2016's European Car of the Year contenders are GOOD
There's been iffy winners in the past, but 2016's septet of contenders are all talent
The European Car of the Year contest is one that’s no stranger to controversy. For every Ford Focus and VW Golf that’s won it, there’s been a more suspect winner.
Peugeot 308 beating BMW i3 and Tesla Model S? Citroen XM beating Ford Fiesta? A podium finish for the Renault Safrane? Many chins have been scratched over the years.
The shortlist for 2016, though, looks talented throughout. Whichever car wins - it will be crowned at the end of February, at the Geneva motor show - it’s unlikely to face much scepticism.
Click through to see the candidates, and tell us which you think should win below…Advertisement - Page continues below
Okay, so its styling isn’t vastly different to the A4 it replaces. But there’s a good reason for that: owners love the way their Audi saloon looks.
And beneath the same-again skin, there is much to celebrate, with more tech than its key rivals, presented in the wonderfully crisp and ergonomic way only the VW Group seems able to do.
It’s not the most fun car to drive in its class. Nor is it the third or fourth most fun. But that’s fine: by avoiding a battle with the BMW 3-Series and Jag XE for sharpness, Audi has created a car that feels comfier and more luxurious.
Speaking of tech and comfort: here’s a car whose reason for existence centres around those very two things.
It can almost drive itself, you can control its functions with a swish of your hand, while a carbon core keeps it nice and solid while shedding a chunk of weight.
There’s also four-wheel steering to ensure its gargantuan length is easier to manoeuvre.Advertisement - Page continues below
The previous XC90 had been on sale for 13 years, giving its replacement both a physically and metaphorically big hole to fill.
It’s done it, though. It looks fantastic, for starters. About as good as any enormous 4x4 has in recent years.
It also picks up where its predecessor left off, with a wonderful, family friendly interior, minimalist in style and simple in operation. And there’s even a petrol-electric hybrid that’ll do 113mpg if you can frequently plug it in.
If you think the MX-5 doesn’t stand a chance, its sports car genes too fun-focused to win something worthy, then glance over ECOTY history: the Porsche 928 and Alfa 156 have won it, and back in 2013 the Toyota GT86 was beaten only by the excellent mk7 Golf.
The MX-5 has not revolutionised the car world at all. But it has proved that old-school recipes can be brought bang up to date. It has eschewed fashionable downsized turbo engines and stuck with N/A engines of similar size and output to before.
And weighing as little as it did at its late 1980s launch, the MX-5 will achieve mpg figures comfortably in the 40s even when you’re driving like its lovely balance encourages you to. A star.
The XE isn’t Jaguar at its most exciting, but it is the company at its most relevant.
By following criteria very similar to BMW’s, and perhaps taking styling inspiration from another German saloon car manufacturer, it has created something that sits right in the middle of the rep car Venn diagram.
That means the XE is a cheap to run, handsome, fun to drive four-door that will likely litter motorways the length and breadth of Britain for years to come.
And provide nice chunky profit margins to ensure we’ll keep getting F-Types with rather too much power for their rear tyres to cope with…
Small, sensible hatchbacks have a habit of winning ECOTY, so it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see the Astra victorious in March.
There’s a load of tech - including a button to call someone to help in a breakdown or simply put something into the satnav for you, to save fiddling - while there’s a 4G connection on board.
And if you’re into old fashioned things like ‘handling’, it can do that too. “The steering is nicely progressive, so the Astra is a flattering car to drive. It resists understeer and body roll surprisingly well for a hatchback,” said TG’s Paul Horrell.
Probably the worthiest car on this list. And almost certainly the least glamorous. But it deserves to do well.Advertisement - Page continues below
TG’s love for the Superb has been longstanding, and the third-generation car is the best yet.
Here’s what Sam Philip said of it: “Though it can’t quite match the (admittedly rather pricier) Mercedes S-Class for unruffled, whispery progress, the Superb does a fair impression of a top-drawer German limo, wafting along serenely and generally making a decent fist of keeping the outside world at bay.”
That’s quite an achievement for a sub-£20,000 car, one which also happens to be ginormous inside and very smart to look at.
And the VW Passat with which it shares componentry won ECOTY 2015…