from zero to 60 in 5.2 seconds. Whether from a rest or at 80 mph, flooring it induces smiles. Well matched to the XKR’s motor, each gear of the superb 6-speed automatic transmission can be selected manually via Jaguar’s omnipresent J-Gate, but it is rare when Drive does not know exactly what to do. Equipped with Jaguar’s Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS), which adapts to personal driving style and road conditions, the XKR could still benefit from increased agility. Perfect for highway cruising and more than competent through curves, it is nevertheless too soft to even consider keeping up with the world-class SL55 on twisting roads. The silken engine and transmission deserve sharper cornering ability. But unless your morning commute is the Grande Corniche or Mulholland Drive, the XKR might just be your brand of open-air “shagadelic.” —Christian Gulliksen

“It’s a fun car. It has a lot of kick. It’s not set up to be a racecar, but it’s very smooth, and it seems to be very practical. It has the extra oomph that the other Jags don’t seem to have. It’s a good, all-around sporty car.” —H. William Harlan

Sixth Place (Tie)
Dodge Viper SRT - 10

 I was inside the MRI tube for three and a half hours—an endurance record, according to the technician in charge. The Viper, after such an aural ordeal, proved a cocoon of tranquillity by comparison, as well as a refreshing contrast to the other vehicles participating in the 2003 Car of the Year competition. The Viper is a simple car for simple drivers like me. It does not confound with technical excesses, magnified in their folly by unintuitive sequences of operation, like the E500, for instance, in which I could not select the FM radio. Or the diabolical navigation system in the Range Rover that continued to bleat in ersatz Brit-speak, despite every effort to silence the demon. Or the steering wheel of the SL55, replete with more buttons than an accordion, some of which render an action while others, it would appear, do nothing at all.

So much technology is frustrating for a driver who just wants to drive. The most complicated function on the Viper is the radio: no navigation, no multizoned climate control, no flight-simulator dash layout to distract from the task at hand. Not even cruise control—wished away by owner focus groups that said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” The Viper is fast and the Viper is fun, and it rewards an assertive driver in the best tradition of a high-powered, rear-wheel-drive sports car. The sport seats are as comfortable as any in this comparison; ergonomics and visibility are superb. The stick shift—subtle as a flying mallet—falls readily to hand on the high transmission tunnel. The 6-speed transmission does its job just fine, although a reverse lock-out would be a nice touch. In the final analysis, the Viper is really the only sports car of this bunch, though some might argue that the Ferrari straddles the fence between luxury GT and sport.


Living with some exotics involves more than just exploiting performance—especially if that performance is compromised by reliability issues, problematic build quality, awkward ergonomics, rarity or cost of replacement parts, and a lack of qualified technicians. Happily, the Viper remains unencumbered by these shortcomings; it is like a big, friendly dog that you can pat vigorously, every palm-smack eliciting a solid, meaty sound that would send a nervous purebred whimpering to its basket. You can get respectfully rough because, make no mistake, this big dog likes to play.

The engineers on the Viper team have spent their allowance on high-tech materials and a very special motor. I suppose a $20,000 boost in sticker price would upgrade the interior, eliminate some plastic noises, and narrow the panel gaps a few thousandths. But that is not what the Viper is all about. Try to have this much fun in anything else. —Robert Ross

 

“My favorite aspect of the Viper’s design is the wonderful, sharp crease that runs along the top of each front fender. Even stopped at a red light it reminds you that you’re driving an incredible car.” —Christian Gulliksen

Eighth Place
Mini Cooper S

Does it seem cheeky of the Mini Cooper S to be on our Car of the Year list, rubbing fenders with some of the world’s most prestigious automobiles? Do not allow the fact that its price tag is comparable to the Bentley Arnage T’s sales tax cloud your judgment of the Mini. It is not dollar signs, but rather road signs bearing the letter S (signifying curves ahead) that best indicate the true value of this car.

BMW did its history homework when developing an up-to-date replacement for the original Mini, a car designed in 1959 for the masses that quickly became a must-have item for British celebrities including the Beatles, Peter Sellers, and members of the royal family. So entrenched in pop culture was the Mini that 1960s fashion designer Mary Quant supposedly borrowed the name for her line of abbreviated skirts.

