Electric cars made the list, yes, but there are plenty of surprises, too.
Oh, the impact of a pandemic. It makes us reevaluate everything, clarify what matters most and laser focus our values. It makes us look at things from the perspective of what matters most.
In the US we’ve been on a tear with SUVs and V8 muscle cars, fuel economy be damned, but the rest of the world is thinking much more about the future, the state of the globe and how to leave a lighter footprint. Oh, and how to keep car prices in check while governments outlaw diesel and gas engines.
This trend came to the surface when the World Car Awards jurors voted for their favorite cars of 2021. The organization announced the Top Three in the World finalists today on World Car TV.
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Think Local, Vote Global
World Car Awards jurors –93 of them!– represent countries around the world: China, India, Poland, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Finland, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Canada. And, of course, the countries that come to mind when you think of cars: Germany, the UK, Japan, Korea and the US.
The globalization of everything has meant that it’s smart business for car makers to build cars that they sell everywhere; still, many models only have appeal in limited places, so not all cars qualify as a World Car Awards eligible vehicle. In fact, to qualify as a contender, vehicles must be available on more than two continents and go on sale between May and May of each year. And, jurors have to drive it before February 15th in order to vote.
In a typical year, World Car Awards jurors travel quite a bit for test drives and reviews. In 2020, not so much. In fact, with lockdowns and quarantines, many jurors struggled just to test drive the cars in their home markets. Toward the end of 2020 and into 2021 many were able to complete more test drives, taking the awards into an exciting final stretch. I even thought I’d end the awards season without having driven two very important contenders, the VW ID.4 and the Polestar 2, but somewhere the car gods intervened and I could (and I’m really glad—these two will have a impact on your future car buying, for certain).
Despite the restrictions and challenges, there were a number of vehicles that stood out for their design, drive experience and the sum of the package. Here are the vehicles that World Car Awards jurors voted as the Top 3 in the World for 2021. But don’t think that World Car Awards stops there; the #1 in each category will be revealed in a live stream broadcast on April 20th at 1030AM ET.
Related: Welcome to World Car Awards, Girls. You’re Helping to Recognize the Best Cars on the Market
World Car Design Of the Year Top 3 Finalists: Everything Old is Great Again
The only one of these I’ve driven is the Land Rover Defender and can attest, the design of this SUV is stunning. Not for beauty or elegance (though it does hit on those points) but for staying true to its DNA and heritage with a modern twist.
I did have a chance to view the Honda-e at an auto show in Europe and I was blown away by its cuteness, which is inspired by the original Honda Civic. I remember feeling a bit jealous that they get such cute cars in Europe, and how much I loved that first Honda Civic!
I have not seen the Mazda MX-30 in person and would love to be first in line to drive this once it comes to the US. Not only is it Mazda’s first all electric car, but its development was led by Tomiko Takeuchi, Mazda’s top ranking female engineer. And looking at the the photos, she and her team did a knockout job.
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World Luxury Car of the Year : Luxury Is How You Define It
The Land Rover Defender may not meet everyone’s idea of luxury; after all it’s not swathed in Alcantera suede or designed for setting lap records at Laguna Seca. But if luxury is getting to Deer Valley in a blizzard or reaching those outer dunes in the Outer Banks, where you have the most exclusive views and no neighbors, well, this is a true luxury. Plus, in the Land Rover tradition, the Defender is filled with plush finishes and design details, and is delivered at some of the most luxe dealerships in the world. End to end, owning a Defender is a luxury experience.
I have not had an opportunity to drive the Mercedes Benz S-Class, but the reviews don’t surprise me. Mercedes-Benz takes pride in serving some of the most demanding and refined clientele on the planet.
I did get a chance to drive the Polestar 2, maybe the most impressive car you’ve never heard of. Polestar is Volvo’s performance arm, and in the Polestar 2, the company takes performance and luxury to another level. Driving this 408 horsepower EV is sort of like taking the wheel of your own private roller coaster in that its silence belies the g-force that whisks you away. You almost have to be careful when you tap the accelerator. But don’t be shy. This is one fun ride.
World Performance Car Finalists: You Don’t Need to Be Rich to Have Fun
You can be only quasi rich rather than filthy rich and still have fun, and these finalists show it; this is a purist’s list of performance cars, each with performance squarely in its DNA. The Audi RS Q8 shares its DNA with the Porsche Macan and the Lamborghini Urus, both of which carry a larger price tag. But the Audi RS Q8 is all Audi: a refined interior and less glitzy exterior belie the woohoo under the hood.
The Porsche 911 Turbo is a favorite of the critics this year. They are highly impressed not just with the 650 horsepower, the most powerful 911 ever, but the acceleration, control and braking. And, it’s an all wheel drive, adding to the precision driving experience.
The Toyota GR Yaris may be the best of all worlds when it comes to performance cars, proving a performance car doesn’t need to be built with millionaires in mind. In fact, the GR Yaris (GR stands for Gazoo Racing, which has a hand in the development of Toyota’s GR line) builds on the fun-to-drive factor of the Yaris to deliver a thrilling drive experience. Many World Car Awards jurors reported that the Toyota GR Yaris may be the best Toyota they’ve ever driven, though sadly, it’s not available in the United States (yet).
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World Urban Car of the Year: When City Living is a Fact of Life
Post pandemic life for many has meant decamping for the suburbs or country, but in many places that’s not possible, so people have to adapt. That means making peace with crowded roads and tight parking, and, opting for a small car. But buyers don’t have to compromise on design, style or features. This category sees the return of some perennial favorites, including the Toyota Yaris and the Honda Fit, which also sadly is not available in the US. And, the Honda-e? Size, design and efficiency are a win, win, win.
World Car of the Year: Electrics Take the Lead
While electric cars have taken this top prize in the past, they’ve been outliers and trend setters, not the stuff of daily drivers. That trend is ending. And the big news here is the VW ID.4 is a contender for the World Car of the Year. The ID.4, which is setting the pace for VW’s future of electrified vehicles, is affordable, a crossover SUV with higher ground clearance and lots of interior space, and sports a fun, innovative design. Oh, and in the US at least, buyers get three years of free DC fast charging at Electrify America charge stations.
In my mind the ID.4 is what the future of driving in the US looks like. We’ll have to wait until April 20th to see if my World Car Awards colleagues agree with me.