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Great cars — well, almost ...

Car critics can sometimes seem a bit nasty and mean-spirited, so it's nice every now and then to demonstrate that we are rooting for things to work out at some companies.
/ Source: Forbes

Car critics can sometimes seem a bit nasty and mean-spirited, so it's nice every now and then to demonstrate that we are rooting for things to work out at some companies.

We have nothing against General Motors and Ford Motor. Just because the companies are losing market share and have fixed costs that are so high they may prove to be unsustainable in the long term doesn't mean we dislike these automakers. But when we see the introduction of one mediocre Pontiac or Saturn after another, our reporting thereof may have a tone of disappointment.

In the slide show that follows however, you will find us cheering for such American brands as Pontiac, Ford and Cadillac. This piece may be titled "Almost-Great Cars," but it is not about bad cars. To look at bad cars, consult our annual "Automotive Turkeys" and "Worst Cars" features.

Rather, this piece is about ten vehicles that are within shouting distance of being great — and could be so with just a bit more work.One of the hardest things in the world to manufacture is a car that feels just about perfect — a car that does what you want it to do, and in which everything is where you would expect it to be. In a great car you, the road and the vehicle are united as one.

Of course, different people feel connected to different kinds of cars. We have heard some say they feel that special bond with Mitsubishi's scorching-hot Lancer Evolution sedan. Others feel that Porsches connect car, driver and road better than any other vehicle. The new Lotus Elise gets a lot of praise in the motoring press for doing just that, even if it falls short in other areas.

Then there are the cars that almost do it for us. That's what this piece is about: Vehicles that are pretty good but have one or more significant issues that prevent us from loving them. In some cases, we have reported on individual cars that could be better, such as Land Rover's new LR3 sport utility vehicle, which just needs a slightly higher level of features and amenities in order to make good on its company's aspirations to be a tier-one, premium automaker.

In other cases, we have reported on entire model lines. One complaint is sometimes enough to drive us through the ceiling. We love driving Audis, for example, but cannot for the life of us figure out why modern Audis all seem to come with touchy, grabby brakes that are impossible — at least for us — to modulate smoothly (and Audi drivers write in and tell us they have the same problem). However, we have not included Audis in our slide show because their corporate designs are so strong — so far ahead of those of virtually every other automaker — that we don't feel comfortable calling Audis anything but great.

We do, however, feel comfortable calling DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes-Benz cars "very good" as opposed to "great." This is because they have a major flaw, pretty much across the board: They are sleek, but unreliable. (Please see the slide show for more information.)

In some cases, making "very good" cars as opposed to "great" ones is the difference between a runaway success and a runner-up. You will notice a couple of Cadillacs in the slide show that follows; that's because the brand is almost there. It almost has the goods on a luxury automaker, such as BMW, but for reasons about which we will elaborate, it doesn't. This is why General Motors officials still talk about how they are working to make Cadillac "the standard of the world" again — not how they have done it.