Winners and Sinners 2020

  • Plenty of good car stuff to celebrate in 2020
  • Some not so good things too of course
  • Was this year naughty or nice, on balance?

Visit any news website in December and you’ll find a retrospective review-of-the-year article, full of things you’d forgotten had happened, and others you’d rather have forgotten.

Unsurprisingly most of those lists for 2020 are dominated by doom and gloom, with Covid-19 the chief offender. But we think there’s been plenty of shining light in the automotive sphere this year, likely to miss out on column inches – things like the Toyota GR Yaris, F1 safety and the rise of the mainstream electric car.

There has also been, quite frankly, a right load of old rubbish. But even those examples are more cheerful than reading about the bloody virus.

And so the Bauer automotive team (the writers behind Parkers.co.uk and CAR Magazine) got together over yet another video call for a big argument about what’s jingled our bells in 2020 for you to enjoy over a high calorie festive snack. Preferably a full-size chocolate yule log.

It goes without saying then that these are our opinions and you should be prepared to not agree with some of them. As you’ll see, we had a hard enough time agreeing with ourselves.

Winner - Toyota GR Yaris

Toyota GR Yaris (2020) driving in profile

This was the car I was most excited about in 2020 and that means there was a lot riding on it being good, especially in a year of disappointments and compromises. I needn’t have worried – it’s a brilliant hot hatch that delivers Civic Type R performance and Fiesta ST agility, along with aggro looks, UK weatherproof grip and a junior WRC soundtrack.

Something we’ll all reminisce about when petrol engines are no more.

Loser - Volkswagen Group infotainment

Volkswagen Golf infotainment

Replacing physical buttons with space on a touchscreen is fine if it’s brilliantly easy to use. But while VW’s last system felt intuitive from the first prod, the current one is fiddly and hard to use on the move, plus there are annoyances like the home button being on the wrong side in the Skoda Octavia, and the faff of turning off the traction control in a Golf GTI.

Maybe it’ll get better with time, or maybe I’m just too old, but it just feels like a step back.

Adam Binnie New Cars Editor


Winner – Groupe PSA (Peugeot, Citroen, Vauxhall, DS Automobiles)

Group PSA 2020

Despite everything going on in the wider world in 2020, Groupe PSA has enjoyed a storming year. Its transformation from lame-duck manufacturing group of the mid-2000s appeared to reach completion. There might be some people in PSA's HQ who might object to me saying this, but let's not forget that following the global banking crisis of 2008, the French manufacturing giant was in dire straits and making enormous losses.

Following the appointment of Carlos Tavares as the group's Chairman in 2014, PSA has seemingly been unable to put a foot wrong. The quality of its cars has improved beyond all recognition, while dealer service across the board has also made giant leaps. The cars that Peugeot and Citroen are churning out now are consistently good – desirable in showroom terms, economical and fun to drive.

Add in the Group's latest models, which are available in electric as well as petrol/diesel forms – and its ability to turn around the fortunes of the once fading Vauxhall, and we're looking at one of 2020's major winners. Think I'm exaggerating – compare 2021's Vauxhall Mokka to its insipid predecessor and tell me that PSA's influence has been nothing but a force for good.

Loser - saloon cars

Here we have the inevitable casualty of the rise of the SUV. This bodystyle was once the stalwart of the middle classes, but nowadays they are marginalised to the point of near irrelevance. Only the premium carmakers seem interested in offering saloons and seriously selling them – but even popular saloons such as the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class are falling out of favour as the X3, Q5 and GLC are now becoming the default-choice family cars.

Keith Adams, Parkers editor


 

Winner - Hyundai (just in general)

Hyundai Tucson (2021) front view, driving

Despite everything, it’s had an ace year. The i20, i30 and Tucson all look fantastic and the former’s new N edition sounds like a riot. Solid EV plans with the IONIQ range include a real version of the 45, gorgeous Prophecy to come, it just bought a robot army and is helping Ineos make a hydrogen Grenadier.

Loser - Nissan not bringing the new Z to Europe

I can understand that Nissan isn’t in the best of financial health, but it could have really sold its planned Euro resurgence (Ariya looks great, new Qashqai set to reassert dominance) with the new performance flagship that has such a gorgeous recipe under the skin and retro-modern look.

Jake Groves, Deputy News Editor, CAR Magazine


Winner - Fiat 500 Electric

Fiat 500 Electric (2020) driving

I don't know what I was expecting from this car - probably, like the petrol 500, something stylish and fun but a bit half-baked in many areas. Instead Fiat delivered something modern, classy, filled with useful tech and offering a genuinely usable range - in a tiny and reasonably-priced package.

