European Car of the Year 2021: Worthy, But a Worthy Winner?

Once again the Geneva Salon is a no-show, but in the depths of the empty halls of Palexpo, the 57th European Car of the Year announcement goes out to the world. Robertas Parazitas reports, from a virtual Grand-Saconnex. 

Image: ECotY
Image: ECotY

Last year’s hasty but not unexpected cancellation of the Geneva International Motor Show established the template for the virtual ECotY presentation. No free fizz, no famous faces, but it worked, so why change?

Swiss television presenter Mélanie Freymond opened the proceedings, introducing GIMS CEO Sandro Mesquita. He almost answers everyone’s inevitable question. Will there be a show in 2022? The answer is that negotiations with their partner are nearing conclusion and he is hopeful of some “good news” in the next few weeks.

Then it’s over to ECotY President Frank Janssen, soon to retire from his motoring correspondency at Stern, while remaining a prime mover at EC0tY. Much is made of the independence of the contest, and the rigour of the assessment, and the pan-European award’s primacy amongst similar contests worldwide.

The jury is present by the magic of Zoom, or something similar, galleried on a large screen. Their votes – I think – were cast on Sunday, but we are not denied the drama, with each nation declaring in (English) alphabetical order.

The full scores were not available at the time of writing, but the national first choices make interesting reading:

Citroën C4: No first places
Cupra Formentor: Belgium, Slovenia, Spain
Fiat New 500: Germany (joint first with VW ID.3), Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland
Land Rover Defender:  Russia, UK
Škoda Octavia: Austria, Sweden
Toyota Yaris: France, Hungary, Poland, Portugal (joint first with VW ID.3), Turkey
Volkswagen ID.3: Denmark, Germany (joint first with Fiat 500), Greece, Ireland, Norway, Portugal (joint first with Toyota Yaris)

Image: ECotY
Image: ECotY

Despite the Cupra Formentor remaining in sight of victory almost to the end, the Toyota Yaris won decisively.

Winner:  Toyota Yaris XP210: 266 points
2. Fiat 500 Electric: 240 points
3. Cupra Formentor: 239 points
4. Volkswagen ID.3: 224 points
5. Skoda Octavia: 199 points
6. Land Rover Defender L663: 164 points
7. Citroën C4: 143 points

Should we be surprised? I think not. For British observers the Yaris is marginalised by Toyota’s hybrid-only policy, with a starting price of just under £20,000. Elsewhere in Europe, even in RHD Ireland, the range is broader-based, with the non-hybrid options of the 1.0 litre triple from the Aygo, and the far more appealing M15A-FKS  – a 122bhp 1.5 litre NA triple based on the 2.0 Dynamic Force in-line four. In Ireland the 1.5 with a six speed gearbox costs a mere €535 more than the 1.0.

Toyota GR Yaris Image: Road and Track
Toyota GR Yaris Image: Road and Track

Herr Janssen was not slow to note the joker in the Yaris pack – the extraordinary 257bhp 4WD GR built in Motomachi, which shares only headlights, tail lights and door mirrors with the Valenciennes-built mainstream Yarises.

Technical difficulties prevented Matt Harrison, executive vice president of Toyota Europe from accepting the trophy even virtually, but he later stated: “This is a great honour for Toyota and I’d like to thank the jury for their consideration and recognition. I’d also like to take this opportunity to recognise the passion of our development teams in Europe and Japan. This is the best ever Yaris, and just as Akio Toyoda intended, it is already putting a smile on the face of our customers.

Image: VW
Image: VW

Perhaps the real upset of ECotY 2021 is the poor showing of the Volkswagen ID.3. Even the home jury only placed it equal with the Fiat 500 Electric, the only other electric-only contender. The ID.3 already looks a model cycle old, and VAG’s problems with production readiness and its user interface are widely known. At Wolfsburg they must be wishing for a more auspicious start to their “Third Era”.

Others are doing the same thing far better, and with far more flair – for example Hyundai with their Ioniq 5 which should be in contention for ECotY 2022.

Hyundai Ioniq 5 Image: Auto Express
Hyundai Ioniq 5 Image: Auto Express

This was not an outstanding ECotY; a truly innovative winner or a victorious left-field underdog would have brightened these bleak times. Let’s hope for better things to come in 2022.

36 thoughts on “European Car of the Year 2021: Worthy, But a Worthy Winner?”

  1. I think its a worthy winner, if only because it shows you can still make an economy car that’s just as desirable to the upper and lower income classes depending on the trim level (everyone wants a GR yaris) a real throwback to the golden age of the hatchback.

