Every What Car? Car of the Year winner since 1978

Being named What Car? Car of the Year is the highest honour a new model can receive – here's every winner in the 45-year history of the award...

40th Car of the Year with 2024 logo

A new car is probably the second-biggest purchase you'll ever make, so it's essential to make sure you're equipped with the facts. We put every new model through the most comprehensive range of tests in the business, and pit them against their closest rivals, before naming the very best in every class, along with the overall What Car? Car of the Year.

The top spot is awarded to the new model – that's to say, one which has been launched in the past year – that has impressed our team of expert reviewers most across the 18 different areas we assess.

Read more: How we test cars

Here we take a look at every overall Car of the Year since the Awards began in 1978 – how many of them have you owned?

1978: Renault 20 TS

Renault 20 front left static 1978

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 front right static 1979

Sold as a four-door saloon, estate car 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 front cornering 1980

The very first Vauxhall Astra gave the brand 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.

See our latest Vauxhall Astra deals >>

1981: Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI front left cornering 1981

A replacement for the ancient Beetle, the first VW Golf was a thoroughly modern (for the time), front-wheel-drive hatchback that set a precedent for quality which still exists today. It's the hot Volkswagen Golf GTI version that we named as our Car of the Year in 1981, because it offered "a unique blend of sporting prowess and family practicality".

See our latest Volkswagen Golf GTI deals >>

1982: Mercedes 200T

Mercedes 200T front left static 1982

Part of Mercedes' successful W123 family of cars, the 200T estate (the precursor to today's Mercedes E-Class Estate) featured a lively 2.0-litre engine with 107bhp. It offered all of the interior luxury and quality with which the brand had become so closely associated, yet it was actually cheaper to buy than executive rivals such as the Ford Granada. "Mercedes quality is on offer at a reasonable price and in an attractive and practical format," we wrote at the time, "with the prestige thrown in for free."

1983: MG Metro

MG Metro front right driving 1983

Sold first by British Leyland and later by Rover, the MG Metro is an icon of British manufacturing – in fact, this was the first time that our Car of the Year accolade had come to home turf. The little MG represented value for money, offering keen drivers lively performance and engaging handling, topped off by enough practicality for it to be used every day. It proved popular, too, selling twice as fast as forecasts predicted.

1984: Peugeot 205 GR

Peugeot 205 front cornering 1984

A practical small hatchback, the Peugeot 205 would later spawn one of the best hot hatches ever, the 205 GTI. But even the run-of-the-mill versions were really good to drive compared with rivals of the era. The 205 could even achieve around 40mpg, helped by the fact it had a five-speed gearbox at a time when its big rivals, such as the second-generation Volkswagen Polo, only had four gears.

See our used Peugeot 205 deals >>

1985: Volkswagen Golf GL

Volkswagen Golf front right static 1985

The Volkswagen Golf took top honours for a second time in 1985, although this time it was the second-generation model in GL form. We liked that more than 30mpg was achievable in everyday driving, with 40mpg recorded on the motorway. Performance from its 1.6-litre petrol engine was "sparkling", we said, although on the negative side, ventilation was poor.

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1986: Saab 9000 Turbo 16

Saab 9000 front left driving 1986

The Saab 9000 executive car gained a sporty turbocharged version soon after its launch, and boy was it good. As we noted at the time, "the Saab 9000's rare combination of thrilling turbo performance, forgiving handling and roomy hatchback practicality put it ahead of all the other contestants to make it not just Best Director's Car, but also our overall Car of the Year for 1986".

See our used Saab 9000 deals >>

1987: Renault 21 Savanna GTX

Renault 21 Savanna right static 1987

"Take the refined, rapid and roomy Renault 21," we wrote in our 1987 Awards issue, "add a stylish estate tail with space for a third row of seats, and the result is the fast family Savanna GTX. It's the best of many worlds".

1988: BMW 7 Series 735i

BMW 7 Series front right driving 1988

The Mk2, 735i version of the BMW 7 Series saloon had 205bhp and a top speed of 144mph. However, what really caught our eye was that in addition to offering the kind of rear space and luxury that the rich and powerful looked for in their chauffeur-driven limousines, it was also excellent to drive, with strong performance and engaging handling. As a bonus, the 735i was almost £25,000 cheaper to buy than its larger V12-engined sibling, the 750iL.

See our latest BMW 7 Series deals >>

1989: Ford Fiesta 1.1L

Ford Fiesta Mk3 1989

By 1989, the Ford Fiesta was available in both three- and five-door forms, and came with more economical petrol engines and revised suspension that set new standards in terms of both ride and handling. In short, Ford had ironed out the few bugs of the original model, and in doing so created a masterpiece in the small car class.

