The 2009 International Car and Truck of the Year has been announced, with the Nissan GT-R and Dodge Ram 1500 taking top prizes. Also honored: the VW Jetta TDI, and Ford Escape Hybrid

The Nissan GT-R has been named the 2009 International Car of the Year. Announced by industry journalists just hours before the opening of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the jury also picked the Dodge Ram 1500 as Truck of the Year.

Ironically, Nissan will not be attending the NAIAS this year, citing the troubled state of the auto industry as the main reason. The company has even banished their own dealers from running a stand at the show.

Nissan's third generation GT-R began worldwide sales last year. The 480 hp sports car immediately drew a global fan base, not just because of its remarkable performance, but also because you do not need a multi-million dollar salary to buy one. Despite having a 3.8-liter twin turbo V6, which generates 430 ft-lb of torque, base price comes in at just under $70,000.

This was likely a key factor in the jury's decision, made up of 16 industry journalists. The GT-R won the award over two other finalists: the Dodge Challenger and the Ford Flex.

In a somewhat surprising decision, they named the Dodge Ram 1500 as truck of the year. The Chrysler-made vehicle beat out the all-new 2009 Ford F-150, which previously took honor off the Ram by winning Motor Trend's Truck of the Year award. Also nominated was the Subaru Forester.

The Dodge Ram lineup was unveiled last year in a downtown-Detroit cattle run at the 2008 NAIAS. The series did not go on sale until last fall, with a starting price of $23,050 for the Ram 1500. Engine choices begin with a 215 hp 3.7-liter V6, building up to a 5.7-liter V8 HEMI. The HEMI gives off 390 hp and 407 ft-lb of torque.

Jurors also handed awards to the Volkswagen Jetta TDI and the Ford Escape Hybrid. Respectively named the 2009 Earth, Wind & Power car and truck of the year, the two vehicles were honored for being the most environmentally friendly new models. VW's turbodiesel Jetta runs on a 140 hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder, producing up to 236 ft-lb of torque. In the States, starting price is around $21,000 after customers claim the $1300 alternative-fuel tax rebate available after purchase.

Officially, the US Environmental Protection Agency rates the car at 29 mpg in the city, and 41 mpg highway. VW contested this, hiring an independent lab to conduct a retest. That experiment showed the car getting 38/44 mpg. Meanwhile, VW-sponsored cross-country drivers have reported getting up to 58.2mpg.

At the same time, the Ford Escape Hybrid won out with a 31 hwy/ 34 city mpg. The 2009 model was tweaked significantly, getting a bigger, more powerful engine, and a better-tuned powertrain that is more willing to shut the engine down in favor of battery power. Ford also fixed the brake and steering issues that annoyed previous owners. Starting price for the front-wheel-drive model is $29,645.

Honda won the award for "most environmentally-friendly automaker." A Lifetime Legend Award was also handed out, with Washington Post auto journo Warren Brown taking the honor.

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