Over the past 15 years or so, we've been collectively bracing ourselves for the end of the fast car. Tightening emissions regulations and constant concerns over public safety mean in a more rational world, cars inexplicably capable of tripling (or quadrupling) the speed limit would've probably been outlawed long ago. However, humans are irrational and I feel like the fact that that still hasn't happened yet means the performance car will never truly go away.
We love to go fast, don't we, folks?
While sports cars may not be going away, they are changing. More efficient, more electrified, and, despite general doomer sentiment, more varied. Not only are all five of The Drive's Best Performance Car nominees of 2023 decidedly different, but they all represent a premise that would have felt like a juxtaposition at one point or another. There's an off-road 911, a fancy Civic, a track-special Mustang, a hybrid supercar, and a hybrid supercar that's actually kind of affordable.
Representing five very different ways to excite behind the wheel, here are the best performance cars we drove in 2023.
Runner-Up: McLaren Artura, The Supercar
"On track, it’s nearly unflappable in the corners, tearing through tricky late apexes with god-like proficiency. Yeah, there’s a 'drift mode,' but you have to really wrest the car’s grip from itself to get it to slide at all because it holds on tighter than a lioness to a fresh kill.
"I make no secret that my favorite car I’ve ever driven is the Lotus Evora GT. The Artura feels like that, just a bit bigger, way more powerful, and without a third pedal. There’s a special way it wraps itself around you. It’s not just a vehicle, it’s a new way with which to experience the world. In spite of it being packed full of advanced tech, the newest McLaren plug-in hybrid feels shockingly normal. It doesn’t drive like it carries any extra weight or complexity, nor does it really give you any hint at all that there are more systems at work here than before. Well, if you don’t use the all-electric mode, that is.
"For the majority of the populace, the Artura exists merely as an unobtainable spectacle. That is fine. But if you let it, it’s also more than that. If you let it, it can be a welcomed reassurance that we aren’t such jaded and battle-worn adults we’ve become immune to the old-magic rush of wordless wonder that comes with looking at and appreciating a supercar. The Artura does this for me. I hope it does this for you, too." —Kristen Lee, former Deputy Editor
Runner-Up: Acura Integra Type S, The Sport Compact
"The Integra’s engine is amazing, but the six-speed manual transmission it's paired with is really what makes the vehicle stand out. A stick shift can make a bland car interesting, and a well-made stick in an otherwise excellent car? Just incredible. I know it’s popular to dismiss the joys of driving manual these days because people are lazy and high-performance automatics can yield superior acceleration. But take it from someone who’s driven sports cars from the $30,000 to $750,000 price points: There’s simply no replacement for you, the driver, physically being a cog in your car’s transmission. If you want to feel one with your car, the Type S is an exceptional option for this reason.
"Acura has basically created the ultimate old-school tuner car (VTEC, turbo, manual transmission) dressed it in a clean but cool design (fender flares, center exhaust), and tied the package together with a suite of modern safety features you can feel good about putting your family in. On top of all that, the range and customizability of its drive modes let the car match your mood whether you want to trash some tires or fly under the radar.
"The Integra Type S is a car that not only has character and personality, it actually has several. Enduringly entertaining to drive, it deserves to be remembered fondly forever." —Andrew P. Collins, Executive Editor
Runner-Up: Ford Mustang Dark Horse, The Muscle Car
"Sporting a host of chassis and brake improvements, added cooling, more power, a heavenly Tremec manual gearbox, and some aesthetically pleasing interior and exterior touches, this ravenous, more track-centric 'Stang is a thorough joy to hustle around. It also demonstrates that big V8 power and good ol' American ingenuity still give more expensive European fare a solid run for its money.
"First and foremost, the top-tier Mustang may weigh nearly 4,000 pounds, but it wears its weight well. Instead of attempting to squeeze into whatever's on the rack at H&M, it's comfortably slipping into athletic-cut threads at the big and tall store. This was especially true of its brakes; they never softened up or lost bite.
"Finally, there was its heavenly soundtrack. It was always so entertaining to rev out the mighty five-0, blip the throttle for downshifts, and let the low-end torque pull the tach needle up while exiting tight, technical corners. This engine was so entertaining and addictive, and friends, I've been suffering withdrawal ever since." —Peter Nelson
People's Choice: Porsche 911 Dakar, The Off-Roader
"Disable the traction control and the 911 Dakar becomes a total freakin’ monster in the sand. Running across the warm dunes of the Sahara Desert, the 911 Dakar is as active and playful in these low-traction conditions as a 911 Carrera GTS is while carving corners on canyon roads. Air down the Pirelli tires for maximum prowess, keep a steady throttle application when you’re climbing hills and the dunes are no match for this 911. Stainless steel skid plates are positioned under the front and rear bumpers, as well as the side sills, so you won’t—well, shouldn’t—do too much damage if you come down too hard after a jump. But seriously, give it hell. The Dakar loves being pushed around.
"Even with this tail-happy enthusiasm, the 911 Dakar is super easy to control. Throttle inputs are immediately felt through the rear-end torque vectoring, and the quick, responsive steering will let you rein in any hooligan-level sloppiness before you start to climb the next dune.
"Porsche’s got a real hit on its hands with the 911 Dakar, and my sincere hope is that this one-off won’t be the last. Surely there’s a more powerful variant in the works to properly battle the Huracan Sterrato. Here’s hoping other car companies get in on the brilliantly absurd action, too." —Steven Ewing, Contributor
[Ed. note: The Porsche 911 Dakar also takes home the honor of being our People's Choice winner. In a series of polls on The Drive's Instagram, it was the most popular performance car of this bunch. Congratulations, Porsche. —CT]
Winner: Chevy Corvette E-Ray, The Hybrid Supercar Killer
A year after the fire-breathing Z06 was crowned The Drive's Best Performance Car of 2022, its electrified brother defends the Corvette's title as our favorite fast car. Introducing hybrid electricity to America's sports car for the first time, the 2024 Chevy Corvette E-Ray brings technology and pace once reserved for seven-figure hypercars down to the relative masses.
On premise alone, it definitely made waves as a hybrid Corvette was always going to, even earning a very temporary ban from National Council of Corvette Club events. In practice, though, Chevy's e-Corvette just works.
As former Staff Writer Peter Holderith wrote in his review, "The E-Ray is easily the cheapest hybrid supercar out there, and it's quicker than many of them too. For God's sake, it's as quick to 60 mph as the McLaren P1 but for less than one-tenth of the price, not accounting for inflation. It's the real deal when it comes to this kind of vehicle. It's not confusing or complicated. Heck, they're building these things in Kentucky.
"The 2024 Chevy Corvette E-Ray is, in short, the all-weather high-performance Corvette a lot of people have been waiting for. Keep in mind that for the $106,595 the E-Ray starts at, you can't even get a base Porsche 911. Furthermore, the layout just works and is a perfect fit for the C8 platform. GM's engineers didn't bother with complicated clutches, exhaust-muffling electric turbos, motors on every conceivable rotating shaft, or anything like that. The engine is in the back now. There's room for an electric motor up front. Let's do that.
"Thank goodness they did."
Hopefully, the E-Ray also has enough room up in its frunk for a trophy because it's The Drive's Best Performance Car of 2023.