Top 10 : Car of The Year winners

Next week sees a new European Car of The Year unveiled and, although there’s no Geneva Motor Show to trumpet the occasion, it’ll still be big news.

To celebrate, Keith Adams chooses ten of the best previous award winners since those early beginnings. It’s subjective, of course…

Car of The Year: The best of the best?

International Car of The Year award has been running since 1964
The European Car of The Year award has been running since 1964

The European Car of The Year (CoTY) is open to cars available new in at least five European Union (nee EEC) states, and which sell a minimum of 5000 per year. The event has grown significantly since the award was first run in 1964, but the spirit of the event remains the same.

The CoTY award has caused discussion amongst enthusiasts since its first running back in the autumn months of 1963. Back then, it was a far smaller voting panel, with four western European countries represented – now, it’s 23 countries and 59 judges. These days, there are usually so many cars that the organisers need to run the event in two stages, with a qualification process and then a short list. However, whatever the mechanics, one thing is sure – there’s always plenty of discussion about the merits of the winning car. Every year, without fail…

When there’s a fallow year, we get weak winners – as was the case most notably in 1979 and 1982 (look at the list of Top Threes below our Top 10 to see what we mean). The judging panels have also been notoriously slow to pick up on market trends – was it really only 2018 that the first SUV/Crossover won an award? But there have been some great decisions over the years, so rather than pick on the cars that perhaps shouldn’t have won (we know which these are), it’s time to celebrate ten of the best.

Of course, it’s a highly subjective list – but you wouldn’t expect anything less from AROnline. Enjoy our Top 10 favourites!

 10: 1966 – Renault 16

Renault 16

1966 winner, the Renault 16, saw off Rolls-Royce and Oldsmobile

The idea that a family car could have four doors and a hatchback rear was still quite a novelty back in 1965 – especially those that were stylish, roomy, fun to drive and seriously comfortable. But then, the Renault 16 was a sensational car when it arrived on the scene, giving the French middle classes a genuinely interesting mid-market choice, and the rest of Europe could only marvel at how the engineering team at La Regie could adapt the FWD package it first adopted so successfully in the R4 to a much larger car.

The CoTY panel voted for the R16 over and above the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and Oldsmobile Toronado by a convincing margin, a decision that looks to have been the right one in retrospect.

9: 2011 – Nissan Leaf

Nissan Leaf: Will an internal combustion version end up being made in Britain?

2011 winner, the Nissan Leaf pushed ahead of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Vauxhall Meriva

Electric cars? Yeah, those funny-looking things that don’t go very fast or very far. In 2010, when the Nissan Leaf appeared, a lot of that thinking was banished into the history books. It was simple to drive, usable as a family car in a way that few EVs had come close to being previously, and would be eventually be built in Nissan’s UK plant in Washington – great news for AROnline readers.

The CoTY judges weren’t being particularly brave awarding the top prize to the Leaf, given the opposition that year, but it still made history by awarding it to become the first EV to take the top prize in this prestigious set of awards. The Leaf soon became a bit of a phenomenon, becoming Europe’s best-selling EV, racking up an impressive 500,000 sales by December 2020. The first models might have been blessed with a real-world range of less than 100 miles, but the Leaf has been continuously developed during its decade-long production run, and new models remain competitive today.

8: 1965 – Austin 1800

1965 winner, the Austin 1800, was a technical marvel – and a rare British Car of The Year

Looking through the list of CoTY winners is a sobering experience for us Brits – simply because we don’t actually win the award that often. But in the competition’s early years, we did pretty well – mainly because the UK industry was going through one of its most creative periods, spearheaded by BMC’s brave decision to push forwards with FWD across its sprawling range.

The Austin 1800 did have rather a lot going for it – masses of room inside, keen handling, ample performance and an excellent ride. It was, without doubt, a perfect car for the dreams and aspirations of young European buyers. Brits, on the other hand, would take longer to warm to the 1800 – but that’s not entirely the car’s fault.

It’s interesting to see that the 1800 beat the equally pioneering Autobianchi Primula into second place. However, although that car had FWD with an end-on gearbox and hatchback packaging, it was let down by its ageing 1221cc engine, and leaf-sprung rear suspension. That said, as we’d find out later, the Autobianchi marked the quiet beginning of what would become an avalanche of brilliant Dante Giacosa-engineered FWD Fiats in the decade to come.

7: 1977 – Rover 3500 SD1

Rover 3500 SD1

BL’s mould-breaking executive hatchback had what it took to impress the Europeans

Forget memories of flaking paint, water-filled gloveboxes and crumbling electrics – when the Rover SD1 was launched in 1976, it really was cutting edge stuff. With supercar-inspired styling, a 125mph maximum speed and a bargain list price, the SD1 represented the dynamic future of executive motoring.

