Next year marks the start of a new decade – we’re on team January 1, 2020 – and in the past ten years, we’ve seen a good number of cars celebrating their world debuts. With every introduction, manufacturers vie to win the coveted title of “car of the year,” which not only affirms the quality of their product, but also brings it with some bragging rights.
Given that there are numerous awards bearing “car of the year” in its name around the world, we’ll simplify things and only focus on the five most prestigious ones, namely the World Car of the Year (WCOTY), European Car of the Year (ECOTY), Japan Car of the Year (JCOTY) as well as the China Car of the Year (CCOTY) awards, which only started from 2014 onwards.
We’ve also included the North American Car of the Year (NACOTY), although it should be noted the award is divided into three separate categories – car, utility and truck – since 2017. Prior to that, there were only two separate categories, namely car and truck/utility. We also passed on sub-awards that are given out, with the primary focus being the main one – car of the year.
As you’ll soon see, there have been a variety of winners over the decade, with some brands being strong contenders and repeat winners, while others don’t go beyond a single award. Let’s get into it.
We kick things off at the start of the decade in 2010, where the Volkswagen Polo Mk5 was a clear favourite among jurors, as it secured both the WCOTY and ECOTY. The hatchback was first introduced in 2009, and was later given a facelift in 2014, with both versions making their way to Malaysia, including in CKD guise.
Over in Japan and North America, hybrids took the top prizes in the JCOTY and NACOTY, with the winners being the third-generation Toyota Prius and first-gen Ford Fusion Hybrid in NACOTY’s car category, while the first-gen Ford Transit Connect won in the truck/utility category.
The Prius has since entered its fourth-generation, and became the first model to use the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), while the Fusion Hybrid was revamped in 2012 to use the Ford CD4 platform, which is shared with the fourth-gen Mondeo.
The following year saw an even greater interest in electrified vehicles, as the first-gen Nissan Leaf won both the WCOTY and ECOTY. The battery electric vehicle has gone on to become the world’s best-selling EV to date, and a second-generation made its debut in 2017 before being launched here in July 2019.
Another EV, the first-gen Chevrolet Volt took the top spot in NACOTY’s car category, alongside the fifth-gen Ford Explorer in the truck/utility category. Meanwhile, the Honda CR-Z the spiritual successor to the second-generation CR-X, was named JCOTY.
The sport compact hybrid model featured a 1.5L SOHC i-VTEC engine and Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology, with a choice of six-speed manual or CVT automatic. The CR-Z was offered in Malaysia, but with the end of the CBU hybrid incentive package that expired on December 31, 2013, pricing for the model jumped substantially, making it rather costly for interested parties.
Production of the CR-Z ended in 2016, and while there have been rumours of a successor in the pipeline leading up to then, nothing has materialised, so if you want one, you’ll have to look at the second-hand market.
The electric duo that is the Leaf and Volt would win yet again in 2012, with the former winning the JCOTY for and the latter securing the ECOTY. Meanwhile, the fifth-gen Hyundai Elantra, secured the NACOTY in the car category, as it beat out other finalists like the third-gen Ford Focus and B7 Volkswagen Passat.
In the same year of the NACOTY, the first-gen Range Rover Evoque won in the truck/utility category, and the SUV model entered its second generation in November 2018. The latest iteration of the Evoque features an updated version of its iconic design with cues from the larger Velar, and is said to be launched here in Q1 2020.
In the WCOTY award, Volkswagen added another trophy to its tally, as its curiously-named compact city car, the up! took the top prize after besting the F30 BMW 3 Series and 991-generation Porsche 911.
Volkswagen would continue its winning streak in 2014, snagging both the WCOTY and ECOTY with its Golf Mk7. Available in a range of variants, including a fully-electric (e-Golf), performance-focused (Golf GTI and Golf R), wagon (Estate/SportWagen) as well as a Sportsvan, the Mk7 received a facelift in 2016.
In Japan, the first Mazda model to showcase the company’s Kodo design philosophy, the first-gen CX-5, won the JCOTY, and continued to be produced until 2017 when it was replaced with the second-generation model – both were/are offered in Malaysia.
It was an all-American affair at the 2013 NACOTY, as the Cadillac ATS and Ram 1500 won in the car and truck categories, respectively.
After taking the WCOTY and ECOTY in 2013, the Volkswagen Golf Mk7 continued its winning ways by being the first imported car to win the JCOTY since it started in 1980.
The same year also saw the start of the CCOTY, with the award going to the W222 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, while the third-gen Audi A3 won the WCOTY and the second-gen Peugeot 308 won the ECOTY.
American brands continued to be favourites at the NACOTY, with Chevrolet sweeping the awards this year, with wins going to the C7 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray and third-gen Silverado.
Mercedes-Benz picked up the prestigious WCOTY award in 2015 with the W205 C-Class, the company’s first model to use its Modular Rear-wheel drive Architecture (MRA) platform at the time. Available as a sedan, estate, coupe and convertible, the C-Class’ also had wide range of engines from the economical to outright performance with its AMG options.
