2021 in the Rearview Mirror: Our Writers Share Their Favorite Test Drives of the Year

All The Cars We Drove This Year
all the cars we drove this year

We drove, and loved, a lot of cars in 2021.

What is there to say about 2021 that hasn’t already been said? It’s been another year of uncertainty, but one thing we do know is that auto makers were coming out of their hibernations and giving you (and us) lots of cars to dream about. What were some of our favorites? Our writers share their top choices below.

Scotty Reiss, Founder, A Girls Guide to Cars

It’s really hard to say! So many good cars were introduced this year. I was really surprised by how much I liked the Kia Sorento Hybrid. The Genesis GV 80 could be my forever car: the design and cabin experience are so sublime. I was surprised by how much I liked the Audi Q5 Sportback–I thought about buying that one! I was really impressed by the redesign of the Infiniti QX60, which has everything a family wants and needs in a luxury SUV. And I had a few minutes in the Toyota GR 86 so I have to line that one up for a formal test drive. It definitely needs more attention.

Related: 2022 Toyota GR 86 First Drive Review: Don’t Let This Sexy Little Sports Car Fool You: It’s Fun, Fast and Affordable

The Audi Q5 Sportback'S Silhouetter Shows The Slope Of The Roofline

The Audi Q5 Sportback’s silhouetter shows the slope of the roofline. Photo: Scotty Reiss

That said, I really, really loved the Acura MDX and the Jeep Grand Cherokee L. The Acura is a fully badass SUV with good power, lots of comforts and a center row that easily converts from a bench to captains chairs. This makes the third row really usable, and it’s adequately spacious. Acura also throws in some other goodies, like the “Social Playlist” feature, leather seats and if you go for the top trim, the ELS premium audio system which, paired with your playlist or that of your passengers, simply takes time in the car over the top. Buyer beware: Acura’s touchpad media system takes some getting used to, but once you do, it’s all good. It just takes time.

Related: 2022 Acura MDX: The Best of a Minivan In a Luxury SUV

Acura Mdx Interior. Photo By Sara Lacey

Acura MDX Interior. Photo by Sara Lacey

The Jeep Grand Cherokee gets my vote for favorite 3 row SUV of the year. There are a lot of good contenders for this title, including the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer, but in the “what you get for the money” category, the Jeep Grand Cherokee L takes the cake. The third row is roomy–enough for kids in car seats or adults; the center row has more room than prior models; the interior, including the front dash and multimedia system, has been redesigned and has countless thoughtful features, from plenty of sunroof glass overhead to cupholders designed to fit a large phone to USB ports for everyone. And it’s a Jeep so it’s capable on crazy hills or smushy sand dunes (I tried it out on both and was impressed). But my favorite feature? The “Fam Cam” that allows you to tap an icon on the multimedia screen and see passengers in the second and third row via the camera embedded in the ceiling. It makes this family SUV truly fit for families of any age.

Related: Luxury On the Inside, Rugged on the Outside, The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee May Be the Best Jeep Ever

The Jeep Grand Cherokee L

The Jeep Grand Cherokee L. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Kia’s Sorento Hybrid pricing starts at $33,990 (not including dealer handling fees). It seats up to 6 with the 3rd row standard, and 2nd row captain’s chairs available. The Sorento Hybrid is powered by a 1.6l 4-cylinder turbo engine paired with an electric motor. 

The Genesis GV 80 pricing starts at $48,900 (not including dealer handling fees) and comes with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. It’s rear wheel drive, too, so it gets and estimated 21/25/23 miles per gallon. That changes when you jump up a couple trim levels to the 3.5l twin-turbocharged 6-cylinder engine. You’ll pay more too, with a starting price on that model of $59,660. Fuel economy is 18/23/20. The top trim package also offers third-row seating.

Audi’s Q5 Sportback starts at about $47,800 (not including dealer handling fees). It’s got a 4-cylinder turbo that gives you 261 horsepower, and it’s all wheel drive. You will get an estimated 23/25 mpgs. The Q5 Sportback seats 5, but is more comfortable for 4.

