IT WOULD be wrong to label the COTY judging process as tough. Brutal is a more accurate description. Merciless and ruthless are even better.
Sat before me in the shadowy gloom at Ford’s You Yang’s Proving Ground, the seven COTY judges have just finished tallying the votes for the first round, which by necessity has slashed the field.
Of the 21 models eligible for the gong, only five have survived the past three days, which has seen every car tested pitilessly at the purpose-built facility, a sprawling 2300-acre torture chamber of high-speed circuits, pock-marked roads and skid-pans.
Every variant has been driven relentlessly over the same tarmac before being critiqued and rated, not against each other, but the five enshrined COTY criteria: function, technology, efficiency, safety and value.
It’s a simple, if clinical, process, and this year it’s thrown up a top five that’s as interesting as it is diverse. Headlining the group are the BMW i3 and Tesla Model S, which thanks to their intoxicating blend of technology, efficiency and performance are gunning to become the first electric cars to win Wheels COTY.
Mazda’s all-new 2, Merc’s C-Class and Peugeot’s 308 also earned nods of approval, but where they triumphed during Round One, things could change in Round Two: The Real World.
Leaving the You Yangs behind for the picturesque hills of Victoria’s Gippsland region, ahead of us lies three more days of testing where the judges will become even more familiar with the finalists on public roads. That means speed humps, traffic lights, parallel parks, school zones and open country roads.
Flaws will be exposed and strengths lauded before another round of judging, this time in the barren, wood-panelled boardroom at the Leongatha Motel, culls the field again to the three finalists.
This is when things get really serious.
The judges cram into the cars for a day of four-up testing, with the whole process overshadowed by the pressure of expectation. Remember, Wheels COTY awards just one winner – there are no encouragement awards here – and every judge is desperate to know the victor.
Cruelly, though, this is the one piece of information denied them. After seven gruelling days of testing, and a final round of voting, Wheels tradition dictates that only one person tallies the votes and knows the result: the editor.
It’s a hollow and anti-climactic way to end such an intense week, but it means every judge is just as eager to discover the winner as you are.
Slotting into the editor’s chair has only intensified Butler’s road-testing technique: thrash first, ask questions later. A man who lives in the future, not the past (he’s the reason the Tesla is here), this year marks Glenn’s first COTY at the helm after starting as a car washer last century.
Odds-on to take out the Guinness World record for the loudest burp and largest collection of salmon shorts, Ponch marches defiantly to the beat of his own, very loud drum. As subtle as a backhand to the face, he’s uncouth, raw and opinionated, and has one of the best motoring brains in Oz.
His tears said it all: this will be Robbo’s last COTY. After 42 years, he is handing over the reins to “younger, hip-thrusting road testers”.
Determined to go out with a bang, Robbo’s 2014 form is as scathing and passionate as ever. Just as you’d expect from the world’s greatest motoring journalist.
A living, breathing bullshit detector, Carey survives solely on coffee, cigarettes and his love of cars. Currently terrifying PRs in the Northern Hemisphere as Wheels’ European scribe, Carey salivates over cutting-edge technology and uses cool logic to browbeat anyone with an opinion different to his own.
COTY is like Christmas for Byron, only better.
A Wheels tragic (he owns every issue), his passion for COTY is matched only by the ferocity of a disease that causes him to buy oddball old cars and horde them. Now in his fifth year as a COTY judge, Byron is incisive and never afraid to voice a contrary opinion.
Like a medieval torture specialist, Bruce has spent the past 20 years fine-tuning his own sick form of pleasure: CEO grilling. An expert at making car-company execs squirm, Bruce’s keen nose for news brings both a wealth of industry knowledge and a crisp voice of reason to the judging panel.
wheelsmag.com.au 71 As multi-talented as she is knowledgeable, Sally’s eye for design faux pas is invaluable.
A designer, singer, inventor and architect, when she’s not flying from San Francisco to judge COTY, she’s creating things like the award-winning Nest high chair, currently housed at the Powerhouse Museum.