Drive Car of the Year 2023 kicks off!

Featuring 19 categories, 19 worthy winners, and one grand champion. Australia’s biggest new car awards program kicks off on February 27 here at

New brands, new cars, new judges, and a purpose-built new testing facility: Drive’s annual Car of the Year awards has never been bigger, better, or more exhaustive in its search for Australia’s best new cars. 

The 2023 Drive Car of the Year, Australia’s most comprehensive new car awards program, kicks off Monday February 27 with the announcement of the first of 19 consumer-focused category awards that help Australians buy smarter.

Over the next two weeks, Drive will announce the Best Medium SUV, Best Small Car, Best Dual Cab Ute, Best EV under $70,000 and 15 other worthy winners, culminating on Thursday March 9 with the overall champion, the 2023 Drive Car of the Year.  

Whether it’s practical cars, go-anywhere SUVs, sexy sports cars, or electrifying EVs, the Drive Car of the Year awards will highlight the best and brightest new cars that fit the bill for almost every new-car-buying Australian. 

2023 marks the 17th annual Drive Car of the Year awards, one of the longest-running and most authoritative consumer automotive awards in Australia.

And, like consumer tastes, the Drive Car of the Year program continually evolves to highlight important new trends and emerging segments, as well as retiring awards for segments that no longer resonate with consumers.

Last year we added a dedicated off-road category focused on hardcore four-wheel drive utes like the Ford Ranger Raptor and Nissan Navara Warrior. We also gave the growing number of off-road SUVs an award category of their own too. This year we’ve absorbed the Best Upper Large SUV category into Best Off-Road SUV. 

Last year, we refined our sports car awards into two distinct categories catering to hot hatches and sports coupes, which based on reader feedback resonated strongly. And we kept a close eye on electric vehicles and hybrids in case further adjustments were needed there. 

That’s why, this year, two EV categories have become three, and there’s a fourth specifically for hybrid versions of Australia’s most popular new vehicle type: Medium SUVs.

We have the Best EVs under $70,000 category that looks at the more affordable end of the electric revolution, Best EVs $70,000–$120,000 focused on the next level up, and Best EVs over $120,000 that caters for the best of the best, no matter the price.

Medium SUVs accounted for one in five new vehicles bought by Australians in 2022, and hybrids are a growing force within that massive category, so we felt they deserved special attention. Closed-loop or plug-in, if it combines an internal combustion engine with an electric motor in a medium SUV body, it’s eligible for the newly-minted Best Medium Hybrid SUV award. 

In addition to these new categories, we put four categories on ice. Best First Car and Best Value Car have been mothballed for now. Best People Mover has morphed to become Best Car for Large Families and is now open to any passenger vehicle or SUV capable of carrying at least seven adults.

Lastly, Best Upper Large SUV has been absorbed into Best Off-Road SUV as we said above. 

We also bolstered our judging ranks with the return of Susannah Guthrie from maternity leave and the appointment of Drive’s news journalist Alex Misoyannis.

Combined, these 11 men and women from the Drive Editorial Team are the most authoritative automotive awards panel with a combined 200+ years of industry experience. 

Did we mention that this year we used the Transport for NSW's Future Mobility Testing and Research Centre at Cudal in mid-NSW as our base of operations? This one-time regional airport has been converted into a state-of-the-art road safety testing facility, and that’s why it makes a great Drive Car of the Year testing ground.

The one thing we didn’t change is the way Drive Car of the Year finalists are chosen.

Every one of the more than 500 new vehicles on sale in Australia today is considered for Drive Car of the Year. Judges spend 12 months testing every new vehicle launched in the calendar year before whittling that field down to three or four finalists per category. 

Last year’s category winner gets an automatic entry to Finals Week. 

Challengers, however, must earn their ticket by firstly being significantly updated or all-new and on sale by December 31, 2022. Secondly, the vehicle must be rated among the best in its class during regular road testing throughout the year.

Any new vehicles launched immediately prior to, or just after, Drive Car of the Year's Finals Week, and which therefore may not have been thoroughly road-tested, are considered on their merits – but only if the manufacturer can supply test cars representative of Australian market specification to Finals Week – no prototypes or international market examples are permitted. 

From there, the finalists enter two weeks of evaluation, known collectively as Finals Week. One week is dedicated to off-road-capable vehicles and utes, and the second week to mainstream passenger cars, SUVs and EVs. Testing includes static inspection, real-world drive loops, emergency swerve and braking procedures, plus special tests tailored for off-road vehicles.

This is why Drive Car of the Year is the toughest and most thorough testing regimen of any automotive award in Australia. 

During Finals Week, every finalist is evaluated for what it is – how well does the vehicle fulfil its functional promise? – and is also measured against criteria important to Australian consumers: affordability, safety, efficiency, practicality, technology and drivability.

Once this is all done, the judges discuss their findings in an intense – and sometimes heated – debate before withdrawing to cast their votes in solitude.

Stay tuned to over the next two weeks as we reveal all the winners and tell you why they won.

Glenn Butler

Glenn Butler is one of Australia's best-known motoring journalists having spent the last 25 years reporting on cars on radio, TV, web and print. He's a former editor of Wheels, Australia's most respected car magazine, and was deputy editor of before that. Glenn's also worked at an executive level for two of Australia's most prominent car companies, so he understands how much care and consideration goes into designing and developing new cars. As a journalist, he's driven everything from Ferraris to Fiats on all continents except Antarctica (which he one day hopes to achieve) and loves discovering each car's unique personality and strengths. Glenn knows a car's price isn't indicative of its competence, and even the cheapest car can enhance your life and expand your horizons. 

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