Toyota’s GR 86 starts at $27,700 (not including dealer handling fees). You’ll get a 4-cylinder engine with either a manual transmission or an automatic if you jump to the Premium trim level that starts at $30,300. Fuel efficincy starts at 21/31/25 mpg for the manual transmission and 20/27/22 mpg for the automatic. The GR 86 seats four people.

Elizabeth Blackstock, Managing Editor

I want to say the Genesis GV70 was my favorite; just about everything Genesis has done recently has been exceptional, but the GV70 was a fun blend of comfort, luxury, tech, practicality, and excitement that was perfect for me. I love cars that have zip to them, but I’m also realizing how nice it is to have a crossover or an SUV for that extra space.

Related: 2022 Genesis GV70 Review: This Small Luxury SUV Is A Modern Classic

A Girls Guide To Cars | 2021 In The Rearview Mirror: Our Writers Share Their Favorite Test Drives Of The Year - The Genesis Gv 70 Looked Stunning In White Matte Paint Which Takes A Bit More Care It Cant Go Through A Car Wash But Its Worth It

The Genesis GV 70. Photo: Scotty Reiss

A VERY close second is the Mazda CX-5. I drove one with the turbo engine, and it was gorgeously equipped and so much fun to drive at a reasonable price point. In the second row, the heated seat buttons are on the fold-down center console where the middle seat would go, alongside the cupholders. Such a smart place to tuck away controls!

But it also packs a bit of a secret: If you use premium fuel you can get an extra 23 horsepower! Regular gas produces 227 HP; premium produces 250 HP. This has been Mazda’s turbo strategy – to let customers that they can have more fun and more power by switching the octane level. And that takes this mid-size SUV from fun to fantastic.

Related: The 2021 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD: A Compact SUV For all of Life’s In-Between Moments

Mazda Cx-5 Compact Suv

The Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD Turbo is the peppy, capable compact SUV you need in your life. Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

The Genesis GV70 starts at $41,000 (not including dealer handling fees). At that price you get a 300 horsepower, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. The mileage on that engine is 22/28/24. You can upgrade to a twin-turbo V6., and while that is definitely a blast, the mpg’s drop to 19/25/21 There is seating for five. 

The Mazda CX-5 starts at $25,370 (not including dealer handling fees). It’s got a Skyactiv-G 2.5 engine. In fact, all CX-5’s have this engine, but there top of the line Carbon Edition Turbo (that costs $30,760) turbocharges it. The CX-5 seats five.

Chastity Beene, Contributor

My favorite was the Hyundai Santa Fe. The side view camera, which pops up on the driver information screen when you hit the turn signal, is a unique feature and fun to see it in action when switching lanes. But in general it was fun to drive, especially when switching to sport mode.

Related: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy: A Luxury Drive Without the Heavy Price Tag

Hyundai Santa Fe Mid-Size Suv

Me and the Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy. Photo: Chastity Beene

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe has a starting price of just over $28,000 (not including dealer handling fees). You can get a 2.5l 4-cylinder engine, you can also get that same engine turbocharged for some more money, or you can get a hybrid. The non-turbo 4-cylinder will get 25/28 mpgs. There is seating for five.

Kim Croisant, Contributor

My all-time fav ride was the JEEP 4xe Rubicon Wrangler. It was a multi-generational hit, not only did I love it because it’s so comfortable, but my 82 year old mother loved it and my son dug it, too. It had everything we needed for our Texas to Kansas road trip. And it turned heads – oh and it was RED – my favorite color. The whole experience changed what I love in a vehicle.

Related: 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Unlimited Rubicon Review: Kudos On Long Road Trips And Comfort

A Girls Guide To Cars | 2021 In The Rearview Mirror: Our Writers Share Their Favorite Test Drives Of The Year -

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Rubicon is a plug-in hybrid. You get a turbocharged 4-cylinder paired with a couple of electric motors. The base price is $53,190. Your fuel economy is estimated at 20/20/20. The Jeep Wrangler 4xe Rubicon is a 5-passenger vehicle.

Erica Mueller, Auto Editor and Contributor

My favorite drive of 2021 was the VW ID4. While it isn’t the ideal size for my family I fell in love with the simplicity of the interior, the infotainment system and the futuristic exterior. And, after driving it around North Texas for a week, I was impressed by the 250 mile range and how fast and easy it is to recharge. Before this test drive I couldn’t see myself in an electric car, but now, I’m convinced: A country girl CAN go electric!