The CoTY jury was won over by these very qualities, despite BL’s exciting new car sharing a place on the shortlist with the commercially significant Ford Fiesta. But the SD1 represented so much when it was launched – it was the pride of the UK’s car industry, right down to the impressive new factory erected in Solihull. And for a few glorious months, the SD1 looked like it had all of the right ingredients.

Surprisingly, the Fiesta finished third, being pipped by the C2-generation Audi 100 – an efficient and capable executive saloon that could have done better had its lovely five-cylinder engine been available from launch in 1976.

6: 1972 – Fiat 127

Fiat 127

The original supermini, perhaps – or it would have been had they fitted it with a tailgate

Fiat is generally regarded as a progressive and forward-thinking company. But it’s easy to forget that, when it came to introducing its FWD cars, it was actually rather conservative. Take the 127 – it was a stunningly space-efficient car for its time, featuring a transverse engine, end-on gearbox (as popularised by its architect, Dante Giacosa), and yet it didn’t feature a hatchback.

Fiat’s first supermini wasn’t a Fiat at all, but the 1969 Autobianchi A112… proving that the company was prepared to take risks, but not with cars wearing its own badges. As it transpired, the 127 received the tailgate it so richly deserved in 1972 (a year after launch), and never looked back from that point on, becoming a roaring success, and helping to define the supermini sector.

Why doesn’t it feature higher then? No hatchback at launch!

5: 1975 – Citroën CX

Citroen CX

Replacing the Deesse wasn’t going to be the work of a moment, but Citroën succeeded admirably with the CX

Like the so many other cars on this list, the Citroën CX’s position isn’t defined by logic. Nor, could it be argued, by merit. After all, when it was unveiled in 1974, you couldn’t buy it equipped with Diravi steering, and the posh models were yet to receive the big-four ex-Traction Avant engine in fuel-injected 2.4-litre form. So its best years were still clearly ahead of it.

However, despite that, the CX was a brilliant car of its time – supremely comfortable, safe, fast, stable and a joy to drive. It also looked amazing. Citroënistes decried it for not being the Deesse, but despite slightly more faddish styling than its 1955 predecessor, the CX has aged wonderfully, becoming a classic even before it went out of production in 1989/’90.

Clearly, logic didn’t define its victory for 1975 – because, if it had done, there’d be a Volkswagen Golf sitting in this slot right now.

4: 1963 – Rover 2000

Rover 2000

The Rover 2000 combined dignity and superb dynamics, a great first-ever CoTY

It could be argued that the Rover 2000 is a product built by an Engineering and Design Team at the absolute height of its powers. Spen King and Gordon Bashford created a compact executive saloon that out-drove the established three-litre opposition, and David Bache fashioned a progressively-styled body that pretty much defined the sector for years to come.

Triumph and BMW fans might argue that their 2000s were every bit an equal to Rover’s, but the CoTY jury saw it differently in period. During its long production run, the elegantly timeless P6 Rover just got better and better, receiving more power and luxury, before being topped off by the gorgeous 3500 V8.

The runner-up Mercedes-Benz 600 was – like so many of its successors – a technical masterpiece, but one that few could afford, while the third-placed Hillman Imp could be a joy to drive, and one that, had it been built properly and launched on schedule, might have given the Mini a much harder fight in the UK.

=3: 1970 – Fiat 128/1971 – Citroën GS

Fiat 128 - 1970 car of the year

Two remarkable small saloons won on consecutive years, bringing modern dynamics to a previously prehistoric market sector

The Fiat 128 might have looked like a boxy saloon cast in the mould of the surprisingly brilliant 124, but what was underneath its unremittingly three-box skin really captured the imagination of the CoTY jury back in 1969.

When they voted the Fiat 128 as the 1970 Car of The Year, they did so on the strength of its engineering purity, brilliant packaging and excellent driving experience. The 128 was the template of the modern car, and Dante Giacosa’s (that name again!) masterpiece proved that FWD could work in its millions. They survive in huge numbers today, too – should you venture to Egypt, you’ll find  yourself tripping over them – wearing the Nasr nameplate.

1971 car of the year, the Citroen GS

The FWD, Hydropneumatically-suspended, air-cooled Citroën GS was a technical dead-end, but one that remained in production for 15 years, and which proved that technical conformity was still a long way from engulfing the European car industry.

It offered all the advantages of a large car, such as supreme high-speed stability, loping ride quality, and shared much of the magic that made the Citroën SM such an amazing car. Of course, we know it failed to make money for its maker, and proved to be the penultimate Citroën to be powered by an air-cooled flat-four, so a glorious might-have been.

