I swear, this is getting harder to do every year. As cars improve on all fronts, it makes it difficult to find a bad car; there are no bad new cars out there, just cars that are different. 

So how do we decide on what car wins what award and even the harder decision, what car wins our Car Of The Year award? It’s never easy and there is rarely a unanimous decision. In saying that, I believe the winner of our 2023 Car Of The Year award marks the first time there was little discussion; the car was named, and all agreed. It’s truly that good.

So read on, and if you don’t agree then feel free to leave a comment and let’s thrash it out.

To be clear, as we have learned we need to do every year, there are rules to tell you about. We have criteria that must be adhered to, such as the car having been reviewed in New Zealand – so any tests by our man in Japan, Ken Saito, are out. The review has to have been published in the 2023 calendar year, and the car must have been supplied by a distributor or brand – not a dealer. If you want to give feedback, go for it – but if it’s about some car we haven’t reviewed, you might not like the answer.

2023 DriveLife Coolest Gadget of the Year

This award is for the coolest feature or technological advancement, the one that feels like it comes from Q’s lab waiting for James Bond to arrive.

WINNER – BMW i7 – Rear-door touchscreen panels

Our coolest gadget award is for a feature that we haven’t seen before on a car, and that really impressed us. The BMW i7’s 5.5” touch panels in each of the rear doors are one of those things. Rear seat passengers can control their climate control, seat position, seat heating and cooling, as well as massage functions.

They can also change the whole car’s media, lighting and mood settings, and operate the window blinds. Clever stuff in a car that’s designed as much for the back seat passengers as the driver.

RUNNER-UP – Skoda Enyaq Crystal Face Grille

Ignoring that the name sounds like a drug dealer’s handle, the grille on the Skoda Enyaq borders on going too far. So if it borders on that line, that means it hasn’t crossed it? In my view, yes. Call me a magpie, but I love the funky light dance the grille does when you approach and unlock the car. 

Others are doing an illuminated grille, but none have gone to this extreme. Check out our review to see more.

2023 DriveLife Best Value Car of the Year

The value for money award is a subjective thing but is sometimes overlooked. Regardless of cost, this award represents excellent value in technology, performance, safety – or just features – compared to their competitors.

WINNER – BYD Dolphin

To be honest, I was quite stunned when writing the review for the BYD Dolphin. On comparing the car to its natural competitor, the MG4, the Dolphin has so much more equipment it’s not funny. 

Yes, the Dolphin costs more, but the list of features added to the car is outstanding and by far outweighs the price difference. The Dolphin also is better featured than cars costing $10K or more extra – petrol or EV.

Read our review of the Dolphin, and I am sure you will agree. Regardless of the petrol vs. EV debate, it’s a highly equipped car – and the easy winner of our 2023 Best Value Car Of The Year award.

RUNNER-UP – MG4

Boy, this was a close one. Between the MG4 and the BYD Dolphin, both vehicles represent exceptional value for buyers considering an EV. The BYD narrowly pips the MG4 on two fronts. It has better energy efficiency and comes with much more standard equipment for the money.

Yet, this shouldn’t detract from the MG4. In our view, it drives better and has more space than the BYD. If you’re after cheap electric transport, you’d be mad not to consider it.  

2023 DriveLife Driver’s Car of the Year

This award goes beyond you grinning when you approach the car, eager to get behind the wheel. To be eligible for this award, the driver has to be grinning about the drive, without even seeing the car; that’s the sign of a true driver’s car. 

WINNER – Honda Civic Type R

The Honda Civic Type R is amazing. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The incredible part was how much Honda was able to improve upon the already amazing previous-gen FK8 Type R.  

For the FL5 Type R, Honda’s taken the FK8 and cranked it to 11. 

Its performance is lively and engaging, its handling is razor-sharp, the braking and steering feel are excellent, and the gearbox is one of the best manual transmissions in a modern car. Heck, even the cabin provides you with a sense of occasion every time you get in for a drive.

Altogether, the FL5 Type R has a performance spirit and an edginess about it, which I’ve not experienced in any new car for a long time. It’s one of the most rewarding driving experiences I’ve had in 2023. 

In short, it’s one of the best new cars I’ve driven. Hence, it wins our Driver’s Car of the Year award.

RUNNER-UP – Mazda MX-5 GT

I’ve never met a Mazda MX-5 owner who doesn’t beam with enthusiasm over their car. Once you’ve driven an MX-5, you’ll know exactly why. 

The MX-5 is the sports car, personified. Its lightweight chassis, sharp and playful handling, impeccable steering and gearbox all combined in an affordable and reliable package, have made it the success it is today. The MX-5 GT follows the same formula but with a more serious streak.

The newly upgraded componentry, such as its Brembo brakes, Bilstein shocks and forged BBS wheels make the MX-5 GT a more capable and track-day-ready machine than before. Importantly, it achieves all this without sacrificing any of its original character.   

