Every What Car? Car of the Year winner since 1978

Being named What Car? Car of the Year is the highest honour a car can receive – here is every winner in the 43-year history of the award...

40th Car of the Year with 2022 logo

The annual What Car? Awards are often called the motoring Oscars – and not just by us. However, while both ceremonies celebrate greatness, there’s a key difference: the What Car? Awards actually matter.

Choose to watch a particular film at the cinema because it has picked up a gong or two and all you lose if it turns out to be a dud are a couple of hours and a few quid. On the other hand, a new car is probably the second-biggest purchase you’ll ever make.

That's why we put every new model through the most comprehensive range of tests in the business before naming the very best in every class and our overall Car of the Year.

Here we take a look at every overall winner in the 45-year history of the awards. How many of them have you owned?

1978: Renault 20 TS

Renault 20 front

Launched in 1975, the Renault 20 was an executive car that eventually went off sale in 1984. It stood out in the inaugural year of our awards thanks to its vast interior, peppy performance and keen pricing. Indeed, the 2.0 TS version of this big saloon cost just £4724 when new, while the impressive list of cars it beat to the title included the Alfa Romeo Alfasud, Lancia Beta and Saab 99 Turbo.

1979: Peugeot 305

Peugeot 305 saloon front

Sold as a four-door saloon, estate and van, the Peugeot 305 offered big-car luxury and practicality for a very tempting price. In fact, as we wrote at the time, it had "an air of class unusual in 1300cc cars". Minor niggles included confusing controls and whining from the gearbox, but overall this was a very civilised family car. If you wanted more pace, a more powerful SR model was also available.

1980: Vauxhall Astra

Vauxhall Astra GTE – Rewind Wednesday

The very first Astra gave Vauxhall a significant boost in the family car market. We liked its engaging handling, which made the car almost as fun to drive as the Alfa Romeo Alfasud. What's more, the Astra was significantly more practical, with more space inside than the rival Volkswagen Golf.

Save money on a new Vauxhall Astra with What Car? >>

Next: 1981-1990 >>

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