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April 26, 2011

Nissan’s electric-powered Leaf snagged the World Car of the Year award announced annually at the New York International Auto Show. The jury called the Leaf “the gateway to a brave new electric world,” and Nissan chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn declared that the victory “validates Nissan’s clear vision and the values of sustainable mobility that we want to offer customers around the world.”

The Leaf prevailed over the other finalists, the latest versions of the BMW 5-Series and Audi A8. Previous winners in recent years include the Volkwagen Polo and Golf, Mazda2, Lexus LS 460, BMW 3-Series and Audi A6.

Meanwhile the Chevrolet Volt didn’t walk away empty-handed; it was declared 2011 World Green Car, defeating the Leaf and BMW 320d Efficient Dynamics Edition. “GM developed [the Volt] in a remarkably short period of time and brought it to market on schedule and largely meeting its original performance targets,” the jury noted.

The World Car organization doesn’t want to be pigeonholed, though, because they appreciate beauty as well as engineering prowess, which is why they named the Aston Martin Rapide as the 2011 World Design of the Year. “There is a real sense of proportion with this car, akin to a tailored suit,” described Marek Reichman, Aston Martin’s director of design.

But it wasn’t just Aston tooting its own horn. “Without a doubt, this is the most successful full four-seater grand touring car to date,” proclaimed Tom Matano, executive director of the school of industrial design at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Past winners include the Chevrolet Camaro, Fiat 500, Audi R8, Audi TT and Citroen C4.

And in the marriage of style and engineering, the jury also named the Ferrari 458 Italia as the 2011 World Performance Car of the Year. The Italian stallion edged out the Mercedes SLS AMG and the Porsche 911 Turbo for the victory. “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,” the jury remarked. “And what a beautiful sound.”

Past winners for performance include the Audi R8 V10, Nissan GT-R, Audi R8, Audi RS4 and Porsche Cayman S.

DAN CARNEY is a veteran auto industry observer who has written for MSNBC.com, Motor Trend, AutoWeek, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Better Homes and Gardens and other publications. He has authored two books, "Dodge Viper" and "Honda S2000" and is a juror for the North American Car of the Year award. Carney covers the industry from the increasingly strategic location of Washington, DC.

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