Of course there can only be one winner…
In three weeks’ time (6 March) the cream of the world’s automotive media, and some rather anxious captains of the motor industry will crowd into a stuffy hall in Geneva to hear the results of European Car of the Year 2017. It’s much like the Eurovision Song Contest, but far more camp and partisan.
That last sentence was only put in for facetious effect. ECOTY is a serious, rather sombre business. British readers might see the output of their motoring media as a form of light entertainment, or pornography for onanistic followers of the puerile cult of the supercar. In mainland Europe and Scandinavia, the automotive media see their first duty as informing and advising the consumer, faced with a diverse and bewildering breadth of choices. They are no longer beguiled by inchoate technologies. Winners tend to be from the C and D sectors, because that’s where most consumers buy. To choose an unreliable, unsafe or otherwise unsatisfactory winner would be a dereliction of duty. This earnestness is borne out by their choices of the last four years’ winners: Astra, Passat, 308, Golf.
This year’s contest is notable for the most impressive Salon des Refusés for many years. Several new energy exponents, three Audis and three new SUVs from elsewhere in the VAG Reich went by the board, along with the new Porsche Panamera and Jaguar’s first SUV.
My selection of the more surprising non-nominations:
Audi Q2, A5, and Q5
Tesla Model X
Toyota Mirai and Prius
And so to the nominees. Looking at those which didn’t make it to the final seven you would expect an outstanding line-up, but it isn’t. Refer to my previous comments on the earnestness of the juries; worthy, mainstream products will usually win over technological advancement, egregious luxury, or high performance.
Here’s the list; should I mention any as possible victors, take note on the road to the bookmakers that I’ve not picked a winner in many years.
Alfa Romeo Giulia
The mid-size Alfa is back, after a shameful six year absence. FCA’s huge investment, and the media attention it has been given, suggest it will be this year’s favourite to win. However the ECOTY conclave are well capable of springing surprises. The judgement and conscience of these cardinals of the automotive media should be an interesting indication of just how good the Giulia really is.
A lightly re-worked 208 with Airbumps. PSA say it’s built on the ‘A Platform’ but that’s just a new name for the ancient PF1 which originated with the 1998 Peugeot 206. I’m put in mind of the 2003 Rover Streetwise, an appealing but desperate attempt by MG Rover to step just clear of the shadow of death by widening the ageing 25’s appeal. Linda Jackson will remember it too – she worked at MG Rover until 2004 before her irresistible rise through the Citroën ranks.
Mercedes-Benz E Class
The W213 is massively safe and capable, and a tech and comms fan’s delight. However the engine range is carried over from preceding series while the new straight sixes are being readied, and customers will lament the lack of visual differentiation from the smaller C Class.
A Mercedes-Benz hasn’t won ECOTY since 1974, but in this field anything could happen.
Like the Citroën C3, a worthy effort, but no Car of the Year. A Clio in a rather odd set of clothes, built beside its Renault twin in Flins, north of Paris. Quite why Nissan chose to tie the Micra’s external appearance in with the US-built Maxima and upcoming Altima, rather than their cars on sale in Europe, remains a mystery. It deserves to be far more successful than its Madras-built predecessor, but that’s hardly setting a high bar.
The recent flowering of 3008 love at DTW has led me to re-think the prospects of the new CUV on the EMP2 platform. Its dreary, baggy predecessor was a different sort of vehicle, this one fulfils a Qashqai brief with some style. Despite SUV pretensions, there’s no AWD system on offer, nor a hybrid, and the present diesel-heavy engine range is no match for the 308’s impressive selection.
A bold, off-the-wall, Toyota is a rare thing, and something to be applauded and admired. The Coupe-High Rider’s insect-like styling is not the only shock to the system. Toyota, by luck or judgement, have embraced the Zeitgeist by banishing diesel from the engine range, which is as idiosyncratic as the cars it powers. 4WD is only available with a 1.2 litre non-hybrid four and CVT, the 1.8 litre Prius drivetrain takes the place of the disgraced diesel – Toyota expect this one to account for 75% of European sales.
There’s a lot of love for Volvo among the COTY jury, going by the storming performance of the XC90 last year when it missed the top place by only 18 points, when the Opel Astra put on a late stage surge. The big Volvo is back, there’s an estate once more, the technology impresses without being overwhelming, and the styling is spot-on. Traditionalists might deplore the lack of any engine configuration other than a 1969cc in line four with forced induction, but that seems a minor grouse when Volvo under Zhejiang Geely have got so much right.