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2005 9th Annual International Car of the Year Awards
by Martha Hindes

2005 MINI COOPER Convertible
Entry Level - Most Spirited - MINI COOPER Convertible
For those living on the edge of new car excitement, 2005 became a very good year. An explosion of technology, of tantalizing design and multi-faceted purpose met every seeming taste and need. The codeword for admission into the vehicle ranks was "variety," as everything from punchy little mini cars and multipurpose crossbreeds competed for road turf with hulking heavyweights.

One of the nicest things about really small cars -- the entry level ones that can introduce folks to owning new for the first time -- is their flexibility with design rules. To pack in what's needed, within size and budget constraints, takes ingenuity. It takes adaptability, and double duty at times. It sometimes even takes humor.

In the "everyone loves a cutie" mood, we couldn't resist the gutsy charm of a droptop MINI Cooper for our Entry-Level - Most Spirited winner's circle. This topdown version rounds out (pun intended) the variety of this curvy, spunky thoroughbred that can blow the doors off a surprised competitor unaware of the mighty mite's heritage under the hood. Structural measures, designed for a convertible from the ground up -- a stiff body/chassis for one -- enhance safety while retaining sport-tuned go-kart agility.

As if topless isn't enough in itself, the automatic roof sports heated, real glass rear window, and an integrated sliding power sunroof, one of MINI's many high-tech advances. (When you want fresh air at 75 mph speeds, why wait.) Want more? Try pressure-monitored runflat tires. Need to carry real cargo? An expandable cargo-loading system eases the job.

All those circular lines, plus externally-mounted hinges, add up to surprising interior room, enough for four. And, with its "mother-loves-me" classic bulldog face characteristics, it is the only vehicle we can think of that is almost guaranteed to turn any frown upside down.

Honorable Mentions:

Ford Focus
With the record as best-selling small car in the world, the Focus, that "begs to be driven," is a winner in any language. Handsome in any of its four sporty styles including trendy three- or five-door hatches with flexible cargo space, sedan and roomy wagon, it adapts to mileage or performance needs depending on which four-cylinder engine powers it. The tops, a 2.3 liter Duratec zips along with 151 horsepower. Anti-lock brakes and side impact airbags are safety elements, with new, round fog lamps a trend-setter. A curiously positioned CD holder snuggles next to the steering wheel. Ignore the urge to drive it and you might hear it complain of "Focus abuse."

Scion tC
After establishing its Scion brand with two, uniquely funky small vehicles, Toyota cemented the relationship with its tC sports coupe with classy, sophisticated and distinctively grown up looks. Sleek and nimble with a luxury-touch look (panorama power moonroof, low set wipers at rest and side mirror turn signals contribute to that), it aims to perhaps suggest Lexus Junior for the younger, upwardly mobile crowd on a budget. A 2.4 liter DOHC 4, 160-hp adds the "fun to drive" element.

Car of the Year
Chrysler 300C

Truck of the Year
Hummer H2 SUT

Most Sex Appeal/Sports Car
Chevy Corvette

Most Spirited/Entry-Level
MINI Cooper Convertible

Most Compatible/Minivan
Chrysler Town & Country

Most Versatile/Crossover
Dodge Magnum
Most Respected/Luxury Car
Jaguar XJ LWB
Most Athletic/Pickup Truck
Ford F-250 Superduty

Most Resourceful/SUV
Land Rover LR3

2005 ICOTY Awards Links