Best cars for 2021 – Roadshow

Despite an overwhelming number of buyers gravitating toward SUVs, there are still many folks out there who are more interested in a sedan, wagon, coupe or convertible. Variety is the spice of life, and automakers still have many great options, so let’s take a look at our favorites in a whole bunch of categories.

If you’re looking for a truck or SUV specifically, don’t fret, because we have recommendations for you in those segments, too!

Craig Cole/Roadshow

The majority of new subcompact vehicles these days are crossovers, but there are still some solid sedans hanging around, and these cars can offer a surprising amount of value despite their diminutive footprint. Case in point, the 2021 Nissan Versa.

The Versa is a value play, with an impressive suite of standard safety features that includes automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning and reverse automatic braking. Higher trims can get lane-departure warning and adaptive cruise control, even. The interior is pretty darn comfortable, the trunk can fit a decent amount of stuff and it’ll hit 40 mpg on the highway with its continuously variable transmission.

Read our 2021 Nissan Versa review.

 

Jon Wong/Roadshow

The king is back. After a generation of some unique styling that generated some polarizing opinions, the 11th-generation Honda Civic has a more traditional form, which should improve its appeal. But what should make the 2022 Honda Civic truly enticing is… well, the fact that it’s just really, really good.

The exterior might be a little generic, but the interior is a stunner, with excellent fit and finish and a unique design ripped straight from earlier concepts. Every model is kitted out with an array of active and passive safety systems, including adaptive cruise control and traffic sign recognition. Whether you end up with the 2.0-liter I4 or the turbocharged 1.5-liter I4, the Civic offers plenty of power and some lovely driving dynamics.

Read our 2022 Honda Civic Sedan review.

 

Emme Hall/Roadshow

In-your-face styling can sometimes be used as a cover for a car that is otherwise just OK. But that’s not the case with the 2021 Hyundai Sonata, which carries some aggressive aesthetics that hide an impressive midsize sedan that positively oozes value.

The Sonata shows off some of Hyundai’s greatest strengths. All Sonatas get an 8-inch touchscreen running one of my favorite infotainment systems, with the option for a 10.3-incher that looks even better. All the usual safety tech is included, too. While previous iterations of Sonata weren’t the most composed cars on the road, this one is near the top, offering predictability and comfort with little outside noise and a potent, yet still efficient powertrain.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

This is one of the last times we’ll be able to recommend the Toyota Avalon, because reports claim that Toyota will take this lovely large sedan out of its lineup after the 2022 model year. Get it while the gettin’ is good, folks.

Whether you’re after a hybrid, a quasi-sports car or just some good old-fashioned comfortable cruising, the Toyota Avalon has a variant for you. And the best part is, they’re all pretty darn good. The Avalon offers impressive interior quality, which when combined with a great ride and loads of tech, makes for a combo that’s hard to beat.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

The best hybrids don’t need to compromise on space, comfort or tech, which is why the nod for best hybrid goes to the 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid. Simply put, it takes everything amazing from the standard Honda Accord and gives it a hefty dose of fuel efficiency.

The Accord Hybrid pairs a 2.0-liter I4 gas engine with two electric motors to produce a net 212 horsepower and 232 pound-feet of torque, which makes it more potent than the base-model gas Accord. It’s efficient as all get-out, too, with all trims except Touring receiving an EPA-estimated 48 mpg city and 48 mpg highway. And, like every other Accord currently leaving the factory, it’s great to drive, with a firm ride that still offers plenty of comfort.

Read our 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid review.

 

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Chevrolet might have “utility vehicle” in the name of its latest creation, the Bolt EUV, but make no mistake: It’s basically still a hatchback. The 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV is just 0.2 inches taller than the Bolt EV, but more importantly, it adds 6.2 inches of body and 3.9 inches of wheelbase, making it significantly roomier than its sibling.

Another reason to opt for the Bolt EUV over the Bolt EV is Super Cruise. GM’s excellent Level 2 driving aid, which permits hands-free operation on certain premapped highway segments, is only available on the bigger brother. Considering just how well it works to reduce the tedium of long highway drives, I think it’s worth the extra bit of coin.

