Best new cars 2023: our road test review of the year
The best and most significant cars that we tested in 2023…
You might not fully appreciate how much goes on behind the scenes of the UK’s favourite car magazine. There is, of course, nothing we love doing more than testing the latest new cars from the world’s top car manufacturers and telling you about them but getting those words and images on your pages and screens requires a dedicated team of experts working behind the scenes. Almost all of us (there’s always one or two dissenting voices) agree that 2023 has been a vintage year.
Whatever you think about the switch to electric and the predominance of SUV body styles, the crop of cars that we were lucky enough to test in 2023 has been outstanding. Electric car technology has continued its rapid development and the best of the final new petrol and diesel models that are now starting to emerge onto the market underline how much a century and more of automotive development has achieved. We’ve even been paying more attention to past icons this year had have taken some exhilarating drives in memorable cars from the past.
As always, our road test team have covered tens of thousands of miles, and eaten many hundreds of petrol station sandwiches, in locations around the world to bring you the very best road test coverage and the most informed car reviews you’ll find anywhere. Below we’ve picked the best new cars we drove in 2023 with a few old favourites added in for good measure…
The best cars we tested in 2023
Behind wheel of McLaren’s Artura
McLaren is no stranger to hybrid tech – the British sports car manufacturer showcased its petrol-electric know how back in 2013 with the staggering P1 hypercar. But 10 years is plenty of time for progress, and we got a chance to sample the fruits of that first hand with the new Artura.
While it doesn’t have the raw stats to compete with the Ferrari 296, it still blew us away with its superb performance, the integration of its hybrid tech and, most of all, its ride, handling and steering. At £189,200, prices have come down a long way since the multi-million-pound P1, too.
VW Scirocco Storm blows us away
It’s always a pleasure to revisit great cars of years gone by, and our Icon Drive series allowed us to sample one of the most significant cars in VW’s history. While the Mk1 Golf is the car that transformed the brand in the latter part of the 20th century, the Scirocco shared its underpinnings with that iconic hatch – and even beat it to the showroom.
In Storm trim, it was a delight to drive, feeling more modern than a 49-year-old car has any right to. Finding a tidy used example is very tricky today, though.
Hyundai Ioniq 6 slips into our good books with its streamlined style
We strongly believe that Hyundai’s fully electric car range shows the Korean manufacturer in its very best light. When the Ioniq 5 was released back in 2021, we liked it so much that we even awarded it our prestigious Car of the Year title.
So it’s understandable that, when we managed to get a very early drive behind the wheel of the 5’s sleek big brother, the Ioniq 6, back in January, we approached it with very high expectations.
Whatever you think of those looks personally, we found it hard to deny that it’s anything other than very eye catching. Its streamlined shape gave it an appearance that we felt was quite unlike anything else on the road, and also brought the added benefit of an exceptionally low drag figure of 0.21cd – a vital stat in order to make the most of the electrical energy supplied from a 77kWh battery. The cabin looked similarly like that of a concept car, too, and best of all it offered rear passengers the sort of legroom that a Mercedes S-Class would struggle to match.
Overall, we were once again left impressed with Hyundai’s work. The e-GMP platform had matured since it was first used by the Ioniq 5; the 6’s ride, while slightly firmer than that of the 5, delivered much better body control through corners. Performance was strong in the 321bhp dual-motor model, although the single-motor option, with 225bhp and a superb 338-mile WLTP range (an appreciable 16 miles more than its more potent range mate), would ultimately be our pick.
We did have one reservation, however, and that was the car’s efficiency. For such a slippery shape, we were hoping that the Ioniq 6 would consume fewer kilowatts than it did. While we reserved judgement on this point until we could experience a longer drive, our suspicions were confirmed in July, when the car couldn’t match the efficiency of the BMW i4 in our twin-test review.