=2: 1983 – Audi 100/2019 – Jaguar I-Pace

Audi 100 (C3)

Two very different gamechangers share the second-placed spot. From Audi, the lightweight, aerodynamic 100 which redefined the market for executive cars and, from Jaguar, the I-Pace, which showed that EVs could be great to drive, too… 

In 1982, it felt as if the world had finally woken up to the benefits of aerodynamic vehicle design, and we entered the modern-era of car design. Within days of each other, Ford launched the Sierra (with a drag co-efficient of 0.34), and Audi brought us the flush-glazed, cigar-shaped C3-generation 100, which ended up trouncing Ford’s achievement in streamlining.

It delivered a Cd of 0.30 for the skinny-tyred single-mirrored 100CC. What the 100 did, though, was bring the executive car sector kicking and screaming into the modern-era, delivering a car that could top 120mph, easily beat 30mpg, and doing it all with an engine only marginally larger that 2.0-litres. The Audi 100 looked like the grandson of the 1968 CoTY, the NSU Ro 80, which is fitting, as the car had been trialled with a rotary engine during its development. What of the Sierra? That finished a mere 25 points behind in second place.

Although the Jaguar lagged behind the pace-setting Tesla Model S and X in terms of tech and range, and lacked their bespoke (and wonderful) charging network, the I-Pace’s great styling, interesting (and well-finished) interior and fabulous dynamics made it a great advert for Jaguar Land Rover’s eventual march towards electrification. And in getting the car out when it did, it beat Audi and Mercedes-Benz to the SUV-shaped EV party by more than a year. A good news story indeed.

All that really lets down the I-Pace is that it didn’t herald a new range of EVs to fight off the upcoming surge of new models from the rest of the industry. And that’s not really its fault. Jaguar says that its entire range will be electrified by 2025 (with the entire JLR line-up by 2030) – but it’s at the cost of the now-cancelled electric Jaguar XJ. Given the head start Jaguar Land Rover had over the opposition, that has been a bitter disappointment – especially as the market is now being flooded by EVs from its traditional rivals, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

1: 1999 – Ford Focus

Ford Focus - 1999 Car of The Year

The Focus may as well have been in a different competition to the runners-up Astra and 206

With its concept car looks and brilliant dynamics, the Ford Focus was a game-changer. It shifted the medium hatchback sector 10 years into the future, and did so convincingly – indeed, it could be argued that the company has yet to replace it with anything nearly as appealing.

Washing away memories of the 1990 Escort (possibly one of the most cynically conceived cars ever built) and its facelifted offspring, the Focus was available with a full range of engine, body and transmission options, like all Fords, and every single one of them were truly appealing (even the ugly saloon). All that let the Focus down was the cheap-feeling interior, which really lagged behind the truly tedious Volkswagen Golf Mk4 – but then, everything else did, too.

What the Focus brought to its market sector was a well-engineered feel, gorgeous feedback from all of its controls and a sense of well-being in every drive. And as time wore on, the Focus also proved itself rugged and dependable, too. A truly seminal car…


