Another year, another car of the year contest. Try to care.
Who would be be a European Car of the Year Juror? This time round there was not even the customary Danish beach jamboree last October to reward their earnest efforts. There will however be the usual accusations of national partisanism, bias towards those manufacturers who take the contest seriously, and the favouring of worthy mediocrity over inspired design and true innovation.
Following the jury’s deliberations, a long list of 29 has been distilled down to the customary seven. The 2021 hopefuls are a curious collection, diverse but somehow dispiriting if taken as a a mirror of what the industry is thinking.
The announcement of the winner will be made on 1 March, somewhere in virtual Europe.
The shortlist, let us remind ourselves, comprises:
- Citroën C4
- Cupra Formentor
- Fiat New 500
- Land Rover Defender
- Škoda Octavia
- Toyota Yaris
- Volkswagen ID.3
The Golf Mk 8 doesn’t make the shortlist. Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz had the A3, 2 Series Gran’s Coupe. 4 Series, GLA, GLB, GLS and S Class, but none feature in the final reckoning. The Honda e misses out, likewise the Toyota Mirai, Polestar 2 and the Dacia Sandero.
A generously-sized C segment coupé suv, although Citroën would prefer us to believe that they have reinvented the compact hatch. The new C4 is based on the EMP1 platform, so a proper battery EV is in the line-up, and test reports suggest it’s the pick of the range. Petrol engines are all from the ubiquitous family of 1.2 litre PureTech triples, with four outputs in a range from 100bhp to 155bhp. The dreaded diesel is still offered, a 1.5 litre BlueHDi with either 110 bhp or 130 bhp.
After the C4’s grimly bland 2010–2018  predecessor, the new Citroën’s bold styling statement has to be welcomed. It’s no GS or BX de nos jours, but it stands out as a Citroën should, and the front end design’s masterly hommage to Flaminio Bertoni’s 1964 Belphégor deserves particular praise.
 So bad they just gave up producing it two years before the successor was ready.
Billboard adverts have been appearing all over my neighbourhood for the Cupra Formentor. No mention of SEAT, nor even VAG. Those with no interest in the automotive world probably imagined it was a piece of marketeers’ surrealism, a European Canyonero, an imaginary pumped-up cartoonish suv with a name like a recondite anagram or a piece of brewing apparatus, which will eventually be revealed as part of a campaign for something not car-related at all.
For those in the know, the Formentor makes a fair case for itself. It’s very close to the C4 in size, but around 25mm less tall. Visual presentation, particularly lighting trickery, is far more beguiling than the generality of generic VAG crossovers.
The Formentor’s platform is the 2019-on MQB Evo, with the diverse suspension and driveline options exercised according to the level of motive force they are called upon to manage. The most heavily promoted engines come from the hotter end of VAG’s 2.0 four cylinder range, but a 1.5 litre TSi is also offered at around £26K in the UK, to keep prices from being too daunting. The top-end 4WD 310PS Formentors are uncomfortably close to Macan territory.
There’s a dichotomy here, a vehicle presented as a niche product which turns out to have broad appeal and costs no more than far less alluring mainstream competitors.
Fiat New 500
What can I say? If FCA had brought their 2019 Concept Centoventi to production last year, it would have wiped the floor at CotY 2021. The electric-only New 500 is only a reminder of the contraction of Brand Fiat in the Marchionne era.
Land Rover Defender
Perhaps the surprise is that the Defender made it to the shortlist at all. At odds with the Zeitgeist, surely? Could it be down to the jury demographic? Were they among those won over at the launch in Namibia which coincided with the Geneva Salon which never happened last March?
Super-mobility may be the Defender’s saving grace. Just how good is it as a rescue/ exploration/ security/ aid vehicle?
A divisive entrant to the shortlist; let’s see how the jury decide.
In its fourth VAG-era iteration, with no dramatic changes to the winning formula. A plug-in hybrid option features, to the surprise of absolutely nobody. It could do well with the jury as a sound and competent consumer recommendation.
This could be the dark horse of the bunch, repeating the success of the first of its line in 2000. British observers might underestimate the French-built Yaris’s significance. Coverage has majored on the GR Yaris homologation special, and the only UK drivetrain option is the 1.5 litre hybrid, a rather slow car with a £20K starting price.
Elsewhere in Europe, even in RHD Ireland, there’s a broader range, starting with the 1KR-FE 1.0 litre triple first seen in 2004. Best avoided, but the non-hybrid 122bhp M15A-FKS sounds an interesting proposition – a triple based on the 2.0 litre Dynamic Force four. Very undersquare and naturally aspirated, so no turbocharger to swallow.
Visually the car is more inspired and playful than its dreary predecessor, and thankfully the saltire facia is consigned to the past.
First presented at the September 2016 Paris Motor Show, the ID.3 was to be shamed VAG’s act of atonement for the world, a €20,000 Golf-sized EV with world beating range and performance figures.
Move on four years – a full Japanese or Korean model cycle – and it looks dated and dreary, a baggy and slab-sided car which tries – and fails – to disguise its height rather than dramatising it.
The ID.3’s price has risen considerably – in the UK about £30K after a government grant. Many others have achieved better headline performance figures for the same sort of money. More tellingly, just about everybody – including the ID.3’s MEB platform-sharing VAG stablemates – has presented the results with far more flair,