The 10 Best Cars, Trucks and SUVs We Drove in 2021

Including a truck that's not a truck, a masterclass in opulence and the best possible argument against gasoline

December 27, 2021 6:17 am
A collage featuring the Hyundai Santa Cruz, the Lexus LC500 convertible, Aston Martin DBX and Genesis GV80. All four of these made our list of the 10 best cars, trucks and SUVs of 2021.
A sampling of our favorite new vehicles of the year. All of them surprised us.
Hyundai, Lexus, Aston Martin, Genesis

In a world where automakers are seemingly more obsessed with filling white space in the showroom than churning out memorable designs, the modern crop of cars, trucks and SUVs can sometimes pass by in a blur of sameness. Fortunately, there are always a few standouts that remind me that there are passionate people behind the scenes bringing their dreams to life in metal, glass and (increasingly) kilowatts.

For drivers who dare to be different, 2021 offered several unique takes on somewhat tired automotive concepts that seem destined to shake up the status quo. Even within carefully curated slices of the luxury world, a number of brands cast aside convention and brought the fight right to the door of rivals more content to sit on their laurels than risk innovation.

It’s these memorable machines that I salute with my 10 most memorable test drives of the past year.

The Hyundai Santa Cruz, one of our favorite vehicles of 2021
The Hyundai Santa Cruz

The Best Break With Tradition: Hyundai Santa Cruz

The Hyundai Santa Cruz isn’t just the most appealing small pickup on the market, it manages to claim that title while leaving the traditional truck world in its dust in terms of comfort, speed and handling. Based on a unibody crossover platform, the Santa Cruz offers a modest cargo bed, sleek styling and bar none the best driving experience of any pickup currently on the market. In crafting the perfect tag-in for weekend adventure that coddles rather than cramps your style on the daily commute, Hyundai realized that 90% of truck owners aren’t yanking boats out of the water or hauling anything more than air, and built the Santa Cruz to match a realistic lifestyle rather than an ultra-butch ad campaign.

Read the full review here.

The Bentley Flying Spur, one of our favorite vehicles of 2021
The Bentley Flying Spur

The Best Reason to Arm Wrestle Your Chauffeur for the Keys: Bentley Flying Spur

Why bother getting behind the wheel if you can afford to have someone deal with any and all traffic-related headaches for you? Because, explains the Bentley Flying Spur, sometimes the battle between the front and rear seats isn’t as clear cut as one might think. You’ve got two choices here: soak up the miles in the absolute splendor of the Flying Spur’s back row (massage seats included) or guide the surprisingly fleet-of-foot Bentley through an intricate corner-to-corner dance. In that contest, it’s more than likely your chauffeur will get an extra night or two off on the weekends.

Read the full review here.

The Audi RS6 Avant, one of our favorite vehicles of 2021
The Audi RS6 Avant

The Best Middle Finger to Performance SUVs: Audi RS6 Avant

Family trucksters don’t get much more exciting than the Audi RS6 Avant, a 591 horsepower beast that slaps an all-wheel drive glove across the face of the nearest “high-performance” SUV and then blasts towards the horizon at a velocity that would qualify it for casting in the next Fast & Furious installment. More nimble than any of its stilted crossover competitors, and with looks mean enough to break up a barroom brawl, the RS6 Avant is top-of-mind when shopping for a Euro-muscle wagon.

Read the full review here.

The Lexus LC 500 Convertible, one of our favorite vehicles of 2021
The Lexus LC 500 Convertible

The Best Mobile Tanning Bed: Lexus LC 500 Convertible

The Lexus LC 500 convertible is the most beautiful drop-top money can buy, beating out more exotic fare costing three to five times its price. Its sheet metal styling bends light with a level of finesse and form unmatched by the lumpier, over-buff grand touring cars in its class, and its naturally aspirated V8 engine howls mellifluously from the tailpipe to the ear, unencumbered by joy-muting turbos or a sound-deadening tin roof. The LC 500 is the last of its breed and Lexus has gone out of its way to make sure it will never be forgotten.

Read the full review here.

