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evo Car of the Year 2023: contenders, video and behind the scenes

In evo Car of the Year 2023, we put nine incredible contenders head-to-head to find out which is the very best new performance car of the last twelve months

Despite world-class cars and stunning locations, evo’s Car of the Year test isn’t particularly glamorous. During our UK-based tests, it often rains. Sometimes a lot. The team survives on a diet of sandwiches and prawn cocktail crisps, and there are occasionally fallouts between the drivers, photographers and the video team (sometimes all three at once). Most of all though, eCoty is a riot. 

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Issue 317 of evo features a fascinating nine-car battle to determine our 2023 Car of the Year. You can still purchase your copy online via the evo shop to read the full feature – including some behind-the-scenes snippets of our favourite working week of the year (if you can call it that).

Get your copy of evo Car of the Year 2023 for the final verdict...

2023's eCoty is judged by seven esteemed road testers, including evo’s Deputy Editor James Taylor for the first time. James’s only slight hiccup came when the nine-strong, skittle-coloured fleet had stopped to fill up. He’d left his fuel payment card at home, leaving Editor Stuart Gallagher to foot the bill – a mistake he probably won’t repeat.

evo veteran Henry Catchpole was also in attendance, and beautifully describes the controlled chaos that went into capturing the magazine’s cover shot. ‘What is happening at this precise moment is preparation for a group photo with all nine cars. That means Aston Parrott is aloft and directing proceedings from the top of a drystone wall like a cavalry general with a small yellow walkie talkie. Instructions such as ‘now reverse on that lock…keep going…keeeeeep goooooing…THERE! Right, whoever is in the Maser - is that you, Dickie? - same angle, but a foot that way. Once the last car is in position, everyone stands well back as though the button on a Nikon D6 might trigger something more Oppenheimer than a shutter.’

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The fun part is, of course, the driving. With six days across some of the most challenging roads in the country, the cars have nowhere to hide. Thoughts are shared, opinions ebb and flow, but only once the judges submit their scores do we know the winner. The closing words go to Adam Towler:

‘I’m sure you’ll agree, there are few things better than being sat around a table after a good day’s driving with like-minded and likeable souls, enjoying a meal and a glass of whatever while you all chat cars.’

The contenders

Alpine A110 R

Don’t worry if you have lost track of Alpine’s A110 model line-up. It has multiplied by a factor that even Porsche’s 911 product planners would consider a little enthusiastic. First there was Pure, Première and Légende, then came S, GT and one called simply ‘A110’, and that’s not to mention the specials that have come and gone, such as the Le Mans Edition and the Jean Rédélé Edition and that one that was painted yellow. The R is different. Special? Yes. And the epitome of what Dieppe can achieve when the only consideration is taking the already featherweight A110 and adding more lightness.

It’s a car that impressed us more on road than track during its international launch (evo 307) and did so again when we pitched it against Porsche’s Cayman GT4 (2019’s eCoty victor) and BMW’s M2, swapping the Spanish countryside for Scotland’s finest and Anglesey Circuit (evo 312). It’s also a car that has frustrated on some drives yet inspired us on others, the latter truer to its character. 

The A110 R arrives with some baggage, some familiar, some pieces new and shining. The familiar is its four-cylinder turbocharged powertrain and dual-clutch transmission that distracts you more than it should. The new is the price, all £96,990 of it, which positions the R fairly and squarely in the ‘this needs to perform above and beyond to pull something spectacular off’ category.

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It also has two considerable-sized gems tucked up its wheelarches to counter: a 1082kg kerb weight and a marathon runner’s physique, attributes that few here, or anywhere, can match and that get to the heart of what makes a great driver’s car. A potential eCoty winner, too.

