Here's why the Toyota Yaris became the European Car of the Year
We know the results of the COTY vote, let's see the reasoning behind the decision. A short press review.
On the 1st of March 2021 the all-new Toyota Yaris became the European Car of the Year award winner. There are many "Car of the Year" prizes worldwide: there's obviously a North American Car of the Year, World Car of the Year, Women's World Car of the Year, Green Car of the Year and the list could go on, there's now one for everybody, so every manufacturer's marketing department can buy a sticker that looks good on the sales brochure. Yet the European COTY is different: it's the original, the first one of it's kind which started more than 50 years ago and it's prestigious because the independence is well guaranteed by it's diverse selection of jury members who are all professional automotive journalists (such as Top Gear veteran Paul Horrell or Andrew Frankel, a former colleague of Jamey May at Autocar).
In case you are a COTY-fan who follows the ceremony every year you are probably familiar with the voting system. From a long list of nominees 7 car makes it to the final, every jury member drives and reviews those cars and then they must allocate 25 points amongst them. This year 59 members from 22 European countries came to this results:
1st Toyota Yaris - 266 points
2nd Fiat New 500 - 240 points
3rd Cupra Formentor - 239 points
4th Volkswagen ID.3 - 224 points
5th Škoda Octavia - 199 points
6th Land Rover Defender - 164 points
7th Citroën C4 - 143 points
The biggest disappointment of course is that of the VW ID.3, while the triumph of the Yaris suprised many, but journalists also get to comment on their decisions so let's see some pro-and-con outtakes on each cars:
1st Toyota Yaris
The GR version of the Yaris left a lasting impression. It's a true rally version of an economic car.
Many members highlighted the economical operations of the Yaris, which coincidentally was also the cheapest model in the final:
"Toyota once again proves to be at the forefront in the full-hybrid technology. The lower consumptions and an appreciably increased range in pure EV mode make it the perfect urban vehicle, while on a longer trip you discover a fun-to-drive, agile and responsive car." - Silvia Baruffaldi, editor of Auto & Design, Italy
"In the pandemic, people's need for mobility has increased. However consumer preferences have changed. There was a transition to B segment models. Yaris shines like a diamond, in a period where more economical and low fuel consumption cars are becoming prominent. Yaris has a sporty and stylish look. Its interior is more spacious. Driving dynamics have improved significantly and it has become more agile. (...)" - Ufuk Sandik, Sabah Gazetesi, Turkey
Of course, economy alone won't convince all jury members, the fact that Toyota dared to make a hot hatch version in 2021 (do they have any competition besides maybe Hyundai?) was necessary to win the heart of car journos:
"I made the Yaris my best scorer, because it manages to achieve the unthinkable: being among the cars which answer best to the market demands, all that with a dash of craziness (the GR version) to please the enthusiast drivers. This Yaris is one of the very last cars on the market to reconcile reason and passion. And nowadays, it properly rejoices me!" - Stéphane Lémeret, editor of Auto Trend magazine
"Not for the popular Yaris, the world would never have seen the GR Yaris GR-Four – an uncompromising sports car. No other manufacturer offers such a product. Congratulations to Toyota for being bold enough – during such a difficult time for ‘non-eco-branded’ cars – to come up with a state-of-the-art model that is so deeply rooted in the past. Its sole purpose is to make the driver happy." - Maciek Ziemek, freelancer journalist, Poland
"If GR Yaris was the only Yaris competing for the title I would give it all my 25 points. Fantastic driver's car with Toyota DNA and new petrolhead genes. Engine and AWD do an excellent job. But my favorite is one and the only mode for the accelerator, steering and suspension — masterpiece of chassis setting. The only problem is GR Yaris has almost nothing in common with the rest of the Yaris family." - Sergey Znaemsky, editor of Autoreview, Russia
As all coins have two sides and the Yaris was not a clear winner for everybody, some COTY members had negative observations about the Toyota too:
"The sporty GR version is a very nice little machine, but the hybrid Yaris did not live up to my expectations in terms of consumption during the test drives." - Joost Bolle, journalist at Het Laatste Nieuws, Belgium
"(...) Its engine, however fine it may be around town, sounds buzzy at higher speeds – and downright annoying while climbing up a steep slope. Also, we wouldn't be against looking at a more cheerful interior." - Alain-Gabriel Verdevoye, journalist at Challenges, France
2nd Fiat New 500
Fiat has high hopes for the New 500 and being the first runner up is a good sign.
Fiat's new electric offering was popular as the jury seems to like the idea of a small EV for urban mobility. The great rival Honda E didn't make it to the final, so the model was able to capitalize on being the only true city car in the pack as well.
