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Hyundai Genesis, Ford Flex win car, truck of the year

Hyundai Genesis and Ford Flex were picked as the 2009 Canadian Car of the Year and Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year by the country's auto writers.

In what must be a backlash against last year’s $150,000 Audi R8 sports car taking top honours, a value-packed Korean vehicle is Canada’s Car of the Year for 2009.

Members of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada narrowly picked the Hyundai Genesis luxury sedan over the Mazda6 family sedan by a margin of one point (803.0 to 802.0 points).

RELATED STORY: LeBlanc reviews Hyundai’s Genesis

The third finalist out of the original 11 category winners picked last October, the Toyota Corolla compact sedan, finished with 751.2 points.

The Ford Flex large crossover, with 776.4 points, beat out the Mercedes-Benz M Class mid-size crossover (760.1) and the Subaru Forester compact crossover (760.6) as this year’s winner of the Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year.

RELATED STORY: Wheels reviews Ford Flex

Other AJAC winners announced this week were the Best New Technology and Best New Design awards.

Mitsubishi’s Super-All-Wheel Control technology, which debuted in the 2009 Lancer Evolution sports compact, was chosen over General Motors’ OnStar stolen vehicle locator technology and Infiniti’s 360-degree surround parking system.

The Honda Fit won Best New Design, beating out the Jaguar XF Supercharged and Volkswagen Passat. Potential candidates were chosen from the full field of 56 entries in this year’s Canadian Car of the Year awards program.

Kia’s surf school-inspired Soul’ster boxy concept from this year’s Detroit Auto Show is being seriously considered for production – despite similar designs such as the Chevrolet SSR, Subaru Baja or Suzuki X-90 being sales disasters.

“The response was so overwhelming” the automaker decided it needs to take a closer look, said Alex Fedorak, a Kia Motors America spokesperson.

“It is clearly a vehicle that was built as a concept in a fashion that was production-capable. We have been doing that more and more lately.”

Based on the tall, boxy 2010 Kia Soul – a front-wheel-drive, five-door compact hatchback aimed at the same customers who get excited about boxy Scions and Nissan Cubes – the Soul’ster’s roof covers just the front seats. Rear-seat passengers are covered only by a roll bar. The two rear bucket seats fold flat, providing some of the cargo capacity of a pickup.

The 2010 Soul is set to go on sale in Canada this month with a 1.6-litre 122-hp four-cylinder engine. Prices range between $15,495 and $22,195.

Which aisle for cars?

In the foreseeable future, it may be possible to shop for toilet paper and a car under the same roof.

According to a report in Hybrid Car News, the first Chinese cars to enter the North American market may be sold through big-box retail outlets instead of at stand-alone car dealerships.

Kathleen Ligocki, CEO of GS Motors and former president of Ford of Mexico, expects Chinese-designed cars to begin production in Mexico in 2010, making their way to the U.S. about five years after “testing the waters” in Canada and Latin America.

Ligocki believes Chinese cars will be sold here through big-box stores such as Costco or Wal-Mart, which is how GS Motors retails its cars in Mexico.

Currently, GS is building an assembly plant in Mexico. The first cars – an entry-level hatchback dubbed FAW F1 and selling for under $5,500 (U.S.) – will roll off the line in 2010.

Tucson concept revealed

Hyundai has released the first rendering of its HED-6 SUV concept, in advance of its debut at next month’s Geneva auto show.

Heralded as a precursor to the next-generation Tucson compact crossover, the HED-6 SUV was styled at the company’s European Design headquarters in Germany.

Details from Hyundai are sparse, but the automaker says the concept form of the HED-6 SUV will come equipped with LED daytime running lights and powered by a 175-hp, 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine with direct injection.

The HED-6 won’t be the only new Hyundai unveiled in the Swiss city. A three-door version of Hyundai’s new Euro-only subcompact i20 will also make its debut, while the i30 Blue (a version of the Elantra Touring just introduced in Canada) will showcase the first application of stop-start technology on a Hyundai production car.

Ford to bring Transit Connect

Ford confirmed this week it plans to bring its Transit Connect commercial vehicle to the Canadian market. It also confirmed plans for an electric version of the vehicle.

Like the Dodge Sprinter and Nissan’s new NV2500 (which debuts at this week’s Toronto auto show), the Transit Connect is aimed at fleet owners looking for more economical alternatives to full-size domestic vans.

On sale in Europe since 2003 and set to go on sale in Canada this summer, the made-in-Turkey front-wheel-drive Transit Connect will come with a 136-hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, 3,823 litres of cargo space, a 726-kg payload capacity and various available cargo management systems.

A battery-powered version will be offered next year.

A mountain of Mini fans

Unveiled last fall, Mini Es were expected to be delivered by this April to a select few in the metropolitan New York and Los Angeles areas.

But Mini USA is taking longer than expected to sort through the 1,800 applicants to pick the final selected 450 who will be allowed to lease the cars for one year at $850 (U.S.) per month.

To qualify, a Mini E applicant must have a lockable garage so the company can install an electrical charge box. As well, the applicant must have a regular commute that’s within the Mini E’s limited range.

Local dealers will lease and service the cars during the trial, said Jim McDowell, vice-president of Mini USA.

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