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Opinion: choosing the best car of the decade isn’t as simple as you’d think

By Byron Mathioudakis, 11 Jan 2020 Opinion

Opinion: choosing the best car of the decade isn’t as simple as you’d think

Trying to pick the one car that defines a decade can be a difficult task

FINDING the Car of the decade. How hard can it be? I began pestering Editor Inwood about such matters ages ago. Given Wheels’ expertise in electing a Car of the Year stretching back to the ’60s, it’d be a cinch, right? Stamping our authority on the subject and all that.

But this is exactly why I’m a lowly freelancer spending way too many weekday arvos bingeing shows like Schitt’s Creek with my Lab retriever snoring across my lap, and not a high-flying editor. Had I considered the myriad logistical and financial issues associated with assembling countless cars to drive, shoot and debate over for COTD? No, I had not, electing instead to be a little bit Alexis (just watch the show, please) by living in a la-la land of boundless yet groundless can-do optimism.

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Lady Luck occasionally goes by the name of Alex, though, and I’ve been gifted this column, so here I go.

The COTD notion has long intrigued – ever since UK sister mag CAR nominated Alfa’s nearly forgotten Alfasud as its 1970s victor under the prescient headline ‘Alfasud – the winner that never will’.

It’s worth reading that January 1980 issue, because writers Ian Fraser and our own Steve Cropley turn things on their heads by also nominating the then-mundane but bestselling Toyota Corolla as the joint winner thus: ‘Corolla – the loser that never did’. Brave, brilliant, incisive journalism. As a teen from (Melbourne’s) Tottenham, I knew then what I wanted to do. 

Coincidentally, I’ve owned both a Sud and a ’70s Corolla, but I’d have chosen the Mk1 Volkswagen Golf. I mean, come on.

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The Wolfsburg hatchback’s influence is still felt today. Speaking of influence, and as I turn to the COTD, special mention must go to the Nissan Juke. Released early on in 2010, its enduring success helped usher in the small SUV revolution. Virtually every modern baby crossover from the Mazda CX-3 to the Audi Q2 owes a certain debt to the bolshie British-designed oddball. While not inventing the segment, globally the Juke helped popularise it.

Then there’s the Alfa Giulia as the beloved, beleaguered Italian brand’s comeback kid (from behind the wheel at least), the unremittingly fun Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ twins and Golf Mk7. All are worthy, but the latter deserves special mention since it remains a high water mark for quality, refinement and all-round capability seven years on from launch. If a Golf isn’t in the engineering department of every rival car maker as a benchmark, then they’re not being serious.

Read next: Five car designs that missed the mark

Ultimately, it seems clear that the 2010s was the decade that electric vehicles broke through. However, while Nissan’s Leaf was the first EV to find true mainstream success despite early range limitations, it is the Tesla Model S that deserves the accolade more than any other model. The controversial American brand showed that EVs can be useable every single day, fun to drive and gorgeous to behold.

It’s expensive and far from perfect, of course, but as we look back at the 2010s, can you imagine the automotive world without the Model S? Surely that’s the essence of a COTD.

See? Not so hard after all.