"You pay a lot for four parameters nowadays: long-range electric drive, fashion, quality, size. The New 500 gives you three, just missing the last. But hey, this is a city car! With a 320 km range, batteries in the floor (it’s a giggle to drive), a cabriolet version and an even more unique variant with one door on the right, two on the left plus a friendly price, this is my winner. I just loved it." - Zsolt Csikós, journalist Totalcar.hu, Hungary
"It just touches my heart. Electromobility might be first of all useful in cities, and that is what the Fiat 500 is all about. Fresh, friendly, silent. Elctric range and power are poor, especially on the motorway, but sufficient in its area. (...)" - Holger Appel, journalist at Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany
For a retro design, comparisons with the last - still produced - 500 was inevitable:
"Well done, Fiat! With the new generation of the 500 the “dolce vita” feeling, like the predecessor has provided, lives on. And feels even better. A pure electric drivetrain fits perfectly for urban mobility. (...)" - Michael Specht, journalist at Automobilwoche, Germany
"Very well executed compact electric car. Longer, wider and taller than before, but still every inch as recognizable as a 500. Good standard equipment. Nice interior styling and built quality too. Far better seating position than the previous one." - Peter Hilhorst, journalist at De Telegraaf, Netherlands
However, being an electric car, the 500 had plenty of criticism from more skeptical jury members:
"There was a time when the Fiat 500 was motorizing not only Italy, but the whole world. Today, it wants to be a gadget, available to a few. Bigger, dearer, and more unlike the original. Shame! It still defends itself with its style – its strongest point. Created for the city, but made for those who live in single-family houses, not blocks of flats, and often can’t afford a private charging station." - Maciek Ziemek, freelancer journalist, Poland
"The brave electrical bet of the Fiat 500e, possibly, arrives too soon, as our world does not seem to be prepared yet. A reliable infrastructure of charging docks for electrical vehicles is needed for the car to succeed." - Pere Prat, journalist at La Vanguardia, Spain.
And some had other concerns about the 500:
"The range is adequate also for travelling outside the city limits and driving is as easy as it gets. However, we have not yet been able to test the car in the Nordic conditions. Also the more affordable basic versions are still pending." - Velimatti Honkanen, producer at Tekniikan Maailma, Finland
"While in our hands, several examples of the 500e fell victim to some compatibility issue with fast-chargers. Better wait until Fiat addresses the problem." - Alain-Gabriel Verdevoye, journalist at Challenges, France
3rd Cupra Formentor
A Porsche Macan everyone can afford, or is it something more?
It was a bit of a surprise that VAG's highest ranking model was not the VW ID.3, but Seat's sporty spin-off brand, Cupra and it's only standalone model so far, the Formentor. The jury members liked the braveness of creating something totally new on a very old market:
"Seat has the courage to introduce an all new brand and that needs to be rewarded in these difficult economical times. As a hybrid car the Formentor offers a well balanced drive. It's cool to see how this family car suddenly transforms into an absolute beast when you drive the powerful petrol version. Fast and agile!" - Gert Wisse, journalist at ANWB, Netherlands
"Not only is the Formentor a totally new car, Cupra is also a new brand. To create a new car from nothing and end up with such a good achievement as is the Formentor, is a truly great success. It is true that they opposed Seat and, at the same time, retained all the cheek and playfulness these Spanish cars always offered." - Sebastjan Plevnjak, editor at Avto Magazin, Slovenia
The Formentor also comes with a wide variety of drivetrains - including a promised 5 cylinder petrol variant which is becoming a rarity even in the premium segment. No wonder some are in love with the idea:
"Very interesting project based on the MQB Evo platform. Wide range of powertrains, including the impressive and almost crazy five-cylinder 2.5 TSI engine. It is offered as a reasonable 1.5 TSI, but also as a sophisticated and fast enough plug-in hybrid." - Jiří Duchoň , editor in chief at Automobil Revue, Czechia
There are plenty of unfavourable opinions too, mainly concerning the buggy entertainment platform on contemporary VWs, while some found the positioning of the car a mystery:
"(...) The infotainment system is a bit of a mess and suffers hard from the lack of physical control buttons." - Tommy Wahlström, editor in chief at Vi Bilägare, Sweden
"Of course the Formentor is a good-looking car – and surprisingly small. And of course all petrol-heads must be happy that Cupra will keep the legendary five-cylinder alive. But the driving-pleasure is much smaller than expected – everything is a compromise. Plus: software is not working, this is a disaster." - Peter Ruch, journalist at Automobil Revue, Switzerland
"There’s no doubt that these sporty SUVs are distinctive to look at, while the interiors are comfortable and intriguingly upholstered. And, with suspension tuned by Seat’s talented set-up team, they manage a spirited but commendably subtle balance of ride and and sporting handling. The hybrid version is great fun if you like spinning front wheels and spectacular performance (I do), but I suspect that most will go for less fire-breathing versions. Trouble is, I'm still not as to exactly who these cars are aimed at." - Andrew English, journalist at The Daily Telegraph, United Kingdom
4th Volkswagen ID.3
The first Leaf won the award in 2011. The ID.3 is nowhere near as revolutionary as the Nissan was.
