Supply chain woes dominated automotive discourse in 2021—pass a dealership this month and you’ll likely notice a bunch of empty spots. It’s all due to a semiconductor shortage that should persist into 2022. That’s not to say all is doom and gloom in the car world. Just take a look at the best cars and trucks of 2021.
As our favorite test drives of the year reveal, great vehicles abound, whether late pinnacles of internal-combustion machinery à la the Porsche 911 GT3 Touring, or statements pointing towards a greener future such as the electric Ford Mustang Mach-E.
You just have to wait in line for them—at least for now. Read on to find out which vehicles made a mark this year.
Test Drive Year in Review: Hottest Cars and Trucks We Drove in 2021
1. Mustang Mach-E
The best SUV of the year? In our opinion it’s the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the electric five-seater that’s more polished, fast, and fun than you think it should be. We drove a Premium all-wheel-drive model, at 270 miles a charge, around Austin, Elon Musk’s adopted hometown. We felt firsthand that the Tesla chief has formidable competition, especially given its price—our relatively loaded model stickered at $55,800. We’re not alone in our high esteem. The Mach-E is a bigger hit than Ford expected. The company plans to make up to 200,000 of them a year by 2023. That’s the same year, we hope, that car guys may finally stop complaining about Ford using their pony car nameplate on an SUV.
2. Chrysler Pacifica Pinnacle AWD
A minivan makes the list? Hell yes it does. If you’re a Van Fan, you’re already familiar with the greatness of the Pacifica. The Pinnacle—priced in the mid 50s—arrives as Chrysler’s Alpha minivan, a hilariously luxe man cave on wheels with accents like leather and suede lumbar pillows. Of course this beast offers more real “utility” than what people actually use on the average sport-ute, including seats that vanish into the floor. Our week-long test drive in the Pacifica Pinnacle made us want to drop out and lean into #vanlife… or rather, #minivanlife.
3. BMW M2 CS
Is the M2 CS proof that BMW still has it? Or is this compact coupe’s greatness just a reminder of how far its brand has wandered into the SUV wilderness? Wherever you fall, there’s no question the M2 CS is a near-perfect driver’s car, right-sized and justly powered (via a 444-hp 3-liter inline six) for spirited driving in real-world conditions. Few cars are as predictable, transparent, lively, and fun on a winding road. Even the retro gold wheels on our $96,545 Misano blue test model seemed just right.
4. Cadillac CT5 V-Series Blackwing
Rarely is a sedan boasting near 700 horsepower able to stoop to daily driving without plenty of complaining (from either the driver or the car). But the V-Series Blackwing takes on the task with aplomb, thanks to Caddy’s magnetorheological-dampened suspension that sorts out dodgy pavement without spilling your coffee. After days of in-town driving, we finally got out to an open, empty tollroad in the $99,635 test model… and that supercharged V8 powertrain took us to another plane. If this is indeed Caddy’s last V8-powered car, the CT5 V-Series Blackwing is a fitting farewell.
5. Jeep Grand Wagoneer
As the pandemic wore on, big vehicles offering big comfort for families heading on big highway drives took on a new shine. Case in point: the Grand Wagoneer, a new Jeep model designed to get your family far outside of Dodge, in comfort. On a spin through Texas Hill Country, the V-8 powered, RAM-derived giant proved a worthy challenger to competitors like the Escalade, with ample power, tons of space, and refreshingly headache-free tech. If you’re looking to go big—then get lost—take a look.
6. Porsche 911 GT3 Touring
The 911 GT3 Touring is a dying breed, a highly adept sports car powered by a naturally aspirated engine—a four-liter, 502-horsepower, six-cylinder boxer. In a drive though Angeles Crest Highway, we found out the GT3 is a car that forces you to feel. When driving at speed into corners, the car almost seems to lean in (it’s eerie)—the result of a suspension derived from one of the brand’s Le Mans race cars. The Touring model loses the GT3’s massive rear wing, making it ideal for the guy who likes to drive one of the most exclusive 911 variants around yet doesn’t need to advertise it.
7. Ford Bronco
Just a few miles into our drive in an optioned-up $48,450 “Outer Banks” model, it became clear that Ford didn’t half-ass it with the Bronco. It’s a fully realized machine with driving dynamics that are more fluid on-road than the Wrangler—and a smart, uncluttered interior with ample but unobtrusive tech that’s more akin to the upmarket Land Rover Defender. You’ll also find something to like about the Bronco’s bucket of high-tech off-roading gadgetry, whether you’re a newbie or a pro, such as diffs that are easy to lock or unlock instantly, anytime; a one-pedal drive mode and trail turn assist.
8. Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series
The sharpest, track-tuned iteration of the GT blew us away while lapping it in Miami. The Black Series’s hand-built 4-liter bi-turbocharged V8 engine uses a flat crank for more torque and a quicker throttle, while its bodywork is heavily (yet incredibly lightly) reworked for the track. Along with the requisite carbon-fiber swaps—hood, roof, fenders, sills, rear hatch—there’s a bunch of aero improvements, chief among them a massive, two-piece carbon fiber spoiler sailing off the decklid. The quicker you push the car into a turn, the cleaner your exit. This is courtesy of the aerodynamic work mentioned above: It’s all there to reduce drag and build downforce. At high speeds, that huge double wing essentially sucks the car closer to the road. Instead of losing grip, you seem to gain it. It feels almost counterintuitive.
9. Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392
This year Jeep unleashed the Unlimited Rubicon 4XE plug-in hybrid, an environmentally friendlier—yet still trail tough—Wrangler that plugs in. The company also released its opposite, in a way: the 2021 Wrangler Rubicon 392, outfitted with a 6.4-liter HEMI V-8, which makes 470 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, and about 470 decibels, give or take (we kid. but this $75K machine truly is loud). It’s a vehicle of extremes: ridiculously quick, hilariously fun, tremendously thirsty. The future no doubt belongs to Jeeps like the 4XE, but the 392 sure is fun right now.
10. Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition
When they have your ear at the bar, some gearheads will bemoan the death of the manual until they’re blue in the face. That’s not us, promise. Except when we’re talking the Civic Type R, which we drove a few months back, and can’t stop chattering about. The Type R Limited Edition is a slightly lighter version of Honda’s hottest hatch offered in a unique yellow paint; it bears the same powertrain as the “regular” Type R: its 2.0-liter turbo I4, suspension hardware, Brembo brakes, and limited-slip diff. Most importantly it has the Type R’s brilliant, smooth six-speed manual, which makes flinging the thing around unforgettable. It’s the most fun front-wheel-drive car you can buy. (Or could. The Limited Edition has sold out).
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