Why Mazda MX-5 Was Crowned 2016 WCOTY


We were a trifle surprised when the Mazda MX-5 was named the 2016 World Car of the Year. The elemental sportscar pipped the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz GLC to the title and although we applaud the Mazda’s achievement, the result suggests most jurors voted with their hearts!   

The MX-5 was chosen from an initial entry list of 23 cars (eligible vehicles had to be launched and available for sale on at least two continents between 1 January 2015 and 31 May 2016), then a short list of ten, then three finalists, of which the other two were the highly-regarded A4 Sedan/A4 Avant and the stylish GLC premium leisure vehicle.

This year, vehicles were selected and voted on by an international jury panel comprised of 73 top-level automotive journalists from 23 countries around the world, including Cars.co.za Consumer Experience Manager Hannes Oosthuizen and Cars.co.za Content Manager Mike Fourie, who were the two South African representatives.

International accounting firm KPMG audited the jurors’ ballots. 

"The Mazda's win is quite a surprise given the history of the competition. My money was on the Audi A4. I personally think the MX-5 should have been in the Performance Car category," said Oosthuizen.

To illustrate his point, previous World Car of the Year winners were the Mercedes-Benz C-Class (2015), Audi A3 (2014), VW Golf (2013), VW Up! (2012), Nissan Leaf (2011), VW Polo (2010), VW Golf (2009), Mazda2 (2008), Lexus LS460 (2007), BMW 3-Series (2006) and Audi A6 (2005). 

That list contains one winner that won the title because of its significance, and that’s the Leaf – the first compact hatchback electric vehicle (EV) to be offered for sale worldwide. The rest of the WCOTY winners, with the exception of the Lexus, were accomplished volume-selling models, most of which remain relevant to a significant percentage of the new vehicle market.

The World Car Awards press release stated the following: “With the launch of its all-new MX-5, Mazda has thrown out the blueprint and gone back to basics. Shorter, lower, wider and – most importantly – lighter, the new MX-5 comes with a choice of either 1.5 or 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engines and the promise of unparalleled ‘Jinba ittai’ – a term meaning oneness between car and driver. And yes, it’s still one of the best driver’s cars around.” 

World Car of the Year voting results:

VEHICLE Occupant
Perform. Value Safety Environment Market
Weighted Score
Audi A4 Sedan / Audi A4 Avant 8.1 7.7 6.9 8.3 7.2 7.4 6.9 750
BMW X1 7.1 6.9 6.5 7.8 7.1 7.0 6.6 692
Hyundai Tucson 6.7 6.1 7.8 7.1 6.4 6.8 6.1 680
Jaguar XE 7.2 7.9 6.7 7.5 6.7 7.0 7.9 721
Land Rover Discovery Sport 7.4 7.0 6.7 7.6 6.2 7.0 7.5 707
Mazda CX-3 6.4 6.5 7.3 7.0 7.3 7.0 7.0 685
Mazda MX-5 6.9 8.3 8.1 6.6 7.3 7.3 9.0 764
Mercedes-Benz GLC 8.1 7.6 7.0 8.5 7.0 7.4 7.8 758
Skoda Superb 7.8 7.1 8.1 7.7 7.1 6.8 6.5 738
Toyota Prius 6.8 6.0 7.2 7.3 9.2 7.9 5.6 701

"The results show that our fellow jurors scored the Mazda the highest in terms of Performance and Environment (economy), but the MX-5's advantages in those categories are not really of significance," said Fourie. "Achieving an average score of 9/10 for emotional appeal and 8.1/10 for value for money ultimately sealed the victory for the Hiroshima-made roadster."

"The win for the MX-5 sends a clear message from the world's motoring media: 'We appreciate vehicles that are fit for purpose, capture the imagination of motoring enthusiasts and deliver driving enjoyment at affordable prices.' 

"But, regrettably, the Mazda's win is not of much consequence to the buying public. Although the manufacturer has produced almost a million MX-5s, stock availability of the current model is an issue in some markets (including ours) and the roadster has very a narrow target market. Its compromised packaging rules out a number of buyers, not least the taller ones among us.

"Nevertheless, the MX-5's win is momentous in that a Japanese carmaker has snapped the European marques' 5-year stranglehold on the WCOTY title. Mazda's a small company that's on the up and thriving in South Africa," Fourie concluded.

Meanwhile, the roadster reaped another World Car Awards trophy in New York: it beat its sibling, the CX-3 small crossover and the Jaguar XE compact executive sedan to the World Car Design of the Year title.   

"We included the MX-5 as a finalist in the design category for the Cars.co.za Consumer Awards, too. It's refreshing to see such a focused design devoid of frills," said Oosthuizen.

Other category winners in the 2016 World Car Awards are: BMW 7 Series won the World Luxury Car of the Year award ahead of the Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90, the Audi R8 was named the World Sportscar of the Year (at the cost of the Honda Civic Type R and Mercedes-AMG C63 S) and the World Green Car of the Year is the hydrogen-powered Toyota Mirai. 

Click here to read our review of the award-winning Mazda MX-5

Interested in buying an MX-5? Search for one on Cars.co.za

Watch Cars.co.za's David Taylor demonstrate how the MX-5's soft-top works:


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