Car news 2023: the year’s unmissable motoring stories: April - July

2023 went by in a flash but just look at all the huge car news that happened in the last 12 months…

April

It was Skoda’s turn to map its EV future while China’s biggest motor show had a real impact…

MINI revealed in official spy shots

We were expecting a new MINI to be launched in 2023, having caught the retro-styled supermini being tested multiple times. But what we didn’t expect was the full reveal to happen in April.

Thanks to some spy shots exploiting a lapse in security at a MINI Cooper shooting location in the US, we got a clear view of the new car five months ahead of its scheduled unveiling. The fourth-generation MINI hatch represents quite a leap from the previous model, not only in terms of technology, but also design. The latest MINI hatch will once again be available with petrol engines, however it was the EV we caught on display.

While the design is instantly recognisable as a MINI, there are some big changes to the Mk3. Gone is the plastic wheelarch cladding that was a mainstay of the BMW-built MINI era. The round headlights are more flush with the bodywork and the grille outline is much larger (although on the EV it’s mostly blanked off). 

There’s a wider boot lid with a new style of rear lights, while the typical ‘floating roof’ effect given off by hidden pillars remains on the new car. The MINI will revert to being exclusively offered in a three-door bodystyle, with the upcoming Aceman crossover acting as a more practical five-door alternative.

The new MINI Electric sits on a bespoke EV platform from BMW’s partner Great Wall. While the car will be built in China to begin with, new investment in the brand’s Oxford plant means production will come to the UK from 2026. Two batteries will be offered with the EV. The smaller 40.7kWh unit in the ‘E’ model sends energy to a single electric motor with 181bhp and 290Nm of torque. A larger 54.2kWh battery will come in the ’SE’, with an electric motor pumping out 215bhp and 330Nm of torque, enough for a 6.7-second 0-62mph time. The recharging speeds stand at 75kW for the smaller battery and 95kW for the larger one, with both taking around 30 minutes for a charge from 10 to 80 per cent. 

The new MINI Cooper will face competition from cars such as the Vauxhall Corsa Electric and Volkswagen ID.3, both of which received facelifts recently. There’s also the looming threat from China, with the BYD Dolphin and its attractive £25,000 price tag. 

Skoda teases six all-new EVs coming soon

Skoda announced big plans for its future. Not only did we see a fresh Superb and Kodiaq, six all-new EVs were also previewed, topped by a seven-seat SUV called the Vision 7s concept

In time, a baby SUV will arrive, acting as the entry-point to Skoda EV ownership with a price around £22k. There’ll also be a sub-Enyaq small SUV called Elroq, as well as an electric estate to rival the current Octavia. Facelifted versions of the Enyaq and Enyaq Coupé are expected to gain a new ‘Modern Solid’ design language in 2025, sitting below the flagship seven-seat Vision 7S.

Shanghai wows crowds

Whilesome car shows may have been slightly underwhelming in 2023 – such as Geneva’s Qatar-baed expo and the damp squib that was New York – the Chinese wowed us with plenty of fresh metal and new technology at Shanghai in April.

Of course, electrification was a strong theme at the showcase event but so was autonomous driving. We saw lots of new cars destined for Europe, too. Perhaps the most significant was the Smart #3, which is the second all-new model to follow the firm’s revised naming strategy (after the #1). The #3 was drawn up by designers from part-owners Mercedes and the tech underpinnings are from its other parent company, Geely.

We’ve since driven the #3 in its regular form and in hot Brabus guise, and we were impressed with the forward steps taken by Smart over the #1.

Porsche was also in China with its updated Cayenne. While it drew plenty of attention from showgoers, as any fresh model from the manufacturer always does, it was interesting to see engineers from rival companies looking to see how they can match the German car’s quality. 

Also in attendance was Swedish brand Polestar with the new Polestar 4, complete with its blanked-off rear window. The Polestar 4 is being built in China, so it’s no surprise that the car will reach that market way before making its way to our shores. 

With its finger on the pulse of the chauffeur industry, Lexus came up with the luxurious LM. It might look like an MPV on the outside (which it is), but the interior is really quite special with a four-seat layout, a huge television screen, and a plush cabin. 

The flagship MG7 was the star of the MG stand and was unusual among the cars at the show for being petrol-powered only. The hatchback sits between the BMW 3 and 5 Series in terms of size, but we’re unlikely to see it in the UK because there’s no hybrid tech and no right-hand-drive editions planned. 

The Shanghai Motor Show wouldn’t be complete without a weird new reveal. This year it came in the form of the Ora Ballet Cat. The strange name matches the Chinese car’s odd design – think retro-modernised Volkswagen Beetle and you’re pretty much there. Unlike the German manufacturer’s New Beetle of the 2000s, the Ballet Cat comes with four-door practicality. 

