I just saw a blue Volkswagen Polo in the car park with the “2010 Car of the Year” sticker sitting proudly on its rear glass. It’s rare for us in Malaysia to be able to buy a reigning European COTY, a sign that things are changing and we’re now getting a better variety of cars at a faster speed. Some of the seven finalists of the 2011 edition could be here very soon too; in fact we’ve driven one of them already although we aren’t allowed to share the good news yet!

Heading the list (alphabetically) is the sexy Alfa Romeo Giulietta. This 147 replacement enters the sober Golf class as the prom queen – the car you’d want to be seen in, the car that your mates steal glances at, the car that makes you feel good about yourself. Looks and famous name aside, the Giulietta comes with the best Euro NCAP score for a compact car and efficient MultiAir engines. The 1750 TBi model with 235 bhp sounds yummy. Will Giulietta follow the 147’s (2001 champ) footsteps in winning eCOTY?

See the full list after the jump.

The second-gen Citroen C3 retains the round shape of its predecessor but boasts better quality, a new platform and more space, plus that huge panoramic Zenith windscreen. Its premium DS3 sister is a cool alternative to the MINI, which is everywhere you look at these days. The DS3 is customisable in and out and proudly “anti-retro”.

There’s no BMW, Audi or Mercedes in the list, but there’s a Dacia. For those who have no clue, Dacia is a Romanian brand owned by Renault and is the maker of the low cost cars like the Logan. The Duster is an old name from way back and like that small 4X4 from the 80s, today’s Duster can be had with a 4WD system (by Nissan). Drivetrains are proven, it’s rugged, looks decently macho with a high ground clearance and is the cheapest SUV in Europe.

The Ford C-Max sits on the platform of the soon to be launched next-gen Focus and boasts typical mini-MPV practicality plus seven seats for the Grand C-Max, which has its wheelbase stretched by 140 mm. They’re bound to be great to drive (Ford always gets ride and handling right) and the Ecoboost engine puts Ford back on par in the petrol engine stakes.

There’s another small MPV in the running too – the Opel Meriva’s rear hinged “suicide doors” are its unique selling point, alongside regular Opel features like the FlexFix bike carrier. Opel last won eCOTY in 2009 with the D-segment Insignia.

The Nissan Leaf is the sole Japanese badged car and electric vehicle in the reckoning, chosen for obvious reasons. The Renault-Nissan Alliance is really banking on an electric future and the 160 km range Leaf is the start of the Alliance’s onslaught of EVs that will include Renault’s Z.E. range.

Last but not least is the Volvo S60 and its V60 wagon variant. Billed as the sportiest Volvo ever made, there’s much emphasis here on dynamics and design besides traditional values like safety, although Volvo is mighty proud of Pedestrian Detection, which auto brakes the car when a human gets in the way. This “four-door coupe” also gets Volvo’s latest downsized turbocharged direct injection GTDi engines.

These nominees have done very well to be where they are, considering that there were 41 candidates eligible for this year’s contest. The list includes the likes of Audi’s A1/A7/A8, the F10 5-Series and X3 from BMW, Jaguar’s XJ, Mercedes CLS and the new Cayenne. The Car of the Year jury consists of 58 members representing 23 European countries.