See our latest Ford Fiesta deals >>

1990: Rover 214 Si

Rover 214 front right static 1990

Launched in 1989, the 200 was the car Rover simply had to get right if it was to have a future (or, at least, a bit more of one). A joint venture between the British brand and Honda, it offered an outstanding amount of space inside, and a luxurious interior to match.

1991: Rover Metro 1.1L

Rover Metro front right static 1991

The Metro, now made by Rover rather than British Leyland, won Car of the Year for a second time in 1991. Rover had gone through the shortcomings of the original Metro and eliminated them one by one, leaving a car that was smooth, fun to drive and a pleasure over long distances. In its small car category, the Metro saw off competition from the Peugeot 205 and Renault Clio.

1992: Volkswagen Golf 1.8 GL

Volkswagen Golf front left static 1992

The third-generation Volkswagen Golf matched the achievements of its predecessors by winning Car of the Year – this time in mid-range GL form. We felt that underneath its sensible, restrained image, there was great flair to this Golf. "It is the product of a confident company," we wrote. "A car that shuns glitz and glamour in favour of the deeper virtues of reliability, quality and durability."

See our latest Volkswagen Golf deals >>

1993: Ford Mondeo 1.8 GLX

Ford Mondeo front cornering 1993

The original Ford Mondeo raced to the front of the family car pack, seeing off rivals such as the Nissan Primera, Peugeot 405 and Vauxhall Cavalier, thanks to its excellent interior quality and refinement. It also came with a standard driver’s airbag – something few rivals offered.

See our used Ford Mondeo deals >>

1994: Peugeot 306 1.6 LX

Peugeot 306 front cornering 1994

We praised the Peugeot 306 for its mile-munching ability on the motorway, plus its first-rate handling and excellent brakes. It was safer than a lot of rivals, too, with side-impact door beams and optional anti-lock brakes. And a low insurance rating made the 306 one of the cheapest hatchbacks of the era to own.

See our used Peugeot 306 deals >>

1995: Volkswagen Polo 1.3 CL

Volkswagen Polo rear left static 1995

The third-generation version of Volkswagen's small car grew in size both inside and out. In fact, it nudged cars in the class above for space, practicality, refinement, comfort, safety and equipment. As we noted at the time, it was "a class leader whose supremacy seems destined to last".

See our latest Volkswagen Polo deals >>

1996: Peugeot 406 2.0 LX

Peugeot 406 front cornering 1996

With 1996 a bumper year for new cars, victory for the Peugeot 406 was all the more impressive. "The 406 is so clearly superior to everything else in its class, except in top-end performance and rear-seat space," we wrote at the time.

See our used Peugeot 406 deals >>

1997: Renault Megane Scénic 1.6 RT

Renault Megane Scenic right driving 1997

The original Renault Scenic was the car that created the compact MPV segment. It was a hugely roomy and versatile five-seat people carrier with a big boot, yet occupied no more space than a conventional hatchback. The fact that it was also good to drive, had lots of clever storage space and cost just £1400 more than the contemporary Renault Megane hatchback only sweetened the deal.

See our used Renault Scenic deals >>

1998: Land Rover Freelander 1.8i

Land Rover Freelander front cornering 1998

Land Rover opened up new markets with the Land Rover Freelander, earning it our top accolade. This was an SUV that was less off-road focused than anything the company had produced previously, yet it still offered buyers the raised driving position and practicality with which 4x4s had become associated. The Freelander was immensely popular, too, so much so that plenty of examples still exist on the used car market.

See our used Land Rover Freelander deals >>

1999: Rover 75 1.8 Club

Rover 75 front cornering 1999

Probably Rover's best-known executive car, the Rover 75 ceased production in 2005, but not before gaining a good reputation among company car drivers for being a credible alternative to established German rivals. Its interior was luxurious and its seating position comfortable enough to let you while away the motorway miles and still feel fresh at the end of the journey.


2000: Skoda Fabia 1.4 16V Comfort

Skoda Fabia front left static 2000

The original Skoda Fabia was nothing short of a revelation, blowing the competition out of the proverbial water with its low running costs, smart and practical interior and keen pricing. It was available in hatchback, saloon and estate forms, and transformed Skoda's image.

See our latest Skoda Fabia deals >>

2001: Ford Mondeo 1.8 LX

Ford Mondeo front right driving 2001

Having already firmly established itself as one of the best-selling family cars in Britain, the Mondeo scooped our top honour for a second time in 2001. This Mk2 Ford Mondeo was a brave move for Ford, with a new focus on quality. The result was a car that, no matter what you did with it, was better than both its predecessor and key rivals. As our Awards issue from that year noted: "We rate it more highly than many small executive models with snob-value badges and prestige-marque prices. It really is that great."