The MX-5 provides a formula that’ll only be appreciated more, as time goes on.

If there’s any way to sum it up, the North Americans say it best: “Miata Is Always The Answer”.  

2023 DriveLife Eco Warrior Car Of The Year

We’ve changed the criteria for this award a little. Sure, it’s still about sticking it to the oil companies, but since a majority of our test cars are hybrid or EVs, it’s getting harder to find a winner.

So this year, our new criteria for this award is the EV that uses the least amount of power during our real-world testing. Simple!

WINNER – BYD Dolphin

It was interesting to see that last year we awarded this to the BYD Atto3. This year, the award goes to that model’s sibling, the Dolphin.

Even with its blade batteries, you would think the Dolphin would struggle to be economical when it weighs in at a fairly chunky 1,658Kg. That might not sound like a lot, but the Dolphin is not a big car.

Still, during my testing, this car managed to give me 15.3kWh/100km, even lower than its WLTP figure of 15.9. That was the best result we achieved from an EV in 2023, so the BYD Dolphin takes out our 2023 DriveLife Eco Warrior Of The Year award.

Will the BYD Seal take this award out for 2024? We shall see.

RUNNER-UP – Tesla Model Y

As polarising of a character as its commander-and-chief can be, it’s difficult to ignore the technology which Tesla develops and how they’re advancing the EV landscape.

In this case, the Tesla Model Y impresses with its energy efficiency. Despite being a big, heavy vehicle, it still achieved a solid energy efficiency result of 16.4kWh/100kms and ran close to its claimed range during our test. Combine this, along with all its other technology offerings, and it was an obvious contender.  

Although Tesla is facing greater competition as we enter 2024, it still remains a technological trailblazer.   

2023 DriveLife Family Car of the Year

This award is all about practicality, and if you could only have one car, then which would be the best all-around vehicle for the family of today? Family on a long road trip? Seven seats? Space for everything? Can it take knocks from unruly kids, and the dog in the back?

WINNER – Ford Everest
The Ford Everest is what happens when you take New Zealand’s best-selling vehicle – the Ford Ranger – then add a roof, two extra seats and more sophisticated suspension at the back.

On this basis alone, we knew the Everest was going to be good, and yet the Everest still had the ability to impress us. The combination of its silky-smooth Ford F-150 derived V6, selectable four-wheel drive, chassis and that new suspension set-up made for an excellent performing family SUV.

If you want that one car that does everything, you’ll find the Everest hard to beat.    

RUNNER-UP – Nissan Pathfinder

I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t expecting much from the 2023 Nissan Pathfinder. A petrol V6 in 2023? I thought I might get targeted by some fanatical group wanting to slash my tyres.

However, my expectations of the Pathfinder were exceeded by a large margin. Everything feels so right in this car. I fell back in love with a petrol V6, the space is excellent for a family on holiday with all the crap they take with them, and it’s a great drive.

There is little to dislike about the 2023 Nissan Pathfinder. I couldn’t quite get it to the winning spot, but it was very close.

2023 DriveLife Hottest Car of the Year

This award is all about looks. Which vehicle would create the best bedroom poster, desktop or phone background?

WINNER – Nissan Z
Have you ever looked at something and instantly knew that whoever made it was genuinely passionate about what they were doing?

It’s obvious the team behind the new Nissan Z are passionate because the Nissan Z is a stunning car to behold.

It merges many signature Z-car design traits, combining them into a modern retro-throwback, sports coupe. Importantly, it’s reminiscent of the car that started it all, the 240Z.

So yeah, the Nissan Z takes this one. It’s truly an aspirational vehicle.

RUNNER-UP – Toyota GR Supra

With its low, predatory stance, long curved bonnet, twin roof bulges and generous curvy hips, the GR Supra really does look the part. I love how this car looks, it has that quality that makes you look back every time you walk away from it, usually more than once. 

2023 DriveLife Luxury Car of the Year

The luxury award represents the pinnacle of what manufacturers can offer in terms of comfort, quality, and style.

WINNER – BMW i7

I would argue that the BMW i7 is the first genuinely luxurious electric vehicle. It has road presence and oozes quality both inside and out. Sitting in those generous rear seats gives you that “ahhhh” feeling, it’s just so good. Combine that with the sumptuously smooth ride along with the EV lack of vibration and noise, and it becomes the ultimate luxury ride.

RUNNER-UP – Mazda CX-60 Takami

We start all our reviews with a First Impressions section. Upon opening the door of the 2023 Mazda CX-60 Takami, I was almost speechless. The interior design, the colours, the materials – they all scream LUXURY, and as I said in my review, Lexus should be worried. There’s a new player in town who has raised the bar in the luxury stakes.

