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When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

A silver 2023 Mercedes-AMG One is shown driving on a racetrack after being recognized as a top car in year of the sports car.

Was 2023 the Year of the Sports Car?

It’s no secret that sedans and hatchbacks are steadily disappearing from the market as more and more drivers turn to SUVs and pickup trucks. If you take a look at the few cars remaining, you will find even fewer sporty models. Manual transmissions are all but gone, and you have to look hard to find a proper two-door coupe these days. However, paradoxically, dedicated sports cars seem to be flourishing. In fact, taking a look at the new models released over the last year, it wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to call 2023 the year of the sports car.

We’ve seen reimagined versions of iconic models and brand-new designs from a wide range of manufacturers. We’ve seen the quickest factory 0-60 time, the fastest front-wheel drive production car, a new Nürburgring lap record, the first homologation rally car in years, and even not one, but two off-road supercars. Plus, while the industry may be on the verge of electrification, the last year was a celebration of traditional high-octane performance, with plenty of manual transmission cars and a new V12 sports car to celebrate. There was even a car with a factory E85 tune!

The Traditional Supercars

While most of us may never get a chance to drive them, supercars are the purest embodiment of the sports car. Everything else is sacrificed in the pursuit of performance, and 2023 has seen new levels of excitement for the most recently unveiled models. Leading the supercar pack for 2023 is the mind-bending Mercedes-AMG One, which straight up took a Formula One powertrain, improved it, and dropped it into a road-legal performance car. With a turbocharged 1.6L V6 engine paired with four electric motors, this car has 1,063 hp and can hit 120 mph in seven seconds. The 11,000 rpm redline helps it hit a 217 mph top speed, while a pushrod suspension and active aero features give it unrivaled handling. Altogether, the package allowed the Mercedes-AMG One to claim a Nürburgring lap time of 6:30.705, putting it a full 8.13 seconds ahead of the second-fasted production car, the Porsche 911 GT2 RS MR.

However, while it may have lost the Nürburgring lap record, Porsche has still amazed us with a fantastic new supercar for 2023. The new Porsche 911 GT3 RS is the most motorsports-focused 911 available. The giant twin-element rear wing with DRS suspended over the trunk on a swan neck mount is the first hint you’re looking at a monster. Take a closer look, and you’ll realize that most of the car is constructed of carbon fiber reinforced plastics for a curb weight of 3,268 lbs, nearly 100 lbs lighter than the base model 911 Carrera. While the 911 GT3 RS is not the fastest supercar you can buy, it may just have them all beat when it comes to pure theater, especially when the naturally aspirated flat-six winds all the way out to 9,000 rpm with no cabin sound deadening to interfere with the symphony.

McLaren chose a different track with the brand-new Artura, blending old and new for the brand’s entry-level hybrid supercar. Its twin-turbo V6 is paired with an electric motor to send a potent 671 hp to the rear wheels. In typical McLaren style, weight was also kept low, with the Artura tipping the scale at just a few dozen pounds more than the 911 GT3 RS. Although it may not claim any world-beating numbers, that’s not surprising for McLaren’s most affordable model. However, the Artura is an incredibly well-rounded package that helps to show just how far the supercar segment has come in recent years. While plug-in hybrids were once a rarity, they have now become the norm for brands chasing the apex of performance.

A black 2024 McLaren Artura is shown driving on a neon track.

The Japanese Are Back

After taking the sports car world by storm in the 1980s and 1990s, the Japanese automakers all but disappeared from discussions of high-performance vehicles. However, they are now back with a vengeance, unveiling model after model designed to appeal to nostalgia while offering modern performance, usually at affordable prices. Leading the pack for 2023 is the Toyota Supra, which has seen major updates every year since it was reintroduced in 2020. Now, Toyota has added a traditional six-speed manual transmission to its flagship model, giving drivers more control over the 382 hp from its turbocharged straight-six engine. It’s difficult to find more performance for the money than the Supra, and the new transmission has generated quite a buzz among enthusiasts who were upset that it was missing from the original release.

Eagerly challenging the Supra is the new Nissan Z. Although sharing the same bones as the aging 370Z, the new Z is powered by a 400 hp twin-turbo V6 borrowed from the Infiniti lineup and offers both a manual and automatic transmission right out of the box. While the Z doesn’t quite match the Supra in terms of performance on the track, it is, as Nissan fans will quickly tell you, a purely Japanese design that didn’t require partnering with a European company to build. With the Z and the manual Supra, fans of traditional rear-wheel drive Japanese sports cars have two solid choices to pick from. However, there is another new performance model from Japan to mention.

The 2023 Civic Type R marks the sixth generation of Honda’s flagship hot hatch and is the second generation available in the United States. While the fourth and fifth generations had been produced in the United Kingdom, Honda brought the Type R home for the redesign, producing the new model at its plant in Saitama and tuning it on the famous Suzuka Circuit, where it set the front-wheel drive lap record. A year later, the redesigned Type R challenged the Nürburging, taking back its title as the fastest front-wheel drive production car from the Renault Megane IV RS Trophy R with a blazing 7:44.881 lap time. While many enthusiasts believe that front-wheel drive and high performance don’t go together, Honda is determined to prove them wrong.

