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...

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Darren Moss
21 December 2018

Rover Metro 1.1L

1991: Rover Metro 1.1L

Rover Metro 1.1L

The Metro, now made by Rover rather than British Leyland, makes its second appearance as our Car of the Year. Rover had gone through the faults of the original Metro and eliminated them one by one, leaving a car that was smooth, fun to drive, with responsive steering, and a pleasure to drive long distances on the motorway. In its small car category, the Metro saw off competition from the Peugeot 205, Renault Clio and Citroën AX.


1992: Volkswagen Golf 1.8 GL

Volkswagen Golf 1.8 GL

It's a hat-trick for the first three generations of the Volkswagen Golf: this time it wins in mid-range GL form. We felt that underneath its sensible, restrained image, there was great flair to this Golf. "This 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."

Read our used Volkswagen Golf 2013 - present buying guide, or find a great deal on a new Volkswagen Golf


1993: Ford Mondeo 1.8 GLX

1993 Ford Mondeo 1.8 GLX – Rewind Wednesday

The original Ford Mondeo was an instant hit, carving out a new niche for 'Mondeo Man' in the UK. It raced to the front of the family car pack, leaving rivals such as the Nissan Primera, Peugeot 405 and Vauxhall Cavalier behind, thanks to its excellent interior quality and refinement. It also came with a standard driver’s airbag – something few rivals offered.

Read our Ford Mondeo hatchback 2014 - present used buying guide, or find a great deal on a new Ford Mondeo


1994: Peugeot 306 1.6 LX

Peugeot 306 1.6 LX

Peugeot's replacement for the ageing 309 was virtually identical underneath to its sister car, the Citroën ZX. We praised the 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. A class-beating insurance rating also made the 306 one of the cheapest hatchbacks to own.

Read our used Peugeot 306 hatchback 1997 - 2003 buying guide


1995: Volkswagen Polo 1.3 CL

Volkswagen Polo 1.3 CL

The third-generation version of Volkswagen's small hatchback had grown in size both inside and out, but it remained a perfectly practical choice in this growing market. 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".

Read our used Volkswagen Polo 2009 - 2017 buying guide, or find a great deal on a new Volkswagen Polo


1996: Peugeot 406 2.0 LX

Peugeot 406 2.0 LX

1996 was a bumper year for new cars, so that the Peugeot 406 argued the most convincing case overall makes its win even 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.

Renault Mégane Scénic 1.6 RT

Soon renamed the Scénic, this stylish car helped to define the MPV segment. Renault created a roomy and versatile five-seat people carrier with a big boot, yet one that also 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 regular Mégane hatchback only sweetened the deal.

Read our used Renault Scénic 1997 - 2003 buying guide, or find a great deal on a new Renault Scénic


1998: Land Rover Freelander 1.8i

Land Rover Freelander 1.8i

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

Read our used Land Rover Freelander 2006-2014 buying guide, or find a great deal on a new Land Rover Discovery Sport


1999: Rover 75 1.8 Club

Rover 75 1.8 Club

Probably Rover's best known executive car, the 75 ceased production in 2005, but not before gaining a good reputation among company car drivers for offering 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 while still feeling fresh at the end of the journey.

Read our used Rover 75 1999-2005 buying guide


2000: Skoda Fabia 1.4 16V Comfort

Skoda Fabia 1.4 16V Comfort

The very first Skoda Fabia hatchback was a triumph, blowing the competition out of the proverbial water with its mixture of low running costs, smart and practical interior and keen pricing. It was also available in saloon and estate forms.

Read our used Skoda Fabia hatchback 2000 - 2007 buying guide, or find a great deal on a new Skoda Fabia

Next: 2001-2010 >

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