It's no overstatement to say that the ID.3 was the greatest favorite in the vote, so falling short of the podium must be a huge wake-up call for Volkswagen, who has proven many times that they can win the Car of the Year award (most recently with the Polo in 2010 and with the Passat in 2015). Even the most positive remarks noted that the ID.3 project came from the most unlikely places and it's birth was no easy feat:
"Volkswagen's courage is remarkable: the commitment to e-mobility was uncompromising. The ID.3 is the result. In terms of driving and technology, the ID.3 is of a very high standard. After a difficult start." - Dieter Hubman, journalist at Kleine Zeitung, Austria
"Last but not least. Even more than that: the longawaited ID.3 had a lot of starting problems but in the end is good value-for-money. The ID.3 offers a comfortable drive, a spacious interior and good real driving range and satisfying charging times. The ID.3 is a real Volkswagen, a car that shows the world that the people's car of today can be electric." - Jaco Bijlsma, editor in chief at Autovisie, Netherlands
Some review were more cautious. While they recognized that it's finally here and it works, they were doubtful about the car's future:
"Whether the ID.3 will prove to be such landmark model for Volkswagen as the Beetle and Golf are remains open to debate. The fact is that the car tries to offer everything at once – functionality, range, performance and outstanding handling – and for the most part succeeds. Questions remain over build quality issues and very average infotainment system, but from engineering point of view the ID.3 is an excellent car." - Roman Popkiewicz, editor in chief at Auto motor i sport, Poland
"I wish Volkswagen did not position this car as being of similar significance to the Type 1 and the original Golf, because it places a burden of expectation on its shoulders it struggles to bear. This is a good new electric car, with a spacious interior of mainly but not entirely high quality materials. (...) But is it that game changing product that will go down in history as one of the most important cars of its era, like the Type 1 or Golf? Time will tell, but from here it is hard to see." - Andrew Frankel, journalist at Autocar, The Sunday Times and Motor Sport, United Kingdom
And of course there were some who were very disappointed by the electric Volkswagen, which is why it probably scored so below expectations:
"(...) In terms of efficiency, it is no better than an e-Golf, because to offer more range it weighs more and increases costs. It stands out more for its dynamism than for its interior refinement or intuitive handling." - Pedro Martín, editor at Motor 16, Spain
"There remains the feeling to drive the beta-version of a new car, there are too many things not really working properly (see other Volkswagen Group products). For a brand new e-car there are too many things not on the level of an already pretty old Tesla. And driving in wintertime is no fun at all, not only because of the range." - Peter Ruch, journalist at Automobil Revue, Switzerland
"Late start, problems with software and expansive. Let's wait for the following models." - Hanno Boblenz, editor in chief at Firmenauto, Germany
5th Škoda Octavia
It's your usual Octavia range. Better, but still it's just Octavias.
The Octavia is definitely not the most interesting offering on the list and considering the fact that it lacks the spotlight of the ID.3 or the power of the Yaris GR it is actually not a bad result that it made it to the final. Especially if one considers the fact that it's VW-cousins, the Audi A3, Seat León and the Volkswagen Golf Mk8 did not make it, even though they were all present on the long list of candidates. It received positive reviews for carrying on the "Simply Clever" motto throughout it's design:
"Ok, it´s again just a new version of the very good Octavia. Like all Octavias in the past 20 years, this one is not spectacular, but it offers so much space, comfort, relevant technology, everything, a lot of car buyers are asking for. It drives perfect, has a lot of space, a broad offer of engines, doesn't need a lot of fuel, still has a lot of intelligent solutions. It´s not the most fancy car, but the car to get old with, to raise children, to explore the world. A car that fits to the needs of the world today." - Timo Friedman, editor in chief at mobile.de, Germany
"People may not write songs about the joy to ride in a 2021 edition of Škoda Octavia but maybe someone should! This is a modern family car with roominess, modern high tech features, all the safety equipment you can think of, environmental friendly drivetrains and a hint of luxury in the details, materials and craftsmanship. All at a reasonable price! Come on Springsteen!" - Tommy Wahlström, editor in chief at Vi Bilägare, Sweden
The Octavia surprisingly didn't receive any harsh criticism, however it was often noted that it doesn't offer anything innovative and it's just too average, which is not worth a COTY title:
"(...) What leaves it down in my list is the fact that its body looks a little old-fashioned nowadays, when most of the buyers are taking advantage of what crossovers and SUVs offer." - Helen Xenakis, journalist at 4 Wheels Magazine, Greece
"(...) So why not a higher score? Because there are no very special, outstanding attributes that could distinguish the Octavia from the crowd. But: This does not alter the fact that the Octavia is an excellent car." - Ulla Ellmer, journalist at Kicker Sportmagazin, Germany
"(...) Perhaps an interesting design but also extremely classic and not captivating to allow the Octavia to be The Car of the Year 2021." - Andrea Brambilla, editor in chief, Auto, Italy
6th Land Rover Defender
The Defender is dead, long live the Defender!
