Essays : Top Ten Car of The Year winners

The European Car of The Year 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. Here, Keith Adams chooses 10 of the best award winners since those early beginnings. It’s subjective, of course…

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 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.

And there’s usually so many cars that the organisers need to run the event in two stages, with a qualification process and then a short list. But 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 Ten to see what we mean). 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 Ten Eurovision faves!

 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: 1981 – Ford Escort Mk3

1981 Car of The Year: Ford Escort Mk3

1981 winner, the Escort Mk3, was pushed hard by the Austin miniMetro and Fiat Panda

The 1981 CoTY was one of the more exciting ones for us Brits, because it saw what would become two of the best-selling cars of the 1980s (in the UK at least) go head-to-head – the Ford Escort and Austin Metro.

As it was, Uncle Henry’s hugely significant mid-liner beat the Metro by 76 points, seeing off the Fiat Panda in one of the more close run competitions. Clearly the Escort’s significance had been recognised by the the CoTY panel, which knew that FWD independently-sprung hatchback represented the American giant’s fullsome embracing of that most European of packages – the Volkswagen Golf-sized family hatchback.

However, the crisply-styled Escort wasn’t without faults. At launch is was saddled with suspension settings that would rattle-out you teeth on rough roads (and which forced Ford into a hasty set of revisions within weeks of launch) – and the hot version, the XR3, was gorgeous to look at, but wheezed along with a carburetted CVH. But otherwise, it was a well-deserved winner, and something of a landmark for its maker.

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 aging 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

Audi 100 (C3)

Pioneering aerodynamics resulted in stunning efficiency from Audi

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 do 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.

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).

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…

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.


European Cars of the Year
1964Rover 200076Mercedes-Benz 60064Hillman Imp31
1965Austin 180078Autobianchi Primula51Ford Mustang18
1966Renault 1698Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow81Oldsmobile Toronado59
1967Fiat 124144BMW 160069Jensen FF61
1968NSU Ro 80197Fiat 125133Simca 110094
1969Peugeot 504119BMW 2500/280077Alfa Romeo 175076
1970Fiat 128235Autobianchi A11296Renault 1279
1971Citroën GS233Volkswagen K70121Citroën SM105
1972Fiat 127239Renault 15/17107Mercedes-Benz 350SL96
1973Audi 80114Renault 5109Alfa Romeo Alfetta95
1974Mercedes-Benz 450S115Fiat X1/999Honda Civic90
1975Citroën CX229Volkswagen Golf164Audi 50136
1976Chrysler Alpine192BMW 3-Series144Renault 30 TS107
1977Rover 3500157Audi 100138Ford Fiesta135
1978Porsche 928261BMW 7-Series231Ford Granada203
1979Chrysler Horizon251Fiat Ritmo239Audi 80181
1980Lancia Delta369Opel Kadett/Vauxhall Astra301Peugeot 505199
1981Ford Escort Mk3326Fiat Panda308Austin Metro255
1982Renault 9335Opel Ascona/Vauxhall Cavalier304Volkswagen Polo252
1983Audi 100410Ford Sierra386Volvo 760157
1984Fiat Uno346Peugeot 205325Volkswagen Golf156
1985Opel Kadett/Vauxhall Astra326Renault 25261Lancia Thema191
1986Ford Scorpio/Granada Mk3337Lancia Y10291Mercedes-Benz 200-300E273
1987Opel Omega/Vauxhall Carlton275Audi 80238BMW 7-Series175
1988Peugeot 405464Citroën AX252Honda Prelude234
1989Fiat Tipo356Opel Vectra/Vauxhall Cavalier261Volkswagen Passat194
1990Citroën XM390Mercedes-Benz SL215Ford Fiesta214
1991Renault Clio312Nissan Primera258Opel/Vauxhall Calibra183
1992Volkswagen Golf276Opel/Vauxhall Astra231Citroën ZX213
1993Nissan Micra338Fiat Cinquecento304Renault Safrane244
1994Ford Mondeo290Citroën Xantia264Mercedes-Benz C-Class192
1995Fiat Punto370Volkswagen Polo292Opel/Vauxhall Omega272
1996Fiat Bravo/Brava378Peugeot 406363Audi A4246
1997Renault Mégane Scénic405Ford Ka293Volkswagen Passat248
1998Alfa Romeo 156454Volkswagen Golf266Audi A6265
1999Ford Focus444Opel/Vauxhall Astra269Peugeot 206248
2000Toyota Yaris344Fiat Multipla325Opel/Vauxhall Zafira265
2001Alfa Romeo 147238Ford Mondeo237Toyota Prius229
2002Peugeot 307286Renault Laguna244Fiat Stilo243
2003Renault Mégane322Mazda 6302Citroën C3214
2004Fiat Panda281Mazda 3241Volkswagen Golf241
2005Toyota Prius406Citroën C4267Ford Focus228
2006Renault Clio256Volkswagen Passat251Alfa Romeo 159212
2007Ford S-Max235Opel/Vauxhall Corsa233Citroën C4 Picasso222
2008Fiat 500385Mazda2325Ford Mondeo202
2009Opel/Vauxhall Insignia321Ford Fiesta320Volkswagen Golf223
2010Volkswagen Polo347Toyota iQ337Opel/Vauxhall Astra221
2011Nissan Leaf257Alfa Romeo Giulietta248Opel/Vauxhall Meriva244
2012Chevrolet Volt/Opel Ampera330Volkswagen up!281Ford Focus256
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.

  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. 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

  22. 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.

  23. 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

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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!

  27. 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

  28. 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.

  29. 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..

Add to the debate: leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.