And so the field has been whittled down to just one winner from seven strong – and amazingly varied – candidates across the automotive spectrum. Our judges, too, represent a broad cross-section of industries where style is a central tenant, and their unique insights have helped to pinpoint our 2019 WhichCar Style Award victor.
Our judging panel was asked to rank each of the cars across six categories, including X Factor, New Technology, Exterior Design, Interior Design, Harmony of Design and Colours/Textures, marking each out of ten for a total of 60 points per car.
Read next: 2019 WhichCar Style Award: Meet the judges
It ought to be noted, though, that the idea that one vehicle has risen above all others is probably the wrong way to regard our finalists. Each of them presented a unique and commendable approach to the notion of design and style, so even though one will ‘score’ the win, the subjectivity of design and its role in the modern car is the true vision of the Style Awards.
“Designers are trying to communicate the technology within a car to customers,” notes Style Award judge and respected automotive designer Paul Beranger. “To me, the styling is the physical car you see: the proportions, the engineering and the content. It’s hard to separate them sometimes, but when a designer speaks to an audience it’s about the overall design.”
Read next: What is the 2019 WhichCar Style Award?
So here, presented in alphabetical order, is the Style Award class of 2019.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti
Alfa Romeo’s first-ever SUV had a large target on its flanks from the day that pen was put to paper; the brand itself is Italian automotive style personified, and just because the car wearing its badge is a high-riding wagon, it doesn’t get a free pass.
The mid-sized, all-wheel-drive Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti SUV seats five, uses a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine and is closely related to the Giulia sedan. Our example comes complete with a leather interior, shifter paddles and a Harman Kardon sound system.
“Think of the Stelvio as an Italian talking to you,” Paul told us. “Italians always have interesting details that reflect the designer’s image. With a $5 billion investment, this car has to succeed; you need to get a sense of that importance in its design.”
“I think instantly, immediately, it presents as a car for a man,” said Fiona Connolly. “It took me a while to understand [the Alfa Romeo Stelvio]. It felt a little bit racy, in terms of look and feel. I feel it’s very masculine. I do understand why that is, though; thinking about that enthusiast who’s grown up and needs more of a family, but at the same time enjoys the experience.”
“I know it’s aimed at women, but it’s really not designed for women in my opinion,” added Noelle Faulkner, who pointed out the Stelvio’s thick A-pillar and poor rear three-quarter visibility. “Look at its rivals, and there are elements to those cars that look like beautiful, fashionable jewellery that attracts women who are spending up to $100,000 on a car.”
READ MORE Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti review
If you’ve never heard of Alpine before now, you’re not alone; when it comes to rare birds in the automotive kingdom, the tiny French moniker of Alpine – which only existed in the mid-1960s – is amongst the rarest.
Now owned by powerhouse Renault, Alpine (pronounced ‘Al-peen’) has paid homage to its single most successful model with a modern take on the A110. Powered by a 1.8-litre turbocharged engine that drives the rear wheels, the A110 takes no prisoners practically speaking… but within its purity of function lies a simple beauty in its form.
It’s unusual in so many ways compared to the rest of the 2019 Style Awards finalists… not only is it a strict two-seater, its engine is nestled behind the passenger compartment, it lacks many of the traditional in-cabin elements (like a gear shifter) that our panel would be accustomed to, and its diminutive size makes it a unique proposition.
“It’s an all-new design that pays homage to its lightness and performance,” said Paul. “It also pays homage in its style in looks if not dimensions. Its interior is minimalistic but beautiful in detail. It reflects in its Renault Racing blue paintwork the heritage of the brand… but no badging means it’s trying to push above the main brand. It’s an exciting new car bringing back an old name in a fresh way that purists will understand.”
“And who said new cars are getting more boring?” said Noelle. “God, I love this little thing– it’s as spritely on the outside as it is to drive. So fluid and sexy and compliant. The layout of the cabin, those little French flags, the precision of that fab little steering wheel and the raw racing elements, like the raw metal in the foot wells and the symphony going on in that engine in the back.
“It really is a neck snapper- I don’t think anyone quite knows what it is, and even if Alpine means nothing to you historically-speaking, you can just tell the A110 is something really, really special.”
READ MORE Alpine A110 gallery
Audi A7 Sportback 55 TFSI
Audi’s long, luxurious coupe-style sedan is paddling against the tide of premium SUVs, but not everyone is enamoured with high-riding wagons.
The world’s two largest car markets, the US and China, still regard the traditional sedan as a luxury fashion item, while China in particular sees prestige and power in the long, graceful haunches of a big sedan.
“It’s hard to explain and show tech that’s full of AI [artificial intelligence],” noted Paul. “Overall, Audi has wound back on the exaggerated surfaces they once had – this is very subtle and relies strongly on the overall profile of the car, almost one continuous line that lengthens the car.
“This car lets no one down when they get in. Audi offers the best interior quality bar none and this car exemplifies that. The touch of sportiness in the alloy wheels highlights the brakes, too, so you’re not only looking at the design, you’re looking at the technology.”
“I love it, and the reason I love it is that it feels like the design has been well thought through,” said D’Marge’s Luc Wiesman. “One thing that did drive me a bit nuts was the tactility of the multimedia system; if you’re driving and you try to use it, it needs a more considered touch. And fingerprints, too…”
“The Audi is so beautiful,” said Tanya Buchanan. “It’s quietly luxurious, gorgeous to drive, very elegant. I can see it appealing to an older demographic, perhaps empty nesters who like to go touring. You’re not going to be carrying the family around in it necessarily. I feel like everything is well considered when you’re using it, too. It’s just innate. Really luxurious to drive.”
