Under that Electric Glare – The 2020 ECotY shortlist

The 2020 European Car of the Year announcement is but three months away. As the shortlist is announced, DTW looks at the seven hopefuls.

Image: tannistest.com

Will we ever again experience the like of last year’s CotY final? Two desirable cars, well off the mainstream in affordability  and conventional functionality, race ahead of their run-of-the mill rivals to a dead heat.

When the winner is declared – on a frenzied count of first placings – its manufacturer is found to have no official representative at the Salon. Jaguar’s soon-to-retire styling chief, in Geneva on a day trip, steps up to receive the trophy. For that brief moment the earnest annual contest felt like the dénouement of a glorious automotive melodrama.

R. Parazitas

Does this year’s shortlist have the same shock potential? Let’s take a quick look:

BMW 1 Series

Image: caroftheyear.org

An F40, but not what you expected.

In front, the face of a gargoyle, beneath the bloated carcass in BMW drag is the platform of a MINI Countryman. The baroque countenance recalls the Citröen Belphégor, but without Flaminio Bertoni’s sculptural finesse.

A useful, if clichéd, metric in assessing any CotY contender is to ask the question “What does it bring to the party?” In the case of the 1 Series, the newcomer instead takes away two of its predecessor’s unique features. No more rear wheel drive, no more straight sixes. Sure, the far from little BMW has the option of a mightily powerful forced induction in-line four, and an immensely competent all-wheel drive chassis, but these things are as plentiful as sewer rats.

I also deplore the demise of the three door bodystyle, which somehow captured the spirit of the -02 cars better than the three volume 1 and 2-Series coupes. At least there will be a rear-drive 2-Series coupe, which will keep a door open to BMW’s tradition for perhaps one model cycle.

Maybe the F40 1 Series’ inclusion in the shortlist is a mischievous prelude to humiliation, as happened with the Mercedes-Benz A Class last year. That one was placed bottom of the class, at 116 points, 76 points behind the next lowest scorer. I’d give the new 1-er nil points – if only to support my notion that history will record Harald Krüger as Munich’s answer to George Harriman.

Ford Puma

Image: caroftheyear.org
Image: caroftheyear.org

A suv as soft as they come. (I begrudge the genre the respect of capital letters)

Perhaps the CotY jurors share my dyspeptic view of the high-hatchback epidemic; of the 35 longlist contenders, 15 were suvs or cuvs. Only the Puma made it to the final seven.

Ford expects the Puma to match the impact of the 1988 Focus and 2006 S-Max, both ECotY winners, and products which combined a class-leading driving experience with practical virtues. Ford make play of the widened track of the Puma’s Global B derivative platform, and class-leading carrying capacity. All-wheel drive is not even an option, and technical excitement is confined to a very mild hybrid adaptation of the 1.0 litre EcoBoost engine.

All over Europe, Ford’s light is dimming, squeezed between the premium marques and the challenger brands. They could end 2019 in the continent outsold by Mercedes-Benz, and 100,000 registrations behind the combined might of Hyundai and Kia. Ford would benefit from an EcotY win more than most of their rivals, but these days a working class hero is no longer the thing to be.

Peugeot 208 / Renault Clio

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It’s 205 v. Supercinq all over again. The French are still masters of the supermini art, and despite the diversity of PSA’s and Groupe Renault’s offerings, neither can afford to fail in this sector. The little Peugeot’s strengths are a wholehearted commitment to full electrification at the heart of the range, rather than on its margins, and leading-edge safety technology.

The Clio is Europe’s B segment sales leader by a healthy margin, and understandably the latest iteration is evolutionary in its presentation, and under the skin. The formula works, deviate from it at your peril. Assuming the PSA-FCA merger happens, Peugeot will be the carmaker of the moment, and Carlos Tavares the man. In ECotY 1984 the 205 was pushed into second place by the Fiat Uno. The Supercinq didn’t even make it to the top three in the following year.

For the jurors looking for a compromise winner, the 208 could be the halfway house between the two enticing EVs and the more traditional ECotY fodder which made it to the shortlists.

Porsche Taycan

Image: caroftheyear.org

The ECotY jurors wouldn’t give first place to two EVs in a row, would they? I wouldn’t discount the possibility. Thankfully the Taycan is not a suv, and kicks off at low-end 911 money, or perhaps more pertinently around the price of two Alpine A110s.