European Cars of the Year
Year Winner Points Second Points Third Points
1964 Rover 2000 76 Mercedes-Benz 600 64 Hillman Imp 31
1965 Austin 1800 78 Autobianchi Primula 51 Ford Mustang 18
1966 Renault 16 98 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow 81 Oldsmobile Toronado 59
1967 Fiat 124 144 BMW 1600 69 Jensen FF 61
1968 NSU Ro 80 197 Fiat 125 133 Simca 1100 94
1969 Peugeot 504 119 BMW 2500/2800 77 Alfa Romeo 1750 76
1970 Fiat 128 235 Autobianchi A112 96 Renault 12 79
1971 Citroën GS 233 Volkswagen K70 121 Citroën SM 105
1972 Fiat 127 239 Renault 15/17 107 Mercedes-Benz 350SL 96
1973 Audi 80 114 Renault 5 109 Alfa Romeo Alfetta 95
1974 Mercedes-Benz 450S 115 Fiat X1/9 99 Honda Civic 90
1975 Citroën CX 229 Volkswagen Golf 164 Audi 50 136
1976 Chrysler Alpine 192 BMW 3 Series 144 Renault 30 TS 107
1977 Rover 3500 157 Audi 100 138 Ford Fiesta 135
1978 Porsche 928 261 BMW 7 Series 231 Ford Granada 203
1979 Chrysler Horizon 251 Fiat Ritmo 239 Audi 80 181
1980 Lancia Delta 369 Opel Kadett/Vauxhall Astra 301 Peugeot 505 199
1981 Ford Escort Mk3 326 Fiat Panda 308 Austin Metro 255
1982 Renault 9 335 Opel Ascona/Vauxhall Cavalier 304 Volkswagen Polo 252
1983 Audi 100 410 Ford Sierra 386 Volvo 760 157
1984 Fiat Uno 346 Peugeot 205 325 Volkswagen Golf 156
1985 Opel Kadett/Vauxhall Astra 326 Renault 25 261 Lancia Thema 191
1986 Ford Scorpio/Granada Mk3 337 Lancia Y10 291 Mercedes-Benz 200-300E 273
1987 Opel Omega/Vauxhall Carlton 275 Audi 80 238 BMW 7 Series 175
1988 Peugeot 405 464 Citroën AX 252 Honda Prelude 234
1989 Fiat Tipo 356 Opel Vectra/Vauxhall Cavalier 261 Volkswagen Passat 194
1990 Citroën XM 390 Mercedes-Benz SL 215 Ford Fiesta 214
1991 Renault Clio 312 Nissan Primera 258 Opel/Vauxhall Calibra 183
1992 Volkswagen Golf 276 Opel/Vauxhall Astra 231 Citroën ZX 213
1993 Nissan Micra 338 Fiat Cinquecento 304 Renault Safrane 244
1994 Ford Mondeo 290 Citroën Xantia 264 Mercedes-Benz C-Class 192
1995 Fiat Punto 370 Volkswagen Polo 292 Opel/Vauxhall Omega 272
1996 Fiat Bravo/Brava 378 Peugeot 406 363 Audi A4 246
1997 Renault Mégane Scénic 405 Ford Ka 293 Volkswagen Passat 248
1998 Alfa Romeo 156 454 Volkswagen Golf 266 Audi A6 265
1999 Ford Focus 444 Opel/Vauxhall Astra 269 Peugeot 206 248
2000 Toyota Yaris 344 Fiat Multipla 325 Opel/Vauxhall Zafira 265
2001 Alfa Romeo 147 238 Ford Mondeo 237 Toyota Prius 229
2002 Peugeot 307 286 Renault Laguna 244 Fiat Stilo 243
2003 Renault Mégane 322 Mazda 6 302 Citroën C3 214
2004 Fiat Panda 281 Mazda 3 241 Volkswagen Golf 241
2005 Toyota Prius 406 Citroën C4 267 Ford Focus 228
2006 Renault Clio 256 Volkswagen Passat 251 Alfa Romeo 159 212
2007 Ford S-Max 235 Opel/Vauxhall Corsa 233 Citroën C4 Picasso 222
2008 Fiat 500 385 Mazda2 325 Ford Mondeo 202
2009 Opel/Vauxhall Insignia 321 Ford Fiesta 320 Volkswagen Golf 223
2010 Volkswagen Polo 347 Toyota iQ 337 Opel/Vauxhall Astra 221
2011 Nissan Leaf 257 Alfa Romeo Giulietta 248 Opel/Vauxhall Meriva 244
2012 Chevrolet Volt/Opel Ampera 330 Volkswagen up! 281 Ford Focus 256
2013 Volkswagen Golf 414 Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ 202 Volvo V40 189
2014 Peugeot 308 307 BMW i3 223 Tesla Model S 216
2015 Volkswagen Passat 340 Citroën C4 Cactus 248 Mercedes-Benz C-Class 221
2016 Opel/Vauxhall Astra 312 Volvo XC90 294 Mazda MX-5 202
2017 Peugeot 3008 319 Alfa Romeo Giulia 296 Mercedes-Benz E-Class 197
2018 Volvo XC40 325 SEAT Ibiza 242 BMW 5 Series 226
2019 Jaguar I-Pace 250 Alpine A110 250 Kia Ceed 247
2020 Peugeot 208 281 Tesla Model 3 242 Porsche Taycan 222
Keith Adams


  1. I think the Mk1 focus was one ofthe more deserving winners of recent times,it redefined what a hatchback should drive like and still looks good even today.I can understand a Toyota I.Q being in the running for an award but what does the VW up! bring to the marketplace?

  2. 2002 was a poor year. Peugeot 307, Renault Laguna and Fiat Stilo. Makes you wonder what the rest of the field must have included!

  3. So in 1982, they ignore probably what was the most important car from Vauxhall for decades ??? – – It brought FWD, reliability, performance, and ease of service to the fleet market – a game changer for the 80’s !!

  4. Fiat wouldn’t bless a supermini with their own badge?

    Oh how times have changed, when all Fiat can sell now are 500s.

