North America’s smallest car, the Mini Cooper, has earned the biggest automotive award for 2003. An independent group of 49 automotive journalists selected the Mini Cooper as the 2003 North American Car of the Year.
The annual award honors vehicles that set new standards or will become benchmarks in their classes. Jurors evaluate them based on criteria including innovation, design, handling, safety and value. To be eligible, a vehicle must be “substantially new.” Cars must have sales reasonably expected to exceed 5,000 a year.
Read NCTD review of the 2003 Mini Cooper
“Mini Cooper stands out with sports car performance and handling wrapped in a cute design that’s practical and affordable,” wrote Mitch McCullough, a juror for the award and editor-in-chief of New Car Test Drive. “But what makes the Mini the North American Car of the Year is BMW’s flawless execution and attention to detail, and the quality and engineering excellence throughout.”
The award is unique because instead of being given by a single publication, radio or television show, it is voted upon by 49 full-time automotive journalists from the United States and Canada representing magazines, newspapers, and radio and television programs. Many of those on the jury have covered the auto industry for decades and evaluate 50 to 100 new vehicles a year. And they have no ties to one another.
The jurors voted in December, sending their ballots directly to accounting firm Deloitte & Touche. The ballots were counted by Richard Gabrys, vice chairman of Deloitte, who kept the winners secret until a news conference that kicked off the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
The award was widely reported in the mass media in North American and the UK. “The tiny four-seat Mini Cooper inspired the mini skirt in the 1960s and transported cinema sleuth Austin Powers,” John Porretto of the Associated Press reported. Launched last year, the Mini Cooper boasts styling cues of the original with engineering by BMW.
“The new Mini transcends nostalgia to be endearing, fun, quick, and a sterling performer,” wrote Denise McCluggage, a juror and contributor to New Car Test Drive. McCluggage raced Mini Coopers at Brands Hatch and in the Tour de France as well as in the Alpine and Monte Carlo rallies in the 1960s. “I loved the old one and think this new version is wonderfully evocative of all that was good about the original Mini yet is no way limited by that memory. It is a design that goes beyond clever in its use of space, its safety features and its appeal to the pleasure centers of anyone who likes spirited driving,” she said.
“Virtually every auto manufacturer has copied the original Mini’s design concept,” said juror and New Car Test Drive contributor John Rettie. “Consequently, BMW had a really tough act to follow in designing the new Mini Cooper. However, BMW succeeded as it managed to create a small car that stands out from the crowd, is fun to drive, functional and safe.”
“With the Cooper and Cooper S, Mini has put fun into economical, small-car ownership,” said juror and New Car Test Drive contributor Michelle Krebs. “The Mini has proven affordable, but does not sacrifice safety, performance or fun.”
The Nissan 350Z and Infiniti G35 were finalists for the award. Other candidates for 2003 included the BMW 7 Series, Honda Accord, Honda Civic Hybrid, Mazda 6, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Pontiac Vibe, Saab 9-3, Saturn Ion, and Toyota Matrix.
Nissan Altima earned the 2002 North American Car of the Year title. The awards were first given in 1994 and were patterned after the Car of the Year award given in Europe.
The North American Car of the Year award is funded by the jurors and managed by a seven-member organizing committee, the members of which are also jurors. Those members are Tony Swan (Car and Driver), Michelle Krebs (freelance), Christopher Jensen (The Plain Dealer), Alex Law (freelance), John Davis (MotorWeek), John McElroy (BlueSky Productions), Matt Nauman (San Jose Mercury News).