9 min read
03 Nov

The SEMA Show, a premier event in the automotive industry hosted at the iconic Las Vegas Convention Center, stands as one of the crown jewels of Vegas' bustling convention landscape. While it began its journey drawing around 60,000 buyers in 2013, it has since grown to become one of the largest and most eagerly anticipated conventions in the city. This annual spectacle transforms the convention center into a paradise for automotive enthusiasts and professionals alike. 

One of the Show’s standout features is the prestigious SEMA Awards. Far from arbitrary, these awards are the result of careful consideration and votes from SEMA Show exhibiting manufacturers. It highlights the strong partnership between automakers and aftermarket manufacturers, both working in harmony to elevate the automotive industry. 

In 2023, as the SEMA Show organizers orchestrated yet another transformation of the Las Vegas Convention Center, exhibitors and early arrivals were treated to a special event, the SEMA Show Exhibitor Appreciation Afterparty, setting the stage for the grand occasion to follow. The SEMA Awards Presentation celebrated the very vehicles that inspire the aftermarket industry's innovation and creativity. Below are the 2023 SEMA award winners in six vehicle categories. 

Related Reading: Lexus Offroad Evolution: Unveiling the Trailblazers at SEMA 2023 

1. 2023 Ford Mustang: SEMA Car of the Year

2023 Ford Mustang - sema car of the year.

What's New For 2023?

The 2023 Ford Mustang remains mostly unchanged as it marks the final chapter of the fifth-generation S550 chassis. The highly anticipated sixth-generation S650 Mustang promises fresh aesthetics, increased power, and a technologically advanced interior. For a true Mustang experience, the 450-horsepower 5.0-liter V-8 engine, available exclusively in the GT and Mach 1 models, is the way to go. 

The Mach 1 elevates the excitement with an extra 20 horsepower (470 in total) and performance components borrowed from the Shelby GT500. However, with a starting price near $58,000, shoppers might gravitate towards the more budget-friendly GT coupe

We say stick with the standard manual transmission and consider the GT Performance package, which adds enhanced Brembo front brakes, a limited-slip differential, grippier summer tires, unique chassis tuning, and more, ensuring an exhilarating driving experience. 

2023 Ford Mustang Overview

2023 Ford Mustang GT.

From the base EcoBoost model to the fully loaded V8-powered GT, the Ford Mustang seamlessly blends style and performance. It pays homage to the Mustang's rich heritage while embracing cutting-edge technology features. 

The 2023 Ford Mustang stands tall among the trio of muscle cars currently available, offering an abundance of horsepower at a reasonable price point. We dare say it outperforms the Dodge Challenger in terms of driving engagement and surpassing the Chevrolet Camaro in terms of day-to-day comfort and drivability. It’s a winning recipe for a SEMA car of the year award. 

Whether you lean towards the base turbocharged four-cylinder or the high-octane Mach 1, the Mustang lineup caters to speed enthusiasts of all kinds. After nine generations and 59 years in production, the Mustang’s time as we know it is finally running out. The eagerly awaited seventh-generation Mustang should make landfall in 2024 model year. 

2. 2023 Ford F-Series: SEMA Full-Size Truck of the Year

2023 Ford F-Series- sema fullsize truck of the year.

What's New For 2023?

In 2023, Ford introduced the off-road-oriented Rattler trim to its F-150 lineup, expanding the options for truck enthusiasts. Derived from the XL FX4, the Rattler brings a distinctive touch with unique 18-inch wheels, a dual-exhaust system, hill-descent control, a locking rear differential, and a specialized off-road suspension system. 

Throughout its design, you'll find eye-catching rattle-snake inspired logos. The addition of the Rattler trim caters to those who desire enhanced off-road capabilities but prefer a more budget-friendly option compared to the higher-priced Tremor or Raptor models within the F-150 lineup. The F-150, known for its versatility, offers various body styles and bed lengths to suit different needs. 

While the XLT model is a notable step up from the basic XL work truck, the Lariat shines with additional luxuries. It's important to note that the Lariat comes at a premium, costing nearly $10,000 more than the XLT. While this may stretch the budget for some buyers, it strikes a sweet balance between features and affordability. 

Related Reading: The Top-15 Best Luxury Sports Cars 2023/2024 

2023 Ford F-150 Overview

2023 Ford F-150 Raptor.

The best pickup trucks these days have evolved into more than just workhorses. They now seamlessly blend luxury and technology, and the Ford F-150, the poster child of the F-Series, is a prime example of this evolution. Since its impressive redesign in 2021, the F-150 has emerged as a versatile champion, offering both comfort and capability. 