However, the original Mini became a motoring icon—more than 5 million were built in its 41-year lifespan—and not simply a trendy fashion accessory. Its performance capabilities belied its size and humble beginnings. It was a tiny British bulldog successfully battling big dogs Porsche and Ferrari on treacherous race courses.

The new Mini Cooper S is more handsome than its ancestor, but still exudes a familial pugnacious charm. Classic Mini details such as the wheel-at-each-corner stance and the lidlike roof have been incorporated in a modern design that pays homage to the past but avoids the dreaded retro tag. Inside, a huge speedometer positioned at the center of the dash and toggle switches are playful reminders of the old Mini. A sense of humor regarding its quirky British heritage is part of the Mini Cooper’s charm.

Things become serious beneath its happy-go-lucky exterior. BMW describes the Mini as a “premium small car,” and the available options, fit and finish, and performance bear out this designation. Automatic climate control, a navigation system, a 6-speed transmission, a supercharger, and four-wheel disc brakes are features you would expect on a Car of the Year candidate. However, unlike others on the list, the Mini Cooper S has all of them.

Of course, parts are merely parts unless they provide an enjoyable driving experience, and the 6-speed transmission of the Cooper S is pure silk in operation. A wide stance and a stiff suspension devour twisty roads, and its 163 eager horses can take you to 135 mph without fuss.

Best of all, whether you view the Mini Cooper S from outside or from behind its steering wheel, it will bring a smile to your face. And that is always priceless. —Patrick C. Paternie

“The Mini reminded me of when I was 9 years old, when I got my first Swiss Army knife and I said, ‘Look at me!’ and I had to show everybody what I had. It’s like a Swiss Army knife: Everyone should have one.” —Robin Richards

Ninth Place
Hummer H2

At first glance, you expect the H2 to be a noisy, take-no-prisoners off-roader that is more at home in the desert chasing Saddam’s palace guards than it is on pavement running errands. But Hummer’s new baby, which is priced at less than half the cost of the GI-inspired H1, is quite comfortable on-road, and like its predecessor, it is guaranteed to turn heads and provoke stares.

Not far from AM General’s new H2 assembly plant in South Bend, Ind., is a test area featuring some of off-roading’s favorite obstacles, including the Golden Crack, a tortuous rocky ravine in the nearby town of Moab. Teetering on three or even two wheels, you can simply touch the throttle and the H2 nimbly dances out of danger. Skid plates, brush guards, and protective shields guard the H2’s vitals, so if you slam down on an obstacle, all that is rattled is your pride.

GM contributed the rugged truck platform, which is shared by all of its big SUVs from Suburbans to Escalades. It has been chopped (eight inches in front and a lot more in back), creating high approach and departure angles that enable you to nuzzle one of the H2’s immense tires up against a 30-inch stone wall and crawl up and over it. This sort of dexterity is usually the province of a tricked-up jeep, not a hulking big four-door. The rear suspension choice is between a five-link coil setup or an optional adjustable air bag that yields as much as two inches more of ground clearance. A hefty Borg-Warner seven-mode transfer case tops out with a low 33:1 crawl ratio, so you can waltz up a 60 percent grade and plunge downhill with minimal braking, yet cruise merrily (and quietly) at highway speeds.

The H2 includes all of the H1’s military styling cues—the flat and low roof, the bold front end, wheels to the corners—so it looks like an old Brinks armored truck. Inside its well-appointed cabin, you sit closer to your passenger than in the H1, and there is 86.6 cubic feet of cargo space, though much of it is consumed by the 100-pound spare that blocks some of the rear view. (Hummer is working on an outside-mount spare.)

The Adventure Series adds air suspension, brush guards, a roof rack, and custom carpets, and the Luxury Series includes leather seating, flashy chrome exterior highlights (as if this vehicle needed to stand out any more), assist steps, and a six-disc CD changer. Also, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who helped popularize Hummers in the early 1990s just as the Beatles lent their celebrity to the Mini Cooper in the ’60s, assisted with the development of this vehicle, so his blessings come standard with every H2. —Ken Gross

“There’s beauty in the beast. I felt that there was an almost
imperceptible lurching from gear to gear, but when we got back on the freeway from the other way, it was a lot smoother. Other than that, I thought it was a sensational car. —Gary Silverman

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