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 40-year history of the award...
2001: Ford Mondeo 1.8 LX 5dr
Having achieved its status as one of the best-selling family cars in Britain, the Ford Mondeo again scooped our top honour in 2001. This Mk2 Mondeo was a brave move for Ford, with a new focus on quality and driving enjoyment. The result was a car that, no matter what you did with it, was better than both the old Mondeo and better than its key rivals. As our Awards issue from that year notes: "We rate it more highly than many small executive models with snob-value badges and prestige-marque prices. It really is that great."
2002: Toyota Corolla 1.6 VVT-i T3 5dr
Despite the ninth-generation Toyota Corolla launching in Japan in 2000, it took a full two years for it to reach the UK. When it did, we liked its improvements in drivability, practicality and rear leg room. Comfort and composure were excellent in all conditions, and it was nearly as fun to drive quickly as the rival Ford Focus.
2003: Seat Ibiza 1.2 12C 5dr
Underneath, this Ibiza shared its structure with the Volkswagen Polo, another former Car of the Year. The Ibiza underlined the progress Seat had made as a company since joining the expanding Volkswagen Group in the 1990s, and also how far small hatchbacks 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."
2004: Volkswagen Golf 1.6 FSI S 5dr
This version of the Golf proved to be incredibly practical, offering a bigger boot than the previous model while also being better to drive, cheaper to run and roomier for passengers. The 1.6-litre FSi engine could return a combined 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."
2005: Land Rover Discovery TDV6 S auto
The third-generation model of Land Rover's big-selling SUV blurred the lines between luxury and practicality. It was, in a way, three cars in one. Firstly, it was an executive cruiser, quiet and comfortable and loaded with kit. Secondly, it was a family-friendly MPV with space for the kids, their toys and the kitchen sink. And thirdly, it was one of the most capable off-roaders around.
2006: BMW 3 Series 320d ES
The fifth-generation BMW 3 Series quickly established itself as a benchmark car in the executive market. This 320d version was every bit as sharp as you'd expect from a BMW, making it a good choice for keen drivers. It was its refinement, though, that really helped to secure a win, as this was now the quietest executive car on sale. Add in space for your family and their luggage and plenty of equipment and it's easy to see why the 3 Series was our overall winner.
2007: Vauxhall Corsa 1.4 Club AC 5dr
This version of the Corsa small hatchback was also a very practical choice for families, with a good amount of room inside and a very economical range of engines.
2008: Jaguar XF 2.7D V6 Luxury
Jaguar's replacement for the S-Type was a more modern approach to the executive saloon. That meant impressive refinement and handling – which you'd expect from a Jaguar – but also small luxury touches that elevated it beyond the realms of German rivals. The V6 diesel engine we recommended wasn't the most economical in the range, but as we noted in 2008, some things are worth paying that little bit extra for, and this was one of them.
2009: Ford Fiesta 1.25i 82 Zetec 5dr
Our introduction to this new Fiesta tells you everything you need to know about how much we liked what was to become Britain's best-selling car: "Just occasionally, a car comes along and belts you between the eyes as soon as it turns a wheel. This year, that car is the Ford Fiesta."
It proved to be an excellent all-rounder, covering the needs of buyers so thoroughly that its domination of this market lasted right up until its death in late 2017.
2010: Peugeot 3008 1.6 THP 150 Sport
Clever thinking is a trait among our Car of the Year winners, and so the 3008 was a stroke of genius by Peugeot. Nissan might argue that it started the small 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 plenty of storage space and large seats. It was comfortable to drive, too, and to be a passenger in.
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