Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Car of the Year

The European Car of the Year rankings are great fun but the organisers' insistence on using a large, diverse international jury has produced some very strange results indeed over the years.

Nobody could complain about the NSU Ro80 (1968), Peugeot 504 (1969) or the Citroen GS (1971), but what about the Talbot Horizon (1979) or the Renault 9 (1982)? Mercedes has only won once in the CotY's history while BMW has never won at all - barmy.

I haven't yet driven this year's winner, the Fiat 500. Anyone who likes cars will want it to succeed in order for Fiat to have a secure future but I still have a few doubts. The 500 probably has even the BMW Mini beaten for cute retro looks, but it will struggle to match the Mini on the road. Unlike that car, which is based on an expensive bespoke platform, the 500 shares with other small Fiats. Then there's the ownership experience; will the 500's quality levels and Fiat dealers' performance be able seriously to compete with the proposition offered by the Mini - just about the best resale on the market and staggeringly cheap multi-year servicing packages? We shall see.

Of the other cars short-listed this year, I particularly liked the new C-Class (brilliant steering - the thing everyone keeps mentioning) and the Kia cee'd - a great car with keen pricing and a fantastic warranty. But the new car that really got under my skin this year didn't even make it onto that short list. I'm talking about the Land Rover Freelander 2. Normally I think of soft-roaders as being a particularly pointless class of car, and the first-generation Freelander scarcely registered with me at all. But the all-new model is a supremely polished product. Subtly improved styling, a great diesel engine, a beautiful interior and a commanding driving position surprisingly reminiscent of that offered by the larger Land Rover models. Great stuff.

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