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Hyundai Genesis is car of the yearUpdated Wed. Dec. 24 2008 7:19 AM ET

Jeremy Cato,

Drum roll please: And my winner for 2009 Car of the Year is the Hyundai Genesis.:groupbow:

No joking around, no equivocations, no drawn out teasers, no testing your patience with endless self-aggrandizement. The Genesis is the most significant new car of the 2009 model year and the Honda Fit is a close second.

Hyundai nipped the Fit, I'll admit, because it defies expectations. Who would have ever though that the same company to bring us that rust-bucket in the 1980s, the ultra-cheap-in-every-way Pony, would have the gumption and the capability to look at Lexus and shout, "Come on - game one!!!"

Make no mistake: the Genesis is Hyundai's best effort at out-Lexusing Lexus, Toyota's luxury brand which in North America is the best-selling premium brand around. Sure, sure, Hyundai's spin-meisters love to draw comparisons to the BMW 7-Series - "more room, better braking" - but the fact of the matter is, Hyundai has always had Toyota in its sights.

Toyota is the target. At Hyundai Canada's offices in Markham, Ont., there used to be a sign on the wall with these two simple worlds: "Beat Toyota."

Hyundai, with the Genesis, has completely changed the luxury car game. You cannot see the evidence of it yet; there have been no fireworks, no parades, no thank you speeches, but every other luxury car maker is certainly tearing apart the Genesis to see just what the new competition is doing.

Now bear with me a moment so I can give due tribute to the Fit. For reasons that still baffle me, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada somehow failed to give a car of the year award to the 2009 Fit. AJAC just gave out 14 of them to the 14 category winners that emerged from five days of testing in October.

But the Fit did not win its class, small cars over $18,000. The Pontiac Vibe did. The Vibe is a perfectly good vehicle, as is its Toyota twin, the Matrix. But the Fit is better than both.

Honda's subcompact gets extraordinary fuel economy (7.1 city in litres per 100 km/5.5 highway for a combined 6.4 L/100 km). The cabin design is clever and versatile, the little Fit is fun enough to drive and in a nutshell this is the best subcompact on the market. If you care about fuel efficiency, reliability and utter usefulness in a small, affordable car, then buy a Fit - or at the very least test drive one.

And take note of this: the Fit's base price is $14,980. Yes, yes, you can load it up with goodies and drive the price past $20,000, but I wouldn't. Unfortunately for Honda Canada, the team that decided on which version of the Fit to enter the AJAC competition did just that.

The as-tested version of the Fit at the AJAC testfest had a sticker of $20,659. I think that price sank the Fit. Too expensive and I suspect the judges came to that conclusion.

Personally, I would not - I repeat NOT - pay nearly $21,000 for a Fit. I love the car, but not that much. But I would pay $17,000 or so and that's all you need to spend to get a very good Fit.

A warning: This is a city car, so if you want a ride for long, long commutes, you'll find it a noisy and the seats uncomfortable. But for errands around your neighborhood, the Fit is perfect.

Okay, now to your winner.

As it turns out, the Genesis did win its category, best new luxury car under $50,000. Smart choice, AJACers. We'll see if it wins overall car of the year when the announcement comes on February 11 at the Toronto auto show.

But why wait? The Genesis is the best new car of 2009 and I am going to tell you why right now, in detail.

First, let's talk about image. Yes, yes, I know the Hyundai brand has very little cachet; Hyundai is not an established luxury brand of any sort. But perhaps in the current economic crisis, a bit of reverse snobbery might be in order.

Hyundai certainly is hoping so. The launch of Hyundai's first true luxury sedan, followed by a sexy new coupe shortly, marks a triumphant moment in the history of a Korean car company that has -- depending on how you aggregate the numbers and assign ownership -- emerged as the fifth or sixth largest car company on the planet with annual sales of about four million.

When talking about the Genesis, the Hyundai people link the sound system to Rolls-Royce, they compare the slipperyness of the design to a Lexus GS and the spaciousness of the interior to a Mercedes-Benz S-Class and a BMW 7-Series that costs three, four, even five times as much. All legitimate.

The Genesis is, indeed, a wildly audacious adventure for Hyundai.

The optional Lexicon sound system is without a doubt something sold in either a Rolls or a Hyundai. Period. No other car company offers Lexicon sound.

The V-8 engine, a brand new design and Hyundai's very first V-8 ever, is a light, compact and powerful power plant that gets the best fuel economy in its class and will run just fine on regular gas - though the horsepower will drop to 368 from 375.

The Genesis is about a $10,000 better value than an Infiniti M35, yet it is nearly $40,000 less than the sticker price on a BMW 535i. Automotive Lease Guide is giving the Genesis a 50-52 per cent residual value after three years, which is very high and superb for customers who want the lower monthly payment of a lease, too.

All this factored into my decision to make the Genesis car of the year. So did the actual sticker price. The base number is $37,995 for the V-6 version. That's good. Even better is the $43,995 starter price for the V-8.

I also looked into quality. Hyundai has fixed it. Hyundai's quality pitch is backed by consistent showings in recent studies; it is not just a bunch of hooey and hype.

For instance, Hyundai now has a long list of recommended vehicles from Consumer Reports. In CR's most recent auto annual, the Hyundai Elantra was ranked the top small sedan, and the Hyundai Santa Fe was the pick for top midsize SUV (sport-utility vehicle).

In the new 2008 J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study, Hyundai had a number of top performing models in various segments and once again the brand overall was ranked above average for reliability during the first 90 days of ownership. Better, in fact, that Lincoln, Acura, Buick, Nissan, Volvo, BMW and many others.

So congratulations, Hyundai. Your first V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive luxury sedan is a well-appointed, powerful and quiet car that deserves merit and recognition on its own, apart from whatever you may think of the Hyundai brand.

By the numbers

Power: The 375-horsepower 4.6-litre V-8 (using premium fuel) in the Genesis outperforms the V-8s in Chrysler's 300C (340 hp) and Pontiac's G8 GT (361 hp), not to mention the Infiniti M45 (325 hp), the Lexus GS 460 (342 hp) and the BMW 550i (360 hp). The Mercedes-Benz E550 (382 hp) has an edge, though.

The V-6: at 290 horsepower tops the V-6 with the Genesis output of projected rivals from the 300 (250 hp), to the G8 (256), Lexus ES 350 (272 hp), CTS (263 hp), Infiniti M35 (275), BMW 528i (230 hp) and Mercedes E350 (268).

Fuel economy: The V-8 Hyundai's fuel economy at 12.6 litres/100 km city/8.1 hwy is a class leader, too, as is the V-6 at 11.4 city/7.2 hwy.

Dimensions: At 4,976 mm in length, the Genesis is longer than a Lexus GS and an Infiniti M, to name just two of many. It is also wider than all its rivals. At 3,098 litres, interior volume equals a Mercedes S-Class. So this is not a small car.

Fast: The V-8 will do 0-100 km/hour in the six-second range shared by V-8-powered Audis, Benzes and Bimmers.

Okay, so it hasn't been announced yet & I jumped the gun a little by sharing this article, since the announcement of the winnner is not until Feb 11.
But, I agree that the winner will be the Genesis & I have no doubt in my mind. Matter of fact, I would be blown away if any other car did take the title.
This undoubtably is the most influential car for this year & will have an impact on the entire segment, changing the way we look at luxury cars & their cost.

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