The best cars Autocar lived with in 2023


We tested 21 cars on our long-term fleet this year. Which ones pulled on our heartstrings?

Each year a string of cars we can briefly call ‘our own’ arrive at Autocar towers, ready to be tested over a set of months and subjected to the rigour of a journalist’s everyday life.

In getting getting to live with them as if they were ours, we can dig into the less-obvious high-points and gritty flaws that only raise their heads after an extensive period of testing.

Some of our cars provide a much more memorable experience than others. Without further ado (and deliberation), then, here are our picks of Autocar’s 2023 fleet.

The long-distance award

For the car we’d most want to take on a very long journey

Winner: Bentley Flying Spur

Runner up: Toyota GR Supra

No need for a play-off or penalties here: the Bentley Flying Spur was just a single vote away from having more nominations than every other car on this year’s fleet put together. 

Steve Cropley looked after Crewe’s finest and – unsurprisingly – “enjoyed every mile”. Chief sub-editor Kris Culmer enjoyed reading about Cropley enjoying it so much that he voted for the Bentley without ever having driven it… 

Bentley Flying Spur driving

Deputy road test ed Richard Lane marvelled at “the magical combination of connection to the machine but isolation from the road”, while Mark Tisshaw (that’s me, by the way) said “nobody does seats like Bentley” while pondering the grammatical protocol for quoting oneself in the third person. 

Lane’s road test desk colleague Illya Verpraet, always the iconoclast, was one to put forward the Toyota GR Supra “for its excellent driving position, nice seats and good old ‘dumb’ cruise control that doesn’t have a mind of its own and which helps to make this a very relaxing long-distance car”. 

I was surprised not to see more votes for the Alpina D3 S, although in voting for it, Cropley’s My Week In Cars podcast co-host (new episodes every Wednesday from your favourite podcast provider) Matt Prior perhaps explained why: “The Alpina D3 S, so long as it was on the continent so I didn’t have to stress about potholes.”

The ‘I’d buy it’ award

For the car we’d be most likely to spend our own money on

Alpina D3

Winner: Alpina D3 S

Runner up: Range Rover PHEV

Less than 5% of cars sold in the UK this year were diesel-powered.

That fact is far more a reflection of paucity of options in today’s market since a certain German manufacturer did you know what than it is the underlying technical quality of these machines. But when done right, diesel can be so truly compelling. Presenting exhibit A: the Alpina D3 S.

Special contributor Al Clements, who you would hope, as editor-in-chief of Classic & Sports Car magazine, would be able to spot a model with enduring appeal, was one of those to put forward the D3 S. 

“Never mind limiting my choice to the ‘Our Cars’ fleet,” he said. “I can think of few cars that I’d rather live with every day given a completely free choice. Surely there is no other car that will perform like this – both in a straight line and cross-country – while returning 40-50mpg and carrying my dogs and kids.”

Several cars got a mention in this category, including Toyota’s Supra and Toyota Land Cruiser and even the Ford Focus (Matt Saunders: “Comfy, versatile, affordable and real-world efficient – and a Ford Focus, so inherently worth preserving in aspic if at possible”) but the Range Rover PHEV ran the Alpina closest.

“This model’s superb styling and luxury, plus its truly surprising electric range, make it a very appealing choice,” said Steve Cropley. “Would play well with the other half, too.”

The ‘winner takes it all’ award

For the most practical car for any task to which it could reasonably put

Toyota Land Cruiser driving through big puddle

Winner: Toyota Land Cruiser

Runner up: Volkswagen Multivan

Only two cars were ever in the running here, even if the Supra once again, remarkably, found itself not having to return its deposit in a category focused on practicality.

Culmer, the Land Cruiser’s keeper, gets to give the acceptance speech for the legendary 4×4: “It had space for seven adults, the boot was enormous enough for my mountain bike with both wheels attached and it even had a toolkit recess in its side-hinged boot door.”

Felix Page also chose the big Toyota despite lamenting that he “didn’t have more outlandish requirements for it than moving a piano across London”.

