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Car of the Year 2014 - it's a French car!

Car of the Year 2014

04/03/2014 19:15 | Comments: 

Editor-in-chief

The guy behind the idea of the English-language Totalcar site, the totalcarmagazine.com, also serving as an editor at the Hungarian totalcar.hu , our mother site. Serial collector of sorry old things that have internal combustion engines in them, as a newfound religion, Zsolt is keeping a family under the terror of rust. Being in the business for the best part of the last 19 years, he landed at Totalcar after serving at a huge round of printed automotive magazines. Has a wife, two small(ish) children and a pet rabbit.

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That was a close call! In 2014, after eight years of German domination, the European Car of the Year is a French one.

My colleagues kept nagging me to tell them which of the seven cars would be most likely to walk away with the award. But before casting my vote I could not have answered their questions even if my life depended on it (ed: Zsolt Csikós is one of the two Hungarian members on the COTY panel of jurors).

It was simple last year: as soon as the car I thought could be the winner was not shortlisted into the finals (the Mazda6) I knew it had to be the Golf. This year it was not nearly as clear-cut. All seven candidates had some excellent features, but some faults as well. I took the day off before the voting, I browsed hundreds of websites, reading articles to see if others have perhaps spotted something I haven't. I checked and cross-checked price lists to make sure I had all the necessary information. It was an extremely close call, and it was going to go down to the fine details.

My top vote went to the Tesla Model S (here are my first hand impressions with the car) although when I began the scoring process I had no idea it would. But you cannot argue with cold hard facts. How can you fault a car that is as big as a BMW 5, capable of carrying five adults and two smaller people, looks swell but can provide ample load space if needed, runs on cheap electricity but accelerates like a Ferrari, has engineering content that need no mainentance, is constructed like nothing we've ever seen and it has a range equivalent to a similarly powerful petrol engined sedan?

Sure, it has a steep price, but so does the BMW 5, the Mercedes-Benz E-class, the Lexus GS hybrid. And the MSRP on the Tesla also includes an expensive power pack. Does it drive as well as a BMW? No, but it's very close. There have been recent reports of Tesla vehicles catching fire but no-one was harmed, and some of those cases were not EV-specific: any motor vehicle would have incinerated under the given circumstances. So the Model S kept piling up all the cons and ended up real high, raking in 6 out of the 25 points I had to distribute among the cars.

Right in its tail followed two cars that I considered the most likely to win - the Mazda3 and the Peugeot 308. Both cars are cleverly designed, with solid quality and lightweight build. Both cars also offer cramped second-row seating. The Mazda, a little bit less so, but the 308 has a more practical boot – so it's even. Other factors proved similarly non-decisive: the Mazda has a rather chaotic dashboard and a slightly inferior interior quality, but the small, low-sitting steering wheel of the Peugeot is not to eveyone's liking either. You can also easily argue against the combined control panel in the French car. On a different note, the Mazda is noisier, especially the tyres, while the Peugeot is less agile around corners. The Mazda looks awesome, the small diesel engines of the 308 are incredibly frugal. So I ended up calling it a tie, and gave 4 points to each car.

You'd be wrong to conclude that either of these cars that ended up third in a triple tie (BMW i3, Citroën C4 Picasso and Mercedes-Benz S-Class) were inferior to the above. The i3 offers ingenious packaging, novel materials and super comfy operation, slightly oveshadowed by the shortish range and the four-seater layout. I appreciated the quality, the versatility, the atmosphere, and the style of the C4 Picasso, but the engines that were barely acceptable in the 308 are completely lacklustre in the otherwise excellent monospace vehicle which also has an unfortunate tendency to rattle.

As far as I was concerned the Mercedes-Benz S-class could have well won the award. It is that good a car: no passenger vehicle has ever offered the same qualities of ride and comfort. Rolls-Royce and Bentley motorcars do not cast shade on this German piece of engineering. Suffice it to say it has heated armrests and uses a camera linked to the GPS to inform the active suspension about oncoming irregularities in the road. It also has powerful and silent hybrids which consume as much as a C-segment hatchback, making the deal even sweeter. But the car is so immensely expensive that this single criterion took it all away from it. The cost/value ratio is a highly prioritised factor in the COTY voting process. And while the S-class is one helluva lot of car for your money, it still cannot make you forget the royal sum they charge for it. Thus I gave these three cars three points each.

Škoda Octavia ended up as the only car off the podium and I admit this is sort of unfair. The Octavia offers the engineering content of last year's winner, the VW Golf. It costs as much as the Golf but is even more spacious, with a huge hatchback giving you access to a boot big enough to put station wagons to shame. Quality and specifications do not feel inferior to its Volkswagen brother, but the entire vehicle is less sophisticated, it is a rather uninspiring drive, and just looks bland and considerably larger. At the end of the day the Octavia is less impressive than the Golf - it is spacious and practical but nothing more than decent.

But believe me, given the incredibly strong competition with the Tesla and the i3 whizzing about silently, with Mazda, Citroën and Peugeot dumping bucket loads of R+D money into their respective products, and with Mercedes-Benz S-Class actually getting upgraded this year to stand in for the discontinued Maybach, the two points the Octavia scored is actually quite a compliment. 

After explaining my picks, here is the final score, representing the opinion of the entire panel. The 2014 Car of the Year is the Peugeot 308 with quite a healthy margin, collecting 307 points. Cars further down the list scored very closely to each other , signalling that I was not the only one having difficulties coming to a decision. Here are the scores, then:

1. Peugeot 308 307 points
2. BMW i3 223 points
3. Tesla Model S 216 points
4. Citroen C4 Piccaso 182 points
5. Mazda 3 180 points
6. Skoda Octavia 172 points
7. Mercedes S-Class 170 points

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