The Chasing Cars team reveals their favourite cars of 2023, as well as some that missed the mark during the year that was
It was a massive one for the Australian new car market in 2023, with a decent stack of interesting new metal going through the Chasing Cars garage over the past 12 months.
There were also plenty of arrivals and some departures on the global stage, be it machinery or broader trends on the motoring landscape.
Throughout, some vehicles excelled, while others didn’t quite meet expectations.
Here, we look at what each Chasing Cars editorial staff member’s favourite car was for 2023, and also cars that they thought didn’t do so well.
Let’s dive in!
The big hit: BMW M3 Touring
One of BMW M division’s four lavish 50th birthday presents to itself, the M3 Touring somehow managed to live up to the hype. Turns out it actually was that simple: attaching a practical wagon body to the sublime G80 M3 chassis was enough to birth a car that is about as close to a 10/10 as our road testers have seen.
The S58 engine provides scintillating performance, while masterful tuning of the AWD, ESC and traction control allow surety most of the time with tail-out fun on tap, while the ride is totally liveable every day. Decent interior space and a big, wide boot mean this is an everyday sports car that appeals to heart and head in equal measure.
The runner up: Hyundai Ioniq 6 (2023 COTY)
Port congestion meant the M3 Touring didn’t roll off the boat in time to make our Car of the Year testing – and that might have been one reason the Hyundai Ioniq 6 electric sedan swept to a unanimous victory, seeing off 23 challengers in a best-of-the-best competition.
Decidedly avant-garde styling (to put it mildly) didn’t faze me or the other judges: the Hyundai is brilliantly attuned to Australian conditions, delivering excellent ride quality, amazing sound insulation, engaging handling and a polished interior.
Combine all that with Hyundai’s signature 800-volt EV architecture and excellent real-world range and we had an all-round EV that delivered across the board. If only it was available as a wagon…
The miss: Ride quality of Mazda’s new luxury SUVs
A decade of impressive Mazda releases meant expectations were sky-high for the brand’s launch into the premium SUV market in 2023. But when the BMW X3-sized CX-60 arrived in July, it was clear to our testers that there was a big problem: perplexingly poor ride quality.
While trademark Mazda steering feel and torquey six-cylinder engines went some way to delivering on the premium promise, the disjointed ride – overdamped on one axle and underdamped on the other – spoiled the serenity.
The larger CX-90’s arrival in August saw a slight improvement, but the suspension of both cars needs a total rethink – and fast.
The big hit: MG4 Excite 51
While not the quickest (Audi RS E-tron GT) nor the most exciting (Porsche Cayman GT4 RS) car I’d driven in 2023, my biggest hit of the year is the MG4. I staked my claim 12 months ago that what I was looking forward to most in the year ahead was what motoring really needed right now: an EV that didn’t weigh as much as the Bondi apartment block nor cost nearly as much, either. And the MG4 is it.
Crucially, my pick isn’t the blindingly quick yet somewhat pricey XPower, but the base Excite 51.
At under $40k list, it’s where we want mass appeal EVs to be, while offering a suitable driving range for its price and positioning. It clocks in at a lean circa-1.5 tonnes, blended with a surprisingly handy chassis to create – hallelujah – a cheap, electric driver’s car of the likes that its buck-banging electric rivals can’t match.
As real-world game-changing went in 2023, it’s a tough act to top.
The runner up: Audi RS E-Tron GT
On another day, the wonderful BMW i7 would pip the Audi RS E-tron GT at the post as my favourite drive of the year. Just how the Bimmer limousine could be so plush and serenely comfortable yet spank a backroad so effectively is perhaps 2023’s biggest Jekyll and Hyde act.
But today the Audi nudges ahead, the (equal) quickest car Chasing Cars has performance tested on our track to date (3.26sec, as did Mercedes-AMG EQE 53 Sedan) and one that’s more complete, quicker and value-laden than a similarly priced Porsche Taycan technical twin.
But what really impressed me is how such a potent electric machine can be so friendly and comfy as a daily driver.
The miss: Tesla Cybertruck
So…3.1 tonnes of meat mallet-like stainless steel fury packing 630kW and 2.6sec 0-100km/h potential on all terrain tyres. With zero practicality. At what point did anyone think this was a good idea and, more concerningly, who left the Cyberbeast unsupervised while the gates of LaLaLand were left wide open?
This abomination is now (allegedly) in production. If thankfully (allegedly) not slated for Australia. I hope my friends and loved ones never have the ill-fated fortune to find themselves in the same neck of reality as this rolling high-voltage disaster zone.
The big hit: Honda Civic Type R
Honda didn’t really have to do much to make the latest generation Type R a legend but they’ve done so nonetheless. It might be a bit less up on its toes than the last generation but point it at a twisty road and it lives up to its ‘FWD Porsche’ nickname very quickly.
After taking the Type R for a long drive shortly after its launch, I fitted a baby seat in the back for the weekend where it revealed its second major boon: it’s simply a very, very good car to live with every day – like a hot hatch should be.