    The Focus comment – the mk4 Escort wasn’t that bad, more a facelift of the mk3 with the ‘bugs’ ironed out.
    It was the mk5 Escort/Orion, and it’s associated mk6/7 facelifts that was a dog.
    I liked the Focus saloon, still see the occasional Irish saloon of the current Focus. Looked a bit more grown up than the tortoise-shaped hatchback. (Why do all modern hatchbacks have that shape? Like a tail-docked dog. Especially saloon-to-hatch conversions like the Lancer and Cruze)

    • Will,

      Of course, I’m probably out of step in Escort phraseology, so have changed my text slightly. I did, of course, mean the 1990 Ford Escort, which was a nasty, tinny, under-engineered, over-priced, poor-to-drive, unrefined lemon of a car. Luckily its abject failure forced Ford to rethink its future models, helping us towards the brilliant 1993 Mondeo (who’d believe that’s approaching 20 years old?).

      I always thought of the the 1986 Escort facelift as a Mk3b, and the 1990 car as the Mk4, with subsequent facelifts being Mk4b and Mk4c. But I did just kinda make that up, and am happy to bow to other peoples’ expertise. Either way, the Focus was brilliant, and although the last Escorts weren’t bad after Ford spent so much time putting them right from 1990, they still weren’t fit to lick the new car’s boots.

      Horrible, horrible cars, the 1990s Escort. I hope we never see the like of them again.

      • Completely agree with the Focus. I’ve just spent a week with a 1999 example as a loan car. It was still tight and fun, even with 190k on the clock!

  5. The VW up! brings a lot to the market place. at last a sub-Fiesta sized car that doesn’t feel as if it’s some sort of of the shelf poverty special. It is seriously sophisticated to drive, very confortable and with a characterful 3 cylinder engine. It’s just so far better than any of the competition.

  6. @2, francis brett,

    I agree absolutely- the Focus may have been standard fare mechanically (apart from the sophisticated rear suspension) but it looked like nothing else at the time, and immediately I ached to own one. I had to wait a few years until I could afford a 2.5 year old Focus 2.0 Ghia- by far the best car I’ve ever owned. Keith is right- every journey, even a normally dreary trudge to work, was done with such a great feeling of wellbeing. I’ve never driven another car that felt just so ‘right’, and apart from the intrusive tyre noise, the engineering was superb- vastly better than the Audi A4 that preceeded it. It was reliable too.

  7. @Keith

    Difficult one to call. It is effectively a facelift with the aero elements of the Sierra and Fiesta (which does tend to be called the mk2 though heavily facelifted mk1), even the codename reflected it as an update, it was Erika-86.
    Similarly I call the round grille Mondeo a mk2, even though it was a mk1 facelift.

    My 90-Escort based Orion was a lemon, even though it had an early Zeta/Zetec. This is what happens when you let accountants design cars.
    Suppose it helped sales of the fine R8 too.

    By all accounts, from the old fella’s brief experience of the later Focus-era Escort vans, they did improve somewhat (though suppose these were the test run for the X type assembly).

  8. It’s suprising that the Focus came only a mere 9 years after the 1990 Escort..

    I’m also suprised that the BMW 3 Series lost out to the Chrysler Alpine in 1976! I wonder which one’s still being sold today?

  9. @ 4. I am with MIke here. Even 30 years on, whenever I see COTY I still cannot take it seriously after a car so spectacularly crap as the Renault 9 winning it…
    Following on, the Peugeot 307 also runs the R9 close as having sold them new and used I can confirm that to drive and own, they are equally awful, just with more to go wrong – ask Ann Robinson! I will never forget having 4 deals cock on me back in 2003 after the watchdog programme looking into the reliability and tendancy to self ignite where the 307 is concerned.

  10. @4. Regarding the music Mike – surely you must admit to there being a couple of belters in at 7 and 12…..
    However I take the point about Rene and Renata… was this really no 1???

  11. The late seventies, early eighties winners stand out most in my mind – I wasn’t even born for the very early winners and I ain’t taken much note of the COTY in more recent times.
    Some dull winners (Renault 9!!) but a lot of great, significant cars.

    Yes the Focus was ahead of its time, did redefine this class of car.

    Interesting to note that Fiat launched the 127 without a hatchback, even though it was hatchback shaped. Unlike BL with the Allegro & Princess, however, they soon corrected the matter!!

    • That’s how it works – and always has worked. The panel votes for the best car of a given year, for the following year. I kinda agree, and think it feels weird crowing about a car in the year *after* its launch…

  12. I agree with the top choice – the Ford Focus was a game-changer – I’ve driven loads of them, mainly in Mk1 form, and they were all superb – lovely handling – I loved the way you could feel the rear suspension work as you cornered, the Diesel engined models were really gutsy, with a meatier gear-change than the petrol. I still love the styling, but I find the dashboard design a bit fussy. If I was in the market for a cheap hack, the Focus would be my car of choice.

    As for the other COTY winners, my top trumps would also include the FIAT Uno, FIAT Punto (owned one) and Tipo (driven one – great fun!), the Alfa 156 & 145 (owned both of them – both, still the best cars I have owned), and although it’s been criticised here, the Pug 307 (also owned 1), which I felt was a very capable, comfortable, economical and good-looking car (no, really). The one my ex-missus had kept breaking down, but mine, a newer 1.6 Diesel was fantastic.

