The task was a simple one; the decision was anything but. Naming the most significant European import of the year for the 2003 european car Grand Prix trophy was the most difficult decision we've faced in the five years of this annual accolade. Our eight-car field is so loaded with talent that the panel of judges spent days behind the wheel of each car to learn all we could of their strengths and weaknesses, and many hours in the office (and a couple of bars) were spent debating their merits and deficiencies.

The most important goal for the european car Grand Prix panel of testers was to identify that one car which is able to reach into the soul of the automotive enthusiast and arouse the desire to climb behind the steering wheel for the simple enjoyment of driving.

To understand the european car Grand Prix is to wind out a great motor along a twisting country road; it's to pit a superior chassis against the challenges of changing surfaces and devious apexes; it's to revel in the dance between pedals, steering wheel and shift lever; it's to find yourself grinning from the sheer joy of driving.

We don't use performance figures in this competition. We're more interested in how the car is an important step forward for the manufacturer. Is it because of the introduction of exciting new technology, or is it a well-aimed thrust into a new market segment? Underscore the word "significant," though don't suppose our definition of the term remains constant. Each of the cars in this year's contest is, in some way, extremely important to its maker. A common comment from our panel went something like, "Any of these cars could find a place in my garage." But we couldn't very well call it an eight-way tie and design eight different trophies. Our contest demands a winner, and finally all agreed that one car showed all the traits that qualify it as a champion.

Technology R Innovation R Sex Appeal R

Volvo S60 RA quantum leap forward from a steady player takes top honorsCongratulations to Volvo for winning the 2003 european car Grand Prix. The S60 R is the most powerful, fastest production car ever from Gothenburg. But, our selection was based on more than the outright speed elicited by the 300-bhp turbocharged engine. The S60 R is a complete package, featuring a sophisticated suspension, muscular brakes, luxurious, fully appointed interior and a body beautiful that stands out from the crowd. When Volvo says the S60 R displays everything the company knows about building cars, it's no idle boast.

Mercedes-Benz E500High-end models like the S-Class and SL may be used to pioneer new technologies, but the E-Class sets the standard. It is, in a sense, the state of Mercedes-Benz, and it is all-new for 2003. Increased use of aluminum and high-strength steel has made the new E-Class stronger, stiffer and safer than its predecessor, while allowing more safety and luxury equipment without dramatically increased weight. The six-cylinder is little different, but the standard V8 is now 5.0L and produces 302 hp and 339 lb-ft of torque. (It provided the material for the fastest-accelerating production Mercedes-Benz ever, the supercharged, 469-hp E55 AMG.) As before, Mercedes' Touch Shift five-speed automatic transmissions are arguably the most refined in the world.

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