Winning the SEMA truck of the year is just right for a truck that maintains a refined and composed ride with the bed loaded or empty. The F-150's supremacy shined through in a comparison test against the 2022 Toyota Tundra, where it triumphed with superior driving dynamics and impressive payload and towing capabilities. 

Its available 400-horsepower twin-turbo V6 engine packs the punch needed for towing and hauling tasks. However, we’d cast our vote to the Ram 1500 in terms of cabin comfort, even though the F-150 Tremor may outperform the Ram Rebel in off-road adventures. 

3. 2023 Toyota Tacoma: SEMA Midsize Truck of the Year

2023 Toyota Tacoma - sema midsize truck of the year.

What's New For 2023

In 2023, Toyota enhanced its SR5 trim level for the Tacoma with two new appearance packages. The first, known as the SX package, was previously offered on the SR trim but is now available for V6 SR5 models with Access Cab and Double Cab configurations. This package introduces stylish black over-fenders, black wheels with matching lug nuts, and a host of black badging and trim elements. 

For those opting for the SR5 Double Cab with a five-foot bed, the Chrome package is a compelling choice. It includes 18-inch polished wheels, chrome door handles, exhaust tips, and tailgate logo, along with a leather-wrapped shift knob. Additionally, V6-equipped SR5 models receive some noteworthy upgrades, such as Toyota's Smart Key and a power-adjustable driver's seat. 

Furthermore, all V6 Tacoma models now come equipped with automatic dual-zone climate control. Limited trim levels have also seen improvements, including a power-adjustable driver's seat, an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, Smart Key, and a 360-degree camera for Limited Double Cab Tacomas. 

Off-road enthusiasts will appreciate the exclusive Solar Octane color introduced for the 2023 TRD Pro models, while the TRD Sport is now available in the eye-catching Electric Lime paint. These updates enhance the Tacoma's appeal and style for a wider range of buyers. 

2023 Toyota Tacoma Overview

2023 Toyota Tacoma.

The Toyota Tacoma is a remarkable success story, outperforming the Tundra and 4Runner to become the best-selling midsize pickup truck. It boasts a fiercely loyal following and offers an unparalleled level of customization with an extensive array of aftermarket products. 

This tough truck excels in off-road capabilities while maintaining a manageable size for those who prefer not to go full-size. Despite rumors of a 2023 full redesign, the Tacoma remains largely unchanged from the previous year. The only notable additions are two appearance packages that enhance the SR5 trim with either black or chrome accents. 

Additionally, there's increased availability of minor features, including a larger touchscreen, keyless entry, and a power driver's seat. While rivals like the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon got 2023 redesigns and the Nissan Frontier received a makeover in 2022, the anticipation for a new Tacoma continues. 

Nevertheless, the current Tacoma, which has received high praise, remains a compelling choice for those in the market for a midsize truck, lending credence to its selection as the SEMA midsize truck for 2023. 

4. 2023 Ford Bronco: SEMA 4X4 SUV of the Year

2023 Ford Bronco - sema 4X4 SUV of the year.

What's New For 2023?

Ford is taking a nostalgic trip back to the 1960s with the special Bronco Heritage Edition, available in both two- and four-door models. This classic throwback look is built upon the Big Bend trim with the Sasquatch package and features a robust 300-horsepower turbo 2.3-liter engine, paired with a choice of a seven-speed manual or a 10-speed automatic transmission. 

The vintage-inspired design elements include a white grille, white roof, and a set of 1960s-inspired wheels. If you seek a more upscale experience, there's the Heritage Limited Edition, based on the Badlands trim level. This edition boasts metal Bronco-script fender badging, leather-trimmed plaid seats, and Heritage Limited badging on the center console. 

While the base two-door Bronco starts at around $33,000, upgrading to higher trims can add up quickly. Our ideal setup would be a four-door model with the more potent engine, equipped with the necessary off-road hardware to honor its heritage. The Bronco Wildtrack fits the bill, featuring 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels and substantial 35-inch mud-terrain tires. 

Related Reading: The Top 5 Cheapest Full-Size SUVs New On The Market 

2023 Ford Bronco Overview

2023 Ford Bronco.

In a market filled with crossovers that look rugged but lack true off-road prowess, the 2023 Ford Bronco stands out as a genuine SUV designed for adventure. Now in its third year of production, the Bronco is purpose-built for off-roading, featuring four-wheel drive, ample ground clearance, and an array of hardware add-ons to conquer rugged terrain. 

What's more, it offers the flexibility of a removable roof and doors, allowing you to experience the open-air thrill both on the street and on challenging trails. Notably, only 1,966 examples of each body style (two-door and four-door) will be produced. 

