AutoGuide’s 2023 Top 10 Hits and Misses

Mike Schlee
by Mike Schlee
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Co-Written by Kyle Patrick

We’ve had a pretty good trip around the sun here at AutoGuide. We’re fortunate enough to have driven plenty of new cars, testing out new technology, and learning about industry trends. Throughout the past 12 months there have been plenty of highlights and a few lowlights.

Both Road Test Editor Kyle Patrick and I have summed up our five favorite experiences from 2023, as well as five moments that left us less than enthused. Here are our collective Top 10 Hits and Misses from the past year.

Hit: Porsche 911 Dakar

Words by Mike Schlee

I start my picks off with easily the coolest car I drove this year. Sure, it’s insanely expensive, but the Porsche 911 Dakar is just so marvellous. It has all the performance of the 911 Carrera 4 GTS yet can lift its suspension up and head off-road. It even comes standard with specially made all-terrain tires.

The fact my test car came in the full Roughroads livery that mimics the iconic Rothmans paint scheme on the 1984 Dakar winning 911, is just icing on the cake.

Miss: Lane Keep Systems

Words by Mike Schlee

Advanced safety systems are great and have been proven to reduce collisions and save lives. But not all systems work as intended in the real world. More and more I’m finding lane keep, or lane assist, systems that are too aggressive, strong, or illogical.

There were plenty of vehicles that so abruptly and forcefully changed direction along what the computer incorrectly considers the laneway, it has caught me off-guard, and I’ve had to counter react quickly to get the vehicle heading back onto the proper path. Some of the systems use quite a bit of force too, forcing a bit of an arm wrestle with the steering wheel.

Then there are the systems that not only nudge the car back into the lane, but also cut the throttle or even apply the brakes. If a car is drifting off the road this can be a lifesaver and is a great technology. But some cars are overly aggressive and interfere when a fraction of a tire brushes against the white line markings.

Hit: Toyota Prius Prime

Words by Kyle Patrick

It's been a year of having the new Prius around and I still smile every time I see one. The windswept styling is a home run, and the subtle repositioning in the wake of mass hybridization across the Toyota lineup makes sense. The Prius isn't just about fuel-sipping: it's the sexy, fuel-sipping icon of the family.

The Prime is even better. Sure, it ditches the AWD that's available on the regular Prius, but it'll easily run 50 miles (80 kilometers) on nothing but battery power. And it's even kind of fun: I had one of my most satisfying drives of the year behind the wheel of a Prius Prime. The cabin is chock-full of cool touches too.

All that, and even a loaded Prius Prime is less money than the average new-car transaction. It's almost like Toyota is onto something with its hybrids-matter-more-than-EVs stance. Speaking of...

Miss: Lexus RZ 450e

Words by Kyle Patrick

I wanted to like the RZ, I really did. When I drove some of the earliest production models in France last February, I found an electric SUV with a fantastic sense of quality in its comfy cabin. It drove noticeably different from the prosaic Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra with which it shares its platform. Even the yoke-style steering was neat.

But a second go in December proved those nagging suspicions about range true. A quoted 207-kilometer (128.6-mile) full-charge range when it hadn't even become properly cold yet? No thank you. Range doesn't matter as much as EV naysayers like to pretend it does, but the Lexus is way behind the curve. The Genesis GV60 and Electrified GV70 show how to make a small luxury EV exciting and interesting, and the excellent RX 450h+ plug-in-hybrid offers much of the experience without the anxiety.

Hit: Acura TLX Type S

Words by Mike Schlee

This is easily the biggest surprise of the year for me. I expected the aging TLX, even in Type S form, to not come close in delivering the driving experience of vehicles like the BMW 3 Series, Genesis G70, or Cadillac CT4.

Boy was I wrong. The engine, Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive system, chassis, steering, brakes, and tires all work in perfect harmony. It completely overcomes the short comings usually associated with front-wheel-drive-bias layouts and had my smiling every time I got behind the wheel.

Miss: Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance

Words by Mike Schlee

The Lexus IS 500 isn’t a bad car, it just has so much unfulfilled potential. As a compact luxury car with a brawny V8 stuffed under the hood, I hoped for more visceral driving feel. The Lexus LC 500 makes glorious V8 sounds with the same engine, but in the IS 500, they’re basically non-existent until passing 3,000 rpm. But even above that point, the IS doesn’t match the soundtrack of the LC.

