UK Car of the Year Awards 2018: An inside look at the shortlist

Image of Alisdair Suttie
Author: | Updated: 12 Jan 2018 15:34

Theresa May might have been aiming for greater diversity in her recent Cabinet reshuffle. However, if the Prime Minister wants to see a real example of how to do it she need look no further than the judging panel of the UK Car of the Year Awards.

There are 27 judges in total, and your correspondent is one of them representing the world of leasing. That’s a vital factor in this broad spectrum of judges as they are deliberately drawn from the whole gamut of the automotive industry.

These are the 13 shortlisted vehicles in with a chance of bagging the UK Car of the Year Award on 24 February.

There are experts in company cars, dealers, consumer issues, fleet and mainstream road testing. They also come from ever corner of the UK, so there’s no risk of London media luvvies bias.

The result of all this has been some very intriguing winners over the five-year history of the UK Car of the Year Awards. In its inaugural year, the BMW i3 scooped the overall prize.

The BMW i3 was the first car to win back in 2014, despite there being no category dedicated to EVs and hybrids.

This was hugely significant because these awards have flatly refused to include a gong for EVs or hybrids. Instead, these cars have to compete on the same playing field as their petrol and diesel counterparts. So, the i3 seeing off challenges from some superb small family cars in its class and then a superb selection of category winners is a feat worthy of high praise.

The following year, BMW backed its first win up with another for the i8. Now, you might think it’s easy to award a £100,000 car the overall trophy, but there was a lot of agonising by the judges about this sending out the wrong message in a time of austerity. However, the final decision was the i8 wrote a new chapter in the development of the car and made other performance cars look, well, a bit old hat.

Then, in 2016, that high-end feeling was cast off when the Mazda MX-5 took top step of the podium. Yes, it’s a two-seat sports car, but it’s affordable, massive fun and shows that lightweight design rather than an obsession with ever more power gives great results.

Mazda's MX-5 has won the coveted prize in the past too.

And last year, the svelte Mercedes E-Class added yet more diversity to the winner’s pool with its efficient engines and class-leading refinement. Everything an executive saloon should be.

Which brings us to this year and the impending announcement of the winner of UK Car of the Year 2018. As a judge, I know which car I’ve voted for in each category and as the overall winner. The category winners are listed below, so you can decide for yourself which you think is the most deserving of the gold medal.

What poses the toughest question from this bunch of cars is how to choose the winner? After all, comparing a Seat Ibiza with a Rolls-Royce Phantom is not the most even-handed competition. Likewise, does a Citroen C3 Aircross have anything in common with a Lexus LC that lets you make an informed choice between them?

Category Winner
Best Supermini Seat Ibiza
Best Small Hatch Volkswagen Golf
Best Family Peugeot 3008
Best Executive BMW 5 Series
Best Luxury Rolls-Royce Phantom
Best Estate BMW 5 Series Touring
Best Small Crossover Citroen C3 Aircross
Best Medium Crossover Volvo XC60
Best Large Crossover Skoda Kodiaq
Best Coupe Lexus LC
Best Cabriolet Mazda MX-5 RF
Best Hot Hatch Hyundai i30 N
Best Performance Car Kia Stinger

Splitting cars and picking a winner is exactly why the UK Car of the Year Awards have such a range of judges. Where one might justifiably take one view, another can easily build a case for something quite different. Both are valid to their respective markets.

It’s also why these awards have a panel of 27 experts. It allows for those broad-based opinions to be heard and respected, yet it also means no single voice has too much influence. In other words, it serves the consumer as best as possible.

One thing you can guarantee is every judge on the panel will be applying the ‘fitness for purpose’ test that is so important when assessing cars for review and selection.

Is it possible to judge such a mixture of cars for a single award? The judges try...

Where many drivers go with gut instinct, historic preferences or simply plain old prejudices, the UKCOTY team are all experienced automotive journalists able to take an objective view. That doesn’t mean they’re not passionate, as they most certainly are, but they can put that to one side when deciding on the car that’s best for the person signing on the dotted line of a lease deal.

As such, this makes, filtering out the runners and riders in this competition a little easier as some category winners stand out just a little more than others.

For instance, there’s been a great deal of debate among judges concerning the Hyundai i30N. It’s an undoubtedly excellent hot hatch that Hyundai has produced from nowhere to put it among the very best. Is that sufficient to make it the overall winner?

The Hyundai i30 N has made this year's shortlist, bagging the 'Best Hot Hatch' category.

Some argue the effort from Hyundai deserves recognition, while others will say the continual honing of the BMW 5 Series has resulted in a car that’s almost impossible to fault. Both arguments stand up in court.

Or what about trying to split the three Crossover categories in the 2018 Awards? How do you decide between a Citroen C3 Aircross, Volvo XC60 and Skoda Kodiaq when they have different markets in mind? Again, fitness for purpose has to be the guiding principle and whichever car nails that more than the others is the rightful winner.

You might well state there’s no point in any debate when the Rolls-Royce Phantom is among the contenders. After all, here is a car designed from the very outset to be the best in the world. And in its sector, there’s no disputing that.

Lexus' beautiful concept-like LC could be in with a chance too.

However, up against a Mazda MX-5 RF or Lexus LC, they are also deserving class leaders, so the Rolls isn’t going to have a cake walk to victory.

We’ll find out which car has lifted the top prize on 24 February when the overall UK Car of the Year Awards winner is announced. In the meantime, the list below can be used to stir up a debate among yourselves.

It also shows one other benefit of such diversity and that’s we, as drivers, have rarely had such a splendid and brilliant selection of cars to choose from regardless of what you can afford and what you want from it.

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