READ MORE Audi A7 55 TFSI review
Ford Ranger Raptor
If there was an outlier in the 2019 Style Award roster, a rooster in the henhouse, a cat among the pigeons, then the big, brash Ford Ranger Raptor was it. Unashamedly macho with its flared mudguards, huge black rims and overtly aggressive styling, the Raptor represents a new era in mass market motoring.
The dual-cab pick-up seats five, and packs a powerful – yet surprisingly refined and economical – 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine along with the group’s only 10-speed automatic transmission. Its interior is bold, yet comfortable, but still betrays its commercial heart in some areas.
“It’s quite an old vehicle design-wise, but it’s incredibly freshened by the Raptor,” said Paul. “Goes to extremes on the exterior – Ford is a metre wide on the front. The intent is very much offroad, and while it has a place in urban landscape, really it’s a serious offroad vehicle.
“Look at it from the point of view as an off road vehicle with limited urban use. It’s well done, with lots of good quality surface treatment in a rough and rugged sense – which in itself is very hard to show, just like the A7. It looks simple – but it isn’t.”
“I love it!” said Jason. “Because it feels so big, I was a little nervous about driving it, but it doesn’t feel big to drive. It feels a bit basic in the interior, but it feels like that’s appropriate.”
“I thought I was going to feel intimidated by it, too, but no,” agreed Brooke. “It just feels like a normal car. It’s got the space in the back seats… for what it needs to be, too, the interior treatment is perfect. I feel this kind of customer isn’t as interested in technology, so they don’t need all the bells and whistles.”
Read next: 2018 Ford Ranger Raptor review
Read next: WhichCar Style Awards finalists announced
The future is now at the 2019 WhichCar Style Award, with the inclusion of the revolutionary electric Jaguar I-Pace SUV.
The all-electric five-seater doesn’t rely on any form of fossil fuel propulsion, so it’s able to take the baked-in notions of traditional automotive design and style and turn them completely upside down.
For example, it doesn’t need a traditional engine space, nor does it need tailpipes; staples of car design since the Ford Model T.
“The transition of auto design and design of mobility is exemplified by the I-Pace,” said Paul. “It’s one of the first examples of design crossing into a new theme.
“It has the character of a Jaguar, but because there is no engine, the mass is lower of the car, and allows the designer to change its overall shape. It’s about changing mobility, the way we move about generally.
“Think about why this car exists and what that stuff does. Does it move design forward, or does it repurpose an old idea?”
“I didn’t really brake the whole time!” said Brooke. “The regenerative braking is a very different kind of user interface. Overall, though, I found it easy and intuitive. For most people that braking element will be something to get used to, but it’s easy enough.
“I actually don’t think it feels that premium, especially compared to the Audi,” explained Jason. “Maybe the wood trim spoils it for me. For some people, having wood trim might make it feel expensive, but for me it doesn’t. The centre console is nice, but I’m not sure that trim equates to a premium feel. An interesting clash of the new and the old.”
Range Rover Velar
Range Rover’s newest model, the Velar, is a contemporary take on the modern large SUV, with more than a few nods to its more famous forebears. Style-driven from the outset, the larger Velar manages to hide its off-road origins well.
Available in a dizzying array of variants and trim levels, the Range Rover Velar is one of the vehicles at the 2019 WhichCar Style Award that represents the notion of design and style as an integral part of the sales pitch.
“You’ll see a lot of similarities between Jaguar and Range Rover, but designers hide that well,” said Paul. “Designers hate it but marketers love it –when you’re paying double or triple for essentially the same car, that’s a lot more money in the car company coffers!
The Velar’s exterior, especially the front and that characteristic Range Rover roofline, is very strong. Does the strong interior match the exterior strength? Do the two teams come together? Look at detail and seeing what the designers have achieved.”
“It’s a nice, soft drive, and it would be great as a CBD limo,” said Luc. “The interior treatment is too much, though. There’s leather, there’s cloth, there are other materials all mixed in… I’m not sure this spec does it any favours. There is plenty of room in the back, though, and it’s well laid out in terms of its controls.”
READ MORE Range Rover Velar review
Toyota Corolla ZR hybrid
The humble Toyota Corolla has come a long way in its 40-odd years. Once regarded as little more than cheap, cheerful and reliable transport for the masses, the twelfth generation Corolla has superseded its modest beginnings in a way that its original designers never could have foreseen.
Car designers work hand in hand with their counterparts in marketing to try and stay abreast – or even ahead – of trends in the automotive space, and the newest Corolla is a perfect example of where the industry sees the market heading. Its daring external design, for example, is meant to appeal to private buyers looking for that driveway edge, while its clever hybrid technology shows it has an eye on a greener ecological future.
“Corolla is the world’s best-selling small car, and in an era where people are moving away from passenger cars, Corolla is bucking the trend,” said Paul (a former Toyota designer himself).
“What Toyota is doing is introducing design change. It’s polarising for the brand, but there are some aggressive lines to give the sense of movement. It’s trying to set Toyota apart from mainstream brands. Mazda, for example, has gone very sophisticated yet conservative. Quality has lifted, too. Think about the exterior, then get inside and compare. There’s technology there that you’ve never seen in a Corolla.”
“I loved it. I’ve got a soft spot for it because I had one for a first car, and for me, not a lot has changed,” said Fiona. “What I really like is the roominess. Seriously roomy. It feels similar in size to the Alfa Romeo! It felt safe in the front – a bit tighter in the back but it’s not too bad. I thought the satnav screen looked a bit ‘stuck on’, but it’s still pretty good. It’s a car I’d feel comfortable for my son to drive, and equally my 85-year-old mum. And now I’ve driven the hybrid system, I don’t really understand why all cars aren’t hybrid!”
READ MORE Toyota Corolla Hybrid review