Read our 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV review.

 

Genesis

Genesis is tearing its way through every segment in which it operates, rolling out cars that seemingly swing in from left field with a level of luxury that pits the automaker against some of the heaviest hitters in the industry. The 2022 G70 might only be a midcycle refresh, but it’s a compelling one.

The Genesis G70 looks sharper now, thanks to refreshed fasciae that better align it with other new Genesis vehicles. The powertrains are holdovers, with a choice of a 2.0-liter turbo I4 or a 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6, but both are still mighty pleasant on highways and twisty country roads. The interior is luxurious, and like every other Genesis, it’s positively brimming with high-quality tech.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class has long been a frontrunner in the midsize luxury class, and a refresh for the 2021 model year picked up a number of improvements that once again cement its position among the best of the best.

Like the models before it, the 2021 E-Class is one seriously comfortable car, erring far more toward luxury than sport, to the benefit of everyone inside. The optional mild hybrid powertrain is smooth and peppy, and like its more expensive siblings in larger classes, the E-Class is filled with some of the best tech of any luxury car. 

Read our 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class review.

 

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Anyone who has driven a Mercedes-Benz S-Class shouldn’t be surprised at this recommendation. It has long been the benchmark for large luxury cars, and the new generation that arrived for the 2021 model year has only improved this model further.

It’s endlessly comfortable. It looks like a million bucks, and it makes you feel like a million bucks. And then there’s the tech, which is some of the most impressive anywhere in the industry, whether it’s an even-better version of the MBUX infotainment system or the augmented-reality HUD that makes directions that much easier to follow. It’s a total banger.

Read our 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class review.

 

Carfection

It’s a Rolls-Royce. It’s the pinnacle of luxury, the object of affection for anyone remotely tuned into cars. It costs as much as a house, it’s about the size of one and it will give you the most comfortable ride of your life.

If you want to be properly coddled, there is no other choice. There is only the Rolls-Royce Phantom.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

The Lexus ES? Really? Yes, really. It might not be the biggest, it might not be the plushest, but the Lexus ES 300h is a no-holds-barred luxury hybrid par excellence.

What makes it that good? First, regardless of trim, the ES is a proper luxury car, with a soft ride and a plush interior that feels a step above its class. Second, there’s the matter of its hybrid powertrain, which produces 215 hp from its 2.5-liter I4 hybrid-electric getup. It’s not quick, but it’s quite efficient, and that makes it a fantastic hybrid for people just looking to chill. And the forthcoming 2022 model looks even more enticing.

Read our 2021 Lexus ES review.

 

The best electric luxury car

2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS

Mercedes-Benz

A few months ago, the Mercedes EQS would not occupy this slot. But, now that we’ve driven it, we have to include it here, because it’s just that good.

The Mercedes EQS is, for all intents and purposes, a more futuristic S-Class with an electric powertrain. An AMG variant is on the way, but for now, its most powerful variant makes 516 hp and 631 lb-ft, which is plenty when the electric motors provide instantaneous torque. The ride is immensely comfortable, the interior is plush as can be and the big ol’ Hyperscreen on the dashboard will amaze both you and your occupants. It’s everything a good luxury car should be, it just happens to be electric.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

The instant the eighth-generation Volkswagen GTI lands in the US, I suggest you check it out. It’s good enough to make this list, despite barely existing at this point.

The GTI didn’t get a radical reinvention for 2022, which is great, because it’s always been a hot hatch par excellence. Its turbocharged four-cylinder is plenty peppy, while adaptive dampers let you stiffen the ride when the road gets twisty. Its tech is much better this time around, too, with more cleanly integrated screens and a newly available HUD.

Read our 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI review.

 

Kia

The Kia Stinger has been a top-notch sports car since it debuted, and a host of changes for the 2022 model year only make it better.

The base Stinger engine is now a 2.5-liter turbocharged I4 making 300 hp and 311 lb-ft, but it’ll still reach 32 mpg on the highway with rear-wheel drive. A 3.3-liter turbocharged V6 is available for people who want a bit more power, but regardless of what’s under the hood, the Stinger is a flat-driving athlete that loves to get chucked around. And, because it’s a Kia, there’s a whole complement of great tech inside.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

The Porsche Panamera represents an excellent blend between luxury and sport, allowing buyers to have a little bit of both without sacrificing much of anything.