I couldn't stop grinning while I drove this, and think it knocks the MINI Electric and even the Honda e into a cocked hat. Given how much I love the e, that's a difficult thing to say. What a fantastic little car, and what a great beginning for Fiat's push into proper electrification.

Loser - Mitsubishi

Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

It's sad to see the brand that brought us the Colt, the Shogun and the iconic Evo line exiting the UK market - once Mitsubishi sells out of its current stock, it's gone. But let's be honest, Mitsubishi hasn't produced anything desirable for UK consumers for a decade. Take a look at the lineup it's leaving us with - the woeful ASX and Mirage, the lumbering Shogun Sport, the hideous Eclipse Cross.

The Outlander PHEV, which was decent at launch, now trails every one of its rivals. Even the L200 pickup can't save the brand. I'll miss Mitsubishi for the memories, but when the brand leaves the country for good even my most rose-tinted spectacles won't look fondly upon the last products it left us with.

Tom Wiltshire, Staff Writer


Winner – mainstream electric cars

Electric car charging

The pandemic shook up our driving patterns, short local hops became the new norm and we all enjoyed the drop in pollution and quieter roads of lockdown. No wonder sales of pure electric vehicles (EVs) jumped in the first 11 months of the year, to nearly 6% of total UK car sales (up from 1.5% at the same time last year).

The arrival of smaller, cheaper models – and standalone brands such as Polestar – are fuelling the switchover and persuading more people to take the great electric leap forwards.

Loser – pothole riddled streets

Potholes

The pandemic is pushing the public purse strings to the limit. With council and government budgets strained to breaking point, it seems inevitable that Britain’s crumbling road network will only deteriorate faster. Potholes are so commonplace that most drivers are now resigned to them – and I fear this situation will only get worse in 2021 and beyond…

Tim Pollard - Digital Editorial Director, Bauer Automotive and Specialist


Winner - Citroen Ami

Back in February, we were introduced to the Citroen Ami - the electric city car that promised to break the mould, and break the mould it certainly did. Having launched in France first, with no promise it will ever come to the UK, Citroen teased us with a glimpse of this utterly ridiculous and totally adorable EV which could be leased for the equivalent of just £17 per month.

If that wasn't enough, the Ami charges in just three hours on a household plug and can be driven by anyone over the age of fourteen (in France, that is) without a driving licence. With a name that literally translates as 'Friend', it's hardly surprising that this loveable and cuddly contraption was a firm favourite of ours in 2020 - even if we'll never get to keep one.

Sophie Athawes, Digital Marketing Executive


Winner - Volkswagen ID.3

Volkswagen ID.3 (2020) front view

Yeah, yeah – Volkswagen’s hand probably was forced a bit by you-know-what, and yes, the buggy software that delayed the launch still isn’t entirely issue-free. But nevertheless, to me the VW ID.3 is absolutely spot on as an expression of how excited we should be about the potential of electric vehicles.

The designers have been brave enough to rethink how an interior should look and behave, while the engineers have delivered a great driving experience and a really usable driving range. What’s more, if you’re not fussed on the Volkswagen there will be plenty of Group alternatives to choose from instead…

Loser - Volkswagen ABT e-Transporter

Volkswagen e-Transporter

This goes for the Mercedes-Benz eVito as well; it’s taken the German manufacturers bloody ages to start selling electric vans, and the ones they’ve started with seem tokenistic at best. The e-Transporter – assembled by ABT e-Line as VW doesn’t have the capacity – manages just 82 miles per charge according to the official figures (the eVito 92 miles). This would seem poor at the end of 2020 anyway, but it’s especially so when Groupe PSA has rival models claiming nearly three times that distance. Yes, these are niche products right now, but the effort is so comparatively pathetic it’s hard to take seriously. Come on.

CJ Hubbard, Parkers Vans Editor


Winner - Romain Grosjean and F1 safety

Romain Grosjean

The world gasped with astonishment and breathed a sigh of relief when Haas F1 driver Romain Grosjean emerged almost unscathed from the fireball of a chilling accident in the Bahrain Grand Prix. The Halo frame which runs around the cockpit was designed to protect drivers from flying debris as much as collisions, and was derided for making cars appear ugly when it was introduced in 2018.

It undoubtedly saved the Frenchman’s life, as did the cumulative effects of decades of safety improvements: the chassis’ survival cell, the HANS head and neck support device, the energy absorbing crumple zone in the nosecone, the (only recently upgraded) fireproof racewear. But there is still further to go, as the hole his Haas punched clean through the ARMCO barrier shows.