The Kia Carnival, one of our favorite vehicles of 2021
The Kia Carnival

The Best Luxury Family Hauler, Gangnam-Style: Kia Carnival

Sometimes luxury looks just like the box it came in. Such is the case with the Kia Carnival, ostensibly a multi-purpose vehicle (or MPV) that scarcely disguises its minivan roots on the outside while benefiting from the prodigious space its right-angle proportions provide within. Most important, however, is its importation of the K-luxe concept to American shores, what with its Barcalounger recliners in the second row and its ultra-relaxed drive. Cast aside your preconceptions and make sure you call shotgun on those ottoman-equipped tilt-a-thrones.

Read the full review here.

The Ford Mustang Mach-E, one of our favorite vehicles of 2021
The Ford Mustang Mach-E

The Best Argument Against Gas: Ford Mustang Mach-E

Ignore the controversy-baiting decision to affix the Mustang name to a blob-tastic crossover shell and instead revel in the fact that this affordable battery-powered vehicle does everything a family could ever want, all without a sip of gasoline. Featuring real-world range, excellent all-around performance and build quality that’s a notch above a certain, more boutique EV brand, the Mach-E is the four-seasons, all-wheel drive electric the market has been waiting for. Now, if only America’s charging infrastructure could catch up … 

Read the full review here.

The Genesis GV80, one of our favorite vehicles of 2021
The Genesis GV80

The Best Luxury Trojan Horse: Genesis GV80

The Genesis GV80 aims a dagger straight at the heart of the high-end SUV segment, then plunges it in to the hilt and gives it a twist for good measure. Gorgeous to look at, legitimately fun to drive, and with a level of interior detail and refinement that elevates it past the established German competition, the midsize GV80 is poised to change the mind of anyone who drives it about the current state of cutting-edge premium design.

Read the full review here.

The Kia Stinger GT, one of our favorite vehicles of 2021
The Kia Stinger GT

The Best Sports Sedan Nobody Buys: Kia Stinger GT

Featuring rear-wheel drive (with all-wheel drive as an option), a twin-turbo V6 churning out 365 horsepower and a sleek shape that conceals an ultra-practical hatch, few upscale family cars are as enjoyable from behind the wheel as the Kia Stinger GT — and none have been so roundly ignored as the market shifts inexorably towards total sport-utility dominance. An edgy, muscular design backed by the industry’s best warranty, and featuring fun-to-have goodies like a limited-slip rear differential and the option of eye-searing red and orange paint hues, the Stinger GT feels like it was designed for a better timeline more deserving of its charms.

The BMW X5 xDrive45e, one of our favorite vehicles of 2021
The BMW X5 xDrive45e

The Best BMW SUV on the Lot: BMW X5 xDrive45e

What if you could combine BMW’s skill at building a road-holding suspension setup, a sumptuous yet practical cabin, and a drivetrain that is at turns electrifying and, well, completely electric? The end result would be the BMW X5 xDrive45e, surely the best version of the brand’s venerable X5 family of SUVs. With 30 miles of plug-in battery range on top, matched with a whopping 443 lb-ft of torque and standard all-wheel drive, the xDrive45e feels almost as quick as its thirstier, $82,000 xDriveM50i sibling yet costs only a few thousand more than the $59,000 base model. It’s the ultimate sweet spot for anyone seeking an electrified commuter that can cut loose on the weekends and won’t run out of juice on longer road trips.

Read the full review here.

The Aston Martin DBX, one of our favorite vehicles of 2021
The Aston Martin DBX
Aston Martin

The Best Chance to Keep Bond’s Brand Alive: Aston Martin DBX

Aston Martin has been teetering on the bright red edge of solvency for nearly its entire existence, but with an eye firmly on the future in the form of the DBX, it might be time to invest in a big barrel of black ink. A sport-utility vehicle that exploits the brand’s reputation for evocative design, it’s one of the few ultra-luxury “trucks” that feels truly of a piece with the heritage of the badge on the hood. Fun to drive, gorgeous inside and legitimately useful even if you deign to keep its wheels on the pavement, the Aston Martin DBX builds on, rather than betrays, its roots. 

Read the full review here.

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