You can get a base model with a turbocharged V6, or you can go whole hog and get a plug-in hybrid with an output that nearly rivals a Hellcat. Yet, no matter what powertrain you choose, you’re rewarded with a car that drives comfortably and confidently, with a great interior design and a good smattering of the latest cabin tech. It’s a tough act to top.

Read our 2021 Porsche Panamera review.

 

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

A lot of people slept on the Acura NSX over the course of its return. And that’s a shame, because it’s one of the most engaging hybrid sports cars out there.

The current iteration of the NSX offers a net 573 hp and 476 lb-ft, and not only is it quick, it’s capable of operating in near silence. Oh yeah, and it handles like a beast, too. If you’re waiting for the hotter 2022 Acura NSX Type S, which bumps output to 600 hp, you’ll have to act fast — only 350 will be built, and it’ll be the NSX’s final model year. Get it before people realize it’s great and snag up all the remaining ones.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Since we consider the Panamera to be the best large sports car, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that our favorite electric sports car would be what amounts to an electric Panamera with some sharper styling.

The Porsche Taycan is the most engaging electric car we’ve driven. Multiple power levels are on offer, but output is only one part of the sports-car equation. The Taycan handles like a Porsche should, rewarding drivers whether the road is straight or sinewy. The interior sports the usual Porsche level of fit and finish, with an extra dose of screens. It’s not cheap, but what Porsche is?

Craig Cole/Roadshow

The answer is Miata. It always has been, and it always will be.

The Mazda MX-5 Miata is one of the most fun cars you can drive, and it’s both small and inexpensive. Its four-cylinder engine provides plenty of performance in a car this size, and its chassis dynamics are nearly unparalleled, making for one seriously engaging drive. Sure, the tech isn’t all that and a bag of chips, but it’s not like you’ll be focusing on anything but the road.

Read our 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata review.

 

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Two-door sports cars aren’t usually broken down by size classes. That said, the eighth-generation Chevrolet Corvette is a fair bit larger than the Miata we just talked about, so we’ll consider it a midsize car for this purpose.

The C8 Corvette, as it’s colloquially known, is one heck of a performance vehicle. The engine is now mounted midship, which dramatically alters this car’s character, giving it a type of performance envelope usually limited to far more expensive offerings. With a big ol’ V8 barking off every flat surface in the county, flat handling and a surprising amount of creature comforts inside, the Corvette is quite the bargain.

Read our 2021 Chevrolet Corvette review.

 

Dodge

There aren’t many coupes larger than the 2021 Dodge Challenger. But the Challenger doesn’t win a spot on this list on sheer footprint alone.

The Challenger is a hoot and a half. Yeah, it’s old, but its age is a forgivable offense thanks to things like the excellent Uconnect infotainment system. There’s also the fact that you can shove a 797-hp V8 under the hood and lay down parallel lines of rubber until the heat death of the universe. Sure, your gas and tire budgets might melt your checking account, but you’d be harder pressed to find a more fun way to make that happen.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

If all you want to do is luxuriate and let your cares slip away, Lexus’ large, lovely LC is one of the best ways to do it.

The LC might be a couple years old at this point, but its styling is still some of the best Lexus has produced in decades, opting for smooth lines over sharp ones. The interior is well-designed and nearly every surface feels expensive. The LC 500’s V8 engine prefers grand touring, providing ample thrust and a pleasing engine note. The infotainment is bad, but that’s hardly a new problem for Lexus.

Jonathan Harper/Roadshow

There’s a reason the Porsche 911 has existed for nearly half the length of the automobile in general. It is one of the best sports cars you can buy, full stop.

With the engine all the way out back, there’s a decent amount of cabin space for two individuals, or four if you have a couple masochists who want to use the back seats. With a minimum of 379 hp on tap, it’ll hustle its way down any road with aplomb, getting you excited before the next turn before you even leave the first one. The cabin tech is easy to use and its silhouette will always be stylish. It’s the whole shebang.