Like most modern Porsches, the Taycan defies rational understanding to those who are neither American nor Chinese. It is – to use an archaic term – a close-coupled four seater, with four doors. Its ‘footprint’ is scarcely smaller than that of the gross Panamera. The visual presentation makes reference to the 911 series in a less than subtle manner.

Even the slowest Taycan is formidably fast. All versions achieve a 400km-plus WLTP range, and the most powerful Turbo S can out-accelerate just about any road car ever made. It sounds like a hell of a good drive, for those who aren’t incurably hydrocarbon-addled.

1978 all over again?

Tesla Model 3

(c) Tesla

The Tesla has already rattled Europe’s premium C segment in a way Jaguar and Alfa Romeo have manifestly failed to do.

The traditional carmakers talk of reinventing themselves as technology companies and mobility providers. Tesla are a technology company and mobility provider whose end product happens to be cars. Only Euro-chauvinism might stand in the Model 3’s way, and the proposed 500,000 car per year factory in Brandenburg might swing the Germans on the ECotY jury towards its favour.

Toyota Corolla E210

Image: caroftheyear.org

Soon to be hybrid only, and the most technologically ambitious mass-market Toyota ever to be built in Europe. Much is made of the new TNGA platform and Dynamic Force engine line-up, but most customers will be more interested in whether it has Apple CarPlay. At European launch it didn’t, but Toyota may by now have recognised their solecism.

Thoroughly worthy, but (probably) not an ECotY winner.

19 thoughts on “Under that Electric Glare – The 2020 ECotY shortlist”

  1. There is such a gulf between the Toyota, Tesla on one side and the rest on the the other. I won´t begin to talk about the front-wheel drive One series ….
    Toyota´s Corolla is very likely the most usable eco-car there is, until power supply points get more common. I´ve seen plenty of the Tesla 3 around the place – I wish it looked a little bit more extraordinary. On the mainsteam side, I have a soft-spot for the Puma, despite it being a raised supermini. Ford are on a good kick with this theme – proof that a well-styled car doesn´t need a nickname for its appearance. Which brings me back to the Toyota which could be two different designs joined at a diagonal line from the lamps to the rear wheels. Why can´t Toyota make a more homogenous Corolla? They so often seem to create cars that not-quite-properly uniform. Is it because they don´t want to outcompete their peers in all possible parameters?

  2. I am intrigued by Richard’s like of the Puma as I am clearly missing something in the way I look at it.

    As for the winner, it’s going to be the Tesla, isn’t it? I’d say second will be the 208 and third, hmmmmm, the Taycan? The Clio is nice but not renewed enough and without much in the way of future-proofed drivetrain to feature in an ECotY. I think it’s borderline fishy that the BMW has made it to the final reckoning.

    The Toyota is a nice looking thing, if a little over-ornate compared with the Mazda3. I take it the latter barely registered even though its SPCCI engine is an interesting innovation, albeit in what many think is yesterday’s motive paradigm (like innovating the electric typewriter just as Microsoft launches Word for Windows).

    1. I haven’t driven any of these cars, but the Taycan left me considerably more impressed than Robertas, on the basis that its appearance can be directly attributed to its EV underpinnings, without it appearing strange/quirky/’challenging’. It’s simply by far the best take on a four-door Porsche ever, in terms of proportions and stance. And details like the partly body-coloured wheels lend that a whiff of futurism required to prevent it from coming across just like a Panamera-done-right.

      The market’s rejection of the Mazda3 shows just how off the mark my tastes are. In terms of that elusive flair of ‘premiumness’, it’s in a different league to the misbegotten The 1. The Mazda feels truly special, but apparently what the market actually wants is a car that suggests it’s expensive, rather than extraordinary.

      The Puma left me cold, but quite a few designers I talked to were impressed with its interior packaging. Amko Leenarts is also one of the more interesting people in the field, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into interesting designs.

    2. From those side elevations of the two Fords, I prefer the Puma, but I think the C3 Aircross and Mazda CX-3 are more appealing in their different ways. The Kuga looks soft and saggy in the middle.