    All-time COTY, for me? Hmmmm, well, I’m deeply biased, but it would have to be the Alfa 156 – sublime engines, beautiful looks, sharp steering and handling, good fuel economy, spirited performance, classy interior, good build quality, and oodles and oodles of CHARACTER!

  13. Hmmm, CoTY Top Trumps…

    1964 Rover 2000 (kinda. Owned 3500S)
    1965 Austin 1800 (kinda. Briefly had a Wolesley 2200)
    1968 NSU Ro 80
    1970 Fiat 128
    1971 Citroën GS
    1973 Renault 5 (2nd place)
    1974 Fiat X1/9 (2nd place – also mine was a 1500)
    1975 Citroën CX AND Volkswagen Golf
    1977 Rover 3500 AND driven Audi 100 (200, strictly speaking) AND Ford Fiesta
    1978 Drivem Ford Granada (3rd Place)
    1979 Audi 80 (3rd place, also kinda, mine was a 90 Quattro)
    1981 Ford Escort Mk3 AND Fiat Panda AND Austin Metro
    1982 Driven Opel Ascona/Vauxhall Cavalier (2nd) AND Volkswagen Polo (3rd)
    1983 Audi 100 AND Ford Sierra AND Volvo 760
    1984 Fiat Uno AND Peugeot 205 AND Volkswagen Golf
    1985 Opel Kadett/Vauxhall Astra
    1986 Ford Scorpio/Granada Mk3 AND Mercedes-Benz 200-300E
    1987 Opel Omega/Vauxhall Carlton AND Driven both Audi 80 & BMW 7-series
    1988 Peugeot 405 AND Citroën AX AND Driven Honda Prelude
    1989 Fiat Tipo AND Driven Opel Vectra/Vauxhall Cavalier AND Volkswagen Passat
    1990 Citroën XM AND Mercedes-Benz SL AND Ford Fiesta

    This is getting silly now…

    1991 Renault Clio and yes, driven the rest…
    1992 Citroën ZX (and driven the other two extensively)
    1993 Fiat Cinquecento
    1994 Citroën Xantia (yep, driven the others)
    1995 Fiat Punto
    1996 Fiat Bravo/Brava (no! Marea!) AND Peugeot 406
    1998 Driven then but none owned
    1999 Opel/Vauxhall Astra
    2005 Driven Toyota Prius
    2008 Driven Fiat 500

    I have owned way too many cars :/

  14. Anyone notice that no European Fords made the top 3 until 1977, & didn’t win until 1981.

    They seem to have made up for the slow start since then.

    Opel / Vauxhall were even slower off the mark, not getting a top 3 until 1980, & a winner until 1985.

  15. So BMW has never won and Mercedes hasn’t won since the original S-class? Surely the unbelievably solid W126 should have hammered the Horizon in ’79 or the Delta in ’80. The extremely advanced W124 should have taken ’86 against the so so Granada (which I currently own).

    ’96 should have been a walk in the park for the E39 5series (maybe BM’s finest although not finest looking hour). The Bravo/a was passable when new but is already extinct on our roads, like so many of the choices build quality just wasn’t there.

    • That would be a good article: The rise and fall of the Fiat Bravo/Brava. Wasn’t one of the models called a ‘Weekend’?

  16. If I was to choose a winning yank I’d go for the ’77 downsized GM B-body, tough reasonable handling and very long lived, Car magazine said it was surprisingly good as late as ’94 when testing the Chevy Impala SS.

    In terms of numbers built the B-body blows all but the Golf and Mk3 Escort out of the water. I’d still have taken an SD1 on style but I also know which one I’d expect to start.

  17. @ Will M @ Keith

    Yes, I agree with Keith that the Escort only has four generations, and all this crazy “Mark” business is confusing – and Ford sensibly doesn’t officially recognise it. The Mk.2 was called “Brenda”, the Mk.3 “Erika”, and the ’86-’90 facelift version “Erika-86”. The 1990s model also had a codename that went CE-??? (can’t remember what it was exactly).

    I too rgued for the simple “four generations” approach (as Ford historians do) on the Wikipedia article and I was vetoed on several occasions with people persisting in all this Mk5/6/7 nonsense. So I left it alone and the page is now a mess.

