A sports car that can tackle rough terrain. An EV that is the height of automotive hedonism. A Lotus SUV. Our favourite cars of 2023 didn’t necessarily stack up on paper – but they certainly made sense on the road (or indeed off it). From a fiery hot hatchback to a decadent GT, this year has been full of surprises and rich in variety.
In a wider context, the most significant news was Rishi Sunak’s decision to push the ban on selling new, non-hybrid petrol and diesel cars back by five years to 2035. This gives cars with evocative engines, such as the Aston Martin DB12 and Porsche 911 Dakar, a welcome stay of execution, although time is still running short.
Thankfully, the Lotus Eletre and Rolls-Royce Spectre offer plentiful hope for the electric era (not to mention the British car industry), combining performance with refinement like never before. The public charging network might be lagging behind, but electric cars are racing ahead.
Read on for the five cars that pushed our buttons in 2023, plus five more we’re excited about for 2024 and beyond. We’ve included links to reviews and previews of all the cars featured here, too.
Aston Martin DB12
Explosively fast and exhilarating, yet also refined, luxurious and beautiful, the DB12 is everything a modern Aston Martin should be. Hell, you don’t even need to make excuses for the infotainment any more. Forget mid-engined hypercars and SUVs. Forget Formula 1, for that matter. Sporting GT cars are what this British company does best.
Powered by a 680hp 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8, the DB12 blasts to 62mph in 3.3 seconds and can reach 202mph. Chassis upgrades include adaptive dampers, a six-axis motion sensor and an electronic rear differential. Inside, a neat new 10.25-inch touchscreen offers over-the-air updates and a connected smartphone app.
We drove the DB12 on the Route Napoleon – a thrilling ribbon of tarmac in the foothills of the French Alps – and it gamely rose to the challenge. With abundant torque, communicative steering and steadfast grip, it felt equally at ease stringing together stacked hairpins as rumbling through Monaco later that day. Want to turn even more heads? The open-air DB12 Volante arrives in early 2024.
Honda Civic Type R
The Civic Type R isn’t the fastest hot hatch you can buy. Nor, despite costing £46,995, is it even the most expensive. Yet when it comes to raw excitement, and an inseparable connection between car and driver, the Type R is a new hatchback without equal.
The credit goes to Honda’s fanatical engineers, who have honed every detail of the ultimate Civic. From its suede-wrapped steering wheel to its rapid-fire manual gearbox, each control operates with the same weighty precision as a GT-department Porsche. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine musters 329hp – good for 0-62mph in 5.4 seconds and 171mph – but a gutsy front-wheel-drive chassis is the star attraction here.
Honda has even toned down the Type R’s styling, so it now looks like a car grown-ups could conceivably drive. Your better half may complain about the stiff suspension, but you’ll be enjoying yourself too much to care. This will likely be the last ‘traditional’ Type R, so buy one while you can.
Let’s park the idea that the Eletre isn’t a ‘proper’ Lotus. The company might have survived by hand-building a few hundred sports cars a year, but this electric SUV – and the profits it generates – will allow Lotus to thrive.
The standard 603hp Eletre uses a 112kWh battery and two motors for 0-62 mph in 4.5 seconds and 373 miles on a full charge. Or you can upgrade to the Eletre R, which musters a hypercar-bothering 905hp for 0-62mph in 2.95 seconds and 304 miles of range. Either way, you get a roomy, luxurious interior with 5G connectivity, up to seven touchscreens and its own smartphone app. You can’t say that about an Elise.
Weighing in at around 2.5 tonnes, this Lotus doesn’t handle like an Elise either, yet it isn’t only fast in a straight line. Air suspension and ‘porous’ aerodynamics, along with rear-wheel steering and anti-roll control in the Eletre R, make it accomplished and engaging to drive – and a credible rival for the Porsche Cayenne.
Porsche 911 Dakar
People have been building homebrew ‘safari’ 911s since time immemorial, but it took Porsche nearly six decades to make the idea official. Inspired by the 953 that won the Paris-Dakar rally in 1984, the Dakar features a raised ride height, chunkier tyres and plenty of underbody protection. It’s designed to boldly go where no production 911 has gone before.
In our case, that meant a forest proving ground used to test military vehicles. Splashing through flooded trenches, clambering over deep ruts and chucking the 480hp, four-wheel-drive 911 Dakar sideways on loose gravel was about the most fun we’ve had on four wheels.
Granted, few owners will drive their Dakar with such reckless abandon, but it also excels on the road, where longer suspension travel and lower limits make for a rewarding experience – even at very sensible speeds. Porsche has limited Dakar production to 2,500 cars worldwide (250 for the UK), but don’t bet against it eventually becoming part of the regular 911 range.
Is any car company better suited to going electric than Rolls-Royce? EVs naturally offer instant torque and smooth, near-silent progress – qualities that are perfect for a luxury car. Yes, they are also heavy, but that hardly matters when you have 584hp and 662lb ft under your right foot.
The Spectre is an imposing coupe with rear-hinged ‘coach doors’ and four adult-sized seats. Rolls-Royce has resisted the urge to cram it with touchscreens and tech, preferring analogue controls and traditional craftsmanship. The options for personalisation are almost limitless.
On the road, this is quite simply the quietest car I’ve ever driven: it’s quite eerie at first. Ride comfort, even on massive 23-inch alloy wheels, is suitably sumptuous, while a 102kWh battery and 329-mile range make long journeys eminently possible. When you do finally reach your destination (Saint-Tropez or the Amalfi Coast, perhaps), no car makes an entrance quite like the Spectre.
Coming soon: the cars we can’t wait to drive
Now into its seventh generation since 1964, the Mustang’s classic curves, burly 5.0-litre V8 engine and manual gearbox seem more appealing than ever. Not sold on old-school cool? Ford also offers a carbon-bodied, 800hp+ GTD version to challenge the Porsche 911 GT3 RS. UK Mustang sales start early next year.
With a grand total of 1,015hp, Lamborghini’s new flagship has accelerated headlong into hypercar territory. The plug-in hybrid successor to the Aventador promises the best of all worlds, from an electric mode for city driving to a naturally aspirated V12 that revs to 9,500rpm. It’s already sold out until 2026.
OK, as this is written, we have just got behind the wheel of the 750S in Portugal. However, if the plug-in hybrid Artura is anything to go by, this lightweight, V8-powered McLaren should be even better on its home tarmac. We said: ‘The 750S breeds confidence and encourages you to push at its limits. Among supercars, its balance and throttle-adjustability are second-to-none’.
Renault 5 EV
After the runaway success of the reborn Mini and Fiat 500, the return of the Renault 5 seemed almost inevitable. Due in 2025, the new 5 is fully electric, with ‘cheeky’ styling and a lightweight platform also set to underpin a new Renault 4. A sporty Alpine version is confirmed for production, too.
Volkswagen ID. GTI
Talking of hot hatchbacks, here is Volkswagen’s vision for an electric GTI. The ID. GTI concept allies classic styling cues – spot the red go-faster stripe – with a futuristic, tech-focused interior. It’s also pleasingly compact: closer in size to a Polo than the current Mk8 Golf. Now VW just needs to build it.
The post The cars we loved driving in 2023… and the ones worth waiting for appeared first on Motoring Research.