Here are the best cars of 2021.
The year is nearly at an end, meaning it's time to reveal the winners of the 2021 CarBuzz Awards. We drive hundreds of cars during the year, so narrowing down our favorites to just 10 winners (technically 11 this year) is a tall order. Now in the third year, the CarBuzz Awards gain two new categories, replacing Poster Car and Surprise of the Year.
Each of our ten categories is judged using unique criteria, and only cars we've driven this year are eligible for award nomination. While some categories prioritize practicality or efficiency, our editors are all car fanatics, so you can rest assured that each of our winners will be fun to drive.
Now, the moment you've all been waiting for… here are our favorite cars of 2021.
"The pickup truck segment has been redefined with the arrival of the 2022 Ford Maverick," says Jared Rosenholtz, CarBuzz Editor at Large. "With a starting price of just $19,995, a hybrid model that offers over 40 mpg in city driving, and a capable EcoBoost model with a 4,000-pound towing capacity, the Maverick has something to offer for everyone."
This category is judged with a sliding price cap based on the average new car transaction, which skyrocketed to $45,000 in 2021. Even in its well-equipped trim levels, the Maverick falls well below that. The Ford Maverick proves that the affordable small pickup truck is here to stay. Ford's 2021 product onslaught proved successful, as the Maverick is the first of two Blue Oval models to win an award this year.
"The first pickup truck to win the CarBuzz People's Car Award, the Maverick seems to have been purpose-built as the ideal affordable vehicle for America," Rosenholtz adds.
"The Volkswagen ID.4 represents a major step in the transition from ICE to EV powertrains," says Roger Biermann, CarBuzz Managing Editor. "Not only is it a major investment from one of the world's largest legacy automakers, but it democratizes electric vehicles by bringing range and technology to the masses at an affordable price. For too long we've been promised affordable EVs, but VW has delivered, backing it up with quality construction, a huge national dealer service network, and a charging network that can go toe-to-toe with the best."
"With the 2021 ID.4, Volkswagen proves an electric vehicle can be fun and good for the planet at the same time," adds Rosenholtz. "The rear-drive ID.4 offers respectable power for a compact crossover, while the dual-motor all-wheel-drive model dials up the excitement with nearly 300 horsepower. We loved the ID.4's nimble driving manners and premium interior. This car shows that VW is ready for the electrified era."
"My whole family loved the Carnival," revealed Jake Lingeman, Managing Editor at CarBuzz. "First, it looks excellent. I'm not personally against minivans, we own one, but this SUV-ified Carnival would put any of them to shame. Creature comforts are off the charts with rear-seat entertainment, we hooked up the Nintendo Switch, and let the kids enjoy the first-class-level accouterments. It will be first on my family's list if we get another people hauler."
"The 2022 Kia Carnival proves that the minivan is cooler than an SUV. In fact, that's why Kia calls this car an MPV (multi-purpose vehicle)" adds Rosenholtz. "I don't have any kids, but even my friends were blown away by the reclining seats in the Carnival SX-Prestige trim. With built-in Netflix and other streaming services on the rear infotainment screens, the Carnival is the perfect road trip vehicle for a family, or even a group of adults."
"The 2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer is such an impressive luxury SUV, we wonder why Jeep didn't introduce it sooner," comments Rosenholtz. "Though it doesn't wear any Jeep badges on the exterior, the Grand Wagoneer encompasses what American luxury is all about: space for days, real wood trim, supple leather, and enough screens to embarrass a football stadium. Even more impressive, the Grand Wagoneer cocoons its occupants while towing nearly 10,000 pounds behind it, meaning it can carry your family and your boat."
The amount of luxury in the Grand Wagoneer is nothing short of staggering," said Lingeman. "With 75 inches of reconfigurable screen, the latest Uconnect software (five times faster than the previous version), and Amazon Fire TV, there's no length of road trip that would be too long. Keeping things settled and cushy over the long haul is a fully independent suspension setup with rear load-leveling for when carrying lots of payload. The Grand Wagoneer comes standard with an electronically controlled air suspension that continually adjusts stiffness for the best on- or off-road ride."
"The Genesis G80's exceptional melding of high-quality materials with innovative yet ergonomic design comes together in a minimalistic package that is both elegant and easy to use," notes Sebastian Cenizo, CarBuzz Senior Editor. "The fact that this sublime combination appears in an attainable package takes nothing away from its excellence. If anything, it makes the G80's cabin even more impressive."
"It's easy to craft the best car interior on the market with a six-figure price tag, but the 2021 Genesis G80 proves any automaker can do it at a more reasonable level," Rosenholtz explains. "Genesis blends leather, wood, and metal together in a way we've seldom experienced, especially not with a starting price under $50,000," Rosenholtz adds. "The G80's cabin puts to shame cars costing twice as much. Genesis plays around with colors and materials, offering bold combinations that legacy OEMs couldn't dream of. One thing is for sure, Genesis employs some of the best interior designers in the business."
