Currently reading: Matt Prior's tester's notes - is the Car of the Year 2016 shortlist any good?
Our man on the judging panel gives his thoughts on the 2016 European Car of the Year shortlist

The European Car of the Year 2016 shortlist is out. It’s an award that Autocar sponsors and on whose jury yours truly somehow landed a position last year. The process is a bit dull but might be worth noting.

All eligible new cars make a longlist. To be eligible, they’ve got to be new this year and on sale in five European countries by a certain date, and although there’s no longer a limit on how many they sell (the minimum was 5000, but that ruled out cars like the BMW i8, so it was canned), a realistic number of judges have to have driven them. So no Ariel Nomad, tragically.

Of the longlist, each of the 58 jury members nominates their preferred seven to go through to the shortlist. The ones with the most votes get on it, which is what we have now. Final judging will take place early next year and the winner will be announced in Geneva on the eve of the motor show in March.

What’s noteworthy this year is that the shortlist is full of good cars. Yes, really. It’s the strongest shortlist I can remember: the Audi A4, BMW 7 Series, Jaguar XE, Mazda MX-5, Opel (Vauxhall) Astra, Skoda Superb and Volvo XC90.

Mx 5

I’d put most of those as my choices, too, but I wouldn’t complain about any of the others. I had the A4, MX-5, Superb and XC90 down, but I’d opted for the XF over the XE, because I think it’s better in its class than the XE in its, but I can see why Jaguar’s entry into a new market gets the nod instead.

I had the Mazda 2 on my list, because I think it’s a terrific supermini. But the Astra’s also a good car and its weight saving is pretty significant, so I can understand it going in. And the 7 Series is decent. It’s not quite class-leading enough by Autocar’s road test reckoning to have made my list, but I’m always happy if a BMW – a brand that has never won CotY, ridiculously – stands a chance.

If you count the Astra as German – and I suppose you might as well, although it has been engineered elsewhere, too, and is built in the UK – that’s three German cars, a Swede, one from the Czech Republic, one from Britain and one from Japan. For the first time since 2004, there’s nothing French on the shortlist. And for the fourth year in a row, nothing Italian.


Read our review

Car review
Volvo XC90
The new Volvo XC90 costs from £45,750

It has big boots to fill and talented rivals to face. Is it up to the task?

Back to top

At this stage, I genuinely wouldn’t like to call the result. Of them all, I think I’ve been most impressed by the XC90 and MX-5 this year, but neither is the sort of car that would typically win this contest, in which “technical innovation and value for money are particularly important factors”. But then, unusually, I can’t think of a particularly disappointing result this year, either. I haven’t always been a great fan of this contest over the years, but it has done pretty well here.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Join the debate

Add a comment…
thesecretdriver 8 January 2016

No clear favourite this year.

Audi A4.
Impressive all round engineering. Minus points are some expensive options which should be standard; the satnav destination input,either on screen or by voice recognition, will drive you mad. To connect some older phones, a 16 digits PIN is now needed which then "kills" them. Very good new 2L petrol engine.
Jaguar XE.
Best driving dynamics (driving position, ride & handling, steering feel). The real driver's car here which will give you a big smile when you get it moving. Minus points are the engines which are less refined than most of the competition and only average fuel consumption. The space at the back is not great and the ergonomy of the inside front door panels is a bit of a mess. Satnav map is not as detailed as the German competition and the map 3D graphics go flat when zooming out. The heated seats are already too hot on the lowest setting, with the heat not evenly spread out (cold spots).
Skoda Superb.
A bit mushy to drive (most drivers select Sport Mode on Drive Select) but otherwise very good. Lots of nice touches like the umbrella holders in the front doors, ice scraper in the filler cap, boot light which can be removed to become a torch and the nice storage solutions (not only in the boot). Best value car here if you look at it's size and specs list.
Volvo XC90.
The old one was an old dinosaur which should have been scrapped 5 years ago. The new one is a huge step forward but Volvo has made a huge mistake by getting rid of the 2 buttons on the steering wheel, which operate all the central screen functions (the old XC90 didn't have them but all the other Volvos have). This means you spend a lot of time fiddling in and out of all the different menus on the "ipad style" central screen, which takes your eyes and mind off the road ahead. The satnav map is not very detailed and the voice recognition is very hit and miss. The audio sound is superb though and the interior is very "Swedish cool" I find the driving position too low for an SUV but maybe that's just me.
Other contenders; not driven yet.
5wheels 8 January 2016

Sans Frog

Good - they dont have anything at all that stirs the heart let alone the soul. And as long as Mr Macarroni is holding the reigns at Fiat - God help us. Amazed the 7 serious got the nod though. From those mentioned there is only one winner - Well done Mazda !!!
LP in Brighton 8 January 2016

Silly question

But what is the Mazda MX-5 doing in the EUROPEAN Car of the Year?
I know that traditionally there has often been a Japanese presence, but it doesn't make much sense. Maybe it should be renamed European and Japanese COTY? Really though I think that Car of the Year has outlived any usefulness it ever had, and it's really only of interest the industry and its various marketing departments.
soldi 8 January 2016

Silly answer

LP in Brighton wrote:

what is the Mazda MX-5 doing in the EUROPEAN Car of the Year?

Didn't you know its a badge-engineered version of the Fiat Spider?

March1 8 January 2016

Fiat Spider

soldi wrote:
LP in Brighton wrote:

what is the Mazda MX-5 doing in the EUROPEAN Car of the Year?

Didn't you know its a badge-engineered version of the Fiat Spider?

Other way round if anything! But that would be to underplay the changes Fiat have made, especially in the engine bay.