VW gets on track with ID.7 electric flagship

We expected a huge firm such as Volkswagen to hit the ground running when it came to electrification. But as the ID.3 proved, it’s a difficult market to conquer, especially with excellent Chinese offerings arriving left, right and centre, and the might of Tesla to deal with. 

The ID.7 is Volkswagen’s flagship EV and as such it looks like the German brand is finally ready to take the all-electric game seriously, with headline figures such as a 435-mile range, 200kW rapid charging and the promise of a hot dual-motor GTX model.

Smart roads defended by Harper

We reported Transport Secretary Mark Harper’s refusal to heed demands for the return of hard shoulders to smart motorways. The Transport Select Committee heard Harper defend all-lane running and the safety record of smart motorways, despite the government suspending all developments in January 2022 due to public concerns. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak then confirmed that 14 planned smart motorways were being scrapped altogether, citing cost and a lack of public trust.

Cyberster puts MG back on the roadster map

One of the most exciting cars of the year came in the form of the MG Cyberster. Leaked in full back in April just a month ahead of the two-seater’s official reveal, the production model’s design looked similar to the wild concept of 2021.

The all-electric roadster sector is yet to really get going, so if MG can beat others to the punch in 2024, then the Cyberster could have the market cornered. We reckon that’s even more likely now that we’ve driven the newcomer; it drives like an MG should. The Cyberster should be plenty of fun on UK roads.

May

BMW’s new executive express arrives and electric car fires hit the headlines

All-new BMW 5 Series is ready for electric era

One of the most familiar badges in the business moved into a new era, with the reveal of the new eighth generation of the BMW 5 Series in issue 1,781. And the jump was a significant one, introducing a pure-electric version of the car for the first time, while dropping diesel engines from the UK line-up altogether – a switch that would have been unthinkable even five years ago.

Based on an evolved version of the outgoing car’s CLAR platform, the new model is nearly 10cm longer overall, with a wheelbase stretched by 20mm and perhaps the best version yet of BMW’s double-kidney grille. There’s a mix of curved surfacing and sharper angles along the flanks, but on the whole, the 5 Series is a more mature, sophisticated offering than many of BMW’s recent SUVs.

It’s clearly recognisable as a 5 Series, too, given that the biggest changes come under the bonnet, and there’s just a single conventional combustion engine-powered version available at launch (badged 520i sDrive, it’s a rear-drive edition with 205bhp and 330Nm of torque). But even this model has 48-volt mild-hybrid assistance integrated into its eight-speed automatic gearbox.

At least one plug-in hybrid model is in the pipeline – designed, no doubt, to attract the sort of company-car user choosers who would previously have been tempted into the 5 Series by low-CO2 diesel versions.

But the latest 5 Series will be led into battle by a pair of EVs: the i5 eDrive40, with a rear-mounted 322bhp motor and a battery capable of taking it up to 362 miles between charges, and the range-topping M60 xDrive, which packs a whopping 593bhp from its dual-motor configuration and can sprint from 0-62mph in less than four seconds. It has the same battery pack, though, so its maximum range drops to 321 miles.

Inside, BMW has placed an emphasis on decluttering the dashboard – although this does mean a move away from conventional switches that are often easier to use. The company’s dual-screen layout has been expanded to place a bigger 14.9-inch infotainment display alongside the regular 12.3-inch digital instruments. There’s an ‘Interaction bar’ that runs the full width of the dash and into the doors, allowing both of the front occupants to adjust heating and ventilation settings.

Boot capacity is slightly reduced compared with the old petrol model – with the electric versions taking an additional hit – but anyone after outright 5 Series practicality will, of course, be waiting for the 5 Series Touring, which is already confirmed to arrive in 2024.

A triple header of new SUVs bolsters Honda’s lineup 

Honda launched a trio of fresh SUVs, which we covered in issue 1,780, and it included a pure-electric model.

Perhaps the most interesting of the new arrivals was the ZR-V, designed for those who want the practicality of a Civic family hatch with the raised driving position of an SUV. Slotting this model into the line-up meant that the new CR-V was larger and more premium than before.

The all-electric model was the awkwardly named e:Ny1, which offered up to 249 miles of range between charges and an all-new infotainment interface.

New extinguisher focuses on EV fires

Fires that take hold in electric-car batteries are dangerous and difficult to extinguish, and although the incidence of EV blazes is low, it’s a subject that elicits plenty of heated debate. 

We reported in issue 1,778 on a new fire-fighting system from Sweden that uses very high-pressure water jets that can cut into battery casings and get right to the heart of the conflagration. As well as being faster, it’s kinder to the environment – using as little as 750 litres of water compared with the 150,000 litres needed for other methods.

