Car of the year? You must be joking. A flawed voting system means the prestigious title has gone to the wrong vehicle, yet again

The Car of the Year jury has judged. Fifty-nine members across Europe, including me, voting for the oldest, most prestigious and most coveted annual car award of all. Their task? To agree upon the "most outstanding car for 2010", a car which must have been launched in 2009, of which at least 5,000 examples will be made each year, and which will be available for sale in at least five European countries by January.

And yes, the most outstanding car for 2010 is the Volkswagen Polo. You're right, that is not a sentence which seems to make sense. But by a process almost self-destructively democratic, the Polo is Car of the Year 2010.

Don't get me wrong here. The Polo is a good little car, even if "little" nowadays means it is bigger than a Mk3 Golf. It looks sharper than its forgettable predecessor, a car which had come perilously close to falling off British supermini-buyers' radar, and it is greener and weighs less. There's a super-frugal Bluemotion version too. All of this is admirable, but Ford's Fiesta is overall a better, more joy-giving car and yet it missed out on last year's COTY award by just one point.

So here's the problem. A Car of the Year should be the car that most advances the art of the car while also best achieving what it sets out to achieve. It should be a car able to go down in history as an innovator, a standard-setter, an exemplar of how it should be done. The problem is that the most memorable and most innovative cars are the most likely to encourage extremes of opinion, and those who take against them will mark them down. Thus are their chances scuppered while the blander candidates, the ones lots of people merely quite like, scoop up lots of upper-middling scores and win. That is how, in the past, the Renault 9 won the award, and more recently the Peugeot 307 trumped the Mini. Incredible but true.

The car that probably should have won this year is the Toyota iQ. As it was, this most cleverly-conceived mini-car in years came second, 10 points behind the Polo. Twenty-five people placed the Polo highest against 20 who went for the iQ, but only three of those Polo placings scored the maximum-allowed 10 points, against six for the Toyota.

In case you're wondering, the scoring works like this. Each juror has 25 points to distribute among at least five of the seven shortlisted cars, with no score higher than 10 and no joint top scores, while the shortlist itself consists of the seven cars most nominated in the first round of voting. As a judging system, then, COTY seems perfectly fair but it can lack the ability to come up with an inspiring result. This needs to be addressed, maybe by altering the scoring system, maybe by clarifying the judging criteria which are currently loose.

Anyway, here are the 2010 results together with my own scores (in brackets) and the citations that accompanied them. The Polo, the Astra and the 3008 were not on my own shortlist, incidentally, while the Suzuki Alto, the Porsche Panamera and the Hyundai i20 were. Few jurors shared my admiration for the splendid Skoda Yeti, unfortunately, but it and the iQ were, for me, the revelations of 2009.

1st. Volkswagen Polo: 347 points (my score, 1 pt)

It's a baby Golf. It does everything you expect from that idea, and no more. For many, that will be enough. For Car Of The Year, however, it is not

2nd. Toyota iQ: 337pts (my score, 9pts)

The iQ is the most revolutionary small car we've seen for years, with its gearbox ahead of the engine, its near-flat fuel tank and its amazing manoeuvrability. But the gearing is too long for its little engines, and it's too wide.

3rd. Vauxhall Astra: 221pts (my score, 0pts)

This is a good car, vastly better than its predecessor. But it's too big to be a lower-medium hatchback, it feels underpowered despite healthy outputs, and it's too expensive. Given that other cars in its class are better, it can't be COTY.

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