Toyota Yaris wins Car of the Year 2021

Published: 01 March 2021

 Toyota Yaris wins Car of the Year 2021
 Fiat 500e and Cupra Formentor get silver and bronze
 Coveted award now in its 57th year

Toyota’s Yaris hatchback has won Car of the Year, after securing the most votes from a jury of 59 European journalists from 22 countries. 

The hybrid supermini scored 266 points from the jury, with the all-electric Fiat 500e coming second, and the Formentor crossover by Seat’s spin-off brand Cupra nudged into third by just a point. 

It’s the second time the Yaris has won Car of the Year; the first generation also scooped the award back in 2000. 

Car of the Year: the final points table

Seven cars were shortlisted for the award, from 29 cars launched in 2020 that were eligible. In addition to the top three, the other finalists comprised the Citroën C4, Land Rover Defender, Skoda Octavia and Volkswagen ID.3. The final scores were:

1. Toyota Yaris – 266 points
2. Fiat new 500 – 240 points
3. Cupra Formentor – 239 points 
4. Volkswagen ID.3 – 224 points
5. Skoda Octavia – 199 points

6. Land Rover Defender – 164 points
7. 
Citroën C4 – 143 points

Car of the Year is decided by a jury comprising 59 motoring journalists; CAR’s editor-in-chief, Phil McNamara, is on the jury. Each juror has 25 points to distribute among the seven cars, with a juror having to give his or her top-ranked car at least a point more than the next favourite car on the shortlist. That’s how the organisers can pick a winner in the event of a tie.

It’s a democratic, transparent and independent process, with each juror having to submit short written testimony to explain their votes. All the verdicts are available at caroftheyear.org. The prize was first awarded in 1964, to the Rover 2000.

Last year’s winner was the Peugeot 208: click here to read CAR’s road trip relay from Land’s End to Scotland comparing the electric, petrol and diesel versions of this car – a broad range that helped it clinch the Car of the Year gong.

More good news: Geneva motor show back in 2022

This year’s ceremony was streamed live from the Geneva Palexpo – typically home to the Geneva motor show, an exhibition which Car of the Year has kicked off for the last 10 years. However, the 2020 and 2021 events were cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Sandro Mesquita, the CEO of the Geneva International Motor Show, helped host this year’s announcement and revealed some good news. ‘We will conclude an important step in the next few weeks: we are very close to finalising an agreement with a partner to organise a new motor show.’

He continued: ‘Geneva was the first motor show to be affected by Covid-19, and its effects were devastating. But that provides a chance for change and transformation. For several months we’ve been working on a solution. 

‘I can tell you that the Geneva International Motor Show 2022 will be different in terms of form and content. Our ambition is to develop a platform that is a lever for growth for brands and for promoting the automotive industry.’  

Car of the Year: seven finalists revealed

The shortlist for Car of the Year 2021 was revealed on 8 January 2021 – and three mainstream electric cars will be duking it out with two 4x4s and two hatchbacks for the trophy. Here’s the shortlist of seven finalists, from which the winner will be crowned on 1 March 2021:

• Citroën C4
• Cupra Formentor
• Fiat new 500
• Land Rover Defender
• Skoda Octavia
• Toyota Yaris
• Volkswagen ID.3

The shortlist was compiled from nominations by 59 motoring journalists from 22 European countries. That same jury will ultimately decide the winner by each distributing 25 points between the seven cars, with the car that scores the most points claiming the award.

CotY 2021: the first two runners and riders 

Citroën’s C4 is Peugeot-Citroën’s group contender this year – Peugeot has won Car of the Year three times in the past seven years. However, Citroën hasn’t won it since 1975 with the CX, despite getting on the shortlist recently with the Cactus, C3 supermini, C3 Aircross and C5 Aircross. 

Car of the Year 2021 finalist: Citroen C4

The new C4 mashes up a five-door hatchback with crossover design cues, and offers the same engine triumvirate as the Peugeot 208: petrol, electric and diesel. Here’s the verdict from Car’s C4 review: ‘The new C4 is as supple as a Pilates teacher, refreshingly putting comfort above all else. It’s nicely equipped and competitively priced.’ 