The driving dynamics aren’t much better either. Compared to a BMW M340i or Cadillac CT4-V, the Lexus lacks the feel and responses when flicking it through corners. The transmission is also a bit delayed to upshift, and even worse when downshifting.

I fully appreciate that there’s still a car this size packing a V8, I just hoped for more fun behind the wheel.

Hit: Acura Integra Type S

Words by Kyle Patrick

I may have started my personal hit list with the Prius Prime, because it's the best "normal" car I drove this year. But there's only one which resulted in me coming home from the first drive and crunching the numbers to see if I could afford to buy it. That'd be the Integra Type S.

This is a personal one. A 1995 Integra was the car I learned to drive on, my first car. It was fun, friendly, and right-sized to every aspect of my life. The Type S takes that template and updates it for the modern age. Wicked quick and blessed with one of the best shifters in the entire business, this reborn 'Teggie dances in canyons. The five extra ponies it lords over the related Civic Type R don't matter; that it sounds better, has a better cabin, and is just a little more liveable without feeling any less special all do. We put the ITS up against another reborn icon—the Nissan Z— and the results weren't even close.

I can't say there's an Integra Type S in the driveway. That's only because we bought our first house a few months later. But maybe next year...

Miss: Mercedes-AMG C 43

Words by Kyle Patrick

From one turbocharged, 2.0-liter car to another. Sadly, Affalterbach's smallest rear-drive-based offering whiffed on what should have been an easy home run. (It may be rear-biased, but all C 43s are now all-wheel drive.) Downsizing doesn't have to be bad, and Merc's mild-hybrid setup is one of the best for its smooth integration and useful torque fill.

If the C 43 is meant to be a party, its transmission is that kid who shows up without a gift, immediately puts his hands into the cake, and tells the rest of the children that Santa isn't real. The nine-speed auto sucks any fun out of everyday driving, stumbling through its ratios like a learner's first manual experience. It'll clean up its act if you commandeer the shift paddles, but even then there are tardy responses. The BMW M340i has nothing to worry about.

Hit: Kia Niro EV

Words by Mike Schlee

During our eight electric SUV comparison, the all-new Kia Niro EV really caught my attention. As one of the smaller, more affordable entries, I didn’t expect the electric utility vehicle to be so polished, well-equipped, spacious, and stylish. Even though it only operates a single motor making 201 hp, real-world acceleration is plentiful and a driving range of 253 miles (407 km) is right on par with larger, more expensive EVs.

It's the perfect EV choice for commuters who still need their electric vehicle to shuttle the family around on weekends.

Miss: Fun Cars are Dying

Words by Mike Schlee

Where have all the fun cars gone? Ok, it’s not quite that dramatic as plenty of great, engaging cars remain on sale. But look at what ended production this year.

Audi killed off both of the brand’s sports cars, the TT and R8. The fire breathing Mopar V8 cars are no more, with the Challenger, Charger, and 300 all done. Chevrolet followed suit and has ended production of the Camaro. Another favorite of mine, which narrowly missed making this list, is the Kia Stinger, now gone from the landscape.

Some higher end vehicles from Mercedes, Ferrari, and McLaren also ended their run this year, but at least those are being replaced by sporty-car successors.

Hit: Tesla Supercharger Network

Words by Kyle Patrick

Tesla pulled out a big win this year. Not because of sales, even if the Model Y and Model 3 continue to challenge for the top sales spots. No, it was all about the plug.

Tesla opened up its proprietary charging setup to other brands in late 2022. The now-renamed North American Charging Standard (NACS) saw its first major adopter in Ford this past May, which announced it would begin fitting its EVs with NACS ports for 2025. Soon after, nearly every other automaker followed suit.

How this transforms the EV landscape will be the source of much discussion over the next few years. A unified standard is good, and the Tesla Supercharger network is both wider-spread and easier to use than the patchwork of other brands supporting CCS. On the flip side, Supercharger reliability is set to see its biggest test yet—not to mention the likely clashes between Elon fanboys and the folks plugging their non-Teslas in. Fun times!

Miss: Tesla Cybertruck

Words by Kyle Patrick

Yeah, I said it. The Cybertruck is my big miss this year. Hey, maybe it would've been the hit of 2021—you know, when it was originally supposed to arrive.

