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What will be the Car of the Year?

| 28-02-2021
The European Car of the Year 2021 will be announced tomorrow. Exciting...! As every year, a shortlist has been drawn up of seven cars that have a chance to win the coveted title. Those cars were once more put to the test by the jury members, after which they each divided their 25 points among the nominees. Could I predict the outcome on the basis of some statistics (and a little common sense)?
Photos of cars, the logo of the election and a question mark.
The seven nominees for the Car of the Year 2021 title
The nominees
The nominees for the European Car of the Year 2021 title are, in alphabetical order, the Citroën C4, Cupra Formentor, Fiat 500, Land Rover Defender, Škoda Octavia, Toyota Yaris and Volkswagen ID.3.

Electrically powered cars play an increasingly important role in the automotive world. An important nominee is therefore the fully electric Volkswagen ID.3, which, according to the brand, should relate to the Golf as the Golf related to the Beetle in the 1970s. Is the ID.3 indeed such an important innovator? More about that in my prediction. The new Fiat 500 is (for the time being?) also only available as an electric car, the 500E. There's a choice of a three-door hatchback, a two-door 'convertible', or – very original – a 3 + 1. The Citroën C4 comes with combustion engines, but is also available as the fully electric ë-C4. Citroën thus offers the most different options to the consumer. The Cupra Formentor does not have an electric version, but it is available as a plug-in hybrid. This also applies to the Land Rover Defender and Škoda Octavia. The Yaris is available as Hybrid; Toyota does not supply a fully electric version.

The statistics
Last year I told about the origin of the election and listed a number of trends. The latter are particularly interesting for now. It's also good to know that the cars are assessed on design, comfort, safety, economy, driveability, performance, ease of use, environmental aspects, driving pleasure and price. Each jury member chooses what matters most, but all in all, the more everyday models have the best chance of a win. Looking back at the Cars of the Year of 2020 and before, the following is striking:

  • • The title went to a European brand 48 times out of 57. With that, I see five-time winner Ford as an American brand. Opel won together with Chevrolet in 2012, so 1 out of 48 could be called a half win for a European brand. The title went to a Japanese brand four times: twice Nissan, twice Toyota.
  • • The title has been won most often by Fiat: nine times. Peugeot and Renault each won six times, Ford and Opel/Vauxhall five times.
  • • The title is almost never won by the same brand two years in a row. Only Fiat has managed to do that once, in 1995 and 1996.
  • • In the last fifteen years, Opel/Vauxhall, Peugeot and Volkswagen have won three times. Fiat, Ford, Jaguar, Nissan, Renault and Volvo each won once.
  • • Seven winners in the last 15 years have been C-segment cars. The other winners were A- (1), B- (3) and D-segment (4) cars. I don't count MPVs and SUVs as separate segments; the Peugeot 3008, for example, I call a C-segment car.
  • • In the last fifteen years, a hatchback (some of which also available as station wagon) won nine times, three times a crossover or SUV won, twice a sedan (also available as station wagon) and once an MPV.
Photos of cars with years and make and type names.
The previous fifteen winners of the Car of the Year title
The prediction
What will the result look like if we take the mentioned statistics as a starting point? Let's walk through them one by one:
  • • The odds of winning are higher for more everyday models. This year, this is mainly to the disadvantage of the Land Rover Defender. Among this year's nominees there are no real sports cars. The Cupra Formentor is in fact just an SUV on the border of the C and D segment, but Cupra profiles itself as a sporty brand. That may slightly diminish the everydayness and thus the chance of winning for the Formentor. In my opinion, the Citroën has the most taste-sensitive appearance, which could cost points. On the other hand, an idiosyncratic design sometimes seems to yield points. Anyway, the Octavia is the most everyday of the seven, and should score points in that regard. Or is it a bit too everyday?
  • • The winner is almost always a European car. The Toyota Yaris is the only nominee of non-European origin; so that's a minus point. Of the remaining six, Fiat and Volkswagen are the brands that have been the most successful in the Car of the Year award to date.
  • • Of the brands that won five times or more, Fiat is the only brand to be nominated this year. Plus point for the 500, that is.
  • • The title is almost never won by the same brand two years in a row. Last year Peugeot won and that brand is not on the shortlist this year. However, Citroën is from the same concern and the C4 and ë-C4 share their technology with the (e-)208, which won last year. Minus for the Citroën, I think.
  • • How about the brand bonuses? Considering the last fifteen years: one plus for Fiat and two plus points for Volkswagen.
  • • Looking at the segments, the C4, Octavia and ID.3 should have the best chance, followed by the Formentor. The Yaris comes next, then the 500 and the Defender closes the line.
  • • With the exception of the Cupra and the Land Rover (both a minus), all nominees are hatchbacks, although there is some variation in the implementation thereof. The 500 and Yaris have the most traditional hatchback shape. The C4 and Octavia tend more towards liftbacks, with the former also being just a bit higher on its wheels. With its optically short nose, the ID.3 tends a bit towards a monospace.

  • All in all, the statistical yardstick yields the following ranking:
    • 1. Fiat 500
    • 2. Volkswagen ID.3
    • 3. Toyota Yaris
    • 4. Škoda Octavia
    • 5. Citroën C4
    • 6. Cupra Formentor
    • 7. Land Rover Defender

    Still, I don't think this will be the result. There is more that plays a part in the election than the points I have looked at now. As mentioned, the cars are judged on design, comfort, safety, economy, driveability, performance, ease of use, environmental aspects, driving pleasure and price – almost all quite subjective. In addition, things for which no points are awarded can count towards the judges' preference. Nothing human will be foreign to them.

    The Land Rover has the added advantage that it is the long-awaited successor to an icon, and is highly rated. The latter also applies, to a slightly lesser extent, to the Fiat 500. Moreover, it is the first completely new model from Fiat in a long time and is also the first fully electric model of the brand. In addition, the design is not only a reinterpretation of the previous 500, but also of the original model. It's not easy to make a balanced and contemporary design out of that, but Fiat has succeeded wonderfully. The 3+1 is a small extra bonus. And then there is the ID.3, the long-awaited and with grand words announced first fully electric Volkswagen. That model was plagued by software problems in the final phase of development, which led to the car being introduced with an incomplete multimedia system. Sloppy. But it doesn't stop there: according to some media, there are complaints among ID.3 owners about malfunctions with the electronics, navigation, ease of use and range. According to those media, some cars should be returned to the dealership for a critical update. It seems to me that this could have some negative impact on the odds for the ID.3, as far as the problems were already known when the judges divided their points. And like this, there's something to be said about promoting or hindering factors with each model.

    My guess is therefore that the final list is closer to the following:
    • 1. Fiat 500
    • 2. Citroën C4
    • 3. Volkswagen ID.3
    • 4. Land Rover Defender
    • 5. Toyota Yaris
    • 6. Cupra Formentor
    • 7. Škoda Octavia


I have compiled the images from images from the site of Car of the Year.