Engine In-line 4-cyl, 1798cc, turbocharged
Power 296bhp @ 6300rpm
Torque 251lb ft @ 2400-6000rpm
Weight 1082kg
Power-to-weight  278bhp/ton
0-62mph 3.9sec
Top speed 177mph
Basic price £96,990

Aston Martin DB12

Is it a GT car or is it a supercar? Aston Martin thinks its new DB12 operates in both camps and has therefore declared that it has created the first ‘super tourer’. With 671bhp from its AMG-sourced twin-turbocharged V8 it has the ‘super’ bit covered, but the greatest supercars aren’t simply defined by their numbers; if that was the case, electric hypercars wouldn’t be parked unsold, gathering dust.

Supercars offer so much more than raw performance and our first drive of the DB12 earlier in 2023 suggested that Aston’s new 2+2 has some convincing to do when it comes to playing the supercar role. It’s far more convincing as a grand tourer, although in pursuit of super-performance some of the expected refinement has been left on the shelf, but not at the cost of the sense of occasion. Both to look at and to sit in, the DB12 is a striking piece of design and craftsmanship. 

In this company and on this test the DB12 will need to call upon all of its core attributes on every occasion. While in isolation it’s proven to be a fine driver’s car that is immensely satisfying and richly rewarding with a deep sense of desirability, a standout car in eCoty needs to go that extra mile. 

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Aston Martin has clearly gone the distance with the car’s development, polishing the areas that needed it while overhauling those that were past their best. Only 20 per cent of the car is carried over from the DB11. A great deal hangs on the DB12’s success, not only in this test but in the wider market, for it sets the template for the next generation of Aston Martins. No pressure, DB12.

Engine V8, 3982cc, twin-turbo
Power 671bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque 590lb ft @ 2750-6000rpm
Weight 1788kg
Power-to-weight  381bhp/ton
0-62mph 3.6sec
Top speed 202mph
Basic price £185,000

Porsche 911 Carrera T

evo and the 992 generation of Porsche 911 have not had the easiest of relationships when we’re not talking GT models. Its size plays a role, so too a set‑up that feels a little generic and lacking that 911 sense of specialness as Porsche has created a car to appeal to the widest global audience possible, cashing in on the icon’s status. For us it resulted in a 911 with a bit of an identity crisis and not totally convinced of its role. 

Within a few miles the Carrera T immediately felt like the 992 we had been waiting for. There’s a simplicity to its make-up with its turbocharged 3-litre flat-six retaining the base Carrera’s 380bhp tune, but matching that engine with a manual transmission for the first time. Rear drive, rear-axle steering (an option), adaptive sports suspension and a 35kg weight loss complete the ingredients that make the T the 911 we knew had been in the 992 all along. 

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But 2023 is an incredibly tough year for a 992 Carrera to be making its eCoty debut, and not only because it will be sharing the stage with one of its bigger brothers. Such is the level of performance all our contenders can provide, the Carrera T will need to rely on all its reserves to stand out from the lightweights and specials, the bespoke and the feral. It will need to remind us why the 911 has been held in such high regard by so many for so long. A good 911 Carrera model is always welcome, and not only because you can probably walk into a dealer and order one. Although it won’t have escaped your attention that there are two 911s in this year’s test…

Engine Flat-six, 2981cc, twin-turbo
Power 380bhp @ 6500rpm
Torque 332lb ft @ 1950-5000rpm
Weight 1470kg
Power-to-weight  263bhp/ton
0-62mph 4.5sec
Top speed 181mph
Basic price £105,700

Porsche 911 GT3 RS

Perhaps the toughest decision we faced this year was deciding if we should include the new 911 GT3 RS in evo Car of the Year 2023. Everything we had been told, even by Porsche’s own people, and had experienced the first time we drove it on a billiard-smooth, bone-dry track at Silverstone (evo 304) led us to believe that this is the RS that tips the car away from being a road and track machine to a track car you might, on very few and rare occasions, take on the road. 

