It's like Eurovision but with unbiased voting, says John Simister, a regular member of the UK judges' panel

Of all the awards dished out to new cars, the original and the still the most prestigious is, simply, Car of the Year. Devised in the 1960s, nowadays it's decided by 58 jurors from 22 European countries, including Russia and Turkey.

The number of judges per country - from one to six - depends on its annual new-car sales. I'm one of the six UK judges, and this year we had to choose our eight finalists from a record total of 41 new cars.

Many others didn't agree with my nominations of the new Mini, the Jaguar XK and the Nissan Note. Equally, I hadn't included the new mainstream superminis as I didn't think they advanced the art of the small car, merely making them bigger and heavier. The Note seems to me to be a cleverer idea than all of them.

However, they were in the shortlist: Vauxhall Corsa, Peugeot 207 and Fiat Grande Punto. Others were the Honda Civic, the Volvo C30, the Citroën C4 Picasso, the Ford S-Max and the Skoda Roomster, so quite an MPV theme is emerging.

Each juror has 25 points to allocate across at least five of these cars. No car can score more than 10 points and there must be no joint first places. The points are added up, and the winner is the car with the most.

Simple, but cruel. That's because a car can win by many points or, as has happened in the past, by just one. Victory is equally assured either way.

So, what happened this year? In eighth place came the Fiat Grande Punto, scoring 138 points and no full 10s. Critics of COTY used to accuse judges of national bias, but this year there is no real sign of that - not even the Italians rated the Punto.

In seventh place is the Volvo C30, scoring 141 overall, with one 10-pointer from a UK judge, but finding little favour with the Swedes.

In sixth place is Peugeot's 207 with 144 points and more support from Italy and Spain than from France.

In fifth place we have the Honda Civic, scoring 148 points but no 10-pointers. UK judges were more keen than those of other countries on the Honda; it was their second favourite.

In fourth place, the Skoda Roomster showed a big points leap to 189. It's a quirky but clever car, and it divides opinion.

In third place, the Citroën C4 Picasso scored an impressive 222 points, with France proving keenest. Germany was dismissive.

In second place came the Vauxhall Corsa, with 233 points; much liked by many, but not so much as to gain any 10-point scores.

Which means that the winner of Car of the Year 2007 is the Ford S-Max - but by just two points at 235. It, too, failed to score a 10, but it scored the lowest number of zeroes (just one) and it was the UK judges' favourite overall.

My favourite? Yes, it's the S-Max, because it's the first MPV that is truly good fun to drive. Unlike the Corsa, it advances the art and is genuinely new.

SIMISTER'S POINTS FOR THE EIGHT CONTENDERS

Ford S-Max: 7
A work of engineering and marketing genius. Seven-seater MPV that's fun to drive.

Skoda Roomster: 5
A car much greater than the sum of its Skoda parts, with an astonishingly good ride.

Citroën C4 Picasso: 4
Citroën showing its innovative streak again, with a Compact MPV full of new ideas.

Volvo C30: 4
A desirable, high-image object, great to drive but spoilt by details.

Honda Civic: 3
Originality should be celebrated and that's why I like the futuristically styled Civic.

Peugeot 207: 1
Of the new superminis, the 207 comes closest to the feel a supermini should have.

Vauxhall/Opel Corsa: 1
The 1.2-litre engine struggles to pull this supermini.

Fiat Grande Punto: 0
The Punto is like a Corsa that hasn't been finished yet.

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