Leaf is voted Car of the Year

 

The first all-electric car to win the European Car of the Year is a major coup for Nissan, writes MICHAEL McALEER,  Motoring Editor, who is also a member of the competition jury

NISSAN’S LEAF has won the prestigious Car of the Year 2011 title for Europe, becoming the first all-electric car to take the title.

In a surprisingly close race, with some significantly varied voting patterns, it saw off the new Alfa Romeo Giulietta and the Opel Meriva.

Several of the 57 jurors from 23 countries put the Leaf in last place in the final shortlist of seven, although this seems largely due to the fact that the car is either not readily available, or not affordable, in their home markets.

There were, however, cases where one judge awarded it a maximum 10 points while a colleague from the same country gave it only one. Each jury member has a total of 25 points they can allocate between the cars, with a maximum of 10 points to be allocated to any one car.

The Leaf’s total was nine points clear of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta (248 points) and 13 clear of the third-placed Vauxhall/Opel Meriva (244). The remaining finalists were the Ford C-Max/Grand C-Max (224 points), the Citroën C3/DS3 (175), the Volvo S60 and V60 (145) and the Dacia Duster (132).

The seven finalists were selected in October from 41 new models up for the award this year. Prior to their selection, a number of test events are held where judges pit the cars against rivals in varied tests, including the well-known Elk test at an aerodrome in northern Denmark. (It was here, several years ago, that the first generation Mercedes A-Class’s tendency to topple over under extreme cornering was spotted during car of the year testing.)

During this year’s testing the Leaf started to win people around, particularly when pitted it against regular diesel and petrol rivals and also all-electric rivals such as the Mitsubishi i-Miev and even the upcoming Opel Ampera, which was not a contender in this year’s competition.

The major concerns over the Leaf seem to be about the price and the decision to sell the car to the public rather than lease it. That means the risk that the Leaf’s technology could quickly be outdated lies completely with the buyer. Nevertheless, it’s a major coup by Nissan to win the award against some stiff competition.

As a member of the jury, below is how I voted, along with a brief summary of my justification for the votes.

1 NISSAN LEAF

8 points

After numerous small-scale forays into electric vehicles, this is the first practical electric car to come to the market in decent volumes that embraces the new technology while not requiring radical compromises from its owner. Ive witnessed plenty of cynics completely change their views once they’ve got behind the wheel. The ride and handling is a little soft, the design not as sharp as it could be, but the overall package works a treat.

2 OPEL MERIVA

5 points

Opel deserves credit for adding the rear-opening doors to a car in this segment. When it was first mentioned, we thought it was just a gimmick, but the doors are really practical in everyday life. The Meriva itself (above) handles well and has a decent engine range, but it mostly scores for functionality.

3 VOLVO S60/V60

4 points

Volvo has combined stylish design and good performance and handling with safety technology thats normally reserved for luxury models. Its pedestrian protection system will save lives – it’s as simple as that. The car itself is smart, stylish and a worthy entrant in the shortlist, even aside from its many safety innovations.

4 FORD C-MAX/GRAND C-MAX

4 points

Keeping with the traditions of the blue oval, this car combines sporty, agile handling with a refinement and spaciousness that puts it at the top of its segment. That said, while the C-Max styling is really smart, the Grand version looks like a minibus and lacks some of the handling poise of its regular sibling.

5 ALFA ROMEO GIULIETTA

3 points

The exterior styling is as sharp as we’ve come to expect from the Italians. The new chassis is in keeping with Alfa’s reputation for sporty handling. Controls are still a little cluttered.

6 CITROËN C3/DS3

1 points

The regular C3 isn’t radically different from its predecessor, but the DS3 does a decent job of giving Citroen’s supermini range some sparkle. It just isn’t good enough to see off the Mini that overshadows all the rest in the premium supermini segment.

7 DACIA DUSTER

0 points

A brand and vehicle that seems to capture the recessionary zeitgeist and does an admirable job at an affordable price. But Im not convinced there is anything to the offering, other than a raid on the Renault parts bin.