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Too stiff, too complex, too unwieldy for the roads, especially the UK’s fine works of tarmac Armageddon; to include the GT3 RS could be a step too far. After all, we’d be heading to the same locations that unstuck the Cayman GT4 RS just 12 months earlier and this latest 911 RS model makes the Cayman look like a Bentley

We had to try it on the road before committing, so we did, or rather Jethro Bovingdon and James Taylor did. Both messaged to say it had to be in eCoty. We needed to ignore those who say it’s too harsh for the road, because it isn’t and it works. Book it. So we did. And even with all the cumulative years your judges have between them of driving stuff like this, nothing prepared them for seeing the latest GT3 RS parked up in a Travelodge car park, making a Huracán Sterrato look a little undercooked. 

The next week and 1000 miles across the north of England’s and Scottish Borders’ greatest roads would determine if we made the right decision, or if Jethro and James made the wrong one.

Engine Flat-six, 3996cc
Power 518bhp @ 8500rpm
Torque 343lb ft @ 6300rpm
Weight 1450kg
Power-to-weight  363bhp/ton
0-62mph 3.2sec
Top speed 184mph
Basic price £192,600

BMW M3 CS

2022 was a year to forget for the BMW M4 CSL. Following consecutive eCoty titles for the M2 CS and M5 CS in 2020 and 2021, the harder, lighter, punchier CSL fell some way short of giving BMW M a hat trick of wins (yes, something only Porsche has achieved). Torn apart by our test route, the CSL came up short in pretty much every area, its blushes only saved by the Mercedes-AMG SL55 4Matic+ collecting the wooden spoon.

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Twelve months on and BMW has reverted to the tried and tested CS formula, this time applied to the M3 saloon. And it’s a cracker once again. Sharp, distinctive, involving, engaging and riotously exciting when the opportunity arises, the pressure the M3 CS carries into eCoty doesn’t feel as though it will unduly overburden the car.

Every time we have fallen into its carbon bucket seats it hasn’t disappointed. Like previous CS models its damping allows it to turn in a performance in body control and synchronicity expected of more bespoke, detailed and expensive machinery. It oozes character, piles on the feedback and leaves you craving one more drive. All in a four-door BMW saloon car.

Does it have the magic gloss that fired its predecessors to the top of the voting? It wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think so. There is so much the M3 CS does right it’s hard to see where it might lose votes. But it faces some exceptionally strong competition, with some of this year’s contenders making the CS’s approach to hardcore look quite tame. And, of course, it has quite the reputation to live up to: the M5 CS is not only one of the greatest supersaloons ever made, but one of the very best eCoty winners, too.

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Engine In-line 6-cyl, 2993cc, twin-turbo
Power 542bhp @ 6250rpm
Torque 479lb ft @ 2750-5950rpm
Weight 1765kg
Power-to-weight  312bhp/ton
0-62mph 3.4sec
Top speed 188mph
Basic price £115,900

Honda Civic Type R

Based purely on cost, Honda’s Civic Type R is this year’s underdog, its sticker price of £49,995 making it both a bargain in terms of the driving experience it offers and absurd when you consider it’s based on a five-door hatchback that will be sold globally in its millions. 

The latest Type R earns its place in 2023’s eCoty purely on merit. Without a doubt it’s not only the best new hot hatch you can buy, it’s also one of the very best of all time. Like the select few from its homeland, the Type R has benefited from continuous development rather than radical revolution in the recent past. Its drivetrain has been finessed, steering precision polished, damping and spring rates harmonised, the styling toned down. A bit. 

In every test we have put the Type R into, the front-drive, six-speed-manual hatch has left its rivals wilting as it delivers another superlative performance, demonstrating that the highest level of driver engagement isn’t exclusive to the exotics and the specialists. It’s a hatchback that can carry a family every day for every scenario before instantly turning its hand to being a devastatingly rewarding car for trackdays or those drives where you simply want to get away from it all. 

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The Type R redefines the all-rounder, proves once again that a well-engineered front-wheel-drive car can be as exciting and engaging as the very best traditionally configured sports cars – some of which the humble(ish) Honda will be taking on at this year’s evo Car of the Year. Not that this troubled the Civic’s predecessors in past eCotys, and we can’t see that changing when today’s example squares up to this year’s other contenders.