Read our 2021 Porsche 911 preview.

 

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

The Boxster was designed as a convertible from the outset, doing away with the awkward hump that the 911 Cabrio has in place of its usual roof. And as far as convertibles go, you can’t do much better than the Boxster anyway.

The spec to get is the Boxster GTS 4.0, which uses a 4.0-liter flat-6 that produces a naturally aspirated 394 hp and 309 lb-ft, providing an accessible amount of power that still makes for some exciting acceleration. Drop the top, rev the engine to its 7,800-rpm redline and let the exhaust sing the song of its people. You’ll wonder why any car has a roof. 

BMW

The BMW 8 Series Convertible does carry some sporting pretension, but it’s more of a grand tourer than a sports car, meant for long stretches of high-speed highways and cruises to distant destinations.

The 8 Series Convertible is big, pretty and comfortable, which is pretty much what you want in a luxury convertible. Its base 3.0-liter I6 is plenty potent, but you can slap a twin-turbo V8 under the hood if you want to reach the upper limits of autobahn driving in a hurry. It’ll fit four people, too, so you can bring a couple extra friends along for the journey, too.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

The McLaren 720S is a seriously impressive supercar that carries a surprising level of on-road compliance, and removing its hardtop only enhances the experience.

With 710 hp on tap, the 720S Spider will put a whole lot of wind in your hair — and a lot of glare on your infotainment screen, but that’s not really important, because truly hustling this car through switchbacks requires your entire brain. It’s so capable that you might wonder if you need an FIA Super license to truly get the most out of it. It will turn every head on the sidewalk, too, because it looks like a freakin’ spaceship.

Read our 2021 McLaren 720S review.

 

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Wagons are getting harder and harder to find nowadays, but the Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo bucked the trend by showing up late to the game. Better late than never, though, because this car slaps.

The Panamera Sport Turismo takes the cake as the best wagon for offering buyers the choice between luxury or performance — or, if you have enough money, both. Keep it near base, load it up with plush amenities and it’s a great luxury car. Slap the high-horsepower PHEV powertrain under the hood, and it’ll scoot with supercars. The Panamera Sport Turismo can be whatever you want it to be, but most importantly, it’s a station wagon.

Read our 2021 Porsche Panamera review.

 

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Not every luxury car needs to be massive. Case in point, the Volvo V60, which is a midsize wagon that’s not afraid to pile on the fancy stuff.

We’ve been obsessed with the V60 since it launched, and for good reason. In addition to packing some quality driving dynamics, Volvo’s interior design places the focus on luxury, with plush touches all over the place. An understated design language offers luxury through simplicity, something Volvo has mastered over the last few years. If you want it a little taller, the V60 Cross Country is there to scratch your itch without requiring a full SUV.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Audi performance wagons have long been forbidden fruit for the US, but that changed with the introduction of the latest RS6 Avant, which is a vehicle like no other.

The RS6 Avant relies on a twin-turbo V8 that produces 591 hp and 590 lb-ft, routed through all four wheels. It will go, and go, and go, until the speedometer reaches truly uncomfortable territory. Despite being pretty darn big, it handles deftly, and since it’s a station wagon, you can cram an awful lot of stuff in the trunk. The RS6 Avant is the epitome of having your cake and eating it, too, as it should be for $110,000.

Read our 2021 Audi RS 6 Avant review.

 