New diesel fuel rip-off highlighted

Supermarkets’ refusal to reduce fuel prices at the pump as the wholesale price fell saw diesel drivers being ‘ripped off’ to the tune of £9 per tankful, the RAC told us back in May. 

According to RAC Fuelwatch, the wholesale diesel price was 6p a litre below that of petrol, yet it was 13p more expensive at the pumps. Drivers were paying 159p per litre, instead of the 146p they should have paid. At the time, supermarkets were under investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority, who were looking into collusion over prices.

June

A little Lexus and a very small Volvo hit the headlines…

Volvo’s sub-£34k EX30 crossover breaks cover

Auto Express was first to break the news of a baby all-electric Volvo a few years ago – and we were also in the room this summer when the Swedish manufacturer’s boss Jim Rowan unveiled the car.

Called EX30, the pint-sized crossover is smaller than pretty much all of the established rivals from premium brands, such as BMW’s iX1, Audi’s Q4 e-tron and even the Lexus UX300e. From the moment the covers were removed, the new Volvo looked like a classic ‘bridging vehicle’ between conventional hatchbacks and chunky SUVs – ideal, we reckoned, for the urban environment where it would probably spend most of its time.

Based on a platform developed by Volvo’s owner, Chinese conglomerate Geely, the EX30 was launched with a range of powertrains. Even the starting point looks punchy, with 268bhp allowing for a 0-62mph time of less than six seconds, while its 49kWh (usable) battery delivers up to 212 miles of range.

The bigger 64kWh battery comes with a choice of motor configurations; the same 268bhp unit as the entry model means you should see a maximum of 298 miles from a full charge, or you can choose the dual-motor version, with a whopping 422bhp and 545Nm of torque, and a 0-62mph time of just 3.6 seconds. You’ll pay a penalty in range, of course; it drops to 286 miles.

A good look around the new arrival in the studio revealed that it looks every bit the baby Volvo, with a nicely finished cabin and lots of cool features. There’s no conventional glovebox, for example; instead there’s a central area shared between the front occupants. And Volvo has also done away with regular door speakers, instead installing a soundbar that runs across the top of the dashboard. This, in turn, saves cabling – helping to cut build costs, as well as using fewer raw materials – and has allowed the EX30’s cabin designers to make more space in the door pockets.

Concerns? The portrait-orientated infotainment screen looked set to work harder than ever before, given the lack of a conventional instrument cluster. And we were a little underwhelmed by the packaging, with barely supermini levels of rear-seat space. The boot looked pretty modest, but at 318 litres, it’d probably have enough space for most supermarket runs.

The biggest news was arguably on pricing, with Volvo suggesting the EX30 could start at less than £34,000. That’s sensible money for a premium small SUV, but seriously competitive for an EV. We were shocked that Volvo believed it could sell its new baby for less than Vauxhall charges for a Corsa Electric with less power, a smaller battery and none of the EX30’s Swedish cool.

Face fits for new Genesis security system

It’s always a battle for brands to keep ahead of car thieves, and our report on the latest biometric security measures highlighted new tech from Genesis. Its security system for the GV60 uses fingerprint and facial recognition to unlock the car and start the engine. 

While the Genesis system only stores data onboard the car, Thatcham security expert Steve Launchbury told us future iterations of the tech are likely to rely on cloud-based storage, adding data protection concerns to the list of new issues the tech brings with it.

Baby LBX gives Lexus urban crossover

Lexus launched its smallest car to date, promising that the LBX has been re-engineered to make it feel more sophisticated than the closely related Toyota Yaris Cross. It gives Lexus a proper urban model with hybrid tech.

Our first impression after seeing it in the studio was that while the four-metre-long body was swish enough, the rear cabin felt a little cramped for grown-ups. Lexus’s European chief Dimitris Tripospitis told us the LBX has the potential to “conquest non-Lexus customers”.

YASA is the power behind Mercedes Vision Concept

Mercedes grabbed headlines with its stunning Vision One-Eleven concept, complete with a return to gullwing-door technology. 

But the power behind the dramatic sports car was provided by Oxford-based firm YASA, whose ultra-compact, lightweight axial-flux motors are set to go into production in an AMG-badged EV in the future. The rakish profile may not point directly to a model that we’ll be able to buy, but elements of the show car’s cabin, including a novel augmented-reality set-up, could make it into showrooms by the middle of the decade.

July

The 2023 Auto Express New Car Awards winners are announced and fuel prices are under the microscope

Kona keeps Hyundai flying high in New Car Awards

The most important date on the Auto Express calendar is undoubtedly our annual New Car Awards (NCAs). Each year we round up the very best models on sale, from superminis and sports cars, to EVs and SUVs. If you’re considering upgrading, or just want an accessible cross-section of what’s hot, the NCAs are not to be missed.

