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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: January 9, 2012 @ 12:34 pm

    Seven shortlisted for Car of the year

    Michael McAleer

    The shortlist for the prestigious Car Of The Year in Europe title has been announced. The seven finalists are (in alphabetical order): Citroën DS5, Fiat Panda, Ford Focus, Opel Ampera, Range Rover Evoque, Toyota Yaris, Volkswagen Up.

    It’s going to be a tough process for the jury, with all shortlisted models putting forward particular strong traits, from innovative new powertrains that harness the benefits –a nd drawbacks of the current electric and hybrid car debates, to funky designs and straightforward desirability.

    Citroen's new DS5

    The new Citroen DS5 aims to offer an alternative to the crossover SUV variants and people carriers that have set the standard in family motoring for over a decade. At the same time it aims to push the French brand’s new DS models closer to the premium segment. Its styling is smart and its interior quite innovative, but alongside these traits, it’s also offered with the innovative new diesel-hybrid powertrain developed by PSA, offering electric power in town and at low speeds, while the benefits of diesel fuel economy on faster main road and motorway driving.

    Fiat's new Panda

    Fiat continues to build on its reputation for quality small car development, with the new Panda featuring its latest platform that will underpin several new Fiat models in the near future. There’s a particularly strong retro styling touch to the new car, alongside the firm’s latest two-cylinder TwinAir engine range, that last year won the International Engine of the Year title.

    Ford's new Focus

    The Ford Focus is an established player in the hatchback market and one of the best handling cars on the market when price is taken into account. The latest iteration brings forth major safety technology features (although mainly optional in Ireland) such as lane keeping assistance, and a new Active City Stop system that uses radar to continuously monitor the road ahead. When it encounters an obstacle the signal bounces back to the car and the difference in speed and the distance is used to work out if a collision is likely. If it is and the driver doesn’t react, the brakes are then automatically applied and the throttle is released. Designed for town driving, the system is active at speeds below 30 km/h.

    Alongside these is a major leap for the brand in introducing electric steering to the car. This system also includes what Ford calls its “torque vectoring control”. This ever-so-slightly brakes the inside front wheel in a corner to allow more torque to the outside wheel, supposedly offering greater traction and improved handling. It’s a smart engineering feat – if poorly named.

    Opel's "range-extending" Ampera

    We’ve been waiting a long time for the Opel Ampera to arrive, given that the car has been on sale in the US as the Chevrolet Volt for some time now. Its innovative powertrain, however, remains unique to the market. Most appropriately tagged as a “range extender”, the Ampera is mainly an electric car powered by a lithium-ion battery and recharged via the mains. It runs for 80km/h on a full charge. Not that impressive you might think, but when the power from the mains electricity runs out, a little 1.4-litre engine in the back is used as a generator to recharge the battery. The end result is a car that runs on electric power when your doing the daily commute but when exceptions arise you have a range of 500km/h or more available and simply fuel the engine/generator at a filling station. It’s the motor industry’s response to the obvious range anxiety concerns of consumers that is hindering electric car sales.

    Range Rover Evoque

    The Range Rover Evoque is a truly stylish, fun to drive crossover from the company that has built its reputation on luxury off-roaders. Suddenly with this car the luxury has become slightly more affordable – well at least to those who would normally consider a premium German brand and models like the 5-Series or E-Class. While it offers incredible head-turning appeal, it’s no slouch off-road either, in keeping with the brand’s DNA. This is arguably the most desirable model on the shortlist.

    Toyota's new Yaris - a hybrid version will arrive this summer

    The Toyota Yaris is once more expected to be a small car success story for the powerful Japanese brand, but the new model not only plays host to new styling and some improved engines, but it also forms the basis of Toyota’s smallest hybrid model, due for launch this summer. Urban motorists have been waiting for the introduction of a smaller hybrid car for some time and Yaris hybrid will fill an obvious gap in the market.

    Volkswagen's new UP city car

    Finally there’s the Volkswagen UP, a seriously stylish, practical city car that offers similar space to previous generation Polos, economical yet fun.

    In selecting the car of the year the just judges the cars on the following criteria: design, comfort, safety, economy, handling, performance, functionality, environmental requirements, driver satisfaction, and price. Technical innovation and value for money are particularly important factors. As with most awards processes, the criteria is a mix of quantifiable and qualitative elements. Design is obviously something of a personal choice, but environmental achievements, value compared to other models on the market, and even performance and functionality are quantifiable criteria that can be judged against the current best in market rivals to the new car in question.

    The Jury Committee draws up a list of eligible cars from all the newcomers presented over the previous 12 months. Eligible cars must be essentially new models, not simply cosmetic changes or the installation of new engine or a transmission. All new models are considered irrespective of their country of origin but must be available in at least five European countries at the time of voting and have an expected sales volume of 5,000 a year. These cars are then tested by the jury members at launches and at events organised by the jury, such as a week-long test event in Denmark in September every year.

    The Jury then elects a short list of seven cars in a simple vote. After this jury members gather to test the shortlisted cars at various events organised by the jury itself.

    For the second stage, each Jury member has 25 points to apportion to at least five cars, with a maximum of 10 points for any one of them, and produces a statement of justification for his or her vote, which is published at the time of the award presentation. Each jury member’s vote and justification report is published. This year’s winner will be announced on March 5th at the Geneva Motor show.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      Reckon it’ll be the Ampera. If the German Greens have their way it will anyway.

    • spaced O'Ddity says:

      Still. You have to give Opel credit. From bombed out ruin in 1945 to leaders in green technology they’ve come a long way baby in a relatively short time. I used to be friends with GM’s top alternative fuel cell tech scientists in China Dr Xiaojie Liu she was a lovely person anywway memories I’m goin to bed)

    • peter barrins says:

      I must say that I always find the choices for European COTY somewhat unusual. In this short list I think the ‘Up’ is probably a worthy winner but I can’t understand why the BMW 3 series has not been listed. Is it not one of the best cars in the ‘real’ world?

    • The new BMW 3 Series was not launched in time for the cut-off point for this year’s competition. It will be in the running next year however.

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