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Car news 2023: the year’s unmissable motoring stories

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

What a difference 12 months can make. A year ago we were in the midst of a parts-supply crisis, a hangover from the pandemic, and the ongoing troubles in Ukraine. But now, although devastating political struggles continue around the world, the motor industry looks stronger than ever.

There are huge challenges still ahead but car manufacturers are attacking them head-on. The elephant in the room that nobody is ignoring is, of course, the switch to electrification and the race is well and truly on to capitalise on the opportunities that electric cars will bring.

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Quietly and determinedly, the finest minds in the car industry are chipping away at the barriers stopping consumers making the switch to electric. The news in 2023 has been packed with new products that promise lower prices and longer ranges while continuing to push the boundaries of design and technology. Looking back at our news highlights of 2023 that involve new car announcements, you have to feel that there’s so much to look forward to in 2024 and beyond.

Auto Express is your number one source for all news that affects motorists and car fans so we covered a whole lot more beyond the rise and development of the EV. Potholes, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), the London Ultra Low Emissions Zone and the ban on new petrol and diesel car sales where among the major consumer issues covered, while the UK car market gained a clear look at the potential size of the Chinese brand invasion that’s already underway. There were more than a few fantastic petrol and diesel cars launched too, as some manufacturers chose to celebrate the closing of that era with a flourish.

All in all, It was another great year and, as always, it was our pleasure to tell you about it. Scroll down to relive our car and motoring news highlights of 2023…

January

2023 opened with a reimagined icon and a very hot estate…

We reveal electric-shock treatment for VW Golf 

We kicked off 2023 with a huge scoop regarding one of the biggest names in the automotive world. Our Top Story in issue 1,762 confirmed that the Volkswagen Golf’s current eighth-generation model will be the last to use internal-combustion engines, with its replacement, due in 2026, set to ditch petrol and diesel for pure electric power

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However, given that VW already has a fully electric Golf-sized car, the ID.3, we were keen to discover how the future of the brand’s range would look moving ahead. To find out, we chatted to the manufacturer’s CEO Thomas Schäfer, who confirmed that the brand would be ‘crazy’ to let a name as iconic as Golf die. At the same time, he said that the new ID brand has become “a well known logo for electrification”, which left us to believe that the Mk9 Golf might wear the ID. Golf name, similar to a strategy already employed with the stylish ID. Buzz MPV.

Our exclusive images provided a strong indication as to how a future Golf might look. It’s a model whose evolution has been fairly gradual throughout its life, but this time VW will need to apply the familiar Golf styling cues – including the distinctive C-pillar design – on to an all-electric platform. That itself was another big story to emerge about the future of the Golf. Previous to our story, it was believed that VW would ditch the MEB all-electric architecture used by the current ID family, with a new SSP design taking its place. 

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However, rumours were that the company was in the process of investing a further £1.1billion into MEB to accommodate 200kW-plus rapid charging and, more significantly, the Group’s ‘unified cell’ battery strategy. This tech forms part of VW’s plans to reduce battery costs significantly, which at sometime in the future, could spawn an ID.2 that could start from as little as the mid-£20k mark. That model, as we also exclusively covered, will be the car to bring the GTI badge into an electric future

Until that point, we’re just going to have to settle for a heavily updated Mk8.5 version of the current Golf. Many of the changes focus on improved tech; the original touchscreen infotainment came under criticism for its often-confusing interface, while the touch-sensitive dash and steering-wheel keys are also set to be addressed in the mid-life updates.

While the future looks rosy for the Golf, our chat with Schäfer suggested that the future for another big VW name might not be so secure. When discussing the Polo, he said: “Is it iconic enough to carry on? That’s not clear yet.”

Long-awaited M3 Touring loads up on thrills

Performance-car fans had been waiting for decades, but January 2023 was finally the time that BMW revealed an estate-bodied version of its sublime M3. The M3 Touring promised all of the excitement, focus and raw speed of the existing M3 saloon, but with the benefit of a 500-litre boot accessed through a large tailgate and clever separate-hinged rear screen.

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It’s a model which, as you’ve seen in our first December double issue, went toe-to-toe with the fabulous Audi RS 4, delivering one of 2023’s closest and most thrilling road tests.