Perhaps the most controversial car on the list. Jury members either loved it or hated it. For sure, the Defender may be one of the best offroaders currently on the market and JLR made a big investment in developing and marketing it as an old-Defender replacement, which resulted in lots of positive reviews:
"It is a huge challenge to replace an icon after 40 years. Well done Land Rover. The new Defender drives pretty well on- and off-road, has a decent style, good driver position and a wide range of powertrains. It is not the Defender we knew and admired anymore, but it is a perfect Defender of 2021." - Holger Appel, journalist at Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany
"An engineering masterpiece. Very nice to drive on the road, magnificent in terrain. A worthy successor to the original Defender. It’s probably the best of the few real off roaders you can buy nowadays. (...)" - Gert Wisse, journalist at ANWB, Netherlands
However the Car of the Year being mainly an on-road contest of cars, many noted that the Defender no longer goes with the changed image of Land Rover and that it is generally unfit for European conditions and zeitgeist, generally consuming more fuel than the old Defender. Also often mentioned it's huge price tag when equipped with optional extras:
"(...) The greatest flaw in the plan is the price, which has caused many loyal Defender fans to take fright. While it will capture a new wealthier audience, few of these will use the car to its true potential, while those that can – and need to – are now abandoned by the brand." - Michael McAleer, editor at The Irish Times, Ireland
"It's not easy to renew such an icon. The style is there, the technology as well. But the machine is still huge, even out of the norm for our countries. The Defender has gone from a car for adventurers to a luxury product, without any real exclusive engine. But... What a car! 0 point is not the real evaluation, but we only have 25 points for 7 cars." - Didier Laurent, editor in chief, L'Argus de l'automobile, France
"The new Defender is a great car. But its built only for very special kind of people. A huge car, which offers a very small, tiny space capacity for the driver and the co, that is stupid. Yes, it is a reminiscent to the old one, but that was constructed decades ago. The new Defender still fights technical issues, and drives like a dinosaur. Elegant, smooth, yes. But the fuel consumption seems also stuck in the 1950's, the whole car is nice, beauty, but old-fashioned in many ways. Still, it has something magical. But if you are an adventurer, you need a car to rely on. And this one may be too fancy for that. For the city and normal life, it´s just too big." - Timo Friedman, editor in chief at mobile.de, Germany
7th Citroën C4
In Citroën materials the aquamarine colour refers to the electric version, while the orange-ish to the internal combustion engined one. Some miss the in-between.
Being last doesn't necessarily means the Citroën C4 is a bad car, but in the context it's just not good enough. Collecting 143 points from the jury is actually a pretty nice achievement and it came with a fair share of positive remarks on it's styling, ride, wide range of drivetrains available and affordability:
"With both BEV and ICE as an option Citroën C4 stands out as the most flexible option in this year's final. And what a good sign of an industry in the middle of a transition. Design and powertrain is in my opinion the strength and C4 doesn´t even cost that much." - Jan-Erik Berggren, editor at Expressen, Sweden
"Great choice of powetrains, like the previous Car of the Year, the Peugeot 208. Good interior and very comfortable using the Citroën Advanced Comfort Program. Great design, good suspensions, technology and a very affordable price." - Xavier Pérez Giménez, editor El Periódico de Catalunya, Spain
On the styling side there seemed to be some disagreements within the jury, as it was also described as a pointless, annoying addition. No major criticism, but there were reasons why the C4 fell short of the others:
"Crossover design in a C-segment car, with hints from Citroën’s past models, makes for a little fussy end result. Cabin could have better ergonomics and quality is no more than average. (...)" -Francisco Mota, freelancer journalist, Portugal
"The C4 is a decent car, but I found nothing in it that sparkles or is special. The admittedly characterful styling downsizes practicality: rear entry, boot space, rear visibility." - Joost Bolle, journalist at Het Laatste Nieuws, Belgium
Car of the Year informations
If you wish to see all the short texts submitted by jury members head over to the site of the Car of the Year organization. For the full reviews it is recommended to visit or buy the magazine where the different journalists publish, by now all of the cars should have a detailed test by the respective jurors. Next year's voting will likely have a long list by November which will be shortened to 7 nominees in December or January again, with the European Car of the Year 2022 winner being announced in February or March (depending on testing schedule). Until then!