As the baseball season gets underway, grandstand debates and barroom arguments commence: Who is going to win the American League East, Yankees or Red Sox? Who is the better player, the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez or the St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols? And as we enter the thick of the NBA playoffs, sports radio callers are debating who is more valuable, the L.A. Lakers' Kobe Bryant or the Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James.?

Move the discussion to cars and you might get a fight over the Ford Mustang vs. Chevy Camaro, or maybe even the Mercedes S Class versus the Lexus LS. But at a time when marketing experts are theorizing about consumers "resetting" their priorities and whole definitions of value, try this on for a bar-stool debate: Hyundai vs. BMW.

No way. Ridiculous. What's in that glass, misterjQuery19103553976484561592_1392572704515

On the other hand, is it really that crazy? The bursting of the housing bubble certainly has people rethinking the desirability of owning "vacation" second homes. For the past year, a lot of those 30-year-old single-malt whiskies that were selling so briskly in 2007 have been left on the shelf in favor of blended scotch. Netflix is more popular than ever as people prefer paying a few dollars to watch Up In The Air on their widescreen TV (likely paid for with a home-equity line of credit) rather than $40-plus for a theatre experience, baby sitter and popcorn.

These sorts of changes have BMW thinking, if not yet worried. Madelyn Hochstein, owner, President and co-founder of DYG, Inc., a marketing intelligence firm that has long counted BMW as one of its clients, has advised the German automaker that the luxury car buyer has changed for good. "The financial crisis of 2008 has people not shunning luxury vehicles, but they are looking for greater value, and scrutinizing their purchases more closely than ever."?

BMW marketing chief Jack Pitney takes the advice seriously. "I think running scared is a good way to manage a brand... take nothing for granted, and focus on what your customers are doing and saying," he says.

But does Pitney go so far as to be worried about Hyundai, in addition to longtime competitors Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Lexus? "BMW has never worried about leading in specific categories like horsepower, or having every feature. Our strength is in tying everything together into an unforgettable and industry leading driving experience, and that's what we are focused on, no matter what the economy is doing," says Pitney.??

BMW has created a lot of tension in its brand in the last decade. Starting with the controversial styling of the 2001 7-series, followed by the creased sides and duckbill tail of the Z4, the X6 crossover coupe, and the decision to do M versions of the X5 and X6. All that and more has made BMW arguably the most argued-over brand of the last ten years.??

Pitney says BMW doesn't want to lose that "brand energy." It is somewhat telling, though, that for the 2011 model year BMW will sell a 740i that starts at $70,150, $12,000 lower than the entry-model 750i that was the starting point for 2010. That is, in part, for the fuel economy of the V6 versus the V8s in the up-market 7s, but also to give buyers a lower starting price point.?

BMW is launching an all-new 5-Series sedan this summer, two years after Hyundai launched its $33,000 Genesis sedan, which the Korean company modeled after the outgoing 5-Series. Autoblog, a sister site of AOL Autos, noted at the Genesis launch in 2008: "In one breath, the Genesis will simply compete head-to-head with the Infiniti M, Lexus GS, Lexus ES, Acura TL, and Acura RL [while] the German buyers want their badge; the American customers are true to their flag." Indeed, few were willing to say that Genesis had hit the BMW Roundel bulls-eye on the first try. (Or second, if you will: Hyundai's Veracruz SUV, costing roughly $37,000 loaded, was launched for the 2007 model year. Its only shortcoming when compared to its luxury competitors has been slow sales.)??

A big part of Hyundai's strategy is to launch these luxury models in the hope that they will start to elevate the images of the company's volume sellers like Sonata and Santa Fe, so that the company can better justify raising prices. The Korean company would some day like to sell its Sonatas and Santa Fes at parity or even a premium to Toyotas and Hondas.?

Having earned considerable kudos for the Genesis among enthusiast writers, as well as North American Car of the Year for 2009, Hyundai is now gearing up to launch the $50,000-plus Equus sedan this fall.

So, can we have that conversation? Hyundai vs. BMW. This is how it would go?

Hyundai Genesis Sedan vs. 2011 BMW 5-Series?

Appeal: The J.D. Power and Associates APEAL survey asks car buyers to rate how pleased they are with their vehicles, from styling to interior design execution, over 90 factors in all. In the 2009 APEAL Genesis topped the 5 Series.?

Power: Both are available with six- or eight-cylinder engines. 290 hp for the V6 Genesis versus 300 hp for the turbocharged, six-cylinder BMW. 385-hp for the V8 Genesis versus 400 hp for the turbocharged V8 BMW.?

Price: The 3.8-liter Genesis V6 starts at $33,000, while the 535i starts at $49,600.

Extras: Both the 5-Series and Genesis get 3-star ratings from Automotive Leasing Guide for resale value.

Bottom Line: This all depends on how much fifteen grand is worth to you. The Genesis is a fine machine. But where BMW excels is the integration of all the parts into one spectacular day-to-day driving machine. Plus, the 2011 5-Series design is a sleeker, more traditionally taut design than the outgoing model. The Genesis seems to have a clearer advantage over the $45,600 Lexus GS350 whose ride and handling is closer to that of the Genesis.

