Best Cars Of 2021
Our list is made up of some of the most significant models that stood out this yearby Khris Bharath, on
With the pandemic still looming over our heads, 2021 was a pretty action-packed year for the auto industry. Sure, you had challenges, with automakers having to contend with issues like chip shortages, causing delays to consumers. But regardless, the show had to go on and we got some pretty cool cars making their debut, predominantly towards the latter half of 2021.
Let’s get one thing out of the way, 2021 really was also the year, when the market as a whole began to embrace EV’s and you could see several automakers both the legacy as well as EV startups bring several new models to market. Having said that, we did see some pretty cool ICE cars, also make their debut. Now there were several cars that made headlines this year, it was very difficult to pick out the best ones, but the cars on this list definitely stood out. Here’s our list of some of the most highly anticipated and important cars that were unveiled in 2021.
Our list begins with the quirky Ioniq 5 isn’t Hyundai’s first EV, but it’s definitely a model that is a game-changer for the Korean Automaker. The car was first previewed back in 2019 at the Frankfurt Motor Show and since the final production spec broke cover earlier this year, it has gained a lot of praise from the media and public at large for its many innovations. One of the highlights of the Hyundai Ioniq 5 is by far its design. Although it looks like a hatchback, the proportions are similar to that of a crossover.
The design is particularly attention-grabbing and manages to blend retro with a dash of modern. Given the lack of an engine, the wheelbase of the Ioniq 5 is very long resulting in what is a truly capacious cabin. Speaking of that cabin, you have to be impressed by what Hyundai has come up with here. You have several configurations to choose from. The base model Ioniq 5 can do 220 miles on a charge with prices starting at $39,700, before the Federal tax credit, and is a solid alternative to the Tesla Model 3.
Read our full review on the Hyundai Ioniq 5
Next, we have the granddaddy of them all, probably one of the most hyped cars of 2021, and by a long shot. It is of course the Tesla Model S Plaid. On the surface, the Plaid is supposed to be your humble everyday sedan, designed to do the daily grime, but it is so much more than that. Ever since it hit showrooms back in June, it has been shattering records the world over, be it at the Nürburgring or at your local dragstrip. It can easily pull a sub -10 second ¼ mile with ease and there are dedicated YouTube channels that cover nothing else but the Plaid.
Tesla had to up its game with the competition heating up and they have succeeded. The interior is a highlight that perfectly manages to blend tech with luxury and the entire industry was taken aback by the Yoke steering. Now coming to the headline figures, the Plaid famously packs 1020 horsepower and 1050 pound-feet of torque that helps it demolish 60 mph in under 2 seconds. Despite the ballistic performance, it offers an impressive 390 miles of range on a charge. Now, starting at $130,000, the Model S might seem steep on paper, but for the supercar levels of performance on the Plaid, it offers a lot for the money.
Read our full review on the Tesla Model S Plaid
Despite the onslaught of EV’s, there were still some cars that braved it in 2021. Take for instance the 2023 C8 Chevrolet Corvette Z06. While people were still arguing about Chevy’s shift to a mid-engined layout on the C8, the all-new Z06 will make you justify it. The Corvette is now treading into exotic car territory, which is no bad thing, and all this lunacy for a price under six figures. It’s exactly the reason folks like Jay Leno have been smitten by the new C8 Z06.
But the highlight of the car has to be that new 5.5 naturally aspirated LT6 V-8 engine that produces 670 horsepower that redlines to an impressive 6800 rpm. As a result, the Z06 sounds phenomenal. The LT6 is in fact the most powerful naturally aspirated V-8 engine to ever be featured in a production car. With the optional Z07 package, the Corvette is now a serious performance car that could give any European exotic, a run for its money. Even Chevy knows that the days of the combustion engine are numbered and the LT6 is the perfect way to go out with a Bang!!
Read our full review on the Chevrolet Corvette C8 Z06
The Z has to be one of Nissan’s oldest nameplates and for their latest model which was to succeed the 370Z, Nissan wanted everything to be perfect. Now the Z Proto debuted back in late 2020 and Nissan said at the time that the production-spec car would pretty much look a lot like the Proto. Thankfully, Nissan kept their word and when the new 2023 Nissan Z was unveiled earlier this year in August, the production version was indeed a lot like the Proto we saw earlier.
