The first mass-produced all-electric car was rated overall winner by the 58 judges involved in the prestigious award for ‘normalising’ electric cars, but several judges actually voted the model in last place.
However, it still finished ahead of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta in second place to take the title.
The Giulietta hatchback, Alfa Romeo’s answer to the Ford Focus, was deservedly the second best car to be judged, said Steve Cropley of Autocar, who was one of the UK judges in the competition.
"It’s good to see the Alfa Giulietta, the best car from them for many years, to be so well supported," he said.
Other cars to look out for in 2011 include the new Vauxhall Meriva, complete with rear-opening side doors and low-CO2 ecoFlex engines, which finished in third place overall in the competition.
It was closely followed by the Ford C-Max and Grand C-Max in fourth place. Both models are built on a new global platform and come with Ford’s frugal, British-built EcoBoost engine technology.
Completing the top five was the Citroen C3 supermini and its more premium brother, the highly customisable DS3.
Journalists from 23 different countries gathered to choose the best cars of 2011. The aim is to find the best new car to go on sale in the previous 12 months, although the Nissan Leaf doesn’t arrive in the UK for another four months.
The award is the most prestigious in Europe, and previous winners include the Vauxhall Insignia in 2009, the Fiat 500 in 2008 and the Ford S-Max in 2007.
The first ever Car of the Year was the pre-Leyland Rover 2000, which was described as ‘British quality and good value’ by the judges.