  3. Angel, I’m offended that you think I could be responsible for something as disjointed as the new Corolla. It looks like they decided that “bland generic” would be the styling theme, but couldn’t resist sticking on one of their “big gob” noses, which looks far too heavy and cumbersome for the rest of the design. That uptick in the DLO under the A-pillar makes the body appear to be sagging slightly behind the front wheel arch.

    Like Richard, I rather like Ford’s new design theme, which is maturing nicely with the launch of the new Kuga and Puma crossovers.


    Unfortunately, it’s likely to remain underappreciated by many buyers who are besotted by “premium” badges and will ignore Ford’s good work in their droves.

    1. I’m not seeing the appeal of these new Fords at all. Perhaps it’s just because I don’t like CUVs. The front of that Puma looks like some sort of frog to me.

    2. “Angel, I’m offended that you think I could be responsible for something as disjointed as the new Corolla.”

      Apologies ! Daniel, I was only suggesting how the disparate styling elements of this beast could have been put together.

      I wouldn’t want to suggest you thought it was a worthy design !

      (Corolla is a quality car. But it doesn’t win any beauty contests.)

    3. Hi Angel. Don’t worry, my outrage was entirely confected! You’re absolutely right about the Corolla: it’s a classic “committee” design, the product of confused thinking. The new Mirai apart, Toyota’s recent design output has been pretty disappointing.

    4. Those photos don´t do Ford´s recent work justice. Press photos shaped my first impressions and seeing the Fiesta and then Focus in the metal dramatically altered them for the better. Also, Ford seem to be spending big on paint work to judge by the luste apparent in the street when you view the cars in daylight. The Mondeo is a laggard in that regard – there´s much to commend it in terms of value and quality but both Mazda and Opel have the better of it when compared. In my opinion the 508 has landed with a thud – I am not seeing them here whereas a new Insignia, 6 or Mondeo is part of the street furniture here.

    5. Hi Richard. You’re right, the side profile photos don’t show the rich body surfacing to best effect. These front thre-quarter views are better in this regard:

    6. Regarding the Mondeo, this speculative image has being doing the rounds recently, suggesting that it will be reinvented as a large crossover:

      And there’s the new US Mach-E, with its rather tenuous Mustang references:

      All look rather nice, but will the market appreciate them?

  4. A bit suprised that the Corolla made it to the final, yet the Mazda 3 did not. Probably due to the hybrid engines, though Mazda has the HCCI holy grail long sought after by Europenas too, so I I thought it will finally be a Japanese showdown, but looks like no.
    Can’t see Porsche receiving much points after the range scandal. Plus the Taycan is more of a boutique car, there is the Tesla at 1/4 of the price and the ECOTY jury loves price/performance ratio.
    BMW 1? Probably the best 3 cylinder on the market. But that’s all? Agreed that it’s the last.
    Oh, the Puma…I read a preview of it from a very respectable automotive journalist who has been in the business for like 40 years and haven’t retired only because he loves cars so much. He was glorifying the new Puma, claiming that the original Puma was just a miserable 4 (in real world 2) seater wannabe-sportscar that was useless for the younger generations it was aimed at and how the new Puma’s practicality is the real thing millenials need. In reality though I think it’s more of a projection of his own wishes to theoretical customers. The Puma is the real boomer car aimed at the 60-70+ age-group. But is it any better than all the other CUVs the rest of the field offers (500X, Kona, 2008, T-Cross, etc.)? No, I don’t think so, though Ford’s previous mini-SUV (the EcoSport) was so awful that in their range it looks like a proper imporvement. But in absolute terms I wouldn’t bother giving it much points in this contest. It’s an important upgrade for Ford fans, but for those not interested it looks more like a better day in the life of a declining industrial giant.
    Last but not least – the French. Both great cars – I think the 208 will score better, and maybe I would vote it too. But for myself I’d have the Clio – I just have so much more trust in a car developed in the height of the Renault glory days than in one at a penny-punching PSA (funny that it was historically the other way around). However, it is important to note that neither of those subcompacts are actually cheap. Compared to the previous generations they got about +15% more expensive and even that price tag is associated with trim levels that got no A/C or the central display, so both the old Clio and old 208 are kept in production for a while and will be sold alongside the new ones in most European markets.
    Verdict? Corolla-208-Clio in some order.

