The seven-model shortlist for Car of the Year 2014 – just revealed – combines adventurous choices and predictability in almost equal measure.
Undoubtedly the most eye-catching finalist, chosen by the competition’s 58 jurors from 22 European countries, is the rule-breaking Tesla Model S, an American-built (though European finished) battery-electric car whose early reviews — not least our own — have been almost universally positive, but whose backing company nevertheless lacks the proven dependability of almost ever other brand in the competition. Jurors have clearly been impressed by the car’s BMW-like driving virtues, plus its great looks and technical promise, and have been prepared to take the claims of its impressive founder, engineer-billionaire Elon Musk, on trust.
Also firmly in the new technology camp is the BMW i3 “efficiency” hatchback, available either as a pure battery machine with an 80-100 mile pure-electric range, or with a range-extending generator engine and a nine-litre fuel tank that doubles its range. Both versions are doing what hybrids and electric cars have so far failed to achieve: invest the economy breed with decent, old-fashioned desirability.
You’d never class the Mercedes S-class as an economy car, though in most versions efficiency most definitely comes with the luxury. And like flagship Mercs back through the generations, this latest edition succeeds in establishing new standards for quality, refinement, agility-with-size, economy-with-size and just about every other worthwhile big-car standard.
By comparison, the neat-looking and nicely built Mazda 3 isn’t likely to create many headlines (though it’ll draw more buyers) and the chief reason for the inclusion of the Peugeot 308 must surely be its much improved styling, and its especially good interior design and quality.
Both qualities rather negate those of the worthy-but-dowdy Skoda Octavia, which wins inclusion for its packaging, its value and the superb reputation of the brand as a reliable, depreciation-saving ownership proposition. Which only leaves Citroën’s excellent C4 Picasso, an exception in the school-run people-mover stakes because of its sparkling design inside and out, its configurability, its surprising space and its manufacturing quality, now close to German standards.
For once, it’s hard to see a clear-cut winner from this bunch, although if traditionally conservative jurors can once again shake off their innate conservatism (as they did for the Nissan Leaf a couple of years ago) the BMW i3 offers lots of promise. A BMW victory would make a nice change, too, because the company has not won Europe’s most prestigious car competition in recent times; odd for a company whose cars are so much loved by their owners. Perhaps it’s time.