The Nissan Leaf has just been voted 2011’s Car of the Year, but it isn’t even on sale yet. How can a car be given such an accolade when real drivers haven’t even seen it yet, let alone driven it?
Here at Which? we love giving out awards.
Our Best Buy icon is much-coveted by all sorts of big brands from washing machine makers to online banks.
They’re glad to show off when our industry-leading tests prove that they’ve got a top-notch product, or if we’ve rated them as the best in their field.
But not all accolades are as meaningful. Last week’s announcement that the electric Nissan Leaf had been voted 2011 Car of the Year raised a few eyebrows among the Which? Car team.
Award is premature
I’ve got nothing at all against the Leaf. Nissan should be applauded for heading in a brave new direction, and we actually liked it when we tried it out ourselves. But to call it Car of the Year seems a bit premature – after all, it’s not even gone on sale yet.
Our car ratings take account of real owners’ experiences, which in Nissan’s case will prove crucial for success. Driving a battery-powered car requires a shift in driving habits that might put some people off, and don’t forget that driving from London to Bristol in it won’t be possible on a single charge.
To be fair, Nissan is working very hard to combat these concerns, not least with a well-designed and good-to-drive car. But with such a weight of expectation put upon it, it’s hard to see how the Leaf will live up to the massive hype.
Car of the Year is full of surprises
But then the Car of the Year award does have a bit of a chequered history. It’s decided by a jury of motoring journalists from around Europe, and they make their decisions before consumers even see the car – let alone drive it.
Looking back through the list of past winners shows their tastes have been at times surprising. Some years they’ve got it spot on – not least last year, when the great VW Polo beat the innovative Toyota iQ and Vauxhall Astra to the title, or in 2009, when the podium was made up of the Vauxhall Insignia, Ford Fiesta and the VW Golf.
But look further back and you might be surprised at some of the winners. The Peugeot 307, which owners have told us is unreliable and very disappointing to own, won in 2002. Most shocking is that in 1999, the relaunched BMW Mini, which went on to be wildly successful, didn’t even make the top three (although we can’t argue with their choice of the original Ford Focus as the winner).
These sorts of awards are all very well, but if they don’t take account of what real people think about a car, or how they get on with it, then they’re little more than free publicity.