The design harks back to the old Fairlady from the 70s. However, the main talking point of the new Nissan Z has to be the option of having a V-6 engine paired with a manual transmission. Now a stick shift is archaic and unheard of in these times, but I’m sure most of you will agree that it offers a more connected and pure driving experience from behind the wheel. The cabin is also a big step up and is a far cry from the old 370Z. The new Z is one of the most highly awaited sports cars. With an estimated price of $40,000, you can’t really go wrong with a sports car like the Nissan Z.
Read our full review on the Nissan Z Fairlady
Riding on the success of the incredible Elan and the Elise, the 2023 Lotus Emira had a monumental task on its hands, and joy of joys did Lotus deliver on what is going to be the British marques very last gas-powered sports car. For starters, one thing that they got right was the design. Many, if not most people are in fact hailing the Emira as a Mini Lotus Evija and I can see why. Lotus have thrown the kitchen sink at the Emira, as their new sports car has quite literally taken a huge leap forward. The Emira represents significant change with familiarity.
Unlike the Elise which was an outright track weapon, the Emira is a far more matured proposition offering clever features, and a fantastic cabin making for a great daily driver offering up a borderline luxury car level experience. Having said that, the Emira is no such either with the option to choose between a Toyota (350 horsepower) or an AMG (400 horsepower) sourced powertrain. Just like the Z, the Emira also has the option of a manual gearbox. Combine with Lotus’ legendary lightweight handling characteristics and we truly have one of the most competent sports cars that you can buy for under 100 Grand.
Read our full review on the Lotus Emira
Now this one hit the block recently, and frankly, no one saw it coming. The Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS broke cover at last month’s L.A. Auto show and is being regarded by many as one of the all-time greats from the German marque. Why? Well, as you may already know, to begin with, unlike the 911, the Cayman always had the engine in the right place, but as Jeremy Clarkson once said, Porsche wouldn’t want to diminish the image of its flagship and hence the Cayman never really got the upgrades it deserved. Until now that is.
The 718 Cayman GT4 RS has got some serious kit on board, that even hardcore 911 aficionados will admit is darn impressive. Let’s start with that engine. The 4.0 liter naturally aspirated engine is straight out of the 911 GT3 Racing Cup car, which produces 493 horsepower. Couple that with some new lightweight carbon components both inside and out, that giant wing, part of the added Weissach Package, and Porsche’s tried and trusted PDK, and we have a cracker of a sportscar. A track weapon for the road if you will, that managed a Nürburging time of 07:04:511.
Read our full review on the Porsche Cayman GT4 RS
We can’t talk about the best cars of 2021 without mentioning trucks of course, and these four certainly stood out this year. Let’s begin with the Ford Maverick, which revives a whole new class of compact pickups. The Maverick is really the Blue Oval’s take on a truck for those who tread the Urban jungle. While most people who live in the city would love the versatility that a truck offers, let’s face it, the size isn’t ideal and that’s exactly what Ford is trying to capitalize on with the Maverick, which according to Ford themselves is a truck for non-truck people.
It has a perfect size, which is ideal for the City or even the suburbs. But that doesn’t mean that Ford has skimped out on equipment or design. The Bronco-based front-wheel-drive Maverick has some clever tricks up its sleeve and Ford has really tried to bring the Built Ford Tough Philosophy to the Maverick. The Maverick has the smart Flexbed system, a multi-position tailgate, a plethora of storage cubbies littered throughout the cabin. To sum it up, the Ford Maverick really is a well-thought-out compact truck and with a starting price of $20,000, for the base 2.5 liter hybrid with 191 horsepower, it provides a lot of bang for your buck.
Read our full review on the Ford Maverick
Joining the lineup of compact pickups is the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz. Now, you have to admit, the most stand-out aspect about the Santa Cruz has to be its design. Hyundai has done a fantastic job of wrapping what’s generally considered a work vehicle with some fancy clothes. When you compare the Santa Cruz to the Maverick which carries a more traditional design that you’d associate with a truck, Hyundai has taken a radical new approach with some smooth flowing lines that adorn the sheet metal.
While you might assume that Santa Cruz is just a Tucson-based truck, Hyundai has tried hard to distinguish the two vehicles from each other. The range starts at around $23,000, which is almost 4k more expensive than the Maverick. The base model produces similar power to the Maverick at 190 horses. However, it really comes down to what you want from your compact pickup as the Santa Cruz with its nicer interior and a small bed is more of a lifestyle truck than an outright workhorse.
