If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s been the mantra behind Wheels Car of the Year for some time. The award process did a good job of sieving a diverse bunch of contenders down to one excellent vehicle, so why change things? Because cars are changing, the way buyers shortlist cars has changed, and because it’s COTY’s responsibility to help drive change, not merely react to it.

COTY testing and judging

So what’s different for 2020? A big one is the transparency of the judging process. We reiterate the five criteria that the cars are judged against every year. Function, Technology, Value, Safety and Efficiency become a mantra for every juror. What we haven’t done to date is publish the scores that each car achieves against those five pillars. That changes this year. Every judge’s decision is going to be open to scrutiny, helping you to better understand how a vehicle progresses – or otherwise – through the entire competition.

In order to make that process ever more objective, data gathering will play an even bigger part. We are collecting more information on the cars this year than any other to improve our decision making and further boost the award’s reputation for objectivity. Each car will be independently tested for wet/dry braking, 0-100km/h performance, and cabin noise at 80km/h.

Wet driving testing

Connectivity is increasingly becoming a key buying criterion. This year we’ll run each vehicle’s infotainment system through a standardised test during the judging walk-arounds, scoring them on factors such as functionality, design and quality.

In previous years, the push has been for inclusivity. This year breaks that tradition. A bigger competition isn’t necessarily a better one if it compromises on quality. Therefore, only cars with a genuine shot of winning the trophy have been invited. This has meant that cars that have performed poorly in comparison tests get the chop, helping reduce the number of cars from 60 to 35. More time spent with a more select crop of cars results in a better verdict for you.

COTY Contenders

As well as making the judging process less opaque, we’re also moving to make it fairer, especially where value is concerned. In a bid to maintain a certain attainability and relevance, the value criterion was primarily concerned with affordability. Many excellent cars were thus excluded merely on the basis that they carried a larger price tag. That’s no longer the case. From now on, a broader judgment on whether the price reflects the vehicle’s qualities will help inform the value decision. That doesn’t mean that COTY becomes a luxury-car shootout. We’ll still score the cars on metrics such as warranty and servicing, resale and running costs.

The process ought to reward genuinely special cars and not just default to a bland level of competence across the board. That’s why we’ve also added an ‘X-factor’ rating in the functionality category, to recognise those cars that are elevated above their peers in terms of ownership experience.

testing COTY cars

Car of the Year is a process that’s been refined over more than half a century. But refined is the word. It needs to constantly evolve to retain its pre-eminence. A light tune-up for 2020 feels about right.