    As for the ID.3, it could have been a contender, but both the quality and ergonomics has been disastrous, so i can understand the lack of points.
    It does have one good thing going for it though – it available in a beautifully vibrant shade of teal, and though the rest of the car leaves me cold, i love seeing that color in a sea of drab cars every time they pass me by.

  2. Good morning Robertas. It is interesting that what should have been the two most ‘significant’ new models for their makers, the ID.3 and Defender, did relatively poorly. The Cupra Formentor’s strong showing was also a surprise to me. Maybe SEAT is onto something with its new sub-brand? Doubtless, VW will move to neuter it if it threatens to get too successful and individualistic, as it did with Škoda.

    Here’s the Formentor:

    It may not be an outstanding or particularly distinctive design, but it’s refreshingly different to the VW Group’s current rectilinear norm.

    1. In that red, it looks a lot like the first generation Mazda CX-5, no?

    2. Indeed, it looks like an amalgam of Mazda design cues, but there are worse designs to plagiarise!

    3. I fail to understand why a sub-brand of VW needs its’ own sub-brand, when badging it as a Seat might have lifted their profile. Should we expect sub-brands from Audi and Skoda ?

  3. I watched/ listened to it live whilst working on a report. The ‘event’ was riddled with technical glitches with the graphics showing the scores on the doors and then the inability to hear the guy from Toyota giving his acceptance interview.

    I found myself giving a little shrug to the news that the Yaris had won; I mean, why not? But there was no stand-out candidate, and I was shocked at how well the Formentor did (although it was helped along by the Spanish jury giving it 43 votes, even more that the Brits gave the Defender in a blatant show of post-Brexit jingoism), and how badly the ID.3 faired.

    All in all, very uninspiring, but at least I didn’t have to injure myself with a sharp implement as the C4 indeed proved itself to be a waste of space – I mean, even the French jury did not vote it their favourite, a sure sign of how poor it must be, or was it just a show of indifference about ECotY as a whole this year?

    1. SV, the technological glitches were indeed regrettable. The Czech Republic vote announcement dropped out completely, but was included in the scores.

      Full scores are now available: https://www.caroftheyear.org/voting-grid.php

      To nobody’s surprise the Czech juror Jiri Dichon put the Octavia first with 7 points, the Formentor got 5 (Czech-Catalonian solidarity?) and VW were given a desultory two points for the ID.3.

      I find it curious that Slovakia doesn’t have an ECotY jury member, despite building more cars per head than any other nation in the world. Perhaps the Nitra-built Defender might have done better if it had a home country advocate. The Czechs were doing it no great favours giving it only one point.

  4. Oh, and I really like the Ioniq 5, although I hope there is a version without the odd detailing along the valances/ lower doors which, I think, are meant to signal that it’s trying to be a cross-over, when it’s clearly just a larger than you first expect hatch (thanks to the excellent proportions).

  5. My only issue with the Yaris is that the 2020 B-segment finalists (namely the Clio and the 208) may just simply be better cars. As for hybridness the Clio E-Tech seems to be on par with the Toyota and the 208 is just far more entertaining. Although it should be welcome that the Yaris finally moved a step way from it’s boring image, now they only have to discover how the colour palette works – essential for a fun subcompact -, I hope they don’t want to reserve that role for the Aygo supermini.

  6. Humiliating result for VW. To be beaten by both Yaris and 500e is bad enough, but finishing behind the Formentor too? Ouch.

    Herr Piech would not have allowed this to happen. In fact, it would be fascinating to speculate what would have happened with ‘new era’ VW had the old autocrat still been in charge.

    1. Ferdinand Piech would not have allowed this to happen and he would not have allowed Herbert Diess to become CEO at VW. He was deeply convinced that a car manufactuer should be led by an engineer, a production engineer to be precise.
      Diess was purchasing director – and the new VWs show this through cheap and nasty materials.

      The ID.3 is caught between two stools or groups of non-buyers.
      For the first group it is not enough of a play station on wheels but for them only a Tesla will do anyway. For the second group it is far too much of a play station on wheels because it is lacking traditional Golf values like good ergonomics and good quality materials.
      And that’s before you look at Diess’ increasingly boorish behaviour when he violently assaults everybody who dares to use the word hydrogen.

  7. Hi everybody! I’ve seen a couple of VW ID.3 already, but both of them in the street, driving by, so I haven’t had a chance to get to the details. From what I did see, I think the ID.3 looks nice, with well-proportioned volumes and quite nice pastel colours on both cars. The problem is that the design looks clinical. The ID.3 is not a car I want to hug. It’s a well-designed, clean shape that looks properly high tech, but in the manner that an MRI machine looks space-age and clean.

