Driver’s dozen provides new car review challenge, South Korean EVs take honors

James Raia

Automotive journalists often drive new vehicles for a week and then write reviews about their experiences. It’s rare one vehicle in a manufacturer’s lineup can be quickly compared to a more modest or a higher-end trim of the same car. Also unusual is promptly testing two diverse cars or trucks from the same carmaker.

The novel approach was one idea presented at the recent Best of the Bay, a 2 1/2-day gathering of the Western Auto Journalists (WAJ). It’s the 30-year-old Bay Area community of automotive content creators and industry representatives.

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Thirteen 2023 and 2024 models, dominated by EVs and SUVS, were showcased at the Western Automotive Journalists gathering at the Best of the Bay in Santa Rosa, California. All images © John Berg/2023.

Nine manufacturers showcased 13 cars at Vintner’s Resort in Santa Rosa for testing, including two from Genesis, Hyundai, Kia and Toyota. Acura, Honda, Lexus, Mazda and Mercedes-Benz (AMG) presented each presented one car.

Organizers mapped a 20-minute loop that included entering and exiting freeways, narrow country roads and urban traffic. Several themes developed, while individually driving a car or rotating with another journalist as a driver and then a passenger.

Genesis, the eight-year-old luxury vehicle division of the South Korean vehicle manufacturer Hyundai Motor Company, makes superior vehicles. The carmaker now offers eight vehicles and is expanding its stand-alone dealerships. It has locations in Dublin, Richmond and San Jose. The 2023 Electrified GV70 Prestige AWD and 2023 Electrified G80 AWD were available for test drives at the WAJ function, and I’ve reviewed other models in recent years.

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The EV models personify luxury and sophistication, easily matching well-heeled competitors. The workmanship is stylishly modern. Acceleration is quick and smooth. Stylish, spacious interiors complement handsome exteriors.

With its EVs, Genesis was smart to position the charging port on the front grille. It eliminates parking challenges at public charging locations. Another keen idea: the bespoke wood scraps used as the dashboard trim add class. The look is reminiscent of Bakelite, the synthetic plastic, just better quality.

Hyundai’s two EVs, the 2023 Ioniq 5 and 6 Limited AWD models, the newly designed Toyota Prius and the 2023 Lexus RZ 450e Luxury all provided top-line evidence. Carmakers continue their rapid-advancing emphasis toward EVs and departure from internal combustion engines. The Ioniq 5 was the World Car of the Year, with its highest marks earned for innovation, environmental considerations and occupancy comfort.

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Kia’s 2023 EV6 GT AWD further showcased the advancement of South Korean vehicle diversity. It was a good match to compare with the 2024 Kia Seltos SX Turbo AWD.

Toyota’s two offerings included the 2023 Crown Limited, the new hybrid sedan focusing more on comfort and luxury than performance. It’s the replacement for the Avalon. The 2023s Prius Prime XSE Premium is the latest (and best) of the enduring legacy of hybrid. Syling has been modernized, performance improved. The Prius is no longer the efficient but polarizing vehicle of yesteryear.

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Honda offered the 2023 Pilot Transport AWD, Mazda its 2024 CX-90 PHEV Premium Plus and Mercedes-Benz its upscale AMG EQEX4. The latter had a surprisingly cramped interior, particularly the cockpit-style front seats. Overall, it didn’t represent the performance-oriented subsidiary of the German manufacturer particularly well with pedestrian acceleration and a noisy, rough ride.

The Acura Integra returned in 2021 after a five-year hiatus and it’s now nearly 40 years since its debut. The 2024 Integra Type S is among only about 30 vehicles new vehicles still offered with manual transmissions. It’s part of Acura’s fifth generation that debuted in 2023.

The hatchback has 302 horsepower, and a six-speed manual transmission marks the start of the long-tenured vehicle’s performance trim. It gives driving purists fun while shifting gears is still part of the new car experience.

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Article Last Updated: October 24, 2023.

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