Poor Fiat, it's the winner of the year again

Pooh-poohed by the pundits, Italy's Panda is the 2004 best of the bunch, 22 countries decide
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

Fiat, beleaguered by pundits who regard it as amid an action replay of British Leyland's downfall, has pulled the metaphorical rabbit out of the hat. This week it scored the most coveted victory in all of car-dom, the Car of the Year 2004 accolade. The terrific new Panda scored more points from the pens of the 58 pan-European jurors than any other car in the shortlist of seven.

Fiat, beleaguered by pundits who regard it as amid an action replay of British Leyland's downfall, has pulled the metaphorical rabbit out of the hat. This week it scored the most coveted victory in all of car-dom, the Car of the Year 2004 accolade. The terrific new Panda scored more points from the pens of the 58 pan-European jurors than any other car in the shortlist of seven.

As one of those jurors, I am delighted with the result. The Panda was my own first choice, and it was only on reacquaintance with the new Volkswagen Golf that my resolve weakened. But I gave the Golf one point more than the Panda (each juror has 25 points to distribute among at least five cars in the shortlist, with no equal-first places) but across Europe the Golf amassed sufficient points only for a joint-second place with the Mazda 3.

So here is the winners' list with the points scores and excerpts from the comments I made to the COTY committee:

Fiat Panda (281 points)

"Here lies the company's hope for the future ... what Fiat does best, making small cars which are cleverly designed, terrific value and fun to drive ... boxy, mini-Multipla looks hint at the practicality within remarkably well equipped and laden with safety kit ... Multijet turbodiesel is liveliest, at a higher price... an unexpected giver of driving pleasure thanks to accurate steering with lots of road feel, surprising grip from its skinny tyres and a supple ride ... so much car at so low a price is a great achievement.'

Volkswagen Golf (241 points)

"This car crept up on me ... the handling prowess of a Ford Focus and a better ride, yet as solidly built as a Golf ... does all the good Golf things and has eradicated the bad ones ... optional DSG gearbox renders all existing sequential-shift transmissions redundant thanks to its ultra-smooth, ultra-clean shifts in manual and automatic mode ... interior is more plasticky but remains impeccably assembled and full of tactile pleasures and precise actions ... the most complete lower-medium hatchback you can buy."

Mazda 3 (241 points)

"A sharp drive as befits its next-generation Ford Focus underpinnings ... engines are lively and the dashboard design is attractive in a technical way ... styling tries too hard next to the elegant Mazda 6 ... interior feels cheap despite impeccable assembly ... ride sometimes noisy, 2.0-litre's steering over-light.'

Toyota Avensis (219 points)

"Could almost be a Lexus, such is the initial feeling of quality, but initial impressions lose their substance ... little wrong with the Avensis beyond the excessive noise from the diesel ... blend of keen handling and a supple ride is among the best in the class ... styling assertive and anonymous ... a good car but does not light the spark of desire."

Vauxhall Meriva (213 points)

"Some pundits ponder the point of the Meriva ... can reduce the rear-seat count rather than increase it ... clear enough to the younger generation who love the lounging space and the clever Twin Audio system able to separate front and rear sound-system sources ... works well as a family car ... good fun to drive with a punchy engine, keen handling and a decent ride ... pity about the daft trim-level names ... how do you explain a car called Enjoy?'

BMW 5-series (144 points)

"Laudable technology ... aluminium front end, lighter weight, clever suspension and steering options, optional head-up instrument display ... curiously awkward body design ... brutalist interior ... frustrating iDrive even in this simplified form ... ride poor on optional run-flat tyres ... manual gearshift not up to BMW standards ... smooth engines, best enjoyed as a gutsy 530d automatic or a powerful 530i."

Nissan Micra (111 points)

'"Newly androgynous bug-eyed looks add to the promise of fun ... accurate if slightly inert steering, good handling balance and absorbent ride ... noisy engines, especially in 1.4 ... much wind noise ... keyless entry system and semi-retro switchgear appeal ... a roomy, creatively trimmed little car."

The Car of the Year results are a distillation from 22 countries, now including Turkey, Slovenia and Russia. The more the new-car sales in each country, the more jurors it has, and the way the contest has grown has reduced nationalist tendencies to sway the result with a block vote in favour of the home product while giving artificially low scores to a strong foreign rival.

Victory, of course, is all. Take Alfa Romeo, whose 156 won in 1998 by a massive 188-point margin (the second biggest since the award began exactly 40 years ago), but whose 147 scored its 2001 victory by just one point from Ford's Mondeo. It did not matter; both Alfas were Cars of the Year.

The biggest winning margin was that of the Peugeot 405 in 1988, by 212 points. And the first two winners were British: the Rover 2000 in 1964 and the Austin 1800 in 1965. Such was the innovative state of the indigenous British motor industry at the time. Any more all-British winners? Just one, in 1977, the Rover 3500, the rounded hatchback now referred to by its SD1 internal codename. But Fiat has won the COTY award eight times, more than any other maker. Well, we are all Europeans now.

Search for used cars

Comments