To Silverstone this week, where the excellent people there kindly host yours truly and the rest of the six-strong British contingent from the Car of the Year award panel, as we test the shortlisted cars on local roads.
On this year’s Car of the Year shortlist are the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Audi A8, BMW 5 Series, Citroën C3 Aircross, Kia Stinger, Seat Ibiza and Volvo XC40, which is as good a list of contenders as I can remember. The winner will be announced, as it now routinely is, on the eve of the Geneva motor show.
By the time you read this, I’ll have been to the award’s AGM at a test track near Paris, where the cars are all there for testing again, but there’s no substitute for trying them on roads you know well that are relevant to your audience, hence our day at Silverstone.
The award, decided by nearly 60 motoring hacks from across Europe, has sometimes (often?) had a reputation for going quite safe (ie cheap and boring) with the award of its gong (since the award’s inception in 1964, can BMW really have not launched the best car on sale in Europe that year?), but I don’t wonder if I can feel the mood gently shifting.
There are an increasing number of awards around; some demand manufacturer cash to make them happen (Car of the Year staunchly does not) and it seems right to me that there should be a bit more confidence, a bit more boldness, about the winner we choose.
I know which I prefer but there are several cars on this list I’d be quite happy to see win; and there are a couple that strike me as typical award winners. It’s pleasing that, over time, I think those two things are starting to converge.
Given the above test day, I’ve managed to drive several versions of the same car directly back to back, over precisely the same route, which is not as common an opportunity as you might think in this game. I already expected this would be the case but, without exception, where I drove a diesel and a petrol variant of the same car, the petrol was better to drive: with less weight in the nose than the diesel, it rode better, steered more sweetly and turned more keenly. Diesels still have a massive part to play in our automotive landscape, and they’re getting unfairly bashed at times, but from a strictly dynamic perspective, my day at Silverstone has reminded me that, dynamically, less weight is still the gift that keeps giving.