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Volkswagen designer Oliver Stefani poses with a trophy in front of the Volkswagen Up! after the vehicle was named the World Car of the Year at the 2012 New York Auto Show. (ALLISON JOYCE/REUTERS)
Volkswagen designer Oliver Stefani poses with a trophy in front of the Volkswagen Up! after the vehicle was named the World Car of the Year at the 2012 New York Auto Show. (ALLISON JOYCE/REUTERS)

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VW Up! named World Car of the Year Add to ...

Volkswagen’s subcompact Up! city car won the overall 2012 World Car of the Year award, the small two-door hatchback prevailing over pricier and more luxurious finalists like the BMW 3-Series sedan and the Porsche 911 sports car.

European auto makers dominated in every category; winners included the Porsche 911 as World Performance car, the Range Rover Evoque as design winner and the Mercedes-Benz S 250 CDI Blue Efficiency diesel as World Green Car.

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The awards were presented at the New York auto show, with the Up! replacing another city-friendly hatchback that won the overall World Car of the Year last year, the Nissan Leaf. The Up!, which Volkswagen has no current plans to sell in North America, is more conventional in powertrains and ambition than the Leaf, but impresses more by offering luxury levels of refinement and features at a price that starts close to the bottom of the price scale.

The Porsche 911 won the coveted World Performance car crown over exotic finalists from England and Italy, specifically the McLaren MP4-12C and Lamborghini Aventador. The 911 also beat out much pricier competition, and significantly for this category, more powerful sports car rivals.

The Range Rover Evoque took the design award over the Volkswagen Up! and the shapely Citroen DS5 coupe. The latter French brand has long been among the most adventurous in the styling department – not always successfully – in the business. But Citroen’s expressive products have been in the top three of this category for five of the past seven years, with the Citroen C4 the award’s inaugural winner in 2006.

The World Green Car-winning Mercedes-Benz S-Class diesel is not sold in North America, but its victory is still timely to those on this continent, because the engine is the same one that will be coming to the new GLK compact SUV early next year. The Focus EV in this category was the only non-European branded vehicle to make it to the top three finalists in any category.

Last year’s World Car recipients included the Nissan Leaf as the overall 2011 award winner, the Chevrolet Volt that took the World Green Car (it wasn’t eligible for the overall World Car award because it wasn’t yet available in other countries), the Ferrari 458 for the performance car award, and the Aston Martin Rapide took the design award.

Lexus to introduce ES 300h hybrid

As before, there will be a whole lot of Toyota Camry under the skin and more luxurious interior of the Lexus ES sedan, although the new Lexus corporate face does help distinguish it quite a bit more. But for this new generation, Lexus will also offer a hybrid version of the ES, using a similar (or possibly the same) 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine as the Camry Hybrid.

That ES 300h hybrid also offers a hidden tailpipe to help distinguish it from regular ES sedans, which are powered by the strong and smooth 3.5-litre V-6 that’s optional on the Camry. Power or fuel efficiency figures were not revealed for either version at the car’s launch in New York city, so it’s possible that Toyota will tweak each system for slightly different figures from their down-market Toyota siblings, though we won’t know for sure until closer to their launch later this summer.

Various online reports have speculated that the arrival of the ES 300h will spell the demise of the slow-selling compact Lexus HS 250h, but a spokesperson for Toyota Canada said this week that the ES 300h won’t replace any existing vehicle.

Although the HS hasn’t sold well, the similarly compact CT 200h hatchback has done well for the brand, quickly becoming one of the best-selling hybrids in North America, even in the United States, a market that traditionally favours sedans over hatchbacks.

Santa Fe seven-seater to replace Veracruz

It’s nice to be on a roll, and Hyundai has become a powerhouse recently, even nudging ahead of Honda in Canadian sales so far this year. The company introduced a new Santa Fe that looks like it will continue this roll, with the next-generation crossover coming this summer as a five-seater, with a larger V-6 seven-seat version on tap to arrive in early 2013.

The three-row Santa Fe will essentially replace the Veracruz in Hyundai’s lineup, though the timing of the Veracruz’s passing has not been finalized, Hyundai Canada spokesman Patrick Danielson said this week. Both regular and seven-seat versions were shown at last week’s New York auto show, with the five-seater also unveiled at last week’s Vancouver auto show.

Typically, recent new-generation Hyundais have offered an attractive variation of its “fluidic sculpture” design theme, as well as stuffing more quality and content into vehicles at a lower price than many of its Asian rivals in particular.

Highlights of the new Santa Fe include a choice of turbo or non-turbo, direct-injection, four-cylinder engines for the five-seater, and a standard V-6 for the seven-seater. A torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system, rear heated seats and steering wheel, and a blind-spot detection system for the seven-passenger version will all be available.

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