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Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.

2023 Zoomies: Top 10 vehicles of the year

The easiest way to narrow my top drives of the past year would be to just go high-end and sporty on everything.

But that’s not what most folks drive, that’s mostly trucks, SUVs and crossovers. So Zoomie selects winners from various segments, always with an eye to style and value. For instance, when my first Zoomie awards hit print in 1990 I selected the Mazda Miata, a real winner. The fact that it still sells well may make it my finest choice. Beginner’s luck!

Not sure if any of this year’s winners will still be on the market 30+ years from now, but all are great drives as we enter 2024. And to be honest a few of my drives this year were vehicles that I’ve named top Zoomies in past years, so I steered (sorry) away from those to note some of the latest entries. Otherwise Kia, Hyundai, Toyota and Nissan would likely be over-represented.

Here goes, in no particular order, except the finale being my top Zoomie Vehicle of the Year.

Ford F-150 Lightning (Electric)

The nation’s top-selling vehicle for most of my adult life has been the Ford F-150 pickup. So, its new electric version, the Lightning, deserves top-billing. Sure, Tesla has been “talking” about an electric pickup for years, but Ford already is there. It continues to lead the way with the first all-electric model on sale. And its sales are exploding like greased lightning (sorry again). First, the pickup features bold styling with a big wrap-around light bar in front and a straight one across the tailgate. Lightning is a styling stand-out. Then there’s the 310-mile range with extended range batteries and a tow capacity of 10,000 pounds making it a capable pickup. Oh, and power is excellent with 580 horses and 775-pound-feet of torque. There’s a reason Ford’s F-150 in all its iterations is still No. 1.

Genesis GV70 AWD Prestige (Electric)

If you’re an electric hater try to not get your power cord all in a knot here as I’m sticking with electric for this high-end luxury compact SUV. The GV70 is handsome and powerful with a world class luxury look and feel. I loved the gas-powered model a year and a half ago and the electrified version is even more wow-worthy. Power? Yes, 429 horses and a 516 torque rating, but with a Boost button on the wheel that will jump the ponies up to 483. It’ll move! Yes, it costs $13,000 more than the gas version, but this one is eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit. The AWD Prestige model I drove goes for $67,000 to $75,000 so the price promises luxury as does its fantastic styling with dual bar front and rear lights and elegant profile and trim lines. Inside, the GV70 oozes leathery luxury and primo design.

I’m going to cheat a little bit here and also mention the Genesis G80 Electric sedan, which is equally luxurious, gorgeous and fast, but is a sedan. Last year I named the G90 sedan to my top 10. Nuff said!

Volvo S60 Recharge AWD Ultimate (PHEV)

Speaking of sexy sedans, Volvo, yes Volvo, delivers one of the hottest blacked out versions of a sports luxury sedan on the roads. It’s lean and low with a long hood and short tail, but with the added advantage of being a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) so runs 36 miles on an overnight charge. That makes it more practical than many hot rods and not many of those pack 455 horsepower with 523 pound-feet of torque, along with AWD. Power comes from a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter engine coupled with a 143-horse electric motor that powers the rear wheels. If James Bond were Swedish this is what he’d drive. Cost is $59,000 to about $63,000, so entry-level luxury.

Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD (PHEV)

Plug-in hybrids are the real rage, not electrics, as they strike a happy medium between hybrid and all-electric power and useful range. Hyundai puts a plug-in system in the popular and stylish Santa Fe mid-sized SUV with great results. An overnight charge nets 30 miles of electric range (most folks’ daily drive). Meanwhile, I nearly doubled my gas mileage from the gas-only model tested a year earlier. That translated to 41.3 mpg vs. 22.6 on gas only. Interior design is neat and tidy and luxury leaning with many features that are add-on options for most other makes. This top-end model listed at $48k, but lower priced trims are available for more cost-conscious families.

Subaru Impreza RS

Low-budget families get even better news from Subaru with its restyled Impreza hatchback. That’s because for between $24k and $26k one can hop into a base or Sport trim AWD hatch that’s quiet inside yet offers all the modern safety and convenience features. And for just a bit more, $28-$30k, they can slot into the peppier RS model with heated seats and steering wheel and a 2.5-liter I4 delivering 182 horsepower to add a bit of fun to the drive. Handling is rallying car nimble as it borrows steering gear from the race-worthy WRX model. Plus, it’s a hatch, so sleek lines and easy cargo loading along with a rear wiper. All Imprezas come with AWD, even the lower-horse base models. Consider this an under-the-radar hot hatch.

