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Dawn of a new year: Speed, style rule

   OK, as we approach 2009 it's time to make certain all issues have been boxed away neatly for 2008.

   Fuel prices reasonable again for the open road? Check.

   Fuel efficiency improving again? Check.

   First installment of automakers' bailout complete? Check.

   Automakers' restructure complete? Well, three out of four ain't bad.

   As we peer into the new year, there is plenty to be excited about, automotively speaking. Automobile Magazine, in fact, already has unveiled its list of the "most exhilarating, ingenious, awe-inspiring'' of the '09 models.

   Winners are featured in its February issue, on newsstands Tuesday. Let's peek at the Top 10:

   Audi R8 -- Dramatic inside and out, the R8 is wide, low, and purposeful.

   BMW 3-series -- BMW’s masterpiece of all-things-to-all-people engineering remains more fun than anything that’s more practical and more practical than anything that’s more fun.

Zr1   Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 (pictured) --  The world has produced faster cars, but few offer the same combination of sound, speed, and exhilaration. 60 mph comes in first gear (in 3.7 seconds) and 91 mph in second.

   Chevrolet Malibu -- The quiet American on this year’s All-Stars list: a sedan with crisp handling, commutative steering, a properly tuned ride, and an overall feeling of quality.

   Ford Flex -- A cabin that is a masterpiece of ergonomic engineering and chock-full of high-tech features, the Flex concentrates on refinement and emphasizes style while being as practical as a minivan.

   Honda Fit -- The new model’s extra polish elevates the small-car experience with hidden features, a sleeker exterior, a smoother gearbox, and a nicer cabin.

   Jaguar XF -- It is beautiful, composed and powerful. The XF is impressively quick and refined, too.

   Porsche 911 -- From its birth in 1964 to the arrival of an improved edition last year, the Porsche 911 has been a rare island of tranquility amid the automotive industry’s seas of turmoil. The fortified sixth-generation 911 is gutsier and quicker accelerating, yet it squeezes an additional mpg or three from very gallon of premium.
   Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG -- Other cars in the AMG portfolio are faster, but this one is the most fun.

   Volkswagen GTI -- With a new version of the GTI due in the U.S. in September, this one is still high on performance, comfort, and functionality.



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