It's been a knock-down, drag-out 2009 for carmakers, but despite the tough economic conditions, the cars themselves just keep getting better. This year it's Lexus coming out on the top of this ever-improving melee in the 2009 Motorist Choice Awards.

Luxury vehicles dominated the top of the list, taking the top 34 spots for cars. The only small car to make the top 100 was a luxury car, too - the BMW 1-series, which finished 35th overall.

But it's Lexus that really took home the show, winning the top spot in class for the LS (premium luxury car), ES (mid-size luxury car) and RX (luxury crossover SUV). Read up on the 2010 Lexus RX in our first drive here.

Cadillac was the next closest contender, taking two classes for its DTS (large car) and Escalade (premium luxury SUV). Audi and Lincoln were the only other luxury or quasi-luxury carmakers to make the class winner list, for the A5 (aspirational luxury car) and Town Car (tied with the DTS in the large car class).

And despite the ruckus raised last year about oil prices and the ongoing work toward tighter emissions and fuel economy standards, the top-ranking vehicles in the Motorist Choice Awards this year were large, relatively thirsty vehicles.

"Clearly, consumers still get great satisfaction from large and luxurious cars, despite the economy, rising fuel costs and manufacturers' focus on smaller vehicles," said George Peterson, president of AutoPacific. "The highest scoring cars in this survey are Premium Luxury Cars, Large Cars, Crossovers and SUVs, whether they're built in the U.S., Asia or Europe. This affinity for big vehicles makes the American market unique compared to the rest of the world."

The Motorist Choice Awards are a joint effort from AutoPacific, which publishes owner satisfaction rankings, and IntelliChoice.com, an ownership cost-analysis site. By combining the two methodologies, the goal is to build a list of cars that are not only top performers, but top values as well.

In the non-luxury stakes, Lexus parent company Toyota took home nine class awards, while Cadillac sister-brands Chevrolet took four. Honda was next with three class wins, and Chrysler finished fourth with two. Ford, Hyundai, Nissan and Volkswagen took top honors in one segment each.

This year the awards considered 196 cars, trucks, SUVs and crossovers to pick the winning handful.

[AutoPacific]