See our used Ford Mondeo deals >>

2002: Toyota Corolla 1.6 VVT-i T3 5dr

Toyota Corolla front left static 2002

Despite the ninth-generation Toyota Corolla launching in Japan in 2000, it took a full two years for it to reach the UK. However, it proved worth the wait, bringing improvements in practicality and drivability. Indeed, comfort and composure were excellent in all conditions.

See our latest Toyota Corolla deals >>

2003: Seat Ibiza 1.2 12C 5dr

Seat Ibiza front right static 2003

This generation of the Seat Ibiza underlined the progress Seat had made as a company since joining the expanding Volkswagen Group, and also how far small cars had come in offering buyers excellence for a low price. "Quite simply," we wrote, "never before has so much car been within the reach of so many."

See our latest Seat Ibiza deals >>

2004: Volkswagen Golf 1.6 FSI S 5dr

Volkswagen Golf front cornering 2004

This fifth-generation Volkswagen Golf proved to be incredibly practical, while also being better to drive and cheaper to run than its predecessor. The 1.6-litre FSI petrol engine averaged 44.1mpg, while the list of standard equipment included a CD player, electric front windows and remote central locking. "With such rounded abilities," we wrote, "no car better fills our brief of fitness for purpose."

See our latest Volkswagen Golf deals >>

2005: Land Rover Discovery TDV6 S auto

Land Rover Discovery front left driving 2005

The third iteration of the Land Rover Discovery succeeded in blurring the lines between luxury and practicality. It was, in a way, three cars in one. First, it was an executive cruiser, quiet and comfortable and loaded with kit. Second, it was a family-friendly MPV with space for the kids, their toys and the kitchen sink. And third, it remained one of the most capable off-roaders around.

See our latest Land Rover Discovery deals >>

2006: BMW 3 Series 320d ES

BMW 3 Series front cornering 2006

This 320d version of the fifth-generation BMW 3 Series was every bit as sharp to drive as you'd expect a BMW to be. But it was its outstanding refinement that really helped to secure the win; no executive car rival was as quiet. Add in space for your family and their luggage and plenty of equipment and its victory was a no-brainer.

See our latest BMW 3 Series deals >>

2007: Vauxhall Corsa 1.4 Club AC 5dr

Vauxhall Corsa front cornering 2007

Following the victory of the Ibiza in 2003, we thought it would be some time before another small car was able to move the game on significantly. However, the Vauxhall Corsa did just that four years later, resetting the boundaries of ride comfort, space, and fit and finish.

See our latest Vauxhall Corsa deals >>

2008: Jaguar XF 2.7D V6 Luxury

Jaguar XF front cornering 2008

Before the arrival of the Jaguar XF, Jaguar was on its knees, with sales anaemic due to a range that was dominated by underwhelming models such as the Jaguar S-Type and Jaguar X-Type. But then it launched a car that redefined how it was seen. As we said at the time: "Next to the German giants, with their prolific outputs, Jaguar is a bit of a cottage industry. So it’s all the more impressive that the new XF matches a Mercedes for refinement, a BMW for driving dynamics and an Audi for interior wow factor."

See our latest Jaguar XF deals >>

2009: Ford Fiesta 1.25i 82 Zetec 5dr

Ford Fiesta front left driving 2009

Our original comments on the 2009 Car of the Year tell you everything you need to know about how much we liked what was to become Britain's best-selling car: "Just occasionally, something comes along and belts you between the eyes as soon as it turns a wheel. This year, that something is the Ford Fiesta."

See our latest Ford Fiesta deals >>

2010: Peugeot 3008 1.6 THP 150 Sport

Peugeot 3008 front cornering 2010

The Nissan Qashqai might have started the family SUV trend, but Peugeot took the idea, refined it and ran with it. The 3008's looks divided opinion, sure, but its interior was universally appealing, with plush materials and plenty of storage space. Plus, our favourite version came with clever active anti-roll bars that made it as composed in corners as it was comfortable everywhere else.

See our latest Peugeot 3008 deals >>

2011: Audi A1 1.4 TFSI Sport

Audi A1 front left driving 2011

Combining desirability with agility and quality, the Audi A1 proved that small cars could be properly luxurious. "The A1 is a car that makes you smile for any number of reasons," we wrote, "and will keep you grinning as all great cars do. That's exactly what the A1 is – a great car."