Hush-hush drive of Spectre prototype
A car that’s so quiet the air-conditioning fan was the most intrusive noise in the cabin; that’s all you need to know to sum up just how refined the Rolls-Royce Spectre proved to be – even when we first sampled it in prototype form.
An all-electric powertrain is the perfect match for Rolls-Royce and the qualities that make its cars so special. Smoothness, effortless performance and, above all, silence, were present in abundance during our early drive, and proved to be so once again when we tried the finished product in July.
Sampling hot Astra, Grandland GSe
Our lead story in issue 1,665 was the return of the hot Astra. Previously these rapid models would sport the VXR badge, but a new, electrified concept sees the Vauxhall wear GSe lettering – because under the skin, power comes from a plug-in hybrid drivetrain.
Overall, the latest model left us a little underwhelmed; the 222bhp powertrain didn’t feel particularly rapid. We reckon with the four-wheel-drive, 295bhp version of the PHEV system used by the Grandland GSe, it would have been much more exciting.
New 911 Dakar revels in the rough
Porsche is known for its dominance on the race track, but it has some history on much rougher terrain, too. Indeed, the technological tour de force that was the 959 once took a 1-2 finish in the gruelling Paris-Dakar rally.
In February, its maker paid tribute to that heritage with the 911 Dakar. A 50mm increase in ride height, tougher dampers, reinforced sills and knobbly tyres transform the 911 GTS powertrain into something which, as Steve Sutcliffe found, really impressed in the rough stuff. At £173,000, it isn’t cheap, though.
At the wheel of Dacia’s first ever hybrid
As Dacia’s first hybrid model, there was a lot of pressure on the Jogger Hybrid when we tried it back in March. And it didn’t take very long for it to impress us with its practicality, efficiency and levels of equipment.
With a price tag of around £23,000, there’s no direct competition to the seven-seat Jogger Hybrid, and with the cost of living affecting us all, it really felt like the right car at the right time. While it’s obviously a small step towards electrification – which Dacia is tentatively dipping its toes into – it’s a positive one.
Purosangue proves as thrilling as any Ferrari
The Purosangue is a huge turning point in Ferrari history. While the firm doesn’t call it an SUV, it’s certainly a different proposition to what we’re used to seeing roll out of the gates at Maranello. Fortunately, it proved worthy of the famous badge, as Steve Sutcliffe found out.
It might have a rather elevated ride height for a Ferrari, not to mention a 2.2-tonne kerbweight, but the 715bhp 6.5-litre V12 engine is glorious and the driving dynamics set out to thrill. The Purosangue turned out to be an unexpected, but very welcome, addition to the Ferrari line-up.
New Renault 5 shows its promise
Several new fully electric cars have been given a retro-inspired design (think Volkswagen ID. Buzz and Fiat 500e) and Renault decided to join the party by giving the 5 hatchback an electric modern equivalent.
The concept car in 2021 immediately enticed us with its bold, angular lines and clear throwback style, while still looking modern enough to stand out among rivals such as the MINI Electric and Honda e. It’ll be available only as a five-door supermini, but the rear door handles are hidden in the C-pillar to help make the car look like a three-door.
We’re still yet to find out what the production model will look like, but earlier in the year we at least got a good idea of how it’ll drive, thanks to some time behind the wheel of a Renault 5 prototype (which, as you can see here, had a Clio body). In short, our experience suggests the final car will offer an engaging and fun driving experience, but it was still fairly early in the car’s development. The steering felt direct, the suspension stable, and the brakes strong but full of feedback – positive notes that will be important not only for the Renault 5’s driver appeal, but even more so for the upcoming performance-focused Alpine A290_ß, which will borrow plenty of the Renault 5’s technology.
The new Renault 5’s platform is still a bit of an unknown quantity. This should be the first car on the CMF-B EV architecture, closely followed by the all-new Nissan Micra, and all-electric reinterpretation of the Renault 4 and the newly announced Twingo. We’re yet to find out what kind of range the Renault 5 EV will offer, but the French company has suggested around 249 miles from the larger 52kWh battery should be possible, while a smaller 40kWh battery will also be offered as a cheaper alternative.
