There are more annual Best Car awards than you can climb over, nowadays, but I think it’s still an important moment when the short-list for Car of the Year, Europe’s oldest and biggest competition pops up — simply because it’s the distilled opinion of 58 journalists in 22 countries.
You wouldn’t have had to be one of the Three Wise Men to guess most of this year’s seven finalists from a field of 33 — Fiat 500, Ford Mondeo, Kia Cee’d, Mazda 2, Merc C-class, Nissan Qashqai and Peugeot 308 — but there are still some surprises. Next, the jurors have to decide an outright winner.
Interesting, for instance, to see a Peugeot back in the list. By popular agreement, Peugeot has been off the pace this past few years, but the 308 (refined and especially nice inside) marks the beginning of a fightback.
The Fiat 500 was always a strong contender; no car has had so much notoriety with the man in the street. But shoe-ins often fall by the wayside, and I half-thought it might be dismissed by the jurors as “only a Panda underneath”.
Fascinating to see the Kia Cee’d beat its close relative the Hyundai i30 (I put it the other way). And nice to see the Brit-built Nissan Qashqai get in too, because the company was realistic about admitting its Primera and Almera were getting nowhere, and bold in creating something that would.
Personally, I’m sorry the Skoda Fabia didn’t make it, though the styling’s not so special. And I did have a bit of a soft spot for the Land Rover Freelander, too.
The winner? The Fiat’s got to be a 24-carat contender, and the Mazda 2’s right up there. Can’t quite see the Pug making it, and it’d be a surprise if a Ritzmobile like the Merc C-class got under the guard of the rather austere juror’s panel. Qashquai has done well to get this far, but I can’t see it going further. Same for the Kia.
In short, I see a tight tussle between Ford, Mazda and Fiat. You can tell me I’m wrong when the big decision drops in a week or two.