Prior put forward the kind of case for the Volkswagen Multivan that would have swayed many a floating voter: “It moved photographer Max’s band and the contents of my friends’ house, it’s a podcast studio, I used it as an office outside the hospital my son was in, and ’cos it’s a PHEV you can go for chips at the seaside in winter and the battery keeps the cabin warm while you take in the view. You could camp in it, too.”

The ‘yeah, but apart from that’ award

For the undeniably flawed car that charmed us anyhow

Kia Niro EV charging

Winners: Kia Niro EV, Renault Megane, Volvo XC40 Recharge

What do these compact family electric cars all have in common? No heat pump. As our EV lexicon grows, so does our knowledge that a heat pump for the system is essential in order to enjoy an electric car in colder weather.

The Mégane E-Tech Electric, Kia Niro and Volvo XC40 were all excellent all-round machines that could ultimately never shake the asterisk next to their names.

Renault Megane cornering

The Mégane is now offered with a heat pump in the UK after early cars didn’t have one, while on the Niro it’s an option – and one you must tick. Our XC40 didn’t have a heat pump either (although one is included in some trim levels), which acting mag ed James Attwood noted “really affected the range, which was a shame because it’s so good in almost every other way”.

The Supra got some votes (again, as it did in every one of these categories), although here it appeared more for nit-picking reasons of subjective personal taste rather than a fundamental flaw.

Volvo XC40 on dockside

A real-world range of only 240 miles counted against the Audi E-tron GT, an otherwise fabulous electric grand tourer, for Page as it did for the Lexus RZ for Saunders, while Lane wanted a better ride from the Peugeot 408.

Clements put forward the BYD Atto 3’s “entire electrical system” for this award, perhaps confusing it for an MGB.

The ‘head turner’ prize

For the car that gained the most interest/attention from friends, family and strangers

Ora Funky Cat driving

Winner: Ora Funky Cat

This year has had plenty of shock results: political by-elections defying the pollsters, England losing to Afghanistan at the Cricket World Cup, Scotland qualifying for another major football tournament (love you really, Scotland).

But all are eclipsed by a landslide win here for the Ora Funky Cat (sadly since renamed the GWM Ora 03). It’s the Chinese electric supermini’s first major honour thanks to it turning more heads than the Bentley Flying Spur, Jaguar F-Type and even a Kermit-the-Frog-green Audi TT RS.

“It’s probs the Funky Cat, innit, because ‘WTF is that?’” said the usually quite eloquent, feline-loving Prior, who was so dazzled by the Funky Cat’s wonder and mystery that he resorted to youth text-speak.

“In the short time it was on my drive, a string of people asked what it was,” said Attwood. “They all thought I was making up the name.”

“Some thought it was cute, some thought it was hilarious and some thought it was just sinfully ugly,” said Page, first name Felix – and no, we’re not going there. “None knew what it was, because Great Wall Motor decided to launch it here with no badges on the rear.”

Hmm, there’s a bit of a theme developing here. Maybe it hasn’t won for the right reasons. Why did you vote for it, Richard Lane? “Mostly for the wrong reasons, it must be said. My sister took the piss out of it relentlessly.” Ah.

The ‘miles of smiles’ award

For the car from which we derived the most driving pleasure

Toyota GR Supra cornering

Winner: Toyota GR Supra

Runner up: Peugeot 408

He voted for it in every category, so it’s only right we give the first word on the Supra to Verpraet: “Duh.”

That really is all he offered in support of why the Supra got his vote here. So let’s elaborate on his somewhat concise assessment by repurposing some lines from his nominations for the Supra to win all of the other awards.

Practicality? “It has a hatchback. That’s all I need, really. If I had a Range Rover, my stuff would just roll around in the boot.” 

Head-turner? “Took it to Belgium, and in the land where driving fun goes to die, being in a red two-seat sports car is akin to running naked through the streets.”

And finally the Best Feature: “The Supra’s manual gearbox. It’s the future (it’s not, but I wish it was).”

Saunders was on hand to best describe why so many of us chose the Supra here. Simply put, it “lit up many a commute in the summer”.

The other sports cars on our fleet featured in the voting, including the TT RS to which Page gave the nod because he “was addicted to the noise more than anything”.

The only everyday motor to score a vote was the Peugeot 408, courtesy of Culmer: “I really enjoyed this crossovery thing much more than I had expected. It nicely blends comfort and control.”