Speaking of which, Renault has yet to announce full pricing for the new 5, but the French firm’s CEO Luca de Meo said it’ll start from 25,000 Euros in Europe, which could mean it’ll be closer to £30,000 here in the UK.
Big bold BMW XM fails to impress
Let’s be honest, the BMW XM was always going to have a tough time of it. The first bespoke M car since the M1, this hulking great machine with its plug-in hybrid-powered V8 is far removed from traditional M car territory.
The XM’s numbers are all massive: 644bhp (733bhp in the upcoming Label Red version), 800Nm of torque, a £150k price tag and, to its detriment, a kerbweight of 2.7 tonnes. There will be some who will love the looks of the, let’s say, boldly styled XM. But for those who don’t, we also found little solace in the way it drove.
Atto 3 leads UK charge for BYD
The Atto 3 kickstarted the influx from China’s most popular EV maker and we got our first taste in March. We found it to be stylish, well made and packed full of tech. Our biggest issue was having BYD’s full name – Build Yours Dreams – on the tailgate. But happily, this cheesy badging was dropped from new Atto 3s from August.
Jeep’s first EV, the Avenger, is a success thanks to Stellantis’s know-how
The Avenger EV sits on the E-CMP platform from parent firm Stellantis and there’s not a huge focus on its off road prowess. But it would be silly for Jeep not to tackle the all-electric small SUV class, especially in Europe.
Most Avenger owners won’t be the type to go green-laning either, so as long as Jeep’s little EV can cope with a muddy track then it’ll be fine. And that’s exactly what we found on our first drive abroad in April. When we drove it in the UK later in the year, the Jeep beat the Mazda MX-30 EV in a twin test, backing up our positive feelings from our first driving experience.
While the architecture might be shared with a slew of Stellantis products, we found the Jeep to be very well mannered on the road, with a peppy 154bhp electric motor providing power to the front wheels.
Jeep’s design team has worked to give the Avenger a different look to not only its part-sharing siblings, but also to anything else. The good news for purists is that Jeep is going to bring out a four-wheel-drive version of the Avenger in 2024.
Electric MINI shows initial promise
We unwrapped the new MINI for the front cover of issue 1,778, but the latest generation of the iconic British supermini was still in disguise in the spring.
Even so, our first drive of a late prototype revealed plenty – lots of typical EV instant punch, a surprisingly natural feel to the brake pedal (not a given in any electric car), a good blend of comfort and body control, and that great MINI trait of being able to put a smile on the driver’s face in the twisty stuff. This was an encouraging early test.
Abarth first out of blocks with EV hot hatch
Transferring hot hatchbacks to EV power is no easy task – but we reckoned that Abarth’s first stab at a zero emissions 500, complete with a noise generator, was a pretty decent effort.
Meatier steering helped to make this 500 a bit more involving than the regular car, although even with the digital exhaust note, the Abarth 500e couldn’t quite replicate the raw thrills that were offered by its combustion-engined predecessors. “It leaves room for lighter, faster models in the future,” we concluded, while delivering a three and a half-star rating.
Better VW ID.3 is still a work in progress
Volkswagen's ‘electric Golf’, the ID.3, has had a bit of a rough ride on tech and quality since its debut in 2019. So we were keen to get behind the wheel of the facelifted version, to see if the brand has improved it enough.
The conclusion was that progress has been made, but there’s still more work to do – particularly regarding infotainment, which has been tweaked in Europe but isn’t due for an overhaul on UK cars until 2024. “Our advice would be to hold out for another 12 months,” deputy editor Richard Ingram wrote.
We say Kia’s EV9 ‘Range Rover’ is the electric seven-seat SUV to beat
Kia has been expanding its range and reach over the years, and the Korean manufacturer made another huge step in 2023 with the introduction of its flagship all-electric SUV, the EV9. We called the model ‘Kia’s Range Rover’ and made it our front-cover star as we relished the first opportunity to put the car to the test.
