Fiat Group Automobiles will find out on Monday if two of its models, the Fiat Panda (top) and Lancia Ypsilon (bottom), have made it through to the final shortlist of seven cars bidding to be crowned the 2012 European Car of the Year.

Fiat Group Automobiles will find out on Monday if two of its models, the Fiat Panda and Lancia Ypsilon, have made it through to the final shortlist of seven cars bidding to be crowned the 2012 European Car of the Year.

The Car of the Year award has changed its procedure for the announcement of the winner from this edition, now it will be made each year on the eve of press day in Geneva Motor Show. After almost half a century of publicising the result in late November, the Car of the Year organising committee has reached an agreement with the Swiss annual show to disclose the winner in Palexpo each Monday prior to the first press day, at 3pm local time.

It will be a ‘live’ event. The winner will only be known in the moment of announcement, as the last votes will be opened – and the points added – on the spot. As usual, the candidates will be selected among the cars put on sale in Europe during the previous calendar year with foreseeable yearly sales of at least 5,000 units. The shortlist of seven finalists will be issued at the start of next week, following a simple vote by the 59 jury members representing 23 European countries. In the final vote, each jury member has to apportion 25 points among at least five cars, with a maximum of 10 points for any one of them. A statement of justification for the vote is also due.

Thirty-five cars are in the running to fight it out for the title this time, and with plenty of fancied contenders, the two FGA models will have a tough job on their hands to make it through to the last seven.

Of the two, the Panda is much more likely to reach the final shortlist next week. Lancia’s new fourth-generation Ypsilon arrived in the summer to disappointing reviews, with journalists in particular noting dynamics that fail to hit the mark and cost savings made inside the cabin, resulting in an ambience for passengers that doesn’t live up to its pretensions or price. However, with Lancia being a brand nowadays almost exclusively reserved for the Italian market (over 80 percent of its sales last year were domestic registrations), its wider regional perception is limited. It does also get a Chrysler badge for the UK and Northern Ireland markets, but volumes here will be tiny. The Ypsilon has never won Car of the Year but the first-generation Y10 finished second in 1986, 46 points behind the Ford Scorpio/Granada.

The Panda, however, presents a much more promising case, and should make the final shortlist. Evolutionary rather than revolutionary, it will appeal to Car of the Year judges who usually plump for less innovative cars in favour of proven mainstream contenders – although last year the panel did step away from convention to choose Nissan’s new EV, the Leaf. The Panda does everything it sets out to do very well, a polished all-round performer, but has few truly stand-out features, which may count as a handicap as it seeks to follow in the steps of its predecessor, which won the prize in 2004. Indeed, the nameplate has a track record of success at Car of the Year, with the first-generation model finishing runner-up in 1981, just 18 points behind the third-generation Ford Escort. The Panda does, however, face one significant challenge in the eyes of the judges – its four-star EuroNCAP safety rating. At a time when safety is considered a key driver of purchasing decisions, this must count against the baby Fiat being considered one of the favourites for the 2012 gong.

Amongst the hot tips to win the award is VW’s new Panda-rivalling up!, which takes the German carmaker into A-segment with a distinctive offering that is also being reworked by Skoda and SEAT; VW also has the new Jetta and Beetle amongst the eligible cars. The new C-segment Ford Focus has been well-received and the brand has a strong record in Car of the Year, although it has not won since 2007. South Korean brands are on the ascendancy at present, and Kia has the new Picanto and Rio to throw into the ring while Hyundai offers up the new i40 and Veloster. Range Rover’s acclaimed new Evoque is also likely to garner points at this stage, while the prestige German brands BMW (1-Series, 6-Series), Audi (A6, Q3) and Mercedes-Benz (B-Class, ML Class, SLK) all have models to be considered. At the more quirky end, Citroën’s DS4 and DS5 also appear on the 35-strong list.


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