See our latest Audi A1 deals >>

2012: Volkswagen Up 1.0 75 High Up 5dr

Volkswagen Up front cornering 2012

Its blend of interior quality, refinement, space and maturity set new standards in the city car class, and while the Volkswagen Up felt most at home in town, it was also not averse to munching up miles on the motorway. In fact, more than one member of our judging panel at the time summed it up by saying that the Up was "the right car for the right time".

See our used Volkswagen Up deals >>

2013: Audi A3 Sportback 1.4 TFSI 122 SE

Audi A3 Sportback front left driving 2013

In many ways, the Audi A3 Sportback was just an evolution of what had come before, but that was no bad thing when what came before was already excellent. In fact, the improvements to refinement and interior quality in this version made it a stand-out winner, good enough in almost every respect to worry cars from the class above. Keen pricing sealed the deal on its Car of the Year win.

See our latest Audi A3 deals >>

2014: Nissan Qashqai 1.5 dCi Acenta 2WD

Nissan Qashqai front cornering 2014

As we've mentioned, the original Nissan Qashqai was the car that kick-started the trend for family SUVs, but this second-generation Nissan Qashqai is the one that really secured its place in history. With striking looks, a high-quality interior and low running costs, it remained the class leader until the arrival of the Seat Ateca in 2016.

See our latest Nissan Qashqai deals >>

2015: Skoda Fabia 1.2 TSI 90 SE

Skoda Fabia front left driving 2015

Following its Car of the Year victory in 2015, the Skoda Fabia has remained one of the most well-rounded small cars on sale, offering outstanding interior space, a range of refined yet punchy engines and an excellent price.

See our latest Skoda Fabia deals >>

2016: Audi A4 3.0 TDI 218 Sport

Audi A4 front right driving 2016

This Audi A4 set new standards in the executive car market, dethroning the BMW 3 Series of the time in the process. Its interior was better both in terms of quality and materials, and it was available with a super-smooth V6 diesel engine that didn't come at the expense of fuel economy or CO2 emissions.

See our latest Audi A4 deals >>

2017: BMW 5 Series 520d SE

BMW 5 Series front cornering 2017

Some people were surprised to see the latest BMW 5 Series entered in the luxury car category in our 2017 awards, but the fact is that it's comfortable, refined and classy enough to challenge models that cost a lot more. The 520d diesel engine we recommend offers the best balance of performance, price and running costs, while SE models come with all the equipment you're likely to want.

See our latest BMW 5 Series deals >>

2018: Volvo XC40 D4 R-Design

Volvo XC40 front right driving 2018

Competing in the fast-growing family SUV segment is a tough challenge, but the Volvo XC40 stood out in 2018 thanks to its mix of comfort, quality, safety and style. Our independent tests even proved that the XC40's diesel engines emit less NOx than plenty of petrols, while offering the low CO2 output that made diesels so popular in the first place. In short, the XC40 is a stunning achievement.

See our latest Volvo XC40 deals >>

2019: Kia e-Niro First Edition

Kia e-Niro front left cornering 2019

2019 marked the first time in the history of our awards that we gave the Car of the Year trophy to an electric car. With a real-world range of more than 250 miles, yet a price tag which placed it within reach of the masses, the e-Niro represented a turning point for electric cars.

See our latest Kia Niro EV deals >>

2020: Ford Puma 1.0 Ecoboost mHEV 155 ST-Line X

Ford Puma front cornering 2020

Thanks to its sharp handling, gutsy engine and clever mild hybrid technology, the Ford Puma offers a mix of fun and frugality not previously seen in its class. Plus, it’s very well priced and equipped, and as practical as it is stylish. In short, it’s truly outstanding, and remains one of our favourite small SUVs.

See our latest Ford Puma deals >>

2022: Kia EV6

Kia EV6 front right driving 2022

The Kia EV6 took the top spot in 2022 thanks to its long range, impressive fast-charging capabilities and spacious interior. We prefer it to the closely-related Hyundai Ioniq 5, but it can't match its other sister car – the Genesis GV60 – when it comes to interior quality and premium feel.

See our latest Kia EV6 deals >>

2023: Volkswagen ID Buzz

Volkswagen ID Buzz front right driving 2023

The boxy shape and 1950s-inspired design of the Volkswagen ID Buzz are a refreshing departure from the looks of more conventional electric SUVs, but the Buzz is more than just a pretty face. That square design means it's incredibly practical – we fitted twice as many carry-on suitcases below the Buzz's load cover as we squeezed into the boot of the BMW iX3 – and its family car underpinnings mean it's good to drive, too.

See our latest Volkswagen ID Buzz deals >>

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