Now since I wasn't one of the three media folks hand-selected to do the first drives, maybe this comes off as petty. I can only say so much to convince readers otherwise. For what it's worth, we fully want to drive the Cybertruck here at AutoGuide, because it's a big deal, a completely new approach to America's favorite vehicle shape. Even with Tesla's infamous disregard for the media, we grabbed a Model 3 off of Turo this year and found a lot of things to like about the brand's most affordable offering.

So then why's this a miss? Because it delivers on so few of the promises Elon made four years ago. It's more expensive, less capable, and still isn't actually going to be built en masse for months. The jury is still out on how this overgrown mass of polygons interacts with other cars in an accident, too.

Hit: Honda

Words by Mike Schlee

Honda is on a roll right now. During out eight three-row SUV comparison last spring, the all-new Pilot really surprised us with how much it has improved, securing a third-place finish. If I was spending my own money in the segment, it well might be my choice.

The new Honda Civic Type R is probably be the best new performance vehicle this year, easily winning our sport compact car shootout over the summer. It’s not just a great front-wheel drive track weapon, it’s a great track weapon period.

Even some older products, like the Ridgeline, still impressed me with its right-for-the-market packaging.

Miss: Honda CR-V Hybrid

Words by Mike Schlee

Not all is sunshine and roses at Honda though. The new CR-V Hybrid fails to impress.

Although the new CR-V is a very good compact SUV and a big step up from the model it replaces, the hybrid isn’t very good at being a hybrid. During a head-to-head comparison with the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Woodland Edition, the CR-V had the higher official fuel economy rating based on EPA figures. But in real world testing, the CR-V couldn’t match those official mileage figures and trailed the less-efficient-on-paper RAV4 by 3 mpg as well.

Hit: The Manuals

Words by Kyle Patrick

I drove nearly as many manual cars this year as I did fully electric ones. How's that make any sense?

If the global regulations all play out as planned, purely gas-powered cars won't be around for much longer. Automakers know this, and they're putting out the final, Greatest Hits albums in preparation. While there may be fewer three-pedal options now than ever before, they're also the best ones. Well, the best... and the 2024 Toyota Tacoma. Sorry, not sorry.

The afore-mentioned Integra Type S and Civic Type R have shifters so darned good they should be studied by future civilizations. Cadillac has a pair of apex sport sedans in the Blackwing versions of the CT4-V and CT5-V. Toyota's truck might only check the box, but the GR 86, GR Corolla, and GR Supra all feature joyously interactive six-speeds. Don't even get me started on Porsches, be they Boxsters or 911s. This year's biggest surprise in this regard was the 2024 Mustang GT, with a refined shift action that feels almost Germanic.

Miss: The "Manuals"

Words by Kyle Patrick

Needless to say, I love a good manual transmission. It's no longer about the performance benefit: it's the added level of interaction.

So when Toyota touts a faux manual transmission for its EVs, I just... shrug. Sure, it's technically impressive—I recommend this in-depth drive experience from our friends at Autoblog—but without any physical connections to master, it all seems a little videogamey to me. And that's from somone who loves putting hours into racing sims. Even the quickest sim racers are mastering (admittedly complex) code, a series of 1s and 0s with an optimal "answer."

I guess my biggest question is: in the face of ever-dwindling sales of actual manuals, who are these battery-manuals even for?

Hit: SUVs with Usable 3rd Rows

Words by Mike Schlee

For decades I’ve been the advocate that anyone that actually and routinely needs three rows of seats, should get a minivan. No SUV or crossover can match their space and utility.

But recently some SUVs have been introduced with third rows that can fit regular sized adults. The Volkswagen Atlas has been a master of this and after receiving a refresh this year, nothing has changed. The Honda Pilot and Toyota Grand Highlander can’t quite equal the space of the VW but are still quite accommodating.

The biggest surprise for me though is the Land Rover Defender 130. I didn’t expect the elongated Defender to offer much space at all in the newly added third-row, but it’s one of the best on the market right now.

Miss: Fake Exhaust Tips

Words by Mike Schlee

Some trends I’ll never understand, and this is one of them. Having a cool exhaust tip set-up is a nice styling touch usually added to sportier vehicles. I fully understand keeping these tips clean and shiny after tens of thousands of miles is impossible.

But hiding the exhaust tips behind the bumper, then grafting fake plastic look-alike tips in their place isn’t the solution. I don’t mean vehicles that have a stylish plastic ring of some sort, but there's still a regular metal exhaust sending exhaust through it. I mean the ones that are purely trim pieces with a closed hard backing.

