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MotorWeek Announces 2004 Drivers' Choice Awards; Volkswagen Touareg Tips Scales to Capture Top Spot

CHICAGO--Feb. 4, 2004--Big, bold gestures, ultra-smooth moves and out-of-the-box innovation are just some of the indelible attributes that make each category winner of the 2004 Drivers' Choice Awards a standout. From PBS's MotorWeek, America's longest-running automotive magazine show and the nation's most trusted source for industry information, this year's batch of winners yields a baker's dozen of hot cars and trucks.

This year's toast of the town, "Best of the Year," is the Volkswagen Touareg, a bull's-eye hit by all accounts. According to John Davis, MotorWeek's host and executive producer, this freshman effort by Volkswagen "has few compromises among all of the missions it must handle - from people mover and off-road vehicle to luxury highway cruiser to utility - it hits its market perfectly."

The remaining categories yield 15 winners overall:

1.  Best Small Car                      -   Mazda3
2.  Best Family Sedan                   -   Chevrolet Malibu
3.  Best Minivan                        -   Toyota Sienna
4.  Best Convertible                    -   Audi A4 1.8 T Cabriolet
5.  Best Luxury Sedan                   -   Mercedes-Benz E-Class 1
6.  Best Sport Sedan                    -   Acura TL
7.  Best Performance Car                -   Subaru Impreza WRX STi
8.  Best Small Sport-Utility Vehicle    -   Honda Element 1
9.  Best Mid-Size Sport-Utility Vehicle -   Volkswagen Touareg
10. Best Family Sport-Utility Vehicle   -   Dodge Durango
11. Best Pickup Truck                   -   Ford F-150
12. Best Eco-Friendly                   -   Toyota Prius
13. Best Dream Machine                  -   Bentley Continental GT
                                            Ford GT
                                            Mercedes-Benz AMG
1 repeat winner

This year's picks include two repeat winners, the Honda Element as "Best Small SUV" and the Mercedes E-Class as "Best Luxury Sedan," demonstrating the enduring quality of their designs.

Domestic brands continue their dominance in trucks, but also score a winning pick for the Chevrolet Malibu in "Best Family Sedan," a category dominated in recent years by import brands. Meanwhile, imports continue their offensive into traditional domestic market segments with the Volkswagen Touareg gathering "Best Mid-Size Sport-Utility Vehicle."

Asian brands continue to be more competitive on all fronts, with wins in small and sporty car categories, as well as the technology heavy "Best Eco-Friendly" category with the Toyota Prius.

For 2004, MotorWeek reinstated the minivan category in light of four new models this year - the most in any single year since minivans were invented in the 1980s. Toyota Sienna is crowned "Best Minivan" because it combines the best of all existing minivans and adds a few surprises, including the long-overdue people-cargo flexibility with the split-folding third seat. The fact that it is also roomy and powerful and maintains the high standards of Toyota quality makes the Sienna the pick of the litter in minivans.

The winner of "Best Small Car," the Mazda3, has an unusually bold look for its class, a direct and purposeful interior, a choice of two competent engines, and a taut, sporty ride. This is one small car that doesn't say "me, too!"

Chevrolet Malibu snagged "Best Family Sedan" for representing the first serious salvo in a reawakening of GM as a volume carmaker. Smooth, powerful and very fuel efficient, the styling is clearly Chevy but the rest of the car represents some of the best of GM's global engineering resources.

For open-air touring the Audi A4 1.8 T Cabriolet captures "Best Convertible" for its youthful style, uncompromised European road manners and added features such as the latest rollover protection with pop-up roll bars behind the rear seats. The 1.8 T has been singled out since it is the least expensive A4 cabriolet and yet is still a great performer.

"Best Luxury Sedan" takes the Mercedes-Benz E-Class for another spin this year. From timeless but modern styling to a full compliment of active and passive safety features, to the understated elegance of both design and fabrics, this is the car that all other luxury cars emulate - and so far have failed.

The second generation Acura TL powered up into the "Best Sport Sedan" category, following the same path as the original by being the best at combining sport sedan driving enjoyment with no-wants luxury interior.

As "Best Performance Car," the Subaru Impreza WRX Sti has the all-wheel drive, balanced chassis and high-performance brakes that can manage one of the world's top road rally racing brands, and at a price that is less than most people pay for a sport-utility vehicle.

Making its way back onto the list from last year is the Honda Element as "Best Small Sport-Utility Vehicle" because, simply put, it is the best box on wheels the MotorWeek team has ever seen. It's versatility for everything from cargo handling to camping puts the Element in a class by itself.

"Best Mid-Size Sport-Utility Vehicle" is the Volkswagen Touareg. According to the judges, the company's first modern attempt at an SUV is terrific because it is tough, has strong V-6 and V-8 power, can go off-road and tow with many of the best domestic brands. Its wide interior and expensive appointments also mean this vehicle can hold its own with pavement goers as well.

The second-generation Dodge Durango has the biggest grille in the business and shows it off in the "Best Family Sport-Utility Vehicle" category. It is larger than most mid-size SUVs, yet smaller than full-size models, provides more interior space than its rivals, and offers a wide choice of powertrains, including the first HEMI V-8 in an SUV and two all-wheel drive systems.

"Best Pickup Truck" is the all-new design of the best selling truck in the land: Ford F-150. More power, more towing, more features and the quietest, most refined cabin in the business pull this truck into this category's first place.

Toyota Prius grabs the "Best Eco-Friendly" category as a true watershed vehicle. For the first time, the efficiency of a gasoline-hybrid powertrain has the capability of carrying a family a good long distance in comfort, carving out a niche that's tough to beat. With good acceleration and competent handling, this car is no experiment.

"Best Dream Machine" is a triple winner in 2004. The Bentley Continental GT, Ford GT and Mercedes-Benz AMG are MotorWeek's top picks for helping Power Ball winners divest their fortunes. The Bentley Continental GT is the first product since new owner Volkswagen took over and it is a masterful combination of posh style and modern performance that only this legendary British brand could master.

The Ford GT is a modern interpretation of the 1960s Le Mans winning effort that put America on the international racing map. It is no stripped-down racer. This supercar has a street-legal, supercharged 500-horsepower V-8 and a comfortable, fully equipped cabin. MotorWeek hopes that at least some of the GT owners will actually drive them out of their homegrown museums.

MotorWeek's third "Dream Machine" award goes not to one car, but to the entire lineup of Mercedes-Benz AMG vehicles (Mercedes-Benz C32, CLK55, E55, G55, CL55, S55, SL55, SLK32 and SLR McLaren). From sport coupes to sport-utilities, there is a high performance AMG product for every taste. Mercedes' in-house tuning experts have also produced limited-edition cars, with exceptional performance, that don't neglect the luxury and safety integral to the brand.

The annual MotorWeek Drivers' Choice Awards are selected by a team of 10 judges, comprised of the writers, producers and crew of MotorWeek. Judges' decisions are based on superior performance, technology, practicality and dollar value. MotorWeek test-drives more than 150 cars and trucks annually.

The Drivers' Choice Award trophy was created by noted automotive artist Dennis Simon, whose illustrations have been seen on the pages of Road & Track, Sports Car International, Automobile and Vintage Motorsport magazines. Simon's commissioned trophy design evokes the passion of driving, an underlying principle of the Drivers' Choice Awards.

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