  18. @29, no surprise at all that BMW have never won, thier cars have never been interesting from an engineering perspective, Much the same for the Mercs (with the exception of some of their range toppers). Only Audi have ever really done anything truely interesting, although I’d have given the Quattro more chance than the 100

  19. @29, how you defince the W124 as ‘advanced’ is a bit of a mystery, it’s not in any way advanced, unless you count having to replace a whole wishbone when a ball joint gaiter splits as advanced, and rusty wheelarches. Thats what put me of an otherwise nice 300TE-24

  20. The W124 had the lowest drag coefficient of it’s time, the most advanced safety cell and not forgetting retractable rear head rests. It was also incredibly hard wearing although not exactly cheap to work on.

    BMWs have introduced the first 100hp/litre diesel triple turbocharging and valvetronic in the last few years, going further back electronic engine management and double VANOS were noticeable advances.

    Across the pond the 3-series comes in at second on Car and Drivers all time ten best list, just behind the Accord….

    I forgot to mention a could of Brits that should have won X300 in ’94 (might be a bit skewed on account of it being my daily driver), and L322 Range-Rover in ’02 instead of the lacklustre Peugeot 307.

    I thought there would be more love for the unrewarded Brits here

  21. COTY, it’s just as biased as Eurovision IMO, too many tactical and political votes these days to make it meaningful

  22. W124 Lowest CD? rubbish it has all the aerodynamics of a well flung brick! theres nothing new or advanced about its structure.. sounds rather sales bumfish to me as for retractable head rests, my XM has a retreacteble arm rest.

    VANOS? done before by others and TBH a cruder version of what has gone before (VVC, VVT, VTEC etc) Jaguar had electronic engine management. No BMW have never inovated anything. When they manage 100hp/litre NASP diesel that will be advanced, anyone can use boost to manage that, its harldy new

  23. Not convinced by the 81 Escort, didn’t really move the market on from the Golf / Kadette. I would have put in the top 10 the 405, which moved that Fleet car segment onto a new level in terms of handling and ride if not interior quality.

  24. Alexander I looked this up,
    They cheated
    One W124 derivative had narrow tyres and a full undertray, front to back to attain a Cd of 0.29 (vs 0.30 for the 100) The majority of those sold did not have the undertray, and I’d guess after a few years those that did didn’t have it for long as it would have to come off every time any work was done under it. The model only existed to say they had the lowest Cd (much the same as the 100CC if you actually wanted the low CD version of the 100 you found only one wing mirror and pram wheels on it). Take the undertray away and put normal width tyres on and the CD figure was nothing to write home about (.034 ish IIRC). But on the whole most german cars have been evolutioary rather than revolutionary which is why they seldom feature on the COTY awards

  25. The Renault 25, launched in 1983, claimed at cd of 0.28 for the base TS model. No doubt that had a single door mirror, skinny tyres and sold hardly any too.

  26. The original Vanos variators are in fact Rolls Royce made items,and Lycoming aircraft of america was the first to use a system that is similar to Hondas Vtec,if i remember correctly it was an 18 cylinder radial engine.

  27. A fascinating list (I must have missed this article originally!)

    The Pug 405 gets the highest score of any car there, which is impressive.

    I agree with other comments querying the lack of BMWs and Mercs at the top, the same can be said for Jaguar and Range Rover, which are notable by their absences, whereas the Jensen FF got 3rd in 67 – surely that didn’t produce 5000 of year though? It’s disappointing that neither the Rover 200 nor Discovery made the top 3 in 1990, and surely in 1976 the Jaguar XJS was better than the Chrysler Alpine!

  28. I still rate the Chrysler Alpine as COTY. This was an extremely good looking, soft riding and commodious family car that featured a hatchback, when this wasn’t common on family cars, and the top of the range model had electric windows when these weren’t available on its British rivals. Yes it could rust if it wasn’t undersealed properly, although the seventies winners from Fiat were even worse, mechanically it was dated, but I still think the Alpine overall was a good car.

    • The Alpine’s booted sister Solara looked good too… despite those rattly engines. A colleague had an Alpine from new in metallic gold and it looked appealing, to me at least

  29. Sad to see Rover being unfairly ignored in the early 90s when cars like the 200 and 400 were the nicest to drive and best looking in their class. Surely the 75 was worth a place in 1999 as well.
    However, 2002’s winner, the Peugeot 307, must have been the most unworthy winner since the useless Renault 9. The 307 was an ungainly car with serious reliability issues that dragged Peugeot into the gutter.

  30. We all know the Rover 3500 was let down by its poor quality and strike ridden factory, but in 1976 it was seen as a very futuristic car that rewrote what an executive car should look like. Also for Rover, it was a leap forward from their traditionally conservatve designs and, for all many Rover owners didn’t like this, did away with the traditional wood and leather interior in facvour of high quality plastics and velour like most of its contemporaries..

