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by Tim Beissmann

The Hyundai Elantra has been named the 2012 North American Car of the Year and the Range Rover Evoque has taken the prize for the 2012 North American Truck (SUV) of the Year.

The winners were confirmed at the Detroit motor show after they polled the highest number of votes from a group of 50 motoring journalists from the US and Canada.

The Hyundai Elantra just got over the line in a tight race with its fellow finalists: the Volkswagen Passat and the Ford Focus. The South Korean small sedan earned 174 points, putting it 13 points clear of the mid-sized Passat and 19 points ahead of the third-placed Focus small sedan and hatch.

Jury member Jayne O’Donnell from USA Today was impressed by the Elantra’s versatility. “The Hyundai Elantra is sporty, yet sensible. Luxurious, yet affordable. Spunky, but safe. The Elantra is a series of paradoxes and every one is another argument for the latest, impressive entry in the Hyundai line-up.”

The win was the second for Hyundai, following the success of the Genesis in 2009. Hyundai is the only Korean company to win the North American award. Elantra models sold in North America are assembled in Alabama, USA.

The Range Rover Evoque had a much more convincing win in the Truck category (which includes SUVs, full-size utes and light-commercial vehicles). It polled 254 points, easily accounting for the Honda CR-V (142 points) and the BMW X3 (94 points).

Juror Alex Taylor from Fortune magazine said the Evoque had created a new niche in the global SUV market. “Range Rover successfully charts a new direction for the venerable SUV trailblazer with a fresh design and advanced thinking about environmental issues.”

The Evoque’s win was the first for Land Rover/Ranger Rover in the North American award’s 19-year history, after finishing in the top three on two previous occasions. The win in the Truck category was just the third for a European manufacturer.

Despite winning the award, Range Rover does not have a stand at this year’s North American International Auto Show. Jaguar Land Rover earlier explained it could only afford one major motor show for the beginning of 2012, and decided the New Delhi Auto Show in India (the home of the duo’s parent company, Tata Motors) was more important than Detroit.