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Byron Mathioudakis' Top 5 cars of 2023: From Honda Civic Type R to Kia EV9 and beyond

Electrification played a big part in some of Byron's Top 5 Cars of 2023 choices, but not all, as the Civic Type R proves.

So, we've made it to the end of another year.

Time to take stock and start thinking about what new car you might like to reward yourself after a busy 2023.

As in the past, this is a subjective list grounded in objective principles, so the heart and the head generally agree.

In 2022, my list of greats consisted of the Honda Civic hybrid, Ford Ranger Raptor, Hyundai Ioniq 5, BMW iX and Subaru WRX, and everyone would make this shortlist again, along with most of the honourables that included the Kia EV6, Nissan Z, BMW M4, Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, Lexus NX, Citroen C4 and Renault Captur.

So, without further ado, here are my personal greatest hits of 2023... and in alphabetical order, because – like reading – objectivity is fundamental. Let's go...

BMW 5 Series

Today’s eighth-gen 5 Series since 1972 – the G60 – looks, feels, drives and cossets like BMW forgot the SUV memo.

For decades, the competitiveness of German luxury brands had long been reflected by how good or otherwise their medium/large-sized executive sedans and wagons are – as defined by the Audi 100/A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

Being the top dog among these was like winning the premiership. Then SUVs starting with the (ironically E39 5 Series-based) original X5 of 1998 systematically sidelined this segment as essentially irrelevant. Few can even picture what any look like today, let alone care about them. Until now.

It is as if BMW woke up after a 25-year slumber and remembered precisely what made the E39 one of history’s greatest-ever sports luxury sedans.

Today's eighth-gen 5 Series since 1972 – the G60 – looks, feels, drives and cossets like BMW forgot the SUV memo and instead tried its hardest to create the best internal-combustion-engined exec express possible. Energetic, athletic and ultra-fit dynamically, even the 520i (admittedly at a not-so-humble $115K) feels fresh, state-of-the-art and alive.

In other words, and ironically for the X5, it is as if BMW woke up after a 25-year slumber and remembered precisely what made the E39 one of history's greatest-ever sports luxury sedans. The Bavarians are on a winning streak.

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Honda Civic Type R

As I want mine in blue, Honda Australia, please oblige by importing Racing Blue Pearl or Sonic Grey Pearl – though I’d also be happy with Championship White.

You know how people talk about brain drain?

Well, it seems every brand seems to have forgotten the core ingredients of hot-hatch greatness: agility + suppleness + tactility + subtlety + practicality + (relative) affordability... and topped off with a clutch. One clutch only. And a manual gear lever. Heaven.

Every brand, that is, except Honda. The latest, understated, over-achieving FL5 Civic Type R manages all this, and more. It is exquisite, thrilling fun, minus intimidation and entitlement, while the latest body and interior usher in an elegance and calm that eluded the preceding FK8 version.

It is exquisite, thrilling fun, minus intimidation and entitlement, while the latest body and interior usher in an elegance and calm that eluded the preceding FK8 version.

It is simply the greatest new hot hatch on sale today. But as I want mine in blue, Honda Australia, please oblige by importing Racing Blue Pearl or Sonic Grey Pearl – though I'd also be happy with Championship White.

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Honda ZR-V H:EV

Based on the excellent Civic, it slots neatly between the smaller HR-V and larger CR-V, meaning that it is unexpectedly nimble yet spacious enough for most family needs.

The ZR-V hybrid is in the Goldilocks zone of medium SUVs.

Based on the excellent Civic, it slots neatly between the smaller HR-V and larger CR-V, meaning that it is unexpectedly nimble yet spacious enough for most family needs.

But the ZR-V's category-defying ways don't end there, since it is priced within reach of many new mainstream medium hybrid SUVs like the Toyota RAV4, yet has the engineering quality and class to have luxury brand buyers think twice about shelling out much more for a Mercedes-Benz GLA or Audi Q3.

The ZR-V hybrid is in the Goldilocks zone of medium SUVs.

Up until the late '90s, Honda's lofty engineering ideals had many calling it the BMW of Japan. Now, the 75-year-old brand that began making motorcycles in Hamamatsu is back – in ways that are neither too big nor too small, but just right.

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Kia EV9

That the EV9 is also great to drive further underlines the genius of simplicity surrounding this complex and sophisticated vehicle of the future, here today.

Yes, Tesla was first on the planet with a three-row electric vehicle (EV) SUV. But the brilliantly flawed Model X is no longer available in right-hand-drive and – anyway – only the rich could buy one.

Enter the EV9. From under $100,000, it is still far from affordable for most Australian families, but it is far, far more than just a statement of intent for the EV era descending upon us.

The Kia's brilliance is in its everyday functionality, from family-friendly practicality to anxiety-quashing battery-range capability, normalising the advanced tech underneath, within in cavernous and clever package that is stunningly designed and executed inside and out. You can even tow 2500kg with it.

Enter the EV9. From under 0,000, it is still far from affordable for most Australian families.

That the EV9 is also great to drive further underlines the genius of simplicity surrounding this complex and sophisticated vehicle of the future, here today.

In 1998, Kia served up exhumed and reheated Mazdas like the Mentor. A quarter of a century later you can get lost in space in this modernist SUV/MPV masterpiece.

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MG4

Already a historic vehicle in its own way, the new MG4 is here above all else because it currently offers more car for the money than any other EV has ever managed in Australia.

Already a historic vehicle in its own way, the new MG4 is here above all else because it currently offers more car for the money than any other EV has ever managed in Australia. A bit like the Ford Model T did for cars generally starting 115 years ago, or the first Holden for our nation exactly 75 years ago.

As a rude wake-up call to obscenely rich private car companies with over-priced SUVs flying out the door unwilling to subsidise their expensive EVs to get more people into them, it should lead to more democratically priced options moving forward.

Nicely styled, with a spacious and largely user-friendly interior, the MG4 is also pleasant to drive.

Nicely styled, with a spacious and largely user-friendly interior, the MG4 is also pleasant to drive – until the annoyingly over-sensitive safety tech rudely and crudely take over. SAIC Motor, get some Australian road tuning into your products, please!

Still, there's a lot to like here.

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Honourable mentions

Lexus RX: After generations of Camry-esque pretenders, RX becomes a slick, high-quality Japanese luxury alternative to big German SUVs.

Mazda CX-90: A slick, high-quality Japanese premium alternative to big SUVs – but Mazda, please fix the firm ride, because the CX-9 is comfier.

Mercedes-Benz EQE Sedan: The most convincing, enjoyable and on-brand sedan the company offers this side of the sumptuous S-Class.

Nissan X-Trail e-Power: An intriguing electrified powertrain and smart packaging elevates a value-focused family midsized SUV into something special.

Peugeot 308 GT: The 134-year-old carmaker currently produces one of the most enjoyable and sophisticated all-round premium small cars in the world.

Byron Mathioudakis
Contributing Journalist
Byron started his motoring journalism career when he joined John Mellor in 1997 before becoming a freelance motoring writer two years later. He wrote for several motoring publications and was ABC...
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