Read our full review on the Hyundai Santa Cruz
2021 was also the year when we got an all-new Tundra after over 14 years. Now obviously Toyota had tweaked and refined what was already a successful recipe, but an all-new generation was imminent. So finally, our prayers were answered as the third generation 2022 Toyota Tundra broke cover in September and what almost immediately grabs you is the new styling. Regardless of the trim you choose, that front end is now more in your face than ever. But the real changes have taken place under the skin. Gone is the old V-8 and in keeping with the downsizing trend that the rest of the industry is adopting, in comes a V-6 offered with three configurations.
The base twin-turbo 3.5 liters V-6 engine produces 349 horsepower. You can even opt for the same engine with hybrid tech, which has a combined output of 437 horsepower. But the real reason for getting a Tundra is that it’s always been a true workhorse and with this latest iteration that now has a far more sophisticated suspension setup. With a modern tech-laden interior, and of course Toyota’s legendary reliability, the 2022 Tundra really does make a strong case for itself. With its 6.5 footbed and 12,000-pound towing capacity, the Toyota has upped its game for sure.
Read our full review on the Toyota Tundra
The F-Series Pickups are the best selling vehicles in North America for a reason and if there’s anyone who could bring a new all-electric EV pickup to the market at breakneck speed, it could only have been Ford. The 2022 F-150 Lightning is a significant vehicle, let alone a truck for the Blue Oval. When an Automaker as big as Ford is taking a plunge into the EV space, with a popular nameplate like the F-150, it is a big deal. First of all, Ford beat the competition by bringing the Lightning to fruition earlier, and that too at a price point where it justifies the rationale of considering a truck powered by batteries, to begin with. With over 200,000 orders, Ford had to quit taking accepting new reservations for the F-150 Lightning.
Inexpensive doesn’t mean that Ford has skimped on the feature set because the higher trims are very impressive and have the same traits that made the gas-powered ones so popular. Plus, with no engine to worry about, the Front trunk or Frunk offers a proper and secure cargo area as an alternative to the bed. The bed of course is one of the best ones out there and this is something that Ford has perfected over the years. You can even power your house with an F-150 Lightening, now that’s impressive. You only get the option of a crew cab with the Lightening with the base standard variant offering up to 230 miles. Spacing it up with a bigger battery takes up to 300 miles on a single charge. Here’s an in-depth overview of everything you need to know about the Ford F-150 Lightning.
Read our full review on the Ford F-150 Lightning
It’s not every year that a new Range Rover comes along. Although this fifth-generation SUV looks a lot like the outgoing model, Land Rover insists that it is all new. At first glance, you associate the silhouette and form with nothing else but a Range Rover, but the design has been cleaned up considerably over its predecessor, especially along the side and back, where you have a pair of thin LED taillights that are mostly blacked out and only illuminate when you apply the brakes.
But the most significant changes on Land Rovers flagship SUV have taken place under that gorgeous bodywork, with an interior that is now more luxurious than ever. Now coming to the powertrains which carry the plug-in hybrid game forward. There will also be an all-electric Range Rover soon, which would be ideal for an SUV of this cadre. At a starting price of $104,000 the 2022 Range Rover isn’t an affordable SUV by any means, but it really does beg the question as to why you’d want to get a Bentayga as the Range Rover does most if not all things just as well.
Read our full review on the Range Rover
Coming to the final car or SUV on our list. We have the all-new 2022 Toyota Land Cruiser LC300. Now, unfortunately, this latest generation of the Land Cruiser won’t be sold in the United States, but thankfully the Lexus LX600, based on the LC will be. Now coming to this Toyota, the LC300 is a big deal for markets around the world. The old LC200 despite the updates and facelifts was a little too long and the tooth and after 14 years, the world needed an all-new Land Cruiser, and that’s exactly what we got earlier this year. The 13th generation of the Land Cruiser. With the competition heating up in the Full-size SUV segment, it was inevitable for Toyota to step up its game with their flagship Luxury SUV.
This latest LC is all new both inside and out. Based on the GA-F platform, the new model also features an all-new body-on-frame construction, synonymous with the Land Cruiser. These underpinnings are also shared with the Tundra and weigh significantly lesser, about 440 pounds lighter when compared to the outgoing model. Downsizing remains the name of the game and the LC300 gets the option of two 3.5 twin-turbo units powered by gas or diesel. This new Land Cruiser is a very important model for markets like the Middle East and Russia, but Toyota should definitely consider bringing it to the US at some point as there is definitely a demand for a vehicle like the LC300, as it is the only Luxury SUV that can fly under the radar.
Read our full review on the Toyota Land Cruiser LC300