    1. The comparison to a MRI machine is perfect, and made me laugh out loud on a grim, grey day, thank you!

  8. I was delighted the Yaris won, the best of a nondescript bunch. Just a pity Toyota don’t make a more practical version with decent luggage space.

  9. I thought the show was, from both a content and technical point of view, poor.

    They say the format is going to change, next year, thank goodness. They also say that the jurors’ reasons for voting will be put on the CotY site. I’d be interested in seeing them.

    1. The jurors’ comments on each cars can already be accessed, you have to go to the Voting Grid subpage and click on the name of the members (it’s a scripted pop-up window). These are only short summaries, some just a few words, but there are very thought-provoking ones, especially from some French, Swiss and Swedish members. Most are very diplomatic though, with little negative commentary.

  10. I am probably in a minority of one here, but I can find nothing remotely attractive about the Yaris. And I feel for any poor soul who has to ride in back of it; the level of claustrophobia which must be generated is surely worthy of a public health warning. It has triggered memories of the horrific journey I once made in the back of a Mini van from Consett to Leeds in a blizzard….

    1. the 5 door yaris seems to have pretty ok rear seat visibility though, at least compared to the pretty low standard of the current day.

      the rear seats of the GR yaris is probably just for show, not actual human use.

      I do prefer the looks of the regular yaris to the GR, but would naturally pick a GR regardless.

    2. Hi JTC. If you’re in a minority about the styling of the current Yaris, you at least have me for company. I cannot comment on the driving experience of the new one, but I had one of the previous generation models as a hire car in Ireland for a week in 2017 and thought it loathsome. Cheap, hollow plastics inside, rubbery gearchange, gutless engine, uncomfortable seats, the whole nine yards of nasty. Why anyone would choose one over a Fiesta in that segment is beyond me.

    3. I’m afraid I don’t like it – from the pictures it looks fussy and it seems pinched / cramped. It might look okay in the metal, though, and I guess it drives well. I like the idea of the GR version, too.

  11. Oh yes, the Mk1 gave rise to the Verso, I had forgotten about that. I remember a wag in Car once said that if you folded the rear seats, you could play a game a of Squash in the boot of a Verso. It was kind of a trail-blazer for the excellent and similarly odd-ball Skoda Roomster.

    I think one of the reasons I am less keen on the current model (and now ECotY winner) is that, whilst an improvement on its predecessor, it’s still not a patch in the original, which I thought made a real impact on the market.

    I have gone as far to write that I think it Toyota’s best ever piece of design, as espoused here: https://driventowrite.com/2016/04/11/199-yaris-toyota-design-review/

    1. I would never have wanted a Mk 1 Yaris – though I did recommend it to a neighbour who was notoriously hard on her cars. She bought one in 2000 and it lasted her a long, long time.
      The Yaris Verso on the other hand initially shocked me with its’ ugliness, but gradually became more and more appealing in a ‘2CV van’ kind of way. Such a pity they don’t still make a Verso variant – or maybe they do, but save it for the domestic market.

    2. I always felt the Yaris Verso was crying out to have a Eurostar logo on the nose, and to tow a trailer or (preferably) multiple trailers…

  12. Imagine each of these cars in five years time. Which of them will have held up best to the vissicudes of time and travel? Which will have been the most reliable? Which would have given its owner the least problems?

    1. You know what, the answer to those very good questions could just be … the FIAT.

  13. I was looking today at the sales figures for Jan+Feb in Co Kerry, and while Toyota take #1 spot comfortably the best selling model – by a good margin- is the new Hyundai Tuscon.
    Nobody really cares about COTY do they ?

  14. There is a forthcoming Yaris Cross (hurray, a crossover), which claims to have 390litres of luggage space, compared to 286litres in the Yaris. Some markets have the Prius C which reckons 17.1cubic feet, or 484litres. Nearest to the Verso seems to be the Sienta (using the previous Yaris platform), with sliding rear doors, which has 575litres luggage space as a 5-seater, as far as I can tell.

    On past reputations, best long-term prospect in the Ecoty list would probably be the non-UK petrol-only Yaris triples, depending on whether ICE-only cars eventually get outlawed, or made uneconomical to run. Is there much information on the reliability of the new Defender yet or is it too soon?

  15. Amazing they still have these hoary old car of the year “competitions” in Europe. Does anyone pay any attention to them whatsoever, what with all the internet constant banging on about everything under the sun?

    Toyota couldn’t shift the Yaris for love nor money in North America, so up to the 2020 model year from 2017, they tapped Mazda for its 2 and slapped an anteater nose and Yaris badge on it to ensure few got sold. Ugly with a downcast look. There are no Mazda2 cars for sale at Mazda dealers, so no doubt the company appreciated Toyota picking up a few thousand and laughed their heads off at the styling they were forced to incorporate.