A fresh new product slots perfectly into an all-new category for the CarBuzz Awards, as the 2022 Audi RS e-tron GT takes home the victory for Electrified Luxury. "The RS e-tron GT glides over the road with its standard air suspension, which is even more impressive considering its low profile tires," says Lingeman. "It somehow corners both softly and flat. The cockpit feels spacious from the pilot's seat thanks to the panoramic glass roof, and we love how Audi kept the controls familiar while maintaining a premium feel.
"Every new Audi from 2026 will be electric. This was cause for concern, as Audi has built some spectacular internal combustion engines over the years. The high-revving 4.2-liter V8 in the B7 RS4 and the turbocharged five-pot in the current RS3 are fine examples," says Gerhard Horn, Associate Editor at CarBuzz.
"You only need to spend a few days with the Audi RS e-ron GT to get over the concern. Underneath, it's a Porsche Taycan, which is a tough act to follow. But I think Audi did an even better job, leaning into the grand touring side of things rather than trying to build a razor-sharp sports car out of a 5,000 lbs vehicle. You also can't help but appreciate the design, which is best described as concept-like. Tony Stark famously used it in Avengers: Endgame, and for the production version, Audi simply added door handles," Horn continues.
"The 2022 BMW iX epitomizes what it means to be a Tech Lover's Dream car. BMW's latest iDrive 8 infotainment technology is one of the most substantial upgrades we've seen from the engineers in Bavaria," says Rosenholtz. "BMW continues to improve its intelligent voice controls, now allowing owners to name their car to input commands. We called our iX Jarvis, as a nod to tech genius Tony Stark. The iX comes chuck-full of class-leading tech features, including augmented reality navigation, 5G internet connectivity, gesture controls, and class-leading Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System with 30 speakers and 4D bass experience in the seats."
"BMW didn't just cram the iX full of technology on the inside, it developed one of the best electric drivetrains around," Rosenholtz adds. "The iX develops V8-level power from its dual electric motors, sending 516 horsepower out to all four wheels. This car takes off like a rocket strapped to a sofa, all while playing futuristic Hans Zimmer-composed noise through the speakers. The iX's massive battery enables a competitive 300-mile range, and its quick recharge times can get from 10 to 80% battery in under 40 minutes. The 2022 iX is BMW's most technological car to date."
A new year brings a new CarBuzz Award category, Affordable Fun. "As performance cars keep getting faster and more expensive, we wanted to award the automaker (in this case, automakers) that keep the affordable enthusiast car alive," explains Rosenholtz. "Both Subaru and Toyota deserve credit for their fabulous partnership. The joint collaboration between the Japanese automakers has yielded two of the most impressive sports cars available at any price, so it felt right to award both companies with the win."
"True car enthusiasts love affordable sports coupes but that segment was dying until the BRZ and 86 came along," says Lingeman. "The original BRZ was acceptably powered, but this one ups the ante with a 23-hp boost. It's a blast on twisty roads, a blast on the autocross course, and a blast on a road course. It's just a blast anywhere. Period."
"The 2022 Toyota GR86 picks up where the previous 86 and Scion FR-S left off, sliding sideways around a racetrack," says Rosenholtz. "Toyota kept everything enthusiasts loved about the original car, added more power, crafted a more premium interior, and developed a new exhaust note that finally matches the rest of the experience. This is one of the best sports cars available at any price, so we are amazed Toyota can sell it for less than $30,000.
"With the STO version," says Ian Wright, CarBuzz Contributing Editor, "Lamborghini has separated the Huracan's genuine supercar base from the ostentatious jewelry to create a genuine modem rarity - a furiously fast track car you can drive comfortably, and legally, on the road."
"The Lamborghini Huracan STO is built for performance, not pretension, but it still won't bite your head off," says Sebastian Cenizo, CarBuzz Senior Editor. "This is a machine that exhilarates without intimidating. Of course, it remains a supremely fast Italian exotic that sends all its 630 horses to the rear wheels, but that makes the experience pure, not petrifying. Factor in the noise from an atmospheric V10 that revs all the way past 8,000 rpm, and you'll ignore chequered flags until the track turns its lights off."
"The 2021 Ford Bronco caps off the Blue Oval's strong showing in the 2021 CarBuzz Awards, taking home the win in the Off-Road Warrior category," says Rosenholtz. "The sales numbers speak volumes, Ford's revived off-roader is a hit. So much so, you can't even find a Bronco sitting on a dealership lot. With a removable roof and door panels, capable Goes Over Any Terrain modes, and the intimidating Sasquatch Package, the Bronco will be the envy of any off-road trail. Ford even fulfilled enthusiast's dream with an available manual transmission, featuring a crawler gear."
"The Ford Bronco is what the Wrangler should have been when Jeep introduced it at Camp Jeep in Austria," says Gerhard Horn, Associate Editor at CarBuzz. "While the Wrangler is undeniably a great off-road tool, it's too compromised and not enough of a leap forward. Enter the Bronco, which is a thorough redesign and rethink of what that famous nomenclature means. It's practical, good-looking, desirable, and has surprisingly good road manners. All of this makes it easy to forgive the wind noise and the fact that it's nearly impossible to get your hands on one."