COMPARISON OF THE BEST CARS FOR 2021

Name Base Engine Output Fuel Economy (mpg, city/hwy/combined) Base Price
Best subcompact car 2021 Nissan Versa 1.6-liter I4 122 hp / 114 lb-ft 32 / 40 / 35 $15,955
Best small car 2022 Honda Civic 2.0-liter I4 158 hp / 138 lb-ft 31 / 40 / 35 $22,715
Best midsize car 2021 Hyundai Sonata 2.5-liter I4 191 hp / 181 lb-ft 28 / 38 / 32 $24,955
Best large car 2021 Toyota Avalon 3.5-liter V6 301 hp / 267 lb-ft 22 / 32 / 26 $37,300
Best hybrid car 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid 2.0-liter I4 hybrid 212 hp net 48 / 48 / 48 $27,585
Best electric car 2022 Chevy Bolt EUV Single electric motor 200 hp / 266 lb-ft 115 MPGe (247 mi range) $38,495
Best small luxury car 2022 Genesis G70 2.0-liter I4 turbo 252 hp / 260 lb-ft 21 / 31 / 24 $38,550
Best midsize luxury car 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class 2.0-liter I4 turbo 255 hp / 273 lb-ft 22 / 31 / 25 $55,300
Best large luxury car 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 3.0-liter I6 turbo 429 hp / 384 lb-ft 20 / 29 / 24 $110,850
Best ultra-luxury car 2021 Rolls-Royce Phantom 6.7-liter V12 563 hp / 664 lb-ft 12 / 20 / 14 $457,750
Best hybrid luxury car 2021 Lexus ES 300h 2.5-liter I4 hybrid 215 hp net 43 / 44 / 44 $42,985
Best electric luxury car 2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS Single electric motor 329 hp / 406 lb-ft TBA TBA
Best small sports car 2022 Volkswagen GTI 2.0-liter I4 turbo 241 hp / 273 lb-ft 24 / 34 / 28 $30,540
Best midsize sports car 2022 Kia Stinger 2.5-liter I4 turbo 300 hp / 311 lb-ft 22 / 32 / 25 $37,135
Best large sports car 2021 Porsche Panamera 2.9-liter V6 twin turbo 325 hp / 331 lb-ft 18 / 24 / 20 $89,750
Best hybrid sports car 2021 Acura NSX 3.5-liter V6 hybrid 573 hp / 476 lb-ft 21 / 22 / 21 $159,495
Best electric sports car 2021 Porsche Taycan Single electric motor 321 hp / 250 lb-ft 79 MPGe (200 mi range) $81,250
Best roadster 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata 2.0-liter I4 181 hp / 151 lb-ft 26 / 34 / 29 $27,825
Best small-to-midsize coupe 2021 Chevy Corvette 6.2-liter V8 490 hp / 465 lb-ft 15 / 27 / 19 $60,995
Best large coupe 2021 Dodge Challenger 3.6-liter V6 305 hp / 268 lb-ft 19 / 30 / 23 $30,365
Best luxury coupe 2021 Lexus LC 5.0-liter V8 471 hp / 398 lb-ft 16 / 25 / 19 $94,125
Best sports coupe 2021 Porsche 911 3.0-liter H6 turbo 379 hp / 331 lb-ft 18 / 25 / 21 $102,550
Best convertible 2021 Porsche 718 Boxster 2.0-liter H4 turbo 300 hp / 280 lb-ft 20 / 26 / 22 $63,950
Best luxury convertible 2022 BMW 8 Series Convertible 3.0-liter I6 turbo 335 hp / 368 lb-ft 22 / 29 / 25 $95,395
Best performance convertible 2021 McLaren 720S Spider 4.0-liter V8 twin turbo 710 hp / 568 lb-ft 15 / 22 / 18 $319,650
Best wagon 2021 Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo 2.9-liter V6 twin turbo 325 hp / 331 lb-ft 18 / 23 / 20 $100,550
Best luxury wagon 2021 Volvo V60 2.0-liter I4 turbo 250 hp / 258 lb-ft 23 / 34 / 27 $42,045
Best performance wagon 2021 Audi RS6 Avant 4.0-liter V8 twin turbo 591 hp / 590 lb-ft 15 / 22 / 17 $110,045

How we made our list

As you may have guessed, we’ve driven these cars. Over the course of a year, Roadshow’s editors slide behind the wheel of all manner of metal, which gives us the know-how required to make recommendations like these. Our collective decades of expertise will help guide you in the right direction when it comes time for the second most expensive purchase you’ll likely make.

It’s worth nothing that your mileage may vary, though. It’s important that you, dear reader, make trips to your local dealerships to drive these cars (and their competitors) in order to make absolutely sure it’s the car you want. Take those manufacturer-suggested prices with a grain of salt, too; haggling is still part of the car buying experience, so the price you pay may not be reflected in the chart above.

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