New-car sales lowest in three decades

The start of a new year is always an opportunity to look over the previous 12 months to see how the automotive industry is performing as a whole. With UK sales totalling 1.61 million in 2022, new-car registrations had dropped by two per cent on the previous year and to the lowest figure since 1992. 

Of those cars that were sold, it was the Nissan Qashqai that proved to be the most popular model with buyers. The top five was completed by the Vauxhall Corsa, the Tesla Model Y, the Ford Puma and the MINI.

Peugeot reveals Inception concept car 

Following on from the stunning e-Legend of 2018, Peugeot used January to once again tease us with a gorgeous concept that won’t fully see the light of day. The angular Inception coupé sported a dramatic look both inside and out that hints at future cars, but it was the EV tech that raised eyebrows the most.

Peugeot reckoned that the 100kW battery could achieve a 497-mile range, yet the 670bhp twin-motor layout delivered a sub-3.0-second 0-62mph time. Wireless charging tech would add 93 miles in five minutes.

February

Ineos aimed to fill Land Rover’s wellies and Omoda joined the influx from China… 

New Ineos Grenadier takes a tough stance

The Ineos Grenadier was launched with plenty of hype, marking the arrival of a 4x4 to fill the gap in the market left when the original Land Rover Defender was finally pulled from sale after decades of loyal service. When we eventually got behind the wheel of the Grenadier early this year, we found that in some ways the buzz was justified, but in others, unfortunately, the newcomer fell some way short of our expectations. 

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What was clear from the off was that, as a go-anywhere off-roader, the Ineos more than fulfilled its brief. Here was a car that we felt was as capable as anything else in the rough stuff – and not only because of its sturdy ladder-frame chassis, plus front and rear differential locks. We were impressed with the tech, too; the hill-descent control was one of the smoothest and best judged that we have experienced. It was here that the 4x4 was in its element; editor-in-chief Steve Fowler said: “As with the best modern sports cars, the Grenadier flatters drivers; it’ll make you feel like an off-roading hero.”

However, things weren’t quite so positive on the road. The Grenadier’s vast size was one initial disadvantage, which made the ponderous handling require plenty of thought – although the ride was more forgiving than we expected. On the plus side, the BMW-sourced six-cylinder engines and transmissions proved to be as smooth as we’d hoped – the diesel being our choice, thanks to its slightly superior economy and the greater degree of control it offered while mud plugging. 

The Grenadier’s off-road potential seemed almost a shame to us; so good was it in these conditions, we questioned how many people would ever get to benefit from its capability. Those who don’t, then, will be left with a car that has plenty of foibles and irritations on the road, for a price that, at £69,000 (a figure that since February has climbed to £76,000), is very steep compared with both the significantly more modern and no less capable new Defender, as well as a selection of rugged, capable, no-nonsense pick-ups that cost much less to buy in the first place. This was something we confirmed later in the year, when the Grenadier faced off against the Defender and Ford’s Ranger Raptor. 

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We ranked it ahead of the Ford – mainly because the Raptor’s image would be a bit too in-your-face for many buyers – and it was the strongest of the three off-road. However, the Land Rover ran it exceptionally close off the beaten track, yet was significantly more refined and precise on-road, while also serving up a great deal more luxury and many more creature comforts for less cash.

Anger at councils’ £multi-million LTN cash-in 

Haringey Council made £2million from 60,000 penalty charges issued to drivers for entering Low Traffic Neighbourhoods in the last quarter of 2022, we reported in February. The backlash from locals inspired Tottenham MP David Lammy to call for a review of schemes he said increased congestion. 

LTNs were implemented during Covid as the government encouraged authorities to support walking and cycling, but have been much opposed by residents of many areas where they have been imposed. The Department for Transport also came under fire for using false data to justify schemes.

Vauxhall Insignia moves with the times

The traditional large family car class is virtually no more, with buyers flocking to buy SUV-shaped machines. But while the Ford Mondeo has fallen by the wayside, one of its old adversaries, the Vauxhall Insignia, is changing with the times. 

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Back in February we broke the news that the Insignia is set to become a high-riding crossover, with a sleek roofline to maximise the efficiency of its electric powertrain. Up to 450 miles of WLTP range is the target when the newcomer launches, which we expect will be in the middle of the decade.

Can Omoda 5 deliver on its promise? 