Related: VW ID.4 Review: The EV That Changed My Mind About Rural Electrification

2021 Vw Id4 Review

Parking downtown was easy in this compact SUV. Photo by Erica Mueller

Number two on my list was the Kia Carnival. This un-minivan won over our whole family and is at the very top of our list for our next purchase. It is stylish, comfortable, and practical.  I did discover, though, that the center row seats on the top level trim can make it difficult to get into the back seat; they are designed more like first class seats; they recline! If you regularly need access to the third row, go for center row captains chairs without a console so the third row is easily accessible. This is a mom-car I’d be proud to own.

Related: 2022 Kia Carnival: Why We’ll Probably Buy This Minivan, But Not the Top Trim Level

A Girls Guide To Cars | 2021 In The Rearview Mirror: Our Writers Share Their Favorite Test Drives Of The Year - Kia Carnival Mpv A Girls Guide To Cars Feat Scaled

The Volkswagen ID.4 has a starting price of $40,760. Because it’s electric, buyers can potentially take advantage of available tax credits. Volkswagen estimates this can bring the starting price of the ID.4 to $33,260. This base model will get you a rear wheel drive ID.4 that has 201 horsepower. If you want all wheel drive and a bit more power, it’ll cost you $46,635 (don’t forget about dealer fees increasing the price, and then possible tax credits lowering it). You can expect about 260 miles on a charge for the rear-wheel drive model.

The Kia Carnival starts at $32,100 (not including dealer handling fees). The base trim package has seating for 7, but for $34,100 you can get the LX Seat Package that adds another seat for a total of 8. All trims come with a 3.5l V6, giving the Carnival 290 horsepower. This also means that every trim has an estimated 19/26/22 mpgs.

Kristin Shaw, Contributor

My favorite test drive was the Aston Martin DBS, the legendary sports coupe from the bespoke British automaker. From a budget perspective, it’s completely out of reach for me right now but it doesn’t matter, because the sound of that V12– which is hand built by AMG in partnership with Aston Martin– ignites my dreams.

Related: Driving the Aston Martin DBX Once Is to Risk Never Having an Experience Like This Again

The Aston Martin DBS has a starting price of  $316, 300. It has a 5.2l V12 engine that generates 715 horsepower. It’ll run at an estimated 14/22 mpgs. The DBS seats 4.

Connie Peters, Director, Social Media Director and Special Projects

The most over-the-top test drive I had in 2021 was the Mercedes-AMG G63 or “G-Wagen.” It embarrassed my 16 year old to no end and yet made me feel like a celebrity at the same time. I loved the unique color, the amazing sounds it made, the heavy doors and the crazy drive experience. It had 577 horsepower and 627 lb-foot of torque so it growled its way around my daily drives the week I had it. I loved the luxurious interior, fantastic ride height and Burmester audio as well.

While the G-Wagen may have been over the top, at well over $100,000 USD, it’s not something I would actually buy. For a test drive that I had this year that I would actually buy, it’s a toss up between the Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 (which was a model year 2020) and the Volkswagen Taos, both of which I loved immensely! The GLC 300 takes care of all your creature comfort needs and pampers you and your passengers. But the Taos gives you all the necessities for the driver and front seat passenger in a cute to look at, fun to drive, easy on the budget SUV.

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The 2021 VW Taos. Photo: Jaclyn Trop

The Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 starts at $42,500 (not including dealer fees). If you want all wheel drive, the price starts at $44,500. The GLC 300 has a 4-cylinder turbo engine that produces 255 horsepower. Estimated MPGs are 24/28/21. You can seat five passengers in the Mercedes-Benz GLC 300.

The Volkswagen Taos is priced at about $23,000 (not including dealer fees). You’ll get a 1.5l 4-cylinder turbo engine. The Taos has room for five passengers.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You can see all our reviews here. It’s a list that will grow much longer in 2022!

Sara has written about cars since 2005. She used to beat them up with her kids and write about... More about Sara Lacey