Engine In-line 4-cyl, 1996cc, turbocharged
Power 324bhp @ 6500rpm
Torque 310lb ft @ 2500-4000rpm
Weight 1429kg
Power-to-weight  230bhp/ton
0-62mph 5.4sec
Top speed 171mph
Basic price £49,995

Lamborghini Huracán Sterrato

If Lamborghini was a regular car company the Huracán would have peaked with the STO in 2021, the perfect end to the mid-engined phenomenon that terrified eardrums with its savage V10 soundtrack and a performance punch to match its Super Trofeo race-car DNA. As going out on a high goes, the STO would be hard to beat. But then two further editions broke free of Sant’Agata in the form of the Tecnica and, of course, the Sterrato. 

Either could have made the cut here, but while the former takes the best of the STO and Evo models to create a modern-day Lamborghini that, despite its perceived old-school approach, has plenty to keep today’s technical hot shots on their toes, the Sterrato is genuinely something else. An unknown with an approach to the thrill of driving normally reserved for the likes of a Bowler Defender or Ariel Nomad

It is unique in this year’s test. The only ‘special’ and a car that will need to impress beyond its ability to fill a smartphone’s photo library in a single pass down Hexham high street. The Sterrato could go down a hero, swat the supercars into the weeds, bat the super-sports cars away and leave the Type R quivering in its V10 wake. Or we could all have a go, step out of it with a bladder barely under control through laughing so hard and decide ‘Yep, that was fun, but I don’t need to drive it again. Next!’

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That’s the issue with bespoke specials: they’re fun in the moment, but the appeal wanes and the veneer cracks as you prod harder and scrutinise the detail more thoroughly. The Sterrato has its work cut out to defy the stereotype. 

Engine V10, 5204cc
Power 602bhp @ 8000rpm
Torque 413lb ft @ 6500rpm
Weight 1470kg (dry)
Power-to-weight  418bhp/ton (dry)
0-62mph 3.4sec
Top speed 162mph
Basic price £232,820

McLaren 750S

It’s always a risk to include a car in eCOTY before any of us has driven it (this issue’s Driven of the 750S took place after our eCoty test), but with the 750S the only real risk was it arriving in Darth Vader mode with every surface painted black and looking like a rapper’s delight. Not that a colour influences anything other than how often a photographer points their camera at it.

Before driving it we all felt we knew the 750S, and not just because its mildest of design makeovers means it looks barely any different to a 720S. An amalgam of 720S and 765LT, McLaren’s newest model is an attempt to inject more personality into its series production supercar. So it arrives with even more power (not something anyone stepping away from a 720S ever thought they needed), along with the LT’s shorter gear ratios and many of that car’s chassis upgrades, too. 

There’s also the Artura’s instrument pod and HMI system, but it’s how the 750S drives that will determine how this ‘new’ McLaren fares. Hydraulic steering that has the feel of dreams; a ride quality that means it can absorb the M6 as well as it can the cracked and broken surfaces of the roads beyond. The feedback, the intuitive nature of everything a McLaren does, the blinding speed and otherworldly performance. 

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By being an update of a car that first arrived way back in 2017, the 750S will either perform just as expected and nothing more, or it will remind us that few make a supercar as pure as McLaren. 

Engine V8, 3994cc, twin-turbo
Power 740bhp @ 7500rpm
Torque 590lb ft @ 6500rpm
Weight 1389kg
Power-to-weight  541bhp/ton
0-62mph 2.8sec
Top speed 206mph
Basic price £244,760

Maserati GranTurismo Trofeo

Maserati’s tail remains up following its unexpected 2022 evo Car of the Year triumph, and 12 months on it returns with another new car, albeit a very different one to the MC20. 

The GranTurismo arrives as an underdog, but this is down to the sector it operates in rather than the car itself: great GT cars, in isolation, offer some of the most satisfying driving experiences you can have as they immerse you into their world of glorious travel with effortless performance and rarefied luxury. When thrown into the eCoty deep end they need their A-game. Or more likely A* game. 

