The air suspension from the S-Class is improved for the new E-Class and comes standard on the E500. In addition to the computer automatically controlling spring and damper rates, the driver can select a program. Electronic braking, introduced to the world on the SL, is implemented for the first time in volume production on the E-Class. Braking force is electronically distributed between the four wheels at all times.

Inside, the E500 features four-zone climate control and optional Harmon Kardon Logic 7 audio-one no longer must unravel i-Drive to experience the latter. The E500 is among a handful of the most sophisticated, luxurious and beautiful performance machines in the world.

Porsche Boxster SIt is often said that there are no bad cars anymore. While some may debate that point, there are few that a performance enthusiast can simply get into and drive, rewarded with a car that does exactly what is wanted, exactly how it is wanted. Every Porsche available as this is written makes that list, from the GT2 right down to the Boxster.

The Boxster and Boxster S were revised for 2003; many changes were similar for both models. New Variocam technology yields 8 hp more while improving fuel economy. Front and rear fascias were restyled with input from the wind tunnel geeks, and the exhaust tips were updated as well. A new top includes a glass window, finally matching the flyweight Asian roadsters. Standard 17-in. wheels are nearly 0.5-lb lighter, while the optional 18-in. wheels are nearly 24-lb lighter (the total for all four) than the old designs, enhancing acceleration, ride and handling. The rear anti-roll bar was stiffened slightly.

Porsche's new Communication Management systems connect tuner, CD player, navigation system and trip computer through a digital databus. The fold-down-face head unit has been banished, hopefully forever.

While not new to the extent of some other cars in this group, the Boxster remains the favorite of several staffers. It has received new life through an injection of technology, benefitting from advancements made since its introduction six years ago.

BMW Z4 RoadsterIf the Z4's predecessor was aligned with the E30, the Z4 is fundamentally an E46-a quantum leap in chassis goodness. The 330i is a favorite of everyone here, and the idea of a two-seat roadster version set great expectations. Smaller, lighter and more agile with the same 3.0L, 225-hp inline six, on paper at least the Z4 could only be good to drive.

A six-speed manual matches the number of ratios in the Boxster S but is more delicate than the transmission found in the M3 and M5. The exhaust note could be accused of aping the smaller-engined Boxster's, but that's hardly a bad thing.

People are used to loving the styling of new BMWs instantly. The Z4 is the second new model that will have to grow on many fans of the marque. Certain elements, such as the high bustle on the trunk lid, correspond to the same engineering challenges faced in the design of the new 7 Series. The Z3's traditional long roadster hood is preserved, if not exaggerated. It will at least be interesting to watch and find out whether BMW succeeds in dragging its fans kicking and screaming into the future or if they choose to live in the past.

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