Lifestyle Guides

10 of the best European Car of the Year winners

Automotive awards don't get much more prestigious than the European Car of the Year (ECOTY) title, announced every spring at the Geneva Motor Show.


ECOTY was established 55 years ago in 1964, so we thought it’d be a good time to choose 10 standout cars from the trophy winners.

However, looking down the list, it's clear that the judges didn't always get it right – many good cars were runners-up, while some of the winners are almost forgotten now.

In terms of countries, Germany (14) has won the most titles, followed by France (16) and Italy (14).

As far as manufacturers go, Fiat has won a record nine ECOTY trophies. Its nearest rivals are Renault (six) and Ford, Vauxhall/Opel and Peugeot (five each).

Just in case you’re wondering, the excellent all-electric Jaguar I-Pace won the 2019 European Car of Year title, narrowly beating the Alpine A110 – it’s the first time Jaguar has won the coveted prize.

1. Rover P6 - 1964


Otherwise known as the Rover 2000 (the 2200 and 3500 were to follow), the P6 was arguably the last great Rover. Produced at Solihull in the West Midlands (1963-1977), it beat the Mercedes 600 and rear-engined Hillman Imp to the first European Car of the Year title.

Sleek and innovative, it shook off Rover's 'Auntie' image in one fell swoop, setting new standards for refinement, performance, safety and handling. It makes a great classic today and the manual 3500s is the most desirable model.

2. Renault 16 - 1966


Launched at the 1965 Geneva Motor Show, the pioneering Renault 16 is widely recognised as the first family hatchback. Remaining in production until 1980, a total of 1,851,502 cars were built at Renault’s purpose-built Sandouville plant in Normandy.

Featuring a notchback design with tailgate and front-wheel drive, it was the blueprint for the modern hatchback. It was well equipped too. By 1968, the TS version (‘Tourisme Sportif’) version included a defrosting rear window and two-speed windscreen wipers with four-jet washers as standard.

3. NSU Ro80 - 1968


German car maker NSU won its only European Car of the Year award with the world’s first rotary-engined production car.

Launched in 1967, the stunning and distinctive Ro80 boasted a drag coefficient of just 0.35 and it beat the Fiat 125 and Simca 1100 to the 1968 title. However, despite its willing, smooth delivery, the engine proved to be unreliable.

NSU was acquired by Volkswagen in 1969 and production of the Ro80 continued until 1977. NSU was merged with Auto Union to create Audi, as it’s known today. In all, some 37,398 cars were built, and you don't have to look too hard to see that some Ro80 DNA remains in today's Audi saloons.

4. Fiat 128 - 1970


Fiat picked up the second of its record nine titles at the 1970 European Car of the Year event. The 128 (1969-1985) beat the Autobianchi A112 and Renault 12 to the trophy. 

The cute Fiat was surprisingly spacious and more than three million were built. In fact, production of licensed models, including a pick-up and coupe, continued until 2003 in countries as far away as Argentina, Colombia, South Africa and Sri Lanka. A true people's car.

5. Citroen CX - 1975


Unveiled at the Paris Motor Show in 1974, the innovative and extremely aerodynamic Citroen CX beat the original Volkswagen Golf, no less, to the 1975 title. Famed for its curved windscreen and a boot without a tailgate, nearly 1.2 million were sold during its 16 years of production, including a mammoth eight-seater estate. 

The CX made also its mark with advances in technology – an early turbocharged diesel engine and a GTI version were available, while an updated hydro-pneumatic suspension set new standards of comfort. It was also the first French car to be fitted with ABS brakes in 1985.

6. Fiat Uno - 1984


The 1984 European Car of the Year contest marked the fourth success for Fiat. The popular Fiat Uno (1983-1995) triumphed over another supermini, the Peugeot 205, and another VW Golf (Mk2).

Like many Fiat cars before it, the Uno was also licensed to be built globally and the final Uno was manufactured in Brazil as recently as 2013. In all, some nine million were produced, including the hot hatch Uno Turbo i.e. (pictured).

7. Renault Clio - 1991


The Renault Clio is one of only three cars – the others being the Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra – to have been voted European Car of the Year twice (in 1991 and 2006). In 1991 it beat the Nissan Primera and Vauxhall Calibra to the title.

A replacement for the hugely successful Renault 5, the Clio supermini is still going strong in its fourth generation. In the UK, the Clio was advertised on TV using the characters "Nicole" and "Papa".

8. Toyota Prius - 2005


The pioneering Toyota Prius may not have been the most attractive of cars when it was launched in 1997, but it was the first mass-produced hybrid and several million have been sold since. However, it was the Mk2 version that was crowned European Car of the Year in 2005, beating off stiff competition from the Citroen C4 and Ford Focus.

Now in its fourth generation, it’s better than ever – and actually looks good for the first time, too.

9. Fiat 500 - 2008


Fiat launched the reborn 500 on the 50th anniversary of the iconic original Nuova 500 in 2007, and it went on to beat the Mazda2 and Ford Mondeo to the 2008 European Car of the Year trophy.

The Fiat 500's retro looks, clever packaging and driveability made it an instant hit and it’s still a big seller today.

10. Nissan Leaf - 2011


In a close run battle, the pure electric Nissan Leaf just beat the Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Vauxhall Meriva to the 2011 title. Winning the World Car of the Year award the same year, the Leaf is now produced at Nissan's UK plant in Sunderland and a new one is sold every 10 minutes across Europe.

The best-selling electric vehicle (EV) in the world, it's currently in its second generation and is better than ever.