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Tom White's Top 5 cars of 2023: From the BYD Dolphin to the Kia EV9

I didn't plan for my top five picks this year to be fully electric but it so happens these five EVs impressed me the most.

When looking back at 2023 it’s clear that this year has been such a major one in the shift toward electric cars.

The amount of choice on offer has exploded with many more makes and models which are truly great value. 2023 has made it evident that legacy automakers like the giants from Japan or the ancestral marques from Europe can’t simply rest on their combustion or hybrid models any longer. Once-challenger brands from Korea and China have well and truly deconstructed Australia’s list of best-selling cars and built it back in their own image.

Who would have thought just a few years ago that the likes of MG would be a top-10 automaker? Who would have thought that a brand-new player in the form of BYD would be able to outsell Skoda, Renault, and Volvo with just one model on sale? Who would have even thought that the once-unstoppable Tesla would be so under threat from multiple angles?

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised then, that my top-five vehicles this year are all purely electric. I drove plenty of great combustion cars, too, but when it came time to refine my list down to five the cars that moved me the most were ones without engines.

Before we get to the list though, I do want to call out some notable vehicles I didn’t get a chance to drive this year. These include the new Honda CR-V or Civic Type R, the new Nissan X-Trail and its intriguing e-Power hybrid drivetrain, the Hyundai Ioniq 6, BMW iX1, or the new Fiat 500 electric. Perhaps the most important car I haven’t driven is the MG4, which many of my colleagues are raving about. I’ll be sure to get into one in early 2024.

Of the long list of cars I have driven though, below are the five which impressed me the most for a myriad of reasons. 

BYD Dolphin

The Dolphin is my value buy of the year, but that doesn't mean it's not also a great little car. (Image: Tom White)

In 2023 the BYD Dolphin held the crown of Australia’s cheapest electric car. At $38,990 before on-roads, this electric hatch, alongside its primary rivals the MG4 and the GWM Ora, has brought down the entry-point to electric motoring significantly.

In fact, this car wears an equivalent price-tag to a high-spec hybrid or combustion hatchback rival, for the first time making it within responsible reach even without discounts or incentives of the average Aussie buyer.

Given this, I wasn’t setting my expectations high. The Atto 3 small SUV which preceded this Dolphin was impressive for its price. It had its own issues, as many Chinese newcomers do. Despite its trim price, the Dolphin seems to move things forward for the BYD brand.

I was impressed by its just-right hatchback size, its practical cabin, and especially its lovely interior finishes and driving dynamics, which well exceed expectations.

The software isn’t quite where it should be and it’s not as big as the similarly-priced MG4, but the Dolphin really stood out as my value pick of the year. Go drive one! I hope you’ll agree.

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Audi e-tron GT

If you've got the budget, the e-tron GT proves electric cars aren't just fast - they can also be ultra engaging. (Image: Tom White)

Ok, I realise this is a violent over-correction going from one of Australia’s most affordable electric cars to one of its most expensive.

I always knew the e-tron GT would be impressive. It’s Audi’s flagship electric offering, and the most powerful production car the brand has ever made. Not only that, but it shares its underpinnings with the hugely impressive Porsche Taycan which I drove in 2022.

I liked this car when I reviewed it on-road. I think it looks better in the metal than it does in pictures, and it had a more playful character than the deadly serious Taycan, but the real beauty of the e-tron GT didn’t click with me until I had a chance to steer the $248,200 (MSRP) RS e-tron GT on the track against the brand’s own RS6 twin-turbo V8 all-wheel drive wagon.

The e-tron GT was so impressive, effortlessly carving up the track, it made the RS6 - one of my all-time favourites - feel like a complete and utter antique in comparison.

The truth is I wanted to put the RS6 in this spot, but the e-tron GT gets it for really re-organising my brain and perhaps permanently changing the way I see combustion cars.

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Kia EV9

The EV9 elevates the entire Kia brand to the next level and it's my favourite design this year. (Image: Tom White)

Back in 2018 when I was a junior writer at CarsGuide I distinctly remember driving a near-base model Kia Cerato S. Dating back to 2014, the car was a so-so hatchback, with a dated interior, lacklustre multimedia, and a thirsty old 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. At the time it cost $22,790 and one of the big draws was the fact that it had a seven-year warranty and a free(!!!) automatic transmission.