    Cars this small just don’t sell when for $25 to $50 a month more you can get a Corolla which actual people can fit inside and be comfortable. Typically though, the public buys subcompact crossovers instead of a Yaris, like the Honda HRV and Mazda CX3, and not many of them either. Because once again, for $25 to$50 a month more you can get a CX5 or a Nissan Rogue instead of a titchy Qashqai. Or the aforementioned Hyundai Tucson and hope it doesn’r self-immolate.

    But then, here, 90% of people have to buy their own cars — there’s virtually no company car perks, so who wants a fleet special? Quebecers is all. If you have to spend your own money and can afford new, why on earth buy a Yaris? Or a Fiat 500 for that matter? You instead get something of which the missus approves, not a brand new tiny car useless in snow and with no elbow room. The Yaris is gone from our market for 2021. I trust the new Euro edition is good in the typical Toyota way; the old one we called the Echo was a cockroach, unkillable, but that’s two decades ago, and they’re all pushing up the daisies now having completed their missions. My niece had one, but years ago went for a Kia Soul instead.

    1. You´re quite right, Bill, to point out the inappropriateness of a small car in the US. And by the same token, the larger cars preferred by N Americans are not that suited over here. Horses for race courses, I would say. I don´t see the harm in some firms trying to sell smaller cars in the US just as there was no harm in Cadillac trying to pitch the Seville in the late 90s and early 00s.
      You obviously don´t buy a small car to save on the monthly payment but the overall cost of insurance, fuel and maintenance is lower. Some people also buy things for non-practical reasons. They could set aside the desire for comfort and enjoy feeling less bad about their ecological impact. Whether or not that matters (I think it does) is not relevant; it matters to them as much as the personal matter of comfort matters to the bigger-car driver.

    2. Bill, you must have missed the 2021 North American Car of the Year being awarded to the Hyundai Elantra…

  16. For the most part, the winner is something (like the Yaris) that would sell well regardless. It didn’t seem to make a huge difference for Alfa Romeo 147 (2001 winner) or Opel/Vauxhall Ampera/Chevrolet Volt (2012).

    I see that the Honda Fit (Jazz) is no longer offered in America, either, after 2020 sales of 32488 (peak: 2008, with 79794). Cf: Lancia Ypsilon, 43076 in 2020, sole market Italy. Oh well, there is still the Mitsubishi Mirage! This couple managed 414000miles in theirs https://petrolblog.com/2020/12/414000-miles-mitsubishi-mirage/

    1. Hi Tom: thanks for the Mirage story. Isn´t it so very Mitsubishi. They put all their effort into durability and serve up reliable motoring. It´s a heartwarming story of faith. Mitsubishi should take a small bit more trouble to improve the quality of those miles. That´s not about more soft-touch plastics or gadgets but aspects of the controls and contact points. That kind of thing isn´t all that expensive. There´s a huge gaping goal in the market for accessible cars that drive as well as Fords circa 1999. If anyone can show me that tuning a chassis and the controls costs a very large amount of money, I will change my view. Mitsubishi, Daihatsu and Suzuki are well placed to aim for that market position whereas for a firm invested in features it might seem like a distraction or might involve a fight over resources: do you spend 9 million on chassis tuning or 9 million on some feature users insist on having`?

    2. Before we wax too lyrical about Mitsubishi, remember the scandal of 20 years ago when they had to recall over a million cars and admitted to a systemic and illegal practice of covering up known defects and safety issues with their vehicles.

      I am not singling them out for criticism – other car makers have had similar issues – but just to point out that Japanese notions of quality do not always the pressure to cut costs and win market share.

  17. I assume they gave it attention before the feature, but it did not look at all bad for a 414000mile economy car! It was one of the last cars on sale that seemed to receive nothing but poor reviews. The Suzuki Celerio seems to have been a similar vehicle in its aims, but did not sell well enough to justify keeping. As Bill Malcolm observed, it’s probably thanks to finance – I’d imagine that while an Up is £3k more than a Mirage on list price, the monthly payments for the VW would probably be very close, maybe lower.

    It’s thanks to these market moves that my mother is considering changing her Nissan Note. She thinks that small-but-practical cars (not SUVs) are about to become hard to find. Her Note is fine, but she wants to buy a low-mileage example of something that suits her while she still can – probably a late mk3 Jazz. She neither needs nor wants a larger car than the Note, and prefers somthing that is not too full of gadgets and has a regular petrol engine.

    (back to the Ecoty, and I admire that Toyota made the 3-door-only GR Yaris even though they pulled out of rallying and didn’t actually need to do it)

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