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by Tim Beissmann

The Nissan LEAF has been crowned the 2011 World Car of the Year at the New York International Auto Show, beating an initial field of 39 new vehicles from around the globe.

The all-electric LEAF broke the German stranglehold of the award – with the Volkswagen Polo and Golf winning in 2010 and 2009 – by outshining another two premium Germans in this year’s top three: the Audi A8 and the BMW 5 Series.

The 66 World Car of the Year jurors ranked the Nissan LEAF (733.4 points) narrowly ahead of the 5 Series (730.0 points). The LEAF performed strongest in the Merit, Environment and Significance criteria.

The judges were most impressed that the LEAF felt “just like a normal car, only quieter”.

Surprisingly, however, the Nissan LEAF was beaten by the Chevrolet Volt in the 2011 World Green Car of the Year award.

The jurors decided the Volt – as the world’s first mass-produced series hybrid/extended range electric vehicle – satisfied the Green Car criteria better than the LEAF – the world’s first mass-produced electric car.

“GM (General Motors) developed it from a concept in a remarkably short period of time and brought it to market on schedule and largely meeting its original performance targets,” the jurors said.

“With the ability to drive 25-50 miles (40-80km) on electricity alone it will meet most drivers commuting needs mostly gasoline and emissions free. After the battery is depleted, the ability to keep driving without having to wait hours for a recharge means that this car can be used anytime, anywhere.”

The Volt was named the 2011 World Green Car of the Year ahead of the BMW 320d EfficientDynamics Edition and the LEAF. Both the Holden Volt and the Nissan LEAF will go on sale in Australia in 2012.

In the other awards, the Ferrari 458 Italia was named the 2011 World Performance Car of the Year, while the Aston Martin Rapide was declared 2011 World Car Design of the Year.

The 425kW/540Nm Ferrari topped a list of 14 supercars, including two German finalists: the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG and the Porsche 911 Turbo.

“The replacement for the F430 Fiorano has been voted by nearly every possible ranking this past year as the best performer hands down,” the judges said.

“This is a classic modern Ferrari in every sense, but its sophisticated handling abilities at the limit take it to a whole new level for Italian super GTs. And what a beautiful sound.”

The Rapide was ranked as the most stunning design of more than 50 in the 2011 competition.

Tom Matano, Executive Director School of Industrial Design at Academy of Art University, San Francisco, and one of the men of the judging panel, summed up his decision simply:

“Without a doubt, this is the most successful full four-seater Grand Touring car to date.”




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