2006 BMW 325i
2006 BMW 325i. Click image to enlarge

By Tony Whitney

“Car of the Year” competitions (CoYs, for short) are a matter of constant interest to car buyers and automakers alike. After all, everyone likes to earn universal recognition for a job well done and these competitions are one way of gaining “official” recognition. For vehicle buyers, they may either confirm the wisdom of a choice already made or prompt a look at a product they hadn’t really thought about.

These contests are organized by all kinds of groups in many parts of the world. In North America, we have our Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) awards and the well-respected North American Car and Truck of the Year ratings. In addition, there are awards organized by magazines and newspapers, TV programs, consumer groups, safety authorities and just about everybody else with an interest in vehicles.

Overseas, there are CoY competitions in just about every country that has even the most modest uto distribution or manufacturing sectors. One of the most prominent outside this continent is the European Car of the Year, which is much respected by automakers selling products in that region. There’s a similar major contest in Japan.

Until very recently, nobody had attempted the titanic task of coming up with a “World Car of the Year”, but as of last year (at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto) a group of automotive media people did pull off the impossible and name a “world’s best car.” The initial winner was the Audi A6.

The organization staging this contest has expanded its scope a little for 2006 and the most recent awards were presented at the New York International Auto Show in April.

On paper, the challenge of picking a winner from all kinds of vehicles marketed in highly diverse countries seems just about insurmountable. After all, many products that are common sights on the streets of some countries may be unavailable in others. While there certainly are vehicles that are distributed almost universally around the world, there are others restricted to specific markets and countries. Also, many vehicles appear in various countries with different names. How many North Americans know that a Eunos Roadster is actually a Mazda Miata or that a VW Bora is, in fact, a Jetta over here.

Despite these obstacles, the WCotY organizers seem to have put a very worthwhile competition together. Voting members are generally automotive journalists from a variety of countries and the group has no affiliation with any publication, auto show, auto manufacturer or other commercial enterprise. It’s a non-profit operation that draws its expertise from various other CoY contests around the world. There is a policy of making sure that eligible vehicles are very widely sold, but as might be expected, this cannot always apply. Some vehicles are excluded because of limited availability, according to the Steering Committee.

2006 BMW 325i
2006 BMW 325i. Click image to enlarge

So what did the group come up with as a winner for 2006? Interestingly, it was one of the most widely-admired products in the automotive universe and one that is sold just about everywhere – the BMW 3-Series. The 3-Series is BMW’s sports sedan and it’s been so successful, it’s spawned many imitators, many of them great cars in their own right. There are very few countries in which the 3-Series doesn’t outsell its competitors – sometimes, by quite a margin. It’s a great product in every way and the WCotY people won’t be getting too much flak from those of us involved in other such contests.

2006 Citroen C4
2006 Citroen C4. Click image to enlarge

Other “best ofs” named by the group for 2006 included Citroen’s C4, which was named Design of the Year. Not sold in North America, of course, this is a very appealing automobile and has that unmistakably French flair. Anyone visiting Europe this summer should take a look at one of these or even rent one. They have a special character.

2006 Porsche Cayman S
2006 Porsche Cayman S. Photo: Peter Bleakney. Click image to enlarge

The World Performance Car of the Year was one you can buy here – the Porsche Cayman. Extensive driving experience with this sports coupe in Europe convinced me that I’d pick it even ahead of some of the more expensive Porsches. Few cars I’ve driven have been as well-balanced and as easy to drive fast as this new Cayman.

2006 Honda Civic Hybrid
2006 Honda Civic Hybrid. Photo: Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

In line with several other CoY contests, the World Car people named a World Green Car and it was not too surprising that the Honda Civic Hybrid picked it up. It must have been a close thing running against those wonderful Toyota hybrids, but the Civic is very widely sold around the world and much admired, whatever drivetrain it uses. The Civic has always been a “benchmark” small car and as far as economy goes, the hybrid version is just that much better.

This competition is bound to become more widely recognized as word gets round about its existence and winning automakers boast of their achievements in newspaper advertisements. While there are those who might say we don’t need another CoY contest, they do attract lots of public interest and organizers often have statistics to prove that they do influence peoples’ choice of vehicle.

As the WCotY organizers have stated, the automaking world is truly a “global village” and rating vehicles on a worldwide basis is a process that’s probably long overdue.

Related stories on Autos

Feature – Canadian Car of the Year awards
Feature – North American Car of the Year awards

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