by Lem Bingley
Automotive excellence increasingly comes with a plug – at least according to the motoring journalists who award the European Car of the Year gong. Last year’s laurels may have gone, somewhat predictably, to the new VW Golf (in a year with no plug-in finalists) but the prior two winners were the Vauxhall Ampera and Nissan Leaf, both firmly of the electric persuasion. Two out of three ain’t bad, and this year’s competition could easily make it three out of four.
Among the seven final finalists for the 2014 Car of the Year title, two are electric cars. BMW’s excellent i3 and Tesla’s tough Model S are in the running against the Citroën C4 Picasso, Mazda3, Mercedes S-Class, Peugeot 308 and Skoda Octavia.
The shortlisted cars have already seen off a host of impressive new machinery. First-round voting eliminated a variety of seemingly strong contenders including BMW’s 4-Series coupé and the new Lexus IS saloon, Jaguar’s F-Type and Porsche’s new Cayman among the sports cars, BMW’s new X5, Ford’s second-generation Kuga, the new Range Rover Sport, Renault Captur and Toyota’s latest RAV-4 among the SUVs, and sundry other competitors from the Hyundai i10 city car to the much improved Toyota Auris hatchback.
I haven’t sampled all of the shortlisted cars, so am far from qualified to judge on the merits. But I suspect that Peugeot, Skoda, Mazda and Citroen will fail to amass sufficient support in a voting process that is frequently influenced by national pride as much as automotive achievement. And while the new S-Class is no doubt an excellent car it is probably too elitist to win. A limo hasn’t taken the title for forty years.
It seems likely that this year’s car of the year will boil down to a two-way electric-car tussle between the i3 and Model S.
Astonishingly, BMW has never topped the board since the competition began in 1964, despite the popularity and consistent quality of cars like the 3-Series and 5-Series. But the i3 deserves recognition not just to make up for past oversights – it’s an outstanding vehicle in its own right, not least for pioneering new carbon-aluminium construction techniques.
And Tesla is an equally worthy candidate, arriving from the left field with a clutch of new ideas about how to build and sell a car for the 21st Century – with its flat-panel digital dashboard, aluminium chassis, electric propulsion and outstanding performance in safety tests.
My gut feel tells me the i3 will come out on top. Though there is a risk that the two strong options provided by BMW and Tesla may split the EV vote. In which case it could be anybody’s game this year.
The winner will be announced at the Geneva Motor Show on 3 March.
Will 2014’s Car of the Year be another EV?
6 January 2014
by Lem Bingley