The early mileage came in Korea, away from the UK’s notoriously fickle road surfaces, but editor-in-chief Steve Fowler was still encouraged by the car’s enormous wheelbase, funky design and promising range. And the numbers translated into excellent practicality in the real world, with acres of legroom in the second row, giving you the choice of either stretching out or moving your seat forward to make life more comfortable for those in the car’s rearmost seats.
Steve was driving the more potent of the Kia’s powertrains, with a pair of motors delivering 380bhp. And sure enough he reported that “a prod of the throttle gives you the usual electric-car kick in the back” – a sign that even with the EV9’s undeniable size and weight, the motors’ combined 600Nm of torque has the potential to make it feel pretty quick.
Based on the same e-GMP platform as Kia’s EV6 and the Hyundai Ioniq 5, the EV9’s chassis impressed. “It’s not remotely sporty in any way,” Steve said, “but it’s grippy and composed, with not much body roll”.
The in-car tech, traditionally a strong point from the Korean brands, was again on the money, and the experience left us itching to get an EV9 on British roads. “One thing’s for certain,” our verdict read. “The EV9 is going to be a smash hit. It’s a sensational car and does the job of moving Kia upmarket, allowing it to compete with the world’s biggest names.”
Has Kia really produced a car that can compete with a Range Rover? “This is the all-electric seven-seat SUV that everyone must beat,” Steve reckoned.
Lotus plugs into SUV future with Eletre EV
If there was one company you thought might ignore the pull of electrification and profit-swelling SUVs, it was Lotus. Yet this year we were treated to our first taste of the brand’s future – in the form of the divisively styled Eletre EV.
Our verdict was overwhelmingly positive; this may not be a Lotus in the conventional sense, but we thought the package worked an absolute treat. As sharp to drive as any comparable Lamborghini or Porsche, with a near 400-mile range and super-fast charging, the Eletre was declared to be a “great new car” for its maker.
New MG4 EV XPower hits the spot
Normally you’d wait months, possibly years, to be given the opportunity to properly test a car following its global debut. Yet MG does things differently; we’d heard rumours for a while, but just one week after the 429bhp MG4 EV XPower’s official reveal, we were thrown the keys to test this, the brand’s first electric hot hatch, on UK roads.
We’re big fans of the standard MG4, so hopes were high for the uprated family car. It features subtle styling tweaks, a slightly plusher Alcantara-clad interior, plus myriad performance parts hidden under the metal, so you might reasonably expect a substantial premium over the existing Long Range version. But once again, MG doesn’t like to follow convention; the XPower went on sale immediately, priced from just £36,495. That’s on a par with bog-standard rival EVs offering half the straight-line speed and none of the tuned hardware, and well below the lairiest petrol hot hatches.
First impressions of the hot MG4 were good, too. It’s no lacklustre Friday-afternoon car; we called it an “accomplished all-rounder” that had clearly had serious time and effort put into its development. Indeed, with an electronic diff, bigger brakes, new springs and dampers, plus unique Bridgestone tyres, the XPower had all the ingredients (and more) that you’d expect to find on such as driver-focused model. It felt perfectly at home on normal roads, where the dual-motor powertrain displayed plenty of performance (0-62mph takes a mere 3.8 seconds) and poise. The ride was noticeably firmer than in the normal MG4, but that’s a compromise you’ll need to make if you want this kind of prodigious cross-country pace at such a low price.
Another small failing was the projected range. The XPower uses the same 64kWh battery as the MG4 Long Range, allowing for a quoted 239-mile maximum. A usable 200-mile range in mild conditions will be plenty for some, but overall this underwhelming figure helped contribute to our verdict. We were impressed, but we thought the bigger-battery MG4 Extended Range would “still make more sense to most.”