It’s a memory which sat front of mind as I found myself sitting in the driver’s seat of the Kia EV9 at a pre-release drive event in its home market of South Korea. The price for the mid-spec one I was driving came to a whopping $106,500 in Australia, yet somehow this beautifully built, enormous, and futuristic luxury electric SUV still felt like incredible value.

It is truly impressive, not just because of its huge battery, long driving range, and the way it has every EV feature under the sun, but because it’s also so resolved to experience from behind the wheel.

Range Rover? Keep it. I want one of these. It’s hard to believe how far Kia has come in just five years. This easily takes the crown as the best piece of design in 2023 for me.

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Tesla Model 3

If you challenge the king, you'd better not miss - and the updated Model 3 still has what it takes to keep rivals off its back. (Image: Tom White)

The world’s most important electric car: revisited. The Model 3’s latest 2024 upgrade is something overdue, but something very welcome. Like its primary Polestar 2 rival, Tesla is clearly cognisant of the flaws with the long-lived outgoing car, and this new version is 50 per cent new despite looking like a mild facelift from the outside, with much of the upgrades designed to specifically address said issues.

Now having driven it, I can tell you the targeted changes have achieved their objective. Ride quality has improved out of sight, and the cabin is now much quieter than before thanks to a lot of additional sound deadening, and comfort has improved thanks to new seat designs with higher-quality trim. This now feels like the car the Model 3 should have been years ago.

Plus, with no changes to the motor and only improvements to the suspension, the Model 3 is still an ultra-agile and fun to drive little electric sedan.

It’s not perfect. Seemingly hell-bent on continuing to challenge the way cars are built and thought about, Tesla has made some significant changes that nobody was asking for. The new interior is ‘stalkless’ meaning you have to negotiate with buttons on the wheel for indicators, and it has a touch-based drive selector (as though it needed more functions moved to its central touch panel). There’s also still no standard shade for the roof, no standard tyre inflator kit, and no digital instrument cluster or head-up display.

Still, despite its unconventional nature, the Model 3 stands out for its all-round excellence in the EV space, and especially for how it continues to transform the entire car experience into something more akin to a sleek tech product.

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Mustang Mach-E

The Mach-E is my surprise of the year. Carefully specified for Australia and with the best of Ford built into it this electric SUV is more than it first seems. (Image: Tom White)

Ford was late to the EV party in Australia with its frankly odd take on one of its most recognisable nameplates. Transforming a brash American coupe most famous for wielding a V8 engine into a mid-size fully electric SUV? It was bound to be controversial.

Admittedly, I went in with low expectations. I had driven and been impressed by its closest rivals, the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and the Kia EV6, and was wondering if Ford could really keep up in such a hotly contested space which is so unlike its segment-leading Ranger or underrated Puma.

Turns out: It can. The Mach-E is more than it appears on paper. It arrives in three cleverly specified variants, each specialising in value, range, and performance with a surprisingly refined interior, clever practicality touches, a nice ride, and no matter which version you opt for, it’s a genuine pleasure to steer too.

It’s one of those cars that’s hard to really understand until you put all the pieces together and actually drive it. I’m glad I did.

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Some cars didn’t quite make the cut, but it would be a shame not to mention them. Somehow, they are both also fully electric.

Polestar 2 -The refreshed Polestar 2 follows the same formula as the updated Model 3 but with the significant changes being invisible. It moves to rear-wheel drive like it always should have been with a big upgrade to ride quality, range, and driving dynamics in the process. It’s like the brand had read my wishlist for the original version and ticked almost every box. Bravo.

Cupra Born - I didn’t know what to expect with the Cupra Born, but it wasn't the polished and refined warm hatch we got, complete with some very interesting styling and design touches. It’s an absolute hoot to drive and comparatively good value, too.

Tom White
Senior Journalist
Despite studying ancient history and law at university, it makes sense Tom ended up writing about cars, as he spent the majority of his waking hours finding ways to drive...
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