Advantage: BMW, but not by as wide a margin as you might have thought.?

Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 vs. BMW 328i Coupe

Appeal: Neither vehicle placed in the top three within their category in Power's last APEAL ranking.?

Power: Both of these models offer six-cylinder engines: 300 hp for the turbocharged BMW versus 306 for the V6 Hyundai.

Price: The 328i coupe starts at $36,200, while the Genesis coupe starts at $25,000 with a V6. A smaller engine is available in the Genesis coupe, while the BMW doesn't go any smaller than the inline six found in the 328i.

Extras: The BMW 3-Series gets a four-star rating from ALG, while Genesis coupe gets three stars. Both vehicles get a combined 20 mpg.

Bottom Line: This is sort of unfair. The Genesis Coupe actually seems disconnected from the sedan. That's because the coupe has a shorter wheelbase and weighs some 600 pounds less. The Genesis Coupe is offered at a much lower price, making it more of a challenger to the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro.

Advantage: BMW 328i over Genesis Coupe, but the Hyundai ties with a comparably priced and equipped Mustang.?

2011 Hyundai Equus vs. 2011 7-Series?

Appeal: We'll just have to wait for these results.

Power: The Equus has a 4.6-liter V8 that generates 385 hp, versus 315 for the base Bimmer with a 3.0-liter, turbocharged 6-cylinder.?

Price: The Equus is expected to sticker at $50K-$60K. This is right in the middle of 5-Series territory. But the 2011 BMW 740i starts at $70,150 and stickers at $82,000 when typical popular features were added.?

Extras: Said Autoblog at the debut of Equus: "If Hyundai ever decides to gamble and attack the next price segment up from the Genesis sedan, they clearly have the ammo to do so. The Equus is the real deal."

Bottom Line: Hard to give an advantage when the Equus isn't here yet. But getting what is believed to be a great, luxurious car that's this well detailed, and for about $30,000 less than the comparable 7-Series? That has our attention.

Advantage: Hyundai.

Hyundai Veracruz vs. BMW X5

Appeal: The X5 is ranked second to the Porsche Cayenne on J.D. Power's most recent APEAL study, while the Veracruz did not place in the top three in its category.

Power: The 3.8-liter V6 in the Veracruz produces 260 hp, while the Bimmer's new 3.0-liter, turbocharged inline-six churns out 300.?

Price: The Hyundai Veracruz Limited AWD with both the nav and entertainment package stickers at $35,895. The X5 xDrive35i with AWD hits the wallet starting at $45,800 and goes up from there.?

Extras: Combined fuel economy is 18 mpg for both the Hyundai and the Bimmer. The X5 gets a three-star ALG rating for resale value, while Veracruz is unrated.?

Bottom Line: If you are a single person, or perhaps married with one child, the X5 is unquestionably a better-tailored suit. The Veracruz is an amazing value. It has a nicely appointed interior, attractive styling and a handy amount of utility if your family has a couple of kids. Both keep you clear of the minivan salesman.?

Advantage: It's a tie. Take the X5 if you don't have kids, and the Veracruz if you do, and stick the difference in the college fund. No regrets.?

Hyundai Santa Fe vs. BMW X3?

Appeal: Neither SUV ranked in the top three of their Power APEAL categories.

Power: Santa Fe packs a 3.5-liter V6, which produces 276 hp, while the X3 makes 260 hp from its 3.0-liter inline-six. The Santa Fe also offers a four-cylinder; the X3 does not.?

Price: A Santa Fe Limited AWD stickers at $30,295, while the X3 starts at $38,850.

Extras: Santa Fe fuel economy is 22 mpg, and it has a 3-star ALG rating. X3 gets 19 mpg and also scores a 3-star rating.

Bottom Line: A loaded Santa Fe is very tempting compared to an X3 that has not been a favorite of many reviewers. The Hyundai even gets better fuel economy from its larger displacement engine. And the extra $10k or so could buy a Hyundai Accent for another, less deserving, family member.

Advantage: Hyundai.

And since you asked: LeBron James over Kobe Bryant. Ted Williams over Joe DiMaggio. Ford Mustang over Chevy Camaro. Albert Pujols over Alex Rodriguez.?Marianne over Ginger. Shirley Partridge over Carol Brady. Captain Kirk over Captain Picard. Muhammed Ali over Joe Louis. And Catwoman (Julie Newmar) over Batgirl.

Our Verdict: Hyundai vs. BMW

Mid-size Sedan Hyundai Genesis Sedan BMW 5-series (Our Pick)
Coupe Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 BMW 328i coupe (Our Pick)
Full-size Sedan Hyundai Equus (Our Pick) BMW 7-series
Mid-size Crossover Hyundai Veracruz (Tie) BMW X5 (Tie)
Small Crossover Hyundai Santa Fe (Our Pick) BMW X3