Introducing the Sweet 16

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Introducing the Sweet 16

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1. Audi A5 Sportback 2. Audi R8 V10 3. BMW 5 Series 4. BMW X5 5. Hyundai Genesis 6. Hyundai Grandeur Hybrid 7. Kia Carens 8. Kia Soul 9. Range Rover Sport 10. Lexus IS 11. Lincoln MKZ 12. Mercedes-Benz S Class 13. Renault Samsung QM3 14. Ssangyong Korando Turismo 15. Volkswagen Golf 16. Volvo V40

It is the best time of year for Korean auto lovers, with the announcement of 16 finalists leading up to the selection of the 2014 Car of the Year (COTY) next month.

The award, hosted by the JoongAng Ilbo, is in its fifth year. Eleven models are competing in the passenger car segment.

In the SUV category, the contenders are Kia Motors’ Carens, Renault Samsung Motors’ QM3, Ssangyong Motor’s Korando Turismo, the BMW X5 and Land Rover’s Ranger Rover Sport.

The award’s 20 expert judges started by reviewing 46 automobiles introduced in Korea last year, listening to presentations and analyzing research data before trimming the options to 16.

The second evaluation will consist of a test drive on March 9 at the Korea Automobile Testing and Research Institute track in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi.

The judges will not only pick the Car of the Year, but also the winners in seven categories: best SUV, performance, environmental friendliness, domestic and import design, driver convenience and innovation. If the COTY award goes to a foreign-made model, judges will pick a best local car and vice versa.

The 16 finalists will be on display March 12 to 16 at Kintex in Ilsan, Gyeonggi, with the winner to be announced March 18.

Judges said it will be difficult to choose the 2014 COTY because many automakers introduced makeovers or face-lifts of classics and best-sellers.

Among the 16 finalists, six were from Korean automakers, a big improvement from last year when only three made the list. COTY organizers decided to count RSM’s QM3 as a domestic model, even though it is made in Spain.

Only one Japanese car, the Lexus IS, made the list. Last year, there were six Japanese models.

The first COTY screening Wednesday resembled a court hearing, with judges asking pointed questions after the presentations.

“I never thought the screening process was this tight,” said Heo Seung-jin, an automotive engineering professor at Kookmin University, who is a first-time COTY judge.

Korea’s largest automaker, Hyundai Motor, placed two models among the finalists: the new Genesis and the Grandeur Hybrid.

“Our company’s history is short compared to some others, but we have made some progress in the global auto industry,” said Park Jin-young, a general manager at Hyundai’s domestic product marketing team. “We hope the judges recognize our development.”

Kia Motors, Hyundai’s affiliate, presented its small, multipurpose vehicle, the Soul. The second-generation Soul was released in October with an upgraded design and convenience features. It was the model’s first full makeover since its introduction in 2008.

Top models from German brands, which dominate Korea’s imported car market, also made the cut.

BMW officials told judges there is a reason why the 520d diesel midsize sedan was the best-selling imported car in Korea last year. According to the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association, the 520d sold 8,346 units in 2013 and topped sales in January.

Volkswagen’s seventh-generation Golf is also a finalist. Officials presented the new Golf, which was released in July, as a “textbook” hatchback and a pioneer in the development of that segment in the Korean market.

The Mercedes-Benz S Class presentation focused on the large luxury sedan’s latest technology, including “magic body control” in which a sensor scans the road surface ahead and adjusts the car’s suspension accordingly.

It also emphasized the fact that the vehicle was introduced by Daimler AG Chairman Dieter Zetsche when he was in Korea last November.

Audi was the only foreign automaker to put two models on the passenger car list: the A5 Sportback and the R8 V10.

The German automaker said the A5 Sportback is a unique hybrid of sedan and coupe with increased interior space.

For the R8 V10, the only sports car and most expensive model of the COTY list, presenters emphasized that the model is ideal - better than Ferrari or Lamborghini - for real-world driving.

Lincoln and Volvo returned to the list of finalists with the MKZ sedan and V40 hatchback.

Lincoln, the luxury arm of Ford, presented its MKZ as the most cost-efficient luxury sedan with the best warranty in its segment of five years or 100,000 kilometers (62,137 miles).

Volvo emphasized the V40’s safety features, a trademark of the Swedish brand. The premium hatchback is equipped with the world’s first pedestrian airbag, located on the hood.

The third-generation Lexus IS, a compact sporty sedan introduced in June, has been appealing to customers with its new swift and sporty looks, highlighted by its hourglass-shaped grille.

In the SUV category, the rise of local models was noticeable after having only one finalist each in the past two years.

Kia presented its third-generation Carens as the result of an investment of 220 billion won ($206.4 million) over 51 months of development.

For RSM’s QM3, known as Renault Captur in Europe, presenters highlighted its unique design and two-tone body and roof. In addition, the QM3’s impressive fuel efficiency of 18.5 kilometers per liter, and its price, were trumpeted when the car was released in December.

“The introduction of the QM3 seems to be a wake-up call to the imported car industry,” said judge Yoon Dae-sung, Kaida’s executive director.

Ssangyong, which enjoyed a sharp increase in sales last year, saw its Korando Turismo on the list. The company calls the model a multi-leisure vehicle. Originally released with 11 seats, a nine-seat edition was added in December.

The Ranger Rover Sport from Land Rover has a reputation as the sportiest and most dynamic SUV on the market. The V6 turbo four-wheel drive model produces 292 horsepower.

The third-generation X5 from BMW, an import from the United States, was released in November and has added a seven-seat model as well as upgraded fuel efficiency.

BY joo kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]


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