This year has seen a huge influx of Chinese brands – previously unfamiliar in the UK – burst onto the scene with fascinating newcomers. Most of these cars are fully electric, and while the Omoda 5 will feature a battery powertrain, the eye-catching stat was for the petrol model. 

Omoda claimed that when this Qashqai-sized machine launches next March, it’ll start from £24,000. With 187bhp, 275Nm of torque and two wireless smartphone charging pads promised on even the base model, we were intrigued to see whether it’ll live up to the promise – and we still are.

Congestion charge marks 20 years 

February saw the 20th anniversary of the London congestion charge, and we ‘celebrated’ by taking a look at some of the milestones. Implemented in 2003 by Labour mayor ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone, it originally cost £5 for cars. 

A 2007 extension of the zone into West London was reversed by Boris Johnson as mayor in 2011, while in 2017 a higher charge for the worst polluters was introduced prior to 2019’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone arrival. Covid saw the C-charge being briefly suspended, returning with higher charges as TFL sought to claw back lost revenues.

March

Ford set out its EV stall and the state of the UK’s roads came into focus…

Famous Ford badges set for reinvention on EVs

Ford has shown it’s not scared of taking an iconic name like Mustang and putting it on to the back of an all-electric SUV. It’ll soon do the same with Puma and, while it’s not as much of a departure, Explorer too. The latter car is the result of a partnership between Ford and Volkswagen; VW can use commercial-vehicle platforms like the new Ranger’s, and Ford gains access to VW’s all-electric MEB platform – which underpins the Explorer EV

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Since its unveiling back in March, however, production of the Explorer has run into a brick wall due to incoming UN regulations over battery safety. Customers can expect their new cars to reach them by summer 2024, by which time we hope to have racked up plenty of time behind the wheel – although in a roundabout way we already have, because the Explorer is a sibling of the Volkswagen ID.4, a car we’re well acquainted with at Auto Express. 

Unlike the ID.4 line-up, which kicks off with a 146bhp electric motor, the Explorer range will start with a 168bhp motor mounted on the rear axle powered by a 52kWh battery for up to 218 miles of range. A more powerful 282bhp motor with a 77kWh battery will sit above this and offer 335 miles of range, with the flagship model boasting 335bhp from a four-wheel-drive dual-motor set up – although this cuts the range to 305 miles. The EV game moves quickly, however, so while those numbers sound promising today, rivals like the Tesla Model Y, Hyundai Ioniq 5 and the Skoda Enyaq will all remain competitive. 

The Explorer’s design didn’t exactly blow us away when it was unveiled, but there’s no denying that it does have a clean, understated style. It’s wider than its German cousin, but 124mm shorter and 40mm lower in height, so the Ford has a comparatively stocky stance. 

Inside, the Explorer impresses with a massive 15-inch touchscreen in the middle of the dash, using Ford’s fine SYNCMove software. We’re less happy to see VW’s touch slider control for the volume; the German firm has already backtracked on this tech for its future cars, but it’s probably too late to expect a similar change of heart from Ford. 

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Not only did the American company reveal the Explorer in March, but we also got wind that the Capri name would make a stunning comeback on – yep, you guessed it – an electric SUV. We’ve since caught the Capri testing on the road, so a full reveal for that car shouldn’t be too far off. 

Citroen breaks the mould with Oli concept

Citroen wanted to showcase how it could be different from its Stellantis siblings in an all-electric future, and it did so with the Oli concept. Back in March, we had the opportunity to drive the car (albeit in the confines of a massive hall), which is a rarity with concepts as bold as this.

We couldn’t really give a verdict on the driving experience, but Oli’s wacky design is a breath of fresh air and its sustainability credentials (50 per cent of the car is made of recycled materials) are impressive. If Citroen builds a car even remotely like the Oli, then it’ll be a fascinating addition. 

One fifth of roads ‘undriveable’ in five years

We often reported on the poor state of Britain’s tarmac across the year, including in March when the annual report of the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) claimed that almost a fifth of the UK’s roads would be undriveable
in five years. The price of fixing the problems now totalled around £14billion, it added. 

AIA chair Rich Green said: “Resurfacing now takes place, on average, less than once every 100 years. Without a change to the funding structure and the amount allocated, local conditions can’t – and won’t – improve.”

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Deputy editor

Richard has been part of the 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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