After What Car? presented its top honour to an affordable crossover with a starting price of £29,995 – rather than a luxury seven-seater or smart electric car – you might be wondering what’s so special about this SUV.
What Car?’s annual Car of the Year gongs have been handed out since 1978… but has the motoring magazine always got it right?
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it means we can look back to the turn of the century to see if former winners lived up to What Car?’s billing:
2000: Skoda Fabia – HIT
When the Fabia supermini hit the market, it was reliable, cheap to run and built to last. The car essentially transformed Skoda’s image, which has helped make it such a success today.
2001: Ford Mondeo – HIT
The first-generation Mondeo was the best-selling family car in Britain at the time but this follow-up blew everything out of the water at the car’s height of popularity.
2002: Toyota Corolla – HIT
The Corolla was comfortable and practical, if not all that exciting. However, it is still to this date one of the most dependable family hatches sold this side of 2000.
2003: Seat Ibiza – HIT
Under the stewardship of the VW Group, the Ibiza hit the market as an excellent package that undercut rivals on price.
2004: VW Golf MK5 – HIT
Some will argue this is the best modern-era Golf of all, with the Mk6 version being something of a disappointment. Bought in droves, this is a surefire hit.
2005: Land Rover Discovery 3 – MISS
A capable off-roader with loads of luxury, but the third-generation Discovery has more reliability issues than you’ve had hot dinners. Owners regularly vote it one of the least reliable motors on the road.
Woeful reliability makes the decision to award the Land Rover Discovery 3 a surefire miss
2006: BMW 3 Series – HIT
This 3 Series is the one that helped change the game in the small executive segment as the premium-branded Beemer outsold more affordable rivals from non-prestige marques.
2007: Vauxhall Corsa – HIT
While this version of the Corsa never quite made it to the top of the sales charts, at the time it was the most spacious and comfortable supermini on the market.
2008: Jaguar XF – MISS
While it might have impressed at launch, the XF was no match for its German rivals – and there was a gulf in sales between it and more accomplished models like the BMW 5 Series.
The XF might have impressed the What Car? panel in 2008, but that didn’t translate in terms of sales, with the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class trumping it
2009: Ford Fiesta – HIT
This is the Fiesta that started a 12-year run at the top of the sales charts that ended in 2021. Brilliant to drive, affordable and practical; it could do it all.
2010: Peugeot 3008 – MISS
With compact SUVs growing in popularity, the arrival of the Peugeot 3008 took the segment to a new level of refinement and interior style. But less than impressive engines and rapid depreciation makes this choice a miss.
The 3008 was Peugeot’s early answer to quirky crossovers but a poor engine line-up and rapid depreciation makes it one you might have wanted to avoid
2011: Audi A1 – MISS
There’s not much wrong with the Audi A1, but it hasn’t become the sales success Audi would have hoped. Outsold by the Mini and with prices deemed too steep for a supermini, it has never been the volume seller it hoped for.
2012: Volkswagen Up! – HIT
The Up! arrived and offered levels of interior quality, refinement, space and maturity not seen before in the city car class. It continues to go strong today.
2013: Audi A3 Sportback – HIT
Wonderfully refined, a lovely interior and heaps of refinement kept this generation of the A3 at the top of the premium hatchback segment.
2014: Nissan Qashqai – HIT
The second-gen Qashqai was not only a best-seller in the UK, where it’s built, also went on to be Europe’s most popular crossover with three million sold across the Continent and five million sold globally.
2015: Skoda Fabia – HIT
That’s right, the Fabia has won this award twice since 2000. This generation of Fabia was replaced in 2022, but even by today’s standards feels like an exceptionally well-rounded supermini.
2016: Audi A4 – HIT
When this new A4 arrived, it took the junior executive segment to new levels. However, sales never really reflected this. It was out-sold by the Mercedes C-Class that year.
2017: BMW 5 Series – HIT
One of the most accomplished premium executive saloons to hit the market, it might be expensive but for those who could afford it, it failed to disappoint.
2018: Volvo XC40 – HIT
Probably still the best compact SUV on the market today, though it is still rather pricey.
2019: Kia e-Niro – HIT
With a real-world range of more than 250 miles and a price tag that made it more accessible to a broader audience of drivers, the e-Niro was fully deserving of the 2019 award.
2020: Ford Puma – HIT
The Puma was the most-bought small SUV in 2021. Sharp handling, pokey engines and mild-hybrid tech makes this a certified hit.
What Car? gave the Dacia Sandero its top honour in January 2021, then in April 2021 stripped it of the title having seen its two-star Euro NCAP crash test rating
2021: Dacia Sandero (REVOKED) – MISS
What Car? handed its 2021 gong to the Dacia Sandero in January that year. By April, it had stripped the car of the accolade over a poor crash safety rating. Euro NCAP had given the car a two-star rating, which What Car? said: ‘Two stars falls short of What Car? expectations for an award-winning model, due to the need for Car of the Year winners to push boundaries for consumers.’
2022: Kia EV6 – MISS
The EV6 might have impressed with its daring looks but it didn’t break into the top best-selling electric cars of last year.
The VW ID.Buzz was named What Car? Car of the Year 2023, despite prices starting from over £57,000
2023: VW ID.Buzz – MISS
The ID.Buzz might have confused people being a camper rather than a car but it won round some critics with its modern take on retro nostalgia, endless practicality and great resale value. However, many could question the choice of a near-£60k car being crowned best of all during a cost–of-living squeeze.