‘Peerless’ new Spectre EV rolls in
Such is the rate of progress, few automotive brands have yet to announce their first electric vehicle. But one of the last to join the EV game was Rolls-Royce, which entered the frame earlier this year with the £300,000 Spectre coupé. Back in July we were given an opportunity to drive a production version of the lavish two-door, and we were absolutely wowed by its “peerless cabin quality and exemplary refinement”.
At the moment, the Spectre sits in a class of one, but Rolls refuses to rest on its laurels; it promises to electrify its entire range by 2030.
Nothing mellow about fast yellow Volvo
Our favourite Icon drive of August would have to be the legendary Volvo 850 T5-R. Painted in its trademark classic pastel yellow hue, it was loved for its early take on the ‘fast estate’ formula, generations before such a thing became a common performance-car exercise.
We agree that, yes, perhaps this very early iteration did include a few rough (or should that be square?) edges. However, with five fruity cylinders and a great big wallop from the turbocharger, its appeal is still strong today. We had a lot of fun reliving the past.
Last petrol-powered Boxster
In issue 1,792 we drove the last new Porsche Boxster to be launched with a petrol engine. Featuring the 4.0 litre flat-six from the 911 GT3, the RS blew our minds with a delicious engine willing to rev up to 9,000rpm, bouncing its distinctive song off the Austrian mountainsides.
We look forward to experiencing it here in the UK, to find out if it really is the best Boxster of all time – which would be quite an accolade for the mid-engined model. What’s next, you might ask? In 2024, we’ll be finding out a whole lot more about its all-electric replacement.
Has Fisker Ocean SUV got what it takes to turn tide against Tesla Model Y?
Brand-new forward-thinking electric-car start-up, please insert your name here. The notion of an ambitious fresh brand in the age of EVs isn’t new, so how do you sort between the pretenders and the ones that deserve a closer look? A name such as ‘Fisker’ is a good start, because the man behind it is quite a character. Auto designer turned entrepreneur Henrik Fisker has launched a headline model called the Ocean.
We wanted to find out whether it could rival Tesla, and the car got off to a great start. Taking the form of a mid-size SUV, the sharp-looking Ocean’s facts and figures made for enticing reading, but as we discovered, also led to a brilliantly innovative machine.
The Fisker even includes features that might be the next must-have in the industry, such as the all-round dropping windows (including the tailgate). Our only question mark regarded its driving experience, which felt as though it had a few more development miles ahead of it to iron out the quirks.
But what really made the Ocean sing were its simple numbers. The mid-level Ultra has a 112kWh battery that’s good for around 440 miles, comes with all the standard kit you might wish for and costs from under £50,000. In fact, the Sport will be just over £35k when it arrives next year, making it one of the few affordable new-age EVs this side of a Tesla Model Y.
Our verdict said it all: “The Ocean isn’t just another all-electric SUV. Some real thought and care has gone into its design and manufacture to make it one of the cleverest and most sustainable cars on the road.”
Stylish Fiat 600e shines in urban jungle
We finally got a chance to drive the brilliant Fiat 500e’s big brother in September. The Fiat 600e takes the know-how, parts and platform from other electric vehicles, such as the Jeep Avenger, and injects the style and sense of fun that you’d expect from this Italian brand.
However, Fiat’s handiwork wasn’t enough to cover up the pong of Jeep about the cabin, and the car didn’t blow us away in practical terms, either. Instead, the 600e shone while driving on the tight streets of Turin, Italy, and proved to be a refined cruiser, too.
BYD Dolphin EV makes a splash on test
The BYD Dolphin washed up on our shores this year, showing up the big brands that have yet to deliver on promises of truly affordable electric cars. But we quickly found there’s more to this hatchback than its price tag, with the car’s cabin feeling well screwed together and its tech surprisingly snappy.
Interior space has clearly been prioritised over luggage capacity, but we’re sure back-seat passengers will be grateful for that. The Dolphin didn’t set our trousers alight, but the ride was composed and power was sufficient.
