European Car of the Year

Why I’m glad that the Jaguar I-Pace is European Car of the Year

BIT disappointed that yesterday didn’t begin with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight thundering through the skies overhead.

Church bells across the country would’ve rung out in unison, followed by politicians of all parties breaking off from the Brexit negotiations to offer congratulatory speeches, and schoolchildren would’ve been invited to send in their drawings and paintings marking the big moment.

Perhaps I’m over-egging it a bit, but a panel of motoring experts have finally freed themselves from the shackles of sensibleness and voted in a Jaguar as European Car of the Year.

It’s an historic moment – although probably not one that requires the entire nation to break out the Union Flag bunting and hold street parties in a patriotic frenzy – because never before has a Jag won. You might find it hard to believe, but the original XJ6 didn’t even come close. Nor did the XK8. In fact, the only Jaguars that got within sniffing distance were the X-type (beaten by the erm, Peugeot 307), and the XE two years ago, which finished third.

So I’m glad that the I-Pace has finally walked off with the silverware, and not just because it gives a manufacturer staring in the face of 4,500 painful job cuts a much-needed shot of adrenaline. It shows that, for a change, the collective opinion went with the car that genuinely moved the game on the most, as the I-Pace has done with zero-emissions electric cars what the Mk2 did with stuffy small saloons. Made them genuinely, want-one desirable.

The other big surprise was that – had it not been for a pre-agreed clause in the rules – it would have been joint winner with a sports car, in the form of Alpine’s A110. In other words, a panel of judges that has a habit of picking family hatchbacks as worthy-but-boring winners gave a £46,000, two-seater Cayman rival what would be a contest-winning amount of points. The last time they did anything that brave was more than 40 years ago, when the Porsche 928 won.

What all that means is that European Car of the Year just got interesting again – finally it feels like there’s a realistic chance that a Porsche or Lotus might walk off with the coveted rear window sticker, rather than being relegated to third place by a brace of hybrid hatchbacks. Imagine if the new TVR Griffith won it next year? It doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore.

In the meantime, it means that the I-Pace is not only a proper Jag that just happens to be zero-emissions too, but it means that a bunch of motoring writers far better than this one agree that it’s award-winningly good too. Makes up for the Peugeot 307 winning, and all that…

I would love the Alpine A110 to be European Car of the Year – but history is against it

ONLY in an age of boss of Nissan-Renault being under arrest, Volkswagen suggesting cable ties as a fix for broken seatbelts and a former Top Gear star vowing to quit TV for good if he wins I’m A Celebrity can European Car of the Year be considered a bit ho-hum.

The seven-strong shortlist was announced on Monday and – from what I could see, at least – seemed to barely register a faint blip on the nation’s motoring radar. Part of me likes to think it’s because fewer of us care what motoring experts in Sweden or Spain make of the continental car choices when we’re busy trying to order a Full English Brexit, but I suspect it’s got rather a lot more to do with history not being in their favour. The Renault 9, the 1982 victor which is all but forgotten now, being a prime example.

There are many, many examples of the 60-strong panel of motoring writers – proper, learned scholars of the profession who fuss over mid-range torque and intuitive infotainment systems in the same way I worry about MGs with dead batteries – getting it right. They called it right on the first Focus, a genuine game-changer among family hatchbacks, for instance, and the Rover P6 that won the contest’s very first outing is fondly remembered as a brilliant bit of British design. But every time I look back at the Peugeot 307 picking up the plaudits in 2002 or the me-too VW Polo beating the radical Toyota IQ to the top spot in 2010, I cringe a bit, because it just smacks of going for the best all-rounder rather than the one that genuinely moves the cause of the car forward.

This year’s contenders are – deep breath – the Alpine A110, Citroen’s C5 Aircross, Ford’s latest Focus, the Jaguar i-Pace, the Kia Cee’d, the Mercedes A-Class and Peugeot’s 508. I would love to see the 60-strong jury devour a crate of wine between them, throw all caution to the wind and go for the sports car, which is what they did 40 years ago when the Porsche 928 won. But I’m happy to bet that won’t happen (and I’ll happily write a column in The Champion eating my words if it does and the Alpine does a Leicester City).

If it were up to me it’d be the I-Pace strutting home with the silverware, because it’s an eco-friendly, on-message electric car that just happens to look and handle like a Jaguar should, and to hell with the fact you need the thick end of £60,000 to afford one. But it isn’t, so I reckon the smart money’s on either the Aircross or the 508, both of which are perfectly worthy but a bit forgettable.

Whatever happens, we’ll have to wait ‘til next March to find out the winner. In a TV special presented by Noel Edmonds, I’d imagine…

Drive the new Volkswagen Polo? I’d rather take it jogging

There is a reason why the new Polo is roomier than the old one

I’VE LONG suspected that jogging is just a sweatier form of walking. I’ll cheerily wave at people powering past on yet another 10k, but I’m quite content that simply strolling to the nearest pub is exercise aplenty.

But then a colleague – who’s practically taken me on as some sort of flabby protégé –  insisted I give it a go. Worryingly, I’ve found this whole moving quickly without a car lark to be surprisingly good fun.
I feel better for myself after every run, and I’m already beginning to see the results on my waistline. The idea is that I’ll get fitter, build up my speed and stamina – and then I’ll invite the new Volkswagen Polo along too, because boy does it need it.

By the looks of things Germany’s supermini of choice has been spent too long watching The Jeremy Kyle show with a can of Stella in one hand and a freshly cooked Fray Bentos in the other. By Volkswagen’s own admission it’s taller and wider than the outgoing model, and bumper-to-bumper it’s 94mm longer, which is like going up three waist sizes in car terms. What’s more the latest press packs favourably compare its dimensions to how big the Golf was in the Nineties but don’t mention weight once, presumably because the Polo’s scared of stepping on the scales and screaming in horror.

Which is a shame, because while the new Polo looks like the Golf (which is a good thing) and builds on 2009’s European Car of the Year (ditto), it’s getting increasingly hard to relate to it as a small car. The gap between the new boy and the pint-sized Up is bigger than you’d imagine.

But then the Polo isn’t the only one looking a tad porky these days. The other day I had a nose around Nissan’s new Micra and it is vast compared to the lovably cute bubble-shaped ones learner drivers used to have crashes in, and while I love the looks of Renault’s latest Clio I had to conclude the 900cc engine in the one I borrowed felt a bit strained because it’s a far bigger car than its predecessors. Virtually all of today’s superminis are blobbier than they used to be – very few are lighter, smaller or nimbler.

But I can guarantee that while small cars have got bigger the multi-storey at the Concourse in Skelmersdale hasn’t expanded, and nor have any of Southport’s parking spaces. If you really do need to squeeze into those awkwardly tight spaces outside supermarkets, you’d be better off slipping down a size and buying something like Ford’s Ka+.

That or jog down to the shops