Next up is another crossover, the Formentor, from SEAT’s newbie premium brand Cupra. The Formentor, which has a touch of the Subaru Outback with its jacked-up shooting brake bodystyle, launched with a 306bhp, all-wheel drive flagship, but a 148bhp 1.5-litre and two plug-in hybrids broaden out the range.

Car of the Year 2021 finalist: Cupra Formentor

Car’s Formentor verdict? ‘The coupe SUV concept is very zeitgeisty, and with its vast rear passenger space and 420-litre boot, practicality has not been sacrificed for style. It’s a distinctive bodystyle wrapped in a cool design, and feels well-crafted and genuinely premium in this range-topping spec.’

Next two contenders: Fiat 500 and Defender

The reborn Fiat 500 won Car of the Year in 2008, and its long-awaited, pure electric successor feels like a strong candidate to repeat the feat 13 years later. It offers up to 199 miles of range from just £23,495 (after government subsidy), wrapped in a classy update of the 500’s charming design template.

Car of the Year 2021 finalist: Fiat 500 electric

In its recent UK drive, Car remarked: ‘It’s also really fun to pilot, with loads of grip and predictable handling that inspires you to dive into closing gaps the way only a wheel-in-each-corner city car can.’

Land Rover’s Defender, priced from £42,920, thoroughly deserves its place on the shortlist, in the view of Phil McNamara’s blog about the car. ‘The new Defender does it off-road. And on-road. It marries the spirit of yesterday with a contemporary design and technology fit for tomorrow. It’s the ultimate restomod, and I found it pretty irresistible.’

Car of the Year 2021 finalist: Land Rover Defender

But the beauty of Car of the Year is it’s a truly independent and democratic award, where the car that most impresses the 60 jurors raises to the top. Typically higher priced cars do not excel – though Jaguar’s £65k iPace won in 2019 – and the forthcoming plug-in hybrid version will help lower the car’s carbon footprint. 

Skoda, Toyota, VW: the final three

Jurors sifted through five cars from Volkswagen group on its MQB platform: the Formentor, and new Audi A3, SEAT Leon, Skoda Octavia and VW Golf. It was the Skoda –  the most spacious iteration with its high-quality interior – which got the nod.

Car of the Year 2021 finalist: Skoda Octavia

‘The Octavia is still a no-nonsense family hatch that rides well, is pleasant to drive, delivers good value and is still as roomy as it always has been,’ was Car’s Skoda verdict when we first drove it.

The first Toyota Yaris won Car of the Year in 2000, and every iteration since has made the final seven. This year proves no different, despite tough competition from the frugal and spacious Honda Jazz and Hyundai’s polished i20. 

Car of the Year 2021 finalist: Toyota Yaris

Car’s Yaris summary? ‘If you already liked the Yaris, this is better than ever, except now you’ll have fun driving it around town and not solely ride the feel-good factor of being a little more environmentally responsible.’

The final choice – the ID.3 is somewhat predictable – given Volkswagen’s strong track record (three wins since 2010) and the interest surrounding the dieselgate sinner’s first ground-up electric model. Car’s CJ Hubbard certainly rates the ID.3: ‘It’s good to drive, ridiculously fast for something that isn’t supposed to be a performance car, so roomy inside and just brilliantly modern in a very satisfying, wholesome way.

Car of the Year 2021 finalist: VW ID3

Any notable absentees?

The field was slimmed down this year, as Covid bit and car launches slipped. Just 29 new models were eligible – it’s typically above 40 – and some models might have been hampered by the logistical challenge of getting the 60 jurors into them.  

The most surprising omission is the new Mercedes S-class – on the receiving end of a perfect five star-review from Car’s experienced Georg Kacher – while Toyota’s stepchange hydrogen car, the Mirai, also missed out – possibly hobbled by the lack of refuelling infrastructure. Toyota can console itself with the Yaris still being in the running. 

By Phil McNamara

Editor-in-chief of CAR magazine

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