Loser - The BMW board for signing off the M3/M4 grille/bonnet combo.

BMW M3/M4

Although maybe it’ll grow on me in time, or look better in real life – let’s wait and see.

James Taylor, Deputy Features Editor, CAR Magazine


Winner – Honda e

Honda e (2020) front view

Finally an electric city car that unabashedly embraces its drawbacks and is all the better for it. It doesn’t try and compete on range with its ICE powered rivals, instead out-styling them with cool ‘70s looks. It is perfect for metropolitan use and you can even plug a PlayStation in and play it. Plus any car that can pull off a lime green paint scheme is great in my book.

Loser – The end of Geneva?

Audi E-Tron Sportback (2020) rear view

The plane tickets were booked, press passes obtained and bags packed. I was ready for my first taste of the most famous motoring show in the world. Until it was cancelled at the last minute (quite rightfully) as Covid-19 spread across Europe. And with current news looking grim for any future Geneva motor show, the big international car show we all love could soon be a thing of the past.

Ryan Gilmore, Automotive Content Writer


Winner - Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo Evo

I was lucky enough to drive this shocking green beast at the world famous Imola racing circuit in October. The biblical sound of a whaling V10 with zero sound deadening and Perspex side windows is something that will stay with me for a long time – as will the sheer agility of such a sizeable racing car. But what really impressed me was how much of a pussycat it was to drive. It looks and sounds like it wants to kill you at a moment’s notice, yet despite that it drove in such a forgiving manner I half wondered whether I’d accidentally got in the road car by mistake. What a machine.

Loser - Bringing the ICE ‘ban’ forward to 2030

Refuelling

I know it’s not a complete ban – some hybrids will still be allowed to run on flammable stuff. But is this really how we encourage people to take up a new form of (still flawed) automotive transport – by forcing them into it?. I don’t care if ‘most drivers only need 16 miles of range a day’. When has car buying ever been about what people need? If that were the case we’d all being driving around in a VW Up. And last time I checked, we’re not. How about we bring the technology and infrastructure up to scratch first, then if it truly is good enough people will buy into it.

James Dennison, Head of Automotive Video


Winner - Gordon Murray T.50

Gordon Murray T.50

Creating a 3.9-litre naturally aspirated manual 654bhp V12 supercar in the face of what has been an utterly terrible year is pretty rad. Just the pick-me-up the nation needs tbh. Our totes fave moustachioed South African (sorry Bryan Habana) proves that there’s still room for bonkers in the twenty twenties – did we mention it has a ground-effect inducing fan? We just hope it gets made.

Loser - Lawrence Stroll

Oh dear oh dear. Sometimes it’s really not easy being an F1 fan. Grand Prix cynics say it’s all about who you know rather than what you know. And sadly Lawrence Stroll has fuelled the fire of this cliche-ridden internet troll by sacking the man who placed fourth this year (Sergio Perez) in favour of an out-of-form Seb Vettel. Oh and his son will retain his seat as Racing Point becomes Aston Martin for next year...

Murray Scullion, Finance Editor


Winner - Jeep Wrangler Sky One-Touch roof

Jeep Wrangler sunshine roof

Yeah, I know, it’s a sunroof. But after the faff of stashing hardtop panels and the discovery of the feeble little letterbox on top of the new Defender, that Jeep started shipping the Sky roof perfected my favourite 4x4. More refinement than removed panels, open or close the roof when driving, nothing to unbolt and everyone gets to enjoy the sunshine – it’s another reminder that too few cars offer properly nice sunroofs now, and solved the question of ‘hardtop or softtop’ by being better than either traditional option. But then, getting to drive a Wrangler most of the year was pretty awesome too.

Loser - Every single PSA automatic gearbox, even on EVs.

Peugeot 3008 interior

Wonderful suspension. Characterful engines. Easy to use electric-car tech. So why go after the innocent little gearshift? Because… Every. Single. Time, I have to move a Peugeot, Citroen or Vauxhall with an automatic ‘box, the weird delay between changing to forward or reverse, the lack of sensitivity of the brake sensor, and general vagueness of the controls results in me trying to move without a gear engaged. I could handle a delay between ‘moving the lever’ and selection, but you have to hold the lever. It’s been the one thing  that’s consistently annoyed me all year. Well, apart from world events and Ed Sheeran.

Richard Kilpatrick, Products Editor

Good riddance, 2020...