The Rally Cars

Rear-wheel drive and front-wheel drive certainly have their merits, but what about all-wheel drive? The 2023 model year has taken a twist that no one saw coming with the unveiling of three all-wheel drive performance models designed to not only tear up the streets but head off-road to challenge dirt roads and even rougher terrain. The tamest of the three is the Toyota GR Corolla, which is a larger take on the GR Yaris homologation rally car designed exclusively for the American market. Powering the GR Corolla is a turbocharged 1.6L inline-three producing an incredible 300 hp (that’s 187.5 hp per liter). That power is delivered to the wheels through a rally-grade all-wheel drive system that includes available front and rear limited slip differentials, putting the GR Corolla in the same refined crowd as the Subaru WRX STI and Audi Quattro.

You might be wondering what could possibly make that look tame, but the Porsche 911 Dakar does exactly that. Based on the 911 Carrera GTS, the 911 Dakar has a 3.0L twin-turbo flat-six producing 473 hp, an all-wheel drive system with locking center and rear differentials, and rear-wheel steering. All the standard off-roading goodies are also present, including a three-inch suspension lift, grippy all-terrain tires, steel skid plates, and even an optional roof tent. While a gravel-slinging supercar wasn’t on anyone’s radar going into 2023, it turns out that Porsche actually wasn’t alone in wanting to build a rally car.

Lamborghini also got in on the fun for what will likely be the penultimate model year of its entry-level Huracan. The new Sterrato (which is simply Italian for “dirt road) puts Lamborghini’s all-wheel-drive system to good use and has a similar list of off-road enhancements as the 911 Dakar. A 1.6-inch suspension lift, steel skid plates, and all-terrain tires make the Huracan capable when the asphalt ends, but this supercar is intended more for unpaved roads than blasting through the sand dunes. Like the Porsche, the Lamborghini includes roof rails for your adventure gear, although it also boasts a large top-mounted air intake to keep dirt out of the V10 engine, so you don’t want to stash too much stuff on the roof.

A yellow 2023 Toyota GR Supra is shown parked in a garage.

The Gasoline Engine Isn’t Dead Yet

Most of the new sports cars of 2023 have some pretty exciting gasoline engines under their hoods. From the high-revving flat-six of the 911 GT3 RS to the ridiculously powerful three-cylinder in the GR Corolla to the mighty V10 of the Huracan Sterrato, there is plenty for the petrolhead to enjoy. However, a few of the new sports cars go above and beyond, literally being built around their unique engines. Unfortunately, a few of these models are bittersweet as they mark the end of an era of gasoline-powered performance as more brands shift to hybrid and electric propulsion.

The first of these is the Aston Martin Vantage V12. Although the British brand produced a small number of stripped-down V12 Speedster models in 2020, this is the first time since its introduction in 2018 that the standard Vantage coupe has received a V12 engine. A V12 is arguably the ideal engine layout, and Aston Martin didn’t pull any punches with this twin-turbo 5.2L motor. Although the displacement is low by American standards, it’s enough to produce 690 hp and 555 lb-ft of torque. Just 333 of these special cars will be built, and the V12 edition marks the final model year of the current Vantage, making these particularly rare vehicles.

A slightly more attainable limited edition send-off model is the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon 170, although all 3,300 examples are already sold out. As part of the celebration of the final model year of the legendary HEMI V8 models, the Demon 170 is the first Challenger to cross the 1,000 hp mark. In order to reach its 1,025 hp rating, the supercharged 6.2L Hellcat V8 engine comes with a special E85 tune from the factory. When placed on a prepped dragstrip, the Demon 170 can run an 8.91-second quarter mile, hitting 151 mph in the process. Dodge also claims it is the world’s quickest production car, with a 0-60 mph time of just 1.66 seconds, making it a fitting send-off for an iconic model.

Wrapping up the list of unique new engines is a model that isn’t a final send-off but the start of something new. The Corvette Z06 is built around a high-revving 5.5L flat-plane crank engine that is a complete departure from the typical large-displacement American V8. With an 8,600 RPM redline, the LT6 engine delivers 670 hp, making it the most powerful naturally-aspirated V8 in production. Chevy is determined to make the eight-generation Corvette a true supercar, and if the Z06 isn’t enough, rumor has it that the LT6 engine will be paired with forced induction for the upcoming Corvette ZR1. If so, this is one special gasoline engine that still has a bright future ahead of it.

Sports Cars Aren’t Dead Yet

While the sports car community may be a little down as we watch SUVs and trucks take over the market, and many traditional petrolheads are sad to see hybrids and electric vehicles pushing aside gasoline models, 2023 was a reminder that sports cars aren’t dead yet. There are plenty of new performance-oriented models to celebrate, and while electrification is certainly the theme of the day, the vast majority of these models were still powered by pure gasoline. So go out there, take some test drives, and find yourself a real sports car to take home and enjoy!

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