Additionally, Ford has unveiled the Bronco DR (for Desert Racer), a V8-powered race truck with a hefty price tag of $250,000, aimed at the racing circuit rather than street driving. In the world of off-roaders, the Bronco shines as a formidable rival to the likes of the Jeep Wrangler, Toyota 4Runner, and Land Rover Defender, thanks to its impressive off-road capabilities. 

5. 2023 Nissan Z: SEMA Sport Compact of the Year

2023 Nissan Z NISMO - SEMA sport compact of the year.

What's New For 2023?

Nissan's iconic Z-car has been reborn for 2023, drawing inspiration from its storied past while embracing the future with enhanced technology and a long-overdue interior upgrade. The 2023 Z made its debut as a hardtop coupe in summer 2022, with the prospect of a convertible variant on the horizon. 

While the base price exceeds that of its predecessor, the 370Z, the new Z remains a cost-effective choice when compared to its key rivals like the Supra and Audi TT. It justifies the higher price point by offering an array of luxury features and a more captivating design. 

For the best bang-for-buck balance, the mid-range Z Performance trim stands out. It enhances the driving experience with a sportier suspension, a limited-slip differential, upgraded brakes, 19-inch wheels fitted with summer tires, and power-adjustable seats featuring faux-suede upholstery. 

2023 Nissan Z Overview

2024 Nissan Z.

The 2023 Nissan Z brings classic flair back to the scene with a sharp exterior, solid performance, and the most powerful base engine in its class. What's even more impressive is that it offers a choice between a standard six-speed manual and a nine-speed automatic transmission, all for an affordable starting price of just $41,015. 

Nissan's design team deserves praise for blending retro elements with a sleek modern silhouette. Notable nods to the past include the rectangular grille reminiscent of the Datsun 240, semi-circular headlights, and the "Z" roundel on the rear pillar. 

The horizontal LED taillights exude vibes from the 300ZX, and the new Z's silhouette carries echoes of its predecessor. Opt for the Ikazuchi Yellow paint with a contrasting black roof, and you have a truly stunning vehicle. The interior, though bland, uses a functional design direction. 

The iconic triple gauge cluster atop the dash looks cool, but variations of black leather, synthetic suede, and plastic dominate the cabin. Even so, the Z is deserving of its sport compact of the year award. After all, there's room for personalization with bolder red and blue interior hues. 

Some elements, like climate control knobs and the center touchscreen, are evident carryovers from other Nissan models. In addition, traces of the 370Z's design DNA are still noticeable, with the circular door handles being the most conspicuous reminder of its predecessor. 

6. 2023 Ford Lightning: SEMA Electric Vehicle of the Year

2023 Ford F-150 Lightning - sema ev of the year.

What's New For 2023?

The 2023 F-150 Lightning sees a significant price hike this year, with the entry-level Pro model costing approximately $10,000 more. Ford blamed the unpleasant change in pricing on supply chain constraints, increasing material costs, and other market factors. Despite the price increase, opting for the more appealing XLT trim remains a smart choice. 

The Extended-Range battery pack comes at an additional cost of $10,000, but it's a valuable investment if you plan to cover long distances or utilize the Lightning for towing purposes. To equip the XLT model with the larger battery, you'll also need to include the pricey 312A High package. 

Fortunately, this package justifies its cost with a comprehensive list of desirable features, including adaptive cruise control, Ford's Pro Power Onboard generator, heated front seats and steering wheel, a power-operated tailgate, in-dash navigation, and more. 

2023 Ford F-150 Lightning Overview

2023 Ford F-150 Lightning frunk.

In its second year for 2023, the Ford F-150 Lightning stands as an electric pickup tailored for truck enthusiasts. Wearing the familiar F-150 styling uniquify it from competitors like the Rivian R1T and Tesla Cybertruck with their futuristic designs. However, the Lightning boasts impressive hardware beneath its traditional appearance with two battery choices. 

The standard battery now offers an EPA-estimated range of 240 miles for 2023, slightly improved from the previous year. Opting for the extended-range battery yields an estimated 320-mile range on a full charge, with a real-world testing revealing an impressive 345 miles. 

More so, the F-150 Lightning doesn't shy away from its “trucky” duties. It can tow up to 10,000 pounds when properly equipped, making it a capable workhorse, although its max payload is lower than that of a conventional F-150. 

However, long-distance towing with an EV can pose challenges due to reduced range and charging infrastructure limitations. To offset this, the Lightning offers a spacious front trunk and a Pro Power Onboard feature with household-style electrical plugs, ideal for powering tools and electronic devices.

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