April 17, 2014
2014 Audi A3 photos by Brendan McAleer (including title image). Click image to enlarge
Article by Michael Bettencourt, photos by Brendan McAleer, Lesley Wimbush and Jonathan Yarkony
It’s an increasingly global automotive marketplace, with that traditional symbol of Americana in the Ford Mustangs soon headed to Europe and on sale outside its traditional North American home base, while Fiat and most recently Alfa Romeo officially confirming their return to North America [fingers crossed –Ed.]. Somewhat fitting then that the overall World Car of the Year for 2014 went to Audi A3, because in this 10th year of the World Car of the Year awards, this is a car that promises to have a major brand impact on multiple continents – and as the last World Car to be awarded, it marked a clean sweep of all five World Car awards for Germany-based automakers.
The top three World Car of the Year finalists were the Audi A3, BMW 4 Series coupe, and Mazda3, with many jurors afterwards remarking how they thought the Mazda would take it. While some North American media types have lamented the Audi A3’s switch from a hatchback body to that of a sedan, overall U.S. sales figures are still fairly unambiguous on which body types American buyers prefer. Though there are exceptions, sedans nearly always finish on top in sales when both body styles are offered. The BMW 4 Series line incorporates coupe, convertible and four-door ‘coupe’ silhouettes for a lower, more menacing appeal versus the more upright 3 Series sedan and wagon. The Mazda3 was perhaps the frontrunner of this group, its armful of awards from around the world belying its substantial price advantage over the other two finalists.
The entire group of 69 automotive jurors are made up of a sampling that roughly represents car sales around the world. As such, I’m one of three Canadian WCOTY voters, a bump up from the two spots originally allocated to Canada when I first became a juror a few years back. And similar to most other auto awards, eligible vehicles must be all new or significantly upgraded to be eligible for the World Car of the Year award, plus available on at least two continents over an 18-month time period.
2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class & 2014 Porsche 911 GT3. Click image to enlarge
The World Luxury Car of the Year is the one new category for 2014, with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class emerging victorious in this ultra-coddling, ultra-pricey group. Its top three, in descending order of price, included the Bentley Flying Spur, the S-Class, and Range Rover Sport. Each of these sybaritic wonders are luxury leaders in their respective classes, but only the Range Rover Sport tucks in at less than 100 large in Canada, though you could easily load it up beyond that six-figure mark, especially after taxes.
Speaking of $100,000, the always-exciting World Performance Car category came down to a battle between three performance icons, and each priced about 100 grand apart: the Chevrolet Corvette, the Porsche 911 GT3 and the Ferrari 458 Speciale – in ascending price order, obviously. There wasn’t much question which sports car would be the value champ in this group, but the raw animal appeal of both the Porsche and the Ferrari meant that it would take something special to beat them both.
Unfortunately for American sports car fans, the highly lauded Corvette lost out to the 911 GT3, which Porsche just recently announced a recall of all 2014 models for a rare order to replace the engine, after two engine fires. But voting ended before the stop sale and replacement recall was released by the company.
The World Green Car award operates slightly differently from most of the other awards, with a panel of five green experts narrowing down the enviro-conscious list down to these three finalists: the Audi A3 Sportback g-tron (and Audi e-gas), the BMW i3 and Volkswagen XL1. All the jurors have therefore voted on these top three, based on their own test drives, as well as detailed summaries of the enviro pros and cons of each vehicle and technology from those expert jurors.
2014 BMW i3. Click image to enlarge
The BMW i3 seemed to be the frontrunner in this group, not only because of its singular ability to be a pure zero (local) emissions vehicle, but also because of the manufacturing and marketing muscle BMW has placed behind its new i sub-brand. These are substantial investments, ones that just may dwarf what plug-in market leaders Nissan, GM and Tesla have put forth, so far. The winner of this group? The BMW i3, unsurprisingly.
The BMW i3 certainly was not a frontrunner in the other category in which it also landed in the top three – Design of the Year award. This top three was easily the most surprising list of finalists, where once again a group of five relevant experts – but not jurors – whittled down the list to start, for all the 69 WCOTY judges to then vote upon. Far from a group of exotic lust machines, the three vehicles deemed to be the top three new designs for 2014 were the BMW i3, Mazda3 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
The winner here was once again the BMW i3, and with the Green Car and Design awards being announced first, the BMW i3 kicked off the award ceremony with the first two trophies. The i3’s design is certainly unconventional, but futuristic and certainly more striking than the conservative C-Class and Mazda3.
Like the Canadian Car of the Year awards put on by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), entry into all these categories was limited to all-new or heavily redesigned vehicles, though without AJAC’s unique gathering of all the candidates for back-to-back tests. The group is working towards figuring out the logistics required for such a far-flung global gathering of automotive critics and vehicles, but until then, the program as is remains one of the most internationally recognized automotive awards, as judged by global consultancy firm Prime Research, which tracks the exposure of various auto award programs on each continent.