Nissan Sentra SR

Don’t need AWD and prefer a sedan? Nissan, which delivered a lot of great products this year (think Rogue, Kicks, and Pathfinder), launched its 2024 Sentra with new styling and several upgrades while keeping the entry price at $21,745, and that includes delivery my friend. Go two-tone on the paint for added spiff, but the car’s sleek lines won’t divulge its economy leanings. The tested top-level SR packs all the features most buyers demand, including heated seats, safety features, and an expertly designed interior. Sentra also delivers hybrid-like fuel economy while running solely on gas. I managed 31 mpg from the smooth and efficient 2.0-liter I4 with an excellent new 8-speed automatic transmission. A high-value premium package with upgraded seats, a power driver’s seat, better såtereo and heated steering wheel pushed this to $28,000, but a family of four will fit and be quite comfy. Why spend more?

Acura Integra A-Spec Tech

OK, maybe the newly re-introduced Integra is why you’d spend more for increased power and interior flair. Still, at $37,000 to start that’s modest for such a fine mix of power and looks. Borrowing the 1.5-liter turbo I4 from the racy Honda Civic SI the Integra delivers 200 horses for peppy performance as it’s paired with a rev-matching 6-speed manual, one of just a few offered at any price these days. The fastback styling and aggressive nose and tail give Integra a distinctive look and the interior is typical Acura stylish. The test car impressed with red and black leather seats. People notice! Even at its base the Integra looks sharp for $32,500, but it has a CVT so not as much fun as the tested A-Spec’s stick shift.

BMW X1 Xdrive 28i

Sticking with fun and moderate cost is one of the best surprises of the year, BMW’s X1 XDrive 28i that starts at just under $40,000. It’s a cute spunky small crossover that pumps out an energetic 241 horsepower but manages 24 mpg city and 34 highway. Hard to call this entry-level, but it really is for BMW and the new model grew to be bigger than the X2 and nearly equals the X3, one of my top 10 vehicles last year. Hey, save some money and go with the X1 for a less expensive sports car vibe, but the usefulness of a compact crossover with AWD. This one’s a bargain if you avoid many options.

BMW X7 M60i

Not exactly a bargain (none of the 3-row luxury SUVs is) the largest BMW is super everything, from power to price tag. It starts at $104,000. You read that right. I simply loved driving the X7 despite its size, nearly 204 inches long. That’s actually a bit smaller than many full-size 3-row SUVs but the benefit is in handling and agility. The X7 is a mild hybrid with a twin-turbo V8 that makes 523 horsepower and is rated 553 for torque. It’s a rocket, while carrying seven folks in leather-wrapped luxury and massaging its front seat occupants. The tester topped out at $117,000, but does price matter when luxury and power is everything? Never mind the Range Rovers, Mercedes, Jeep, or Cadillac luxury limos, the X7 delivers the power like Arby’s delivers the meats!

The 2023 Zoomie Car of the Year:

Toyota Prius Prime XSE (PHEV)

I’m practical enough to be wowed by any vehicle (not fully electric) delivering 52-67 mpg during a week’s drive. Yet it was the looks, the needle-sharp aero styling of Toyota’s new Prius Prime that got my attention, and everyone else’s as I tested the new plug-in hybrid.

If you’re opinion of Prius was formed by being stuck behind the former lumpen Prius hatchback as it trundled down a highway entry ramp, then this could shock you. Toyota hit a grand slam with this model’s low roofline, rounded wedge profile and lightning strike style headlights. Wow! No matter its powertrain the new Prius would stand out in any parking lot or along any roadway.

All models are plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) now with a 39-mile electric range (among the best in the industry) and prices beginning at $33,600 and easing up to just more than $40 grand. At the upper end that’s still $5,000 short of the national new car average and this is far from average in looks and performance.

One can get a full recharge for the 39 miles in overnight charging, even on a standard 110-volt outlet, a 240-volt outlet will do it in four hours. The 2-0-liter I4 hybrid makes a satisfying 220 horsepower that is delivered smoothly and is a whopping 100 more horses than the previous Prius Prime with an additional 14 miles of electric range.

Handling is light and breezy, ride is good, four adults will fit fine, and cargo space while down from the past is sufficient for a family of four taking a trip. Prius Prime’s interior is well designed with a good info touchscreen and the tested XSE included heated seats and steering wheel.

If the old Prius’s looks put you off, this new Prime model should turn your head, while its performance and price should satisfy your bank account and seriously cut your weekly fuel costs. Prime choice!

Mark Savage writes the auto review column, Savage On Wheels, for WUWM (formerly for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) and Savageonwheels.com. He is the former executive editor of American Snowmobiler magazine and FineScale Modeler magazine, both part of Kalmbach Media in Waukesha.
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