Many companies are guilty of this including Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, and Toyota, to name a few. Although it’s nothing new, it seems to be getting more common in the automotive world. It’s even spreading to some EVs which really makes no sense.

Hit: Korean EVs

Words by Kyle Patrick

Another year, another influx of electric vehicles. I maintain that EVs make plenty of sense for most—but not all—driving situations, but logic isn't exactly a primary driver for most car purchases. EVs need to make buyers feel something beyond the saved gas money. And nobody understands that better than Hyundai, Genesis, and Kia.

Hyundai built out its EV lineup this year with the smooth Ioniq 6, a streamlined sedan that gives major new-age Saab vibes if that brand would've only been given a chance. Sophisticated and satisfying to drive, it's one of my fave EVs. The latest Kona EV subtly revises the brand's most affordable battery-powered offering; tellingly, second-gen Kona development was dictated by the EV, not the ICE models. On the flip side, the raucous 641-horsepower Ioniq 5 N brings Hyundai's sporty formula to its electric models for the first time. I can't wait to drive it.

Sister brand Kia went in a different direction this year. Yeah, the EV6 GT is somewhat similar to the Ioniq 5 N: wicked fast (576 hp), stylish, and with a fool-proof Drift Mode. Yet the adaptable E-GMP platform saw its most ambitious play in the form of the three-row EV9. This big EV is low-key excellent and should worry a lot of the established premium players.

Speaking of premium, Genesis built on the excellent GV60 and Electrified G80 with its third electric offering. The Electrified GV70 is the best version of the brand's compact SUV: blending smooth power with a hush-hush cabin is very luxury, thank you. Now if only it would build that X convertible...

Miss: Convergent styling trends

Words by Kyle Patrick

You've seen the meme. The one with 23 desaturated, monochrome SUVs in profile. I'll let The Autopian's Jason Torchinsky explain it; I agree with that lead image, too.

It's hard to ignore certain trends are very prominent these days, though. Full-width taillights (with or without the heckblende) have to be up there: everything from the Honda Accord to the Rivian R1S have the things. They've even spread to the front-ends, too! Volkswagen and Chevrolet are the primary perpetrators, mostly (but not always) with EVs. Lucid's brand identity depends on it. The Hyundai Kona went from lovable weirdo to Robocop cosplay machine.

What's that in the distance? Light-up badges. Nissan, Lexus, VW, Mercedes—they're all doing it. We get it; the brand advertising that is oversized logos is a much harder sell at night.

Finally, a plea: automakers, ditch the pop-out door handles. Not only are they of questionable value in colder climes, but they make photoshoots a pain. We've also heard—off the record, of course—that the aero advantages are minimal.

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Mike Schlee
Mike Schlee

A 20+ year industry veteran, Mike rejoins the AutoGuide team as the Managing Editor. He started his career at a young age working at dealerships, car rentals, and used car advertisers. He then found his true passion, automotive writing. After contributing to multiple websites for several years, he spent the next six years working at the head office of an automotive OEM, before returning back to the field he loves. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA). He's the recipient of a feature writing of the year award and multiple video of the year awards.

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 1 comment
  • David David on Dec 30, 2023

    I agree with your Cyber Truck choice, not because it's an EV although, that gives it a negative mark without touching, smelling, driving, etc, etc, it's just plane ugly. It's one thing to take a different tac on a vehicle, but to turn it into a 'hey look what I drive' vehicle with a bed that's going to be fun for those that actually want a working truck, you know, loading stuff over the sides of the bed, it's kind of like buying a Prius when they first hit the market. You know, ugly and a statement car..."hey, look at me...I drive a Prius."

    And I also wonder about the 'fun cars going away'. You guys contribute to the death knell of fun cars just like any other media. You're all in with the EV revolution dedicating a LOT of space to cars/trucks/SUVs that go whoosh. Those of us that are true dinosaurs, though, like the fun cars, are dwindling in numbers, will truly miss the fun cars, especially our brothers and sisters that take a ho hum '76 'Vette and turn it into an eye watering restomod. I'll probably have assumed room temperature before the days of Z28s, Mustang GTs, '55 Chevys, '70 Hemi 'Cudas and the like gather at the local diner to trade stories. But that day's coming thanks to whooshing cars that have no class and no soul.

    Anyway, Happy New Year! May you enjoy cars that go vroom instead of whoosh. ;-)