The ‘best feature’ award

For our favourite feature, system or innovation on a car

Citroen C5X driving

Winner: Citroen C5X

Unsurprisingly there were many different nominees here, even one from Saunders that drifted beyond the confines of the Our Cars fleet: “I’m a parent, so nothing beats the Stow ’n Vac built-in vacuum cleaner I found in a Chrysler Pacifica airport taxi on a visit to Italy earlier this year. Amazing. All homes – well, all cars – should have one.”

Back to the vehicles actually here at Autocar, and Cropley raved about the latest mild-hybrid developments to the Ford Focus’s 1.0-litre triple engine, yours truly chose the Nissan Ariya’s thick carpets that double as sound-deadening, Attwood picked the rotating infotainment screen in the BYD Atto 3, Prior the VW Multivan’s “mint” Harman Kardon stereo, Page the buttons in the Range Rover’s boot that lower the loading height and staff writer Jack Warwick couldn’t live without the Lexus RZ’s knee warmers.

Matt Prior driving Citroen C5X

The only car with more than one vote was the Citroën C5 X for its hydraulic bump stops and camera-based adaptive suspension. “Delightful” is how digital editor Murray Scullion succinctly put it.

Meanwhile, Culmer marvelled that a manufacturer “had come up with the interesting idea of making tyres thicker and suspension softer so as to make a car’s ride actually not uncomfortable”. Detecting a hint of sarcasm there…  

The ‘pick your own’ awards

Made-up honours we would give a car on our fleet

Jack Harrison loading photography gear into Toyota Corolla Commercial

Steve Cropley: Toyota Corolla Commercial

It wins my Modesty Award (aka my Great Proposition Award) for the car that offers no pretensions or sophistication but which is more refined, smoother, more durable, more economical and more comfortable than many here. 

James Attwood: Ford Focus

No other car is more deserving of a Why Would They Stop Making That Award. The Ford Focus is spacious (and especially so in estate form), frugal, affordable and good to drive. It’s enough to make you miss it before it’s gone.

Skoda Enyaq iV coupe vRS driving front

Mark Tisshaw: Skoda Enyaq iV

The Skoda Enyaq iV wins my coveted Who Signed Off Those Heater Controls Award. I had to pull over half a mile into driving for the first time just to work out how to make the cabin warmer. A fix can’t come soon enough.

Murray Scullion: Lexus RZ

The RZ should win a Worst Battery Management Award. Despite the improvements over the Toyota bZ4X, I’ve never had the RZ get even close to its WLTP figure – or even the range figure the car itself displays on the dashboard.

Volkswagen Multivan

Felix Page: Volkswagen Multivan

The Not Just For Christmas Award. The Multivan is in effect a small building that drives like a car – and a pretty decent one, at that. A rather resounding answer to the whole “if you could only have one vehicle forever” debate.

Illya Verpraet: Alpina D3 S

A deserving recipient of the Tyre Fitters’ Award for a steady stream of business.

Audi e-Tron GT

Sam Phillips: Audi E-tron GT

I’d give a special All-Rounder Award to the Audi E-tron GT. It’s refined, fast, highly capable and excellent both to be in and simply to look at. The fact that it’s electrically powered is almost incidental.

Kris Culmer: Ora Funky Cat

The Please Shut Up Award goes to China. Felix Page was ‘rewarded’ for his four-star first drive verdict of this EV with four months of being patronisingly told to ‘please brake’ every two seconds. Poor bloke. 

Alfa Romeo Tonale driving front

Alistair Clements: Alfa Romeo Tonale

Never mind the Funky Cat, our You Called It What Award had to land here. How this car managed to get through endless focus groups and marketing meetings without someone mentioning: “Yeah, but in the UK everyone is just going to call it the Toenail.” And they do.

Jack Warrick: Ssanyong Korando E-Motion

The Exclusivity Award. No, not a Bentley nor an Alpina, but the Ssangyong Korando E-Motion, which was so exclusive you couldn’t even buy one when we ran it, although this wasn’t clear to us until we took delivery. Ssangyong blamed logistical issues and decided not to officially launch the car or even really acknowledge its existence for the duration of our test.

Source: Autocar

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