The manual is incredibly easy to use, the boot is massive and Honda’s focus on making the interior more premium with a litany of satisfying clicky buttons and knobs means you don’t feel cheated by its $70K price tag. Volkswagen, please take notes.
The runner up: Volkswagen Amarok Panamericana
I remember attending a conference back in 2020 where then managing director Michael Bartsch said that Volkwagen would “not make the same mistake that Mercedes made with the Nissan Navara” when it came to the Ranger-Amarok alliance, and boy were they spot-on.
It’s remarkable how distinctly ‘Volkswagen’ the second-generation Amarok feels and the Panamericana is the ute in its very best form. Comfortable, capable and understated.
Putting the ‘climate controls in the touchscreen’ nonsense aside, the interior of the Amarok is superior to the already excellent Ranger and that’s owing in large part to the seats which have proved to be very supportive on long distance journeys.
It’s little wonder that it came second in our 2023 Off-Roader of the Year event behind the all-mighty Ranger Raptor, but for me, as an all-round workhorse and everyday vehicle it doesn’t get much better than the Amarok Panamericana.
The miss: Toyota Hilux GR Sport
This one might be a bit controversial but I’ve driven the Hilux GR Sport extensively both on-road and off-road (plus some towing) and it’s a vehicle which fails to push the envelope, or really fix any of the major issues plaguing the ageing Hilux.
While it’s not asking Ford Ranger Raptor money, it’s still $85K driveaway and although Toyota has made some changes like widening the track and modifying the suspension, the net result is a vehicle that is still bloody uncomfortable to drive on road and is straight up punishing off road.
Is it capable? Sure. But so is a regular SR5, and in my opinion a GR-branded product should go further. And by committing to a ‘no compromise’ mentality, it’s really failed to be good at any one thing.
Perhaps it’s a sign that the current Hilux is simply getting a bit old, and if the new-gen Tacoma in the US is anything to go by, consider me very excited. Perhaps this GR Sport walked so that, some day, a full-fat ‘GR Hilux’ – deserving of the badge – could run.
The big hit: Alfa Romeo Giulia
There is not a great deal of newness to the Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan, which debuted a mild facelift this year. Having launched in its current generation in 2015, you can certainly feel that with some of its cabin tech in particular, but it’s just a sublime car to drive and an all-round reminder about how good cars can feel behind the wheel.
I drove the mid-spec Veloce and was instantly smitten with its keen chassis, perky engine and sublime steering, not to mention the stunning visuals, to my eyes at least.
The Giulia gets my ‘big hit’ ranking this year solely because cars like this probably won’t be around that much longer, so best to enjoy them while we still can.
The runner up: Mahindra Thar
It’s not available in Australia, but driving the Mahindra Thar in a torrential downpour on Mahindra’s SUV proving ground in India was an experience to say the least.
Yes it’s bare and basic, but this very capable off-roader has a lot of charm. Yes, there is the elephant in the room about its clear similarity with another well-known off-roader, but at $20-$30K AUD equivalent in its home market of India, it’s certainly a compelling value proposition.
Unfortunately, Mahinda has told us it’s unequivocally not coming to Australia, which is a shame as I feel it could certainly find a niche downunder.
The miss: Overzealous safety features
It seemed to be a recurring theme around the Chasing Cars office that often one of the team would come back from a drive in a new car only to have a dampener put on the experience by overzealous safety features.
Don’t get me wrong, safety is crucially important and should be encouraged, however in recent drives of the GWM Tank 300 Ultra Hybrid and Hyundai Kona Hybrid, we found overly sensitive (and sometimes incorrect) speed limit recognition and driver attention systems to ping excessively to the point they were ignored or turned off completely.
Hopefully with time manufacturers can fine tune a balance between effective calibration of safety systems and the risk of over-nannying drivers to the point of annoyance and distraction.
The big hit: MG4
Who thought that electric vehicles could be fun? Well, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the MG4 since its launch, and it has impressed me with its excellent driving dynamics, punchy rear-drive powertrain and decent electric range.
With four variants to choose from, including the very rapid XPower, the MG4 is great value for money and is, in all honesty, the first electric car I have driven that I would go out and buy myself. Congratulations to MG on a very fine EV in 2023.
The runner up: Hyundai i30 N
Although it’s not an entirely new model for 2023, the Hyundai i30 N is my runner up. Every time I get in and drive one, I am grinning from ear to ear. The Hyundai hot hatch is quick, capable and can even keep up with a Toyota GR Corolla on a twisty road.
It’s raucous, precise and so fun to drive in almost any situation. The only thing that lets the hatch down is very firm ride quality in the most intense N mode.
The miss: Haval Jolion S
I really enjoy a lot of GWM’s products, including the GWM Cannon ute, however looking back, it was the Jolion S that was the biggest miss for me. With an indecisive and confused transmission, firm ride quality and a pretty annoying driver monitoring system, the Jolion S was unfortunately the car I had almost forgotten from 2023.
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