Meanwhile, jurors of the ECOTY picked the B8 Volkswagen Passat as the overall winner, finishing ahead of the Citroen C4 Cactus as well as the C-Class. The Passat arrived in Malaysia in 2016 in CKD form, and a global facelift was revealed earlier in February this year.
Mazda added another award to its name in the JCOTY, with the fourth-generation Mazda 2/Demio picking up the prize, while the fifth-gen Honda Odyssey won the CCOTY. In North America, the Golf Mk7 won again alongside the 13th-generation Ford F-150 in the separate truck/utility category.
Mazda shined again in 2016, as the fourth-generation MX-5/Roadster secured both the WCOTY and JCOTY titles, but missed out on the ECOTY, which went to the seventh-gen Opel Astra.
Jurors of the CCOTY were impressed by China’s local brand, Geely, as its Borui/GC9 gained top honours in the year’s award. Things were different in North America, as the tenth-gen Honda Civic and second-gen Volvo XC90 were the pick of jurors there.
The Civic was first revealed in 2015 for the 2016 model year, featuring more aggressive styling and a new platform. The model came in sedan, coupe and hatchback guises, with the latter being the basis for the manic Civic Type R.
As for the XC90, it is the Swedish carmaker’s first model to debut after being acquired by Zhejiang Geely Holding in 2010. Riding on Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), it marked a revival for the brand, with modern technologies and powertrain options.
No major manufacturer secured multiple wins in 2017, with the WCOTY going to the Jaguar F-Pace, the company’s first SUV, while Peugeot picked up the ECOTY with its second-gen 3008.
The fifth-gen Subaru Impreza was the pick of the bunch in the JCOTY, with the C-segment model being the first user of the Subaru Global Platform that also underpinned the XV and Forester later on.
Chinese jurors singled out the V213 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Long Wheelbase for the CCOTY title, while in North America, the NACOTY had been split into three categories. In the car category, another Chevrolet EV, the Bolt, won in the car category, with the Chrysler Pacifica (utility) and Honda Ridgeline (utility) also named as winners.
While it was just one major award for Volvo in 2016, it was a different story in 2018, as the carmaker had an impressive sequence of wins in the ECOTY with the XC40, the first model based on the Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) platform.
Its second-gen XC60 – also built on the SPA – won the WCOTY, JCOTY and utility category in the NACOTY, while the S90 secured the CCOTY title the same year. Both Volvo SUV models are currently on sale in Malaysia, with the larger XC60 being offered with the T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid powertrain.
In the other NACOTY categories, the tenth-gen Honda Accord took the top spot in the car category. Like the Civic, the latest Accord underwent a radical transformation in terms of styling, and while it has gone on sale in neighbouring Thailand and Indonesia, the D-segment model has yet to be launched in Malaysia. The Accord is joined by fourth-gen Lincoln Navigator, which won in the truck category.
Finally, in 2019, the Jaguar I-Pace was the toast of the jurors, as it marked the first time a Jaguar model had won in the ECOTY in the 50-year history of the award. Not content with that, the all-electric SUV also swept the WCOTY along with two sub-awards – Best Design and Best Green Car.
In the same year, the Volvo had back-to-back awards in JCOTY, as the XC40 added to its list of wins, while the seventh-gen Lexus ES won in China. The latest ES uses a larger version of the modular TNGA platform known as GA-K, and was launched in Malaysia in September 2019.
Hyundai’s independent luxury marque, Genesis secured the NACOTY crown in the car category with the G70, beating out the third-gen Honda Insight and Volvo S60/V60. The G70 competes in the market against models like the Jaguar XE, Alfa Romeo Giulia, Volvo S60, Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Infiniti Q50.
Hyundai’s compact crossover, the Kona, also took home the title in the utility category, while the Ram 1500 secured another NACOTY win in the truck category with the fifth-generation model.
A few awards have also named their 2020 winners in advance, with the fourth-gen Mazda 3 being awarded the CCOTY. The first model in Mazda’s next-generation line-up, the model was first previewed by the Kai Concept, which showcased the next step in the company’s Kodo design philosophy.
The Mazda 3 also featured the SkyActiv-X engine, which uses Spark Controlled Compression Ignition (SPCCI) technology. According to its maker, the revolutionary engine delivers impressive performance, but with reduced fuel consumption and emissions.
Another winner that was recently announced is the fifth-gen Toyota RAV4, which was recently named 2019 to 2020 JCOTY. Also using the TNGA-K platform, the SUV adopts a more angular design than its predecessor, and gets a plug-in hybrid powertrain for the first time.
We’ll have to wait a few more months before we find out who are the winners of the 2020 WCOTY, ECOTY and NACOTY, with all the finalists already named for each award.
Going through the list of winners, we find that Volkswagen has obtained the most number of awards over the past ten years, with a total of eight from the five awards we considered here. The German brand is trailed closely behind by Volvo, which won seven awards overall, followed by Mazda with five. Another brand with five awards to its name is Chevrolet, although most of it titles were in the NACOTY.
Other brands that have won more than once include, Ford and Honda with four each; Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and Nissan with three each; as well as Peugeot, RAM and Toyota with two each.
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