New Transit van delivers all we hoped
Of course, it didn’t, with the latest version of its mid-size van delivering a more car-like drive than ever before. Meanwhile, the cabin features connected tech and clever touches to help make drivers’ lives easier.
The cargo space is down slightly on its predecessor’s, but access has been improved and the lower roof means getting into multi-storey car parks is easier. Well played, Ford.
Updated Corsa continues to appeal
The discontinued Ford Fiesta was barely six feet under before we took the updated Vauxhall Corsa for a spin. The top-selling supermini’s new look was complemented by a bigger touchscreen and better-integrated smartphone connectivity, both of which were welcome upgrades.
The Corsa Electric also demonstrated how efficient it could be, making the most of the longer range now on offer. Nippy around town and able to hide its weight well, the Vauxhall was better than ever, while keen finance deals softened the blow of high list prices.
Baby Volvo EX30 is a compelling package
Bolstering these figures was a slick Scandi-cool design and a minimalist interior, so all that was left was to find out if it lived up to the hype. The short answer was yes, because editor-in-chief Steve Fowler found the EX30 offered a very compelling package, albeit with a few caveats concerning the problematic user interface of the screen, and tight rear space.
Rebooted Scenic EV could be a winner
On the topic of iconic Renault nameplates, November was also the month we drove the new all-electric Scenic. Granted, the modern SUV/MPV mash-up isn’t quite as revolutionary as the original model, but it did lead on a variety of aspects important to any buyer.
Impressive range from the 87kWh battery and a very spacious interior marked the electric Scenic out as one of the most capable models in its segment. If the monthly price is right, the French manufacturer might be onto a winner with its reborn family model.
Ioniq 5 N turns up heat for sporty EVs
Manufacturers have been attempting to bring performance car fire to electric vehicles in a multitude of different ways over the past few years, but Hyundai’s N performance sub-brand might just have cracked the code with its brilliant new Ioniq 5 N.
Deputy Editor Rich Ingram went all the way to South Korea to find out that the hype might well be real, as this electric hot hatch proved to be extremely good fun to drive. And that’s the whole point, right?
Tesla’s heavily revised Model 3 takes all-electric saloon to the next level
One of the highlights of November was our deputy editor Richard Ingram’s first drive of Tesla’s heavily revised Model 3. While it’s difficult to keep calling a company like Tesla an industry ‘disrupter’ after more than a decade in the automotive business, the way in which the American company does things is still quite out of the ordinary, which made the changes unexpected, but very welcome.
The revisions focus on improving the fundamental build quality, while cutting costs and improving efficiencies for the manufacturing process and customers. We certainly had high expectations for the new Model 3, which Tesla seemed to have nailed. The new design, while obviously not too dissimilar from the outgoing model’s, is just that little bit sharper, with slimmer headlights and more sophisticated tail-lights that sit entirely on the bootlid.
The cabin features a fabric insert along the dashboard, which replaces a white plastic panel, plus a thinner bezel around the 15-inch touchscreen and a wraparound ambient lighting strip – a first for a Tesla. However, while crafting a minimal interior, Tesla has once again caused controversy by fitting a steering wheel that houses the indicators, horn and wipers in the form of touch-panel buttons. As we found, this isn’t a particularly intuitive solution.
Otherwise, though, the fundamentals immediately seemed a very positive step forward. The ride quality was much improved over the old model’s, despite our test car’s optional 19-inch wheels (18-inch wheels are standard), and Tesla’s efforts to boost in-cabin refinement also showed tangible improvements.
In all, the new Model 3 definitely showed that not only should it now be considered a brilliant car, but also that Tesla appears to be listening to consumers. Yet its biggest trick is probably the fact that it undercuts its key rivals on price so aggressively, making it very appealing for all EV buyers, rather than just Tesla die-hards.
Just follow the link for the rest of our 2023 Review of the Year pages...