The 2020 European Car of the Year announcement is but three months away. As the shortlist is announced, DTW looks at the seven hopefuls.
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.
Does this year’s shortlist have the same shock potential? Let’s take a quick look:
BMW 1 Series
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.