Taking the overall win back in July was the brand-new Hyundai Kona. Following in the footsteps of its larger Ioniq 5 stablemate, which scooped the top honour in 2021, the Kona was best all-rounder we drove all year.

To even be up for NCA consideration a car must be better than its rivals in nearly every respect. Whether that’s practicality or performance, refinement, running costs, comfort or kit – this year, nothing did it better than the futuristic looking Kona SUV, which also won best Small Company Car for 2023.

We said at the time: “Hyundai has refined an already strong formula. The Kona Electric’s powertrain has had only minor nips and tucks; performance is as strong as before, but it’s now packaged within a chassis that rides better and has greater refinement.”

But Hyundai has also made the second-generation Kona larger – because owners wanted more rear room and a bigger boot. Combine all this within a car that boasts a daring exterior, a smart and logical cabin and competitive pricing, and the Kona represents the “best all-round package we have driven this year”, we said.

It wasn’t the only Hyundai in our list, either, because the dinky i10 scooped best City Car, and the larger Tucson took home Mid-Size SUV. But while that brand walked away with the overall win, it was BMW who claimed the largest spread, with five awards: the X1, i4, iX, i7 and M2 all enjoyed success at the NCAs, and sister company MINI was once again recognised for its excellent Convertible.

Dacia continued its purge on the value market, with wins for the Sandero and Jogger, while Toyota saw success for the Corolla Touring Sports estate and GR86 sports car. Lexus’s hybrid NX took top Mid-Size Premium SUV.

There were also wins for Tesla, Skoda, Land Rover, Honda, MG, Mercedes, Ford, VW and Renault, while Citroen topped our Driver Power survey with the latest C4 and e-C4 – proving that reliability and satisfaction have taken a step in the right direction. Porsche customers were the happiest overall, with the brand taking top spot in our manufacturer poll earlier in the year.

Fuel report reveals supermarket price hikes

Supermarkets pushing up fuel profit margins, rather than competing on price, cost drivers an eye-watering £1billion in 2022 alone. So said the long-awaited report by the Competitions and Markets Authority, after the government watchdog spent a year investigating whether competition wasn’t playing out as it should on forecourts.

The CMA recommended that a new ‘fuel price-monitoring’ body be set up, and that retailers should be forced to share live price data so drivers can more easily shop around. The government agreed, and will consult on how to proceed.

Dacia Spring to target seasoned rivals

At the absolute other end of the EV spectrum compared with the Rolls-Royce Spectre, Dacia confirmed it will be bringing the affordable Spring EV to the UK in 2024. Back in July, the maker gave us a chance to drive the compact city car to get a feel for what’s in store.

The Dacia had “lots of promise”, we reported, but with an influx of low-mileage used superminis already flooding the market, the Spring left us wanting in a few key areas. Bosses will need to work some magic to make the newcomer feel good value as well as simply cheap.

Goodwood Festival of Speed bigger and more exciting than ever

Acting as an modern-day alternative to the classic British Motor Show, the Goodwood Festival of Speed has transformed into one of the most important and exciting events on the automotive calendar. Car makers flock to it with full-size stands, while punters go to gawp at some of the most exclusive metal on the planet – much of which races up the famous hill, wowing onlookers and chasing class records.

This year, Porsche took centre stage to celebrate its 75th anniversary, bringing the spectacular Vision 357 Speedster. The single-seater EV had many traditional styling cues, but underneath the sculpted bodywork it was far from conventional. The concept was based on the Cayman GT4 e-Performance Prototype, boasting over 1,000bhp from its dual-motor powertrain.

Elsewhere, MG brought along the EX4 Concept – a race-ready version of its XPower hot hatch, with its roots traceable to the Metro 6R4 rally car. Even Triumph chucked out a cool new one-off concept, based on the chassis of a BMW i3S. The TR25 weighed 1,095kg and could do 0-62mph in 5.2 seconds.

It wasn’t all fantasy, though. Ineos used the Festival to show off its Quartermaster pick-up. A double-cab version of the Grenadier 4x4, it got a longer wheelbase and a load bed capable of carrying a Euro pallet. 

In addition, Lotus arrived with a four-cylinder version of its lauded Emira sports car, and Ariel dropped in with its Atom 4R. The latest version of the lightweight British sports car lifted its engine from a Honda Civic Type R, uprated to 400bhp.

The Goodwood Festival of Speed is as good as ever. If you’ve never been, get the dates (11-14 July) in your diary 2024 is set to be another cracker.

Deputy editor

Richard has been part of the our team for over a decade. During this time he has covered a huge amount of news and reviews for Auto Express, as well as being the face of Carbuyer and DrivingElectric on Youtube. In his current role as deputy editor, he is now responsible for keeping our content flowing and managing our team of talented writers.

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