2023 DriveLife Toughest Car of the Year

This award is about the rough and tough. Which vehicle would take you over the toughest terrain while trying to survive a zombie apocalypse?

WINNER – Toyota Hilux SR5 Cruiser

Our toughest car award usually goes to a ute, and this year is no exception. The Hilux’s rough-and-tough credentials are well established, and the SR5 Cruiser adds to that, really looking the part with its wide stance and chunky arches.

RUNNER-UP – VW Amarok
The Volkswagen Amarok is the German auto giant’s take on a Ford Ranger. The Amarok brings a fresh interior and new exterior styling but otherwise shares its engine, chassis and drivetrain with its blue oval relative.

It’s a strange detail to think about, but we know the Ranger is an excellent ute. Naturally, it tracks that the Amarok would be as good as its contemporary. In short, it combines all the virtues of the Ford and adds a bit of Volkswagen sensibility, particularly on the tech front.

So long as you’re not tangled up by the idea of having a reskinned Ranger, the Amarok will be a great ute for many.    

2023 DriveLife Unexpected Car of the Year

This award is for the vehicle that turned out to be a big surprise, compared to our unjustified expectations.

WINNER – Nissan Qashqai

I wasn’t expecting anything special when I picked up the keys to the Nissan Qashqai for our road test. But far from being just another hybrid SUV, the Qashqai won me over. 

Straight off the bat, it looks good with nice, clean lines and the standard Magnetic Blue colour accentuates these well. However, it is when you get inside and start driving that it stands out. The interior is high quality, extremely comfortable and loaded with tech. It’s spacious, drives well and has an engine and motor system that provides ample performance whilst remaining efficient. Top this off with a price point that sits extremely competitively compared to other options and I’m surprised we don’t see more of these on the road.

After a week I was reluctant to give the Qashqai back. If you’re looking for a hybrid SUV it would be remiss to not put this on your must-try list; if not you could miss out on a very nice surprise.  

RUNNER-UP – Opel Grandland

Even in my review of the Grandland, I said it was a contender for this award. It looks great – especially in the Cobalt Blue of our test car. But that wasn’t unexpected; this car just melded itself into my daily routine so very easily. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but again, referring to my review, it’s more that the car is better than the sum of its parts.

If you are looking for a small-medium two-wheel drive SUV, you should do yourself a favour and take the Opel Grandland for a test drive.

2023 DriveLife Car of the Year

And so it comes to this – our Car of the Year for 2023. This award is for the best car of the year and is only open to those vehicles that we rated above 8.0 in our reviews. We take many things into account to award our Car of the Year, so it’s not focused on just one aspect.

Please note this is not the Cheapest Car of the Year award. It isn’t about cost – it’s about being the best car overall that we have reviewed. Cost is taken into account (that’s the ‘Value’ rating in our reviews), but so are all the other factors that come into what makes a car the best we have reviewed.

WINNER – BMW i7

We drove some excellent cars in 2023, many of them highly rated by the DriveLife team; there was one stand-out car that wowed everyone who experienced it, and the only one rated 9 or above out of 10. That was the BMW i7.

We talked around and around the decision because at $296,000 it’s unattainable for all but a very select few, but it really is the best car we’ve reviewed in 2023.

It does its intended job exceptionally well, delivering an impressive quality, refinement, ride, and a feeling of real luxury. The technology for driver and passengers is a step ahead, with many innovations that haven’t yet been seen elsewhere. Existing technology such as safety systems, voice control, lighting, and ergonomics are refined and improved over previous generations of the 7 Series.

It’s a showcase for BMW’s latest and greatest, much of which will filter down and become standard in all of their cars. In a time when cars are becoming more and more packed with technology, the BMW i7 simultaneously makes a leap forward, and refines that technology to be easier and better to use.

The BMW i7 takes our top award because it’s an outstanding car in all areas and is guaranteed to impress. The ultimate driving machine for 2023? We think so!

RUNNER UP – Subaru Outback XT Turbo

Honestly, I could always see why Subaru Outback owners love their cars. They do so much right and are a great example of a car doing what is promised, and what is expected of it.

For me though, once Subaru dropped the 6-cylinder model and left us with the lethargic 2.5-litre 4-cylinder, my desire to own an Outback plummeted. That four-cylinder does the job but load the Outback up with four people and a weekend’s gear, and it’s a bit of a struggle.

That was until the Outback XT Turbo came along last year. My hopes were high, and my desires were fulfilled. The 2023 Subaru Outback XT Turbo is excellent. The motor is refined, quiet and grunty. The car again has the powerplant it always needed, especially with the demise of the Levorg. If the i7 hadn’t also been reviewed in 2023, this car would have taken this award out comfortably.

The 2023 Subaru Outback XT is a fantastic all-rounder.

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm a driving instructor and an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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