There’s plenty the Trofeo has to bring, most notably its MC20-sourced V6 engine. It may not possess the same feral edge to its power and torque delivery as you’ll find in the supercar, but it remains a powertrain to engage with rather than one to leave to its own devices. 

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A four-wheel-drive system that’s unobtrusive and a chassis that’s not trying to mimic a mid-engined supercar add to the mix of all-round capability and the sense of a GT at the top of its game, which isn’t something we’ve been able to say about its predecessors for quite some time. 

During eCoty week, though, the GranTurismo Trofeo will need to step out of its comfort zone. It must get stuck into the roads we have planned for it and demonstrate that, regardless of the genre the Trofeo was designed for, it remains, like great Maseratis should, an inspiring driver’s car. There’s also the sub-plot of the DB12 staring it down and going for eCoty GT honours. Plenty of intrigue, then.

Engine V6, 2992cc, twin-turbo
Power 542bhp @ 6500rpm
Torque 479lb ft @ 3000rpm
Weight 1795kg
Power-to-weight  307bhp/ton
0-62mph 3.5sec
Top speed 199mph
Basic price £163,470

The absentees

What about the…? Where’s the…? Why didn’t you include the…? Every year there are a number of cars that aren’t represented in evo Car of the Year for a number of reasons. Some we work until the eleventh hour trying to secure, others we know aren’t going to make the test at the early planning stages because they either don’t reach the mark or are never going to be ready in time. To provide some clarity and insight, here’s why your favourite car of 2023 isn’t in eCoty. 

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Let’s start with the Lotus Emira. This is the second consecutive year the new mid-engined Lotus hasn’t made it to eCoty, not through the want of trying. Last year the V6 manual was pulled by Lotus at the last minute and this year… the AMG-engined auto was pulled at the last minute (both for our original dates at the end of September and our rescheduled dates four weeks later). A lack of resource in terms of cars on the press fleet and people to prepare a car for the test is why the last internal-combustion-engined sports car from Lotus missed out on a last chance to shine. 

Staying with the mid-engined theme, we tried to source a Corvette Z06 because, as John Barker put it, ‘it would have done rather well. Certainly a podium troubler.’ But, as with Lotus, Corvette wasn’t in a position to support our test regardless of where we conducted it and when. 

Why not source a privately owned example of both? Our readers are amazingly supportive, but we knew we’d be pushing it to ask to borrow a private individual’s car for an entire week, with no mileage restrictions. 

Ferrari took the decision that the Purosangue doesn’t fit the end-of-year performance car test format like its supercars do, explaining the company line before we had drawn up our shortlist. The Purosangue would have been on it, and it would have done rather well too, according to those who have driven it. 

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Porsche’s 718 Spyder RS? How many Porsches is too many in one test? Three probably. It’s a car with a personality of its own rather than being an open-roofed facsimile of its Cayman GT4 RS relative, which finished in fourth place last year, but would it have troubled the top of the score-sheet among the cream of 2023’s crop? We think it’s unlikely. 

Prodrive’s sensational P25 most certainly would have done, but despite Dickie Meaden’s advocacy for it, the £550,000 25-run special was sidelined on the grounds that, while evo has never shied away from handing its prized title to some very special cars, the P25 goes beyond ‘special’ and drives into the ‘bespoke’ category.

Audi’s RS4 Competition? A very good car, but still off the pace in terms of taking on an M3, let alone an M3 CS. On the subject of BMWs, the M2 was debated long and hard, but ultimately while it’s a cracking all-rounder, is it podium contender? No, sorry M2 owners.

Ariel’s Atom 4R would undoubtedly be a blast but this isn’t the test for its very singular talents, and AMG’s impressive new GT63 was launched the week after our test concluded and so is a contender for 2024. 

Did we consider any EVs? We asked ourselves the question, looked at the hopeless charging infrastructure in the UK and decided we haven’t driven anything electrified this year that warranted a minimum four-hour round trip every time its battery required topping up. 

evo Car of the Year 2023 featured in issue 317.

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