  31. OK, here are my two cents:

    10 Fiat Uno Upright small but spacious enough for our familay of 5. The car I learnt to drive in
    9 Porsche 928 Still such a beautiful car and I just a 1977 brochure…
    8 Alpine A110 Small, light, mid engined. Slightly retro (I don’t care much for that)
    7 Renault 16 French chic and comfort. And pratical. What’s not to like.
    6 Renault 5 The very first supermini? You won’t hear me arguing.
    5 Fiat Panda So ulitarian, so boxy, evertything a car needs and nothing more. The ultimate KISS-car
    4 Citroën GS A car to fill the gap between the Ami and DS. Such a nice looking car. Shame about the rust
    3 NSU Ro 80 The first mass-produced car with a Rotary engine. Pity it killed them. Mazda perfected it.
    2 Toyota Prius Hybrid. Their first. Styling, er what styling?
    1Tesla Model S Grounbreaker, rulebreaker, opposite of the G-Whiz. Still the best in range en OTA updates

  32. The most deserved winner of the nineties and a big vote of confidence in Nissan UK, the 1993 Micra. I will always say this car was the best in its class at the time, with its powerful 16 valve engines, excellent running costs, rock solid reliability and cute styling. Thousands are still running today and often in excellent condition.
    OTOH who on earth chose the Renault 9 in 1982. Apart from looking like a cardboard box on wheels, it was a completely underwhelming car to drive, had cheap and nasty interiors and was unreliable and rust prone. My sister’s first car was a 9 and she had to more or less give it away when it was 7 years old as no one was interested( contrast that with a 7 year old Micra, where buyers would be interested immediately).

    • I agree the Renault 9 is probably one of the weakest winners, with practically no technical innovation or quirky styling.

      • The Renault 9 was the start of a long period of uninspiring Renaults that included the 11 and 21. All were totally boring to look at and drive and the 21 was the French equivalent of the Montego as it was a badly made and unreliable pile of junk Luckily salvation was at hand in 1991 with the Clio.

        • The 21 has has some bad press, but both my uncle had one (turbo diesel) and a fella I worked with (the fabulous Turbo) and they were reliable well built and very comfy cars. I drove my Uncles A few times and it was a nice drive. My old work colleagues Turbo was a serious car with quite sensational acceleration, and brilliant for a long trek on the motorway. My Uncle only replaced his when he wanted a newer car.

        • It was a mixed bag for Renault in the 1980s, with the 25 trying to be too clever and gadgety but let down by the poor build quality.

          The new 5 was OK but not inspired as the Peugeot 205.

          Things started to turn around with the 19 for them.

          • If anything, the eighties were Peugeot’s decade as the 205 really saw sales take off outside France and the 305. 309 and 405 were good cars that sold well. My parents had a 305 S and this was a very well made car that looked upmarket inside and outside and was quiet and powerful.

    • I could not agree with Glenn more . We bought a new 998cc Micra in 1993 to replace an MG Metro when I discovered I could not insure the Metro with a 17 year old as a named driver ! We kept it as a 3rd car until 2006, and it gave hardly any trouble in that time and was fun to drive

      • The Micra was a huge success and the 998cc version felt like a 1.3. It’s possible to see some of the later ones running now and they can last 20 years if well looked after. Also the Primera made Nissan a contender in the fleet market and was a car known to be able to take huge mileages with few problems.
        Another deserved British built winner for me was the Peugeot 405. This was a big vote of confidence for a car made at the once troubled Ryton plant and it was a good car, particularly in diesel or estate form.

        • I’ll go along with that. The 405 1.6 was a good looking car and performer judging by a hire car I once drove in 1988. The Estate was a useful size load carrier too and could compete with a Sierra. On the other hand, the MK2 Cavalier would take some beating

  33. My uncle had a supercinq from New and it was bulletproof. The 405 was a fab car, good to drive and bombproof mechanics. I remember the taxi drivers swore by the diesels,tgough my Uncle wouldn’t touch one.

  34. We had a Fiat Uno 55S. It replaced a Renault 14, which was the only car my dad had bought because he liked it. It rusted like no car we had before or after. Within 3 months of its purchase (new!) the first bubbles started appearing.Guarantee? Nope. So, after a few years my dad was anxious and started looking for a Skoda. One of the rear-engined variaty. Luckily he paid – on my request a visit to the local Fiat dealer to take a look at the new Uno. He was sold after a brief drive…

  35. I still consider the Citroen CX as one of the best cars ever made. The hydropneumatic suspension, used on all large Citroens until the end of the Xantia, gave the car the sort of ride you’d associate with a Daimler Limousine, the speed sensitive PAS gave the CX excellent handling, and the dashboard was like something out of a spaceship and used buttons instead of stalks for the indicators and wipers. Add in the commodious interior, armchair like seats and radical styling, and there’s not much to dislike about the CX, especially after 1979 when it received newer and more efficient engines and better rustproofing.

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