  5. I think the Corolla will be a game-changer in saloon form, bringing hybrids to the masses. The future doesn’t belong to EVs, unless they run on hydrogen.
    The new Clio is just a tweaked “old” Clio surely ? Peugeots simply don’t matter any more. The big challenge is working out just what the Taycan Turbo S does with it’s boost pressure ! Does it blow air extra hard over the batteries ? I know Chrysler call an engine a “hemi” when it isn’t, but Porsche are above that sort of rubbish, surely ?
    At the end of the day, ECotY is usually won by a dud, so it doesn’t matter.

  6. If the Corolla hybrid wins, I shall have to break down and visit a Mickey D’s for the first time and last time in the new decade to sample the fine kewzine. It takes a special occasion, and a Japanese car winning ECOTY seems appropriate. I have tried to keep it at just one visit per decade ever since 1990 and have succeeded. McD has advised us on TV this past year that the 100% Canadian cattle meat (one hesitates to mention the word beef just in case) they use comes from cows emitting 15% less methane emissions than the old model, and is hotter and juicier than ever before. Apparently an incredible genetic revolution has occurred that never made the news. Who knew? Certainly not the animals themselves. Investigation is warranted.

    The new Corolla saloon hybrid’s price in the UK seems rather high. All Toyotas come complete with every electronic safety nanny and radar cruise included in the price here, and I presume there. The most you would pay at list for the 2020 hybrid saloon is C$32K including taxes and fees, which at today’s exchange rate of 59p to the Canuck Buck, means we’re getting the beast for under 19K pounds. Yet the Toyota UK website talks of over 24K pounds. Perhaps we’re getting the cocoa matting interior. Unfortunately, the new saloon has 150 mm (6 full inches) LESS rear legroom than the outgoing 2019 model. Why? Apparently the switch to IRS from torsion beam and the TNGA chassis layout. Still, I’m sure Toyota’s claim of 4.5 l/100km is near enough reality, because they just dumped the Prius powertrain wholesale in the new car. Now you too can swiftly motor to 100 kph in 12 seconds on a good day, with flashy response through the twisties.

    At least Toyota has the best hybrid system, and not by a little bit. It seems to me, however, that the rather loyally European journos who select a winner in this largely uninfluential contest couldn’t possibly pick a Japanese car. If they do, off to McD’s I shall venture. As Japan’s strange English translation of their advertising often states: a win would be an epoch-making event.

    The Puma is like a miniature Mustang Mach-E, but with more than that crossover’ 5.5 inch ground clearance. The Taycan Turbo managed a mere 201 miles range in US EPA testing from a 93 kWh pack. Yes, they actually test all new EVs at their lab in Michigan, so no handing in fake estimates and hoping to slide the claim by. That thing must have a killer stereo and heated carpets, or Tesla is so far ahead in actual efficiency it’s not even funny. Barring Teslas, you can hardly give away EVs here. The Audi E-Tron landed with a plonk, the Jag I-Pace sabotaged itself with electronic woes, the Kona EV is only sold here and there, and thus the Mercedes EQC intro has been put back a year so that Europe can fill itself up on them first. Ahem. One really has to wonder whether all these new lithium cells are in fact as good as the model 2070 cell Panasonic makes for Tesla. At a loss, since they declined the offer to equip cars from Tesla’s new Chinese factory, and their travails are often detailed on Nikkei news.

    Much as I am not enamoured with the histrionic Musk, I rather hope the Tesla Model 3 wins. There’s not much doubt in my mind that they’re streets ahead in actual EV performance. As for the unfamiliar French and other cars, I can offer no opinion.

    1. Much to think about here.

      I’m starting to think it really could be Tesla’s year.

      It would be a resounding signal of the profound change in the industry if the prize went to a company established in the 21st century. In the 55 previous years of ECotY no carmaker founded later than 1939 has taken first place.

  7. Well the Corolla seems to be getting a bad rap so let’s see what were the alternatives in a game I like to call ‘Look who I could’ve been if that harlot didn’t win the contest’.

    Alternative Corolla design proposals:

    Yes they’re all different….

    And since Colour was trending here lately:

  8. It’s a shame the 205 came second at the eCOTY 1984 because you can’t say she didn’t make any effort to seduce us at the Paris motor show of that year: as it says on its rear screen it was “branchée” as hell (branchée=trendy) with its giant walkman headphone on its head.

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