This year’s Car of the Year contest – the original one started in 1963 and was first won by the Rover 2000 – was the most dramatic ever. The shortlist of seven cars included two particularly interesting ones, the Jaguar i-Pace electric semi-SUV and the Alpine A110. But as the results were announced in Geneva on the eve of the motor show, country by European country alphabetically, Kia’s Ceed looked favourite. Just the scores of the six UK judges, of whom I was one, remained. We weren’t keen on the Ceed, a capable hatchback but ultimately forgettable. The bulk of our points went on the Jaguar and the Alpine, which overtook the Kia to score a total of 250 points each (the Kia amassed 247).
A dead heat had never happened before, and there can’t be two winners. The rules say that, in such a scenario, the winner is the one put in top spot by the greater number of judges. Country by country they were gone through again, sometimes the Jaguar ahead, sometimes the Alpine. The Jaguar had a slight lead before the UK’s votes; three Brits had placed it top, three the Alpine (including me), so the lead stayed and the Jaguar won. A British victory in the year in which we might leave the EU: bittersweet indeed. It’s the year I leave COTY, too, because I’ll soon reach the age limit and it’s the turn of new blood. I became a judge in 2003, replacing technical guru and all-round nice guy Michael Scarlett. So, how do you join the jury, 60-strong from 23 countries? You are nominated by your country’s other judges, and for that to happen you need to be a fairly widely read assessor of cars with a decent understanding of those cars and the market for them. It was probably my weekly car tests for The Independent that swung it, plus actually being a car nut – not a given in the mainstream press.
As for judging criteria, the COTY rules cover the obvious and say that ‘technical innovation and value for money are particularly important factors’. But two other factors have always informed my judging. Does it advance the art of the automobile? And will it be remembered in 20 years’ time? The Alpine and the Jaguar score a big ‘yes’ to both, as I hope you’ll read in Drive-My around 2040.