Hyundai Elantra
The Hyundai Elantra was named 2012 North American Car of the Year. Reuters

DETROIT -- The Hyundai Elantra was a surprise of this year's Detroit Auto Show, winning the Car of the Year award in what some termed an upset. Many observers thought the Volkswagen Passat, a finalist for the annual award along with the Ford Focus, would claim the coveted distinction.

But though winning the honor was a big deal for Hyundai, the Korean automaker that builds the Elantra in its manufacturing plant in the United States, the car won't see a direct sales benefit from it. Only because it's not possible at the moment.

Already, Hyundai is selling all the Elantra's it can make, said John Krafcik, the company's North American CEO. But that doesn't mean Hyundai won't leverage the Elantra's Car of the Year award to the benefit of the brand. Krafcik said it's an overall boost to the company's image with consumers, particularly in the small-car segment revealing that Hyundai has top of the line products.

The 2012 Hyundai Elantra isn't a winner because it's a compact car with an available rear camera and heated rear (yes, rear) seats in top-of-the-line Limited trim. It's a winner because even the base GLS provides a capable and fuel-efficient engine, responsive transmission, comfortable ride and quiet cabin at highway speeds -- all for less than $16,000, said Karl Brauer, a juror for the 2012 North American Car and Truck of the Year Awards.

The upscale interior, stylish exterior and super-long warranty are just icing on this very cost-effective cake.

The win for another major accomplishment for Hyundai in recent years, the South Korean-based automaker that has a manufacturing plant in the United States and has been gaining traction consistently with its sedans and compact cars in North America.

Pricing for the Elantra, recognized for its skeek design, begins at $16,445. The popular, and now award-winning compact car gets an estimated 33 miles per gallon.

The luxury SUV Range Rover Evoque won the North American Truck of the Year in the awards ceremony Monday morning.

The Evoque, a small, angular SUV which starts at $43,995, gets an estimated 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway.

The car and truck of the year awards, in a 19th year, are chosen by 50 automotive journalists. To be eligible, a vehicle must be all new or substantially changed. Finalists for the truck of the year award included the BMW X3, Honda CR-V and the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque.

This year America's Big Three automakers arrived at the auto show in the best shape as a whole in years, yet they didn't claim one of the top honors given out annually. It's the first time since 2006 a U.S. automaker didn't claim one of the honors. In the truck of the year awards, juror Frank Aufoker of Driveways said of the Land Rover Evoque that there's only one totally new vehicle in this class, which should not even be classified as a truck.

But juror Dan Carney of said the Evoque is impressive for its combination of styling fantasy with real-world capability.

The Elantra seemed to have little debate among jurors in claiming the car of the year award.

Said juror Ken Gross of Playboy: Beaucoup bang for the buck, impressive mileage; it feels like a more expensive car.

Still, Hyundai, which builds the Elantra at its Alabama plant, was surprised by the honor. Executives spoke as if they didn't see it coming, just like when the company won the award in 2009 with its Hyundai Genesis.

We're very surprised, Hyundai America CEO John Krafcik said. We're humbled. It's an amazing honor.