What’s eligible: All models that are new or fully redesigned for the 2021 model year.
Criteria: Our watchwords are quality, innovation and value. Seldom does a candidate nail all three, but a strong showing in one regard can offset a deficit in another. Vehicles compete as much or more with their own class as they do other 2021 nominees.
For Cars.com to name a pickup truck as its best new vehicle is unprecedented and should demonstrate just how impressed we were with the refinements, improvements and — most important — innovations that Ford has made to its bestselling rig, which we also named our Best Pickup Truck of 2021. Since our selections, in preparation for this announcement, we made our customary transition to ownership with the purchase of an F-150 Limited SuperCrew hybrid for a year of real-world testing. This Cars.com tradition is already showing its value, revealing the second side of any product after the one you choose to buy: the one you actually live with. We encountered some ghosts in the machine, and as we’ve reported, Ford instituted a relatively small safety recall that includes the windshields of some 2021 as well as 2020 F-150 trucks (which didn’t include ours). In response to reports of premature rust, we found some on our truck and made a query of our own.
In the past, Best Of winners of ours have required all-new upholstery, a new engine and a months-long investigation of foul odors. The F-150’s trouble came disappointingly early, but we don’t know at this stage how serious it is. Though it dampens our enthusiasm, it doesn’t change what led us to our unanimous decision: everything a new F-150 has to offer.
We’ll start with the big news for 2021: the arrival of the F-150 PowerBoost full hybrid system, which combines the twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 and 10-speed automatic transmission with an integrated 47-horsepower electric motor and a 1.5-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. With a system output of 430 hp and 570 pounds-feet of torque, this powertrain is the most powerful in the F-150 lineup, but it’s also the most fuel efficient, with an EPA rating of 25 mpg combined with rear-wheel drive. This makes it more efficient than the Power Stroke diesel 3.0-liter option, which it can out-tow. It’s also less expensive than the diesel and can be had on more variants of the F-150, from the lowliest XL to the top-of-the-line Limited trim level.
Many other features and benefits are sure to impress truck buyers, including the new Pro Power Onboard system, which adds a power inverter and turns the truck’s hybrid system into a generator. Three levels of power are available to energize everything from a work site full of tools to a campsite full of gear — or a house full of appliances in an emergency. The beautifully designed interior features upgraded materials and more innovative features, like an optional power-folding shifter and flip-forward center armrest that creates a truly flat table surface for on-the-go work or mealtime, or lay-flat front seats for impromptu naptime. On paper, these features could come across as gimmicky if they didn’t prove so genuinely useful. The latest Sync 4 multimedia system features another useful innovation: A digital owner’s manual enhancement lets you tap an icon next to some features to discover what they do and how to use them.
And this is just the new stuff. Things that have been around for a while, like the optional Pro Trailer Backup Assist, still work as if by magic. Ford’s useful technology, value-added features, nicer interior and stunning new powertrain combine with the attributes of the F-150 that we have always enjoyed to create a knockout choice for shoppers in 2021.
The beauty of this Cars.com award is that, as owners, we can share the second side of the 2021 F-150, every aspect of its ownership — the good and the bad — with consumers. We hope you’ll join us.2021 Ford F-150 Specs & Reviews Find a 2021 Ford F-150 Near You
The most expensive of GM’s three full-size SUVs redesigned for 2021, the 2021 Cadillac Escalade gets all the benefits of its Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon siblings: more third-row room, increased cargo space and an independent rear suspension.
Where the Escalade goes beyond its siblings and justifies its potential six-figure price tag is in its show-stopping interior tech and luxurious cabin materials. The centerpiece of the redesigned Escalade is a literal centerpiece: the 38-inch curved display that includes the gauge cluster and multimedia touchscreen. The display is crystal clear and incredibly easy to use, providing a wow factor so strong it still hasn’t worn off. Even better, fancy technology like augmented-reality navigation doesn’t come tied to the same confusing or awkward controls luxury competitors use. (It’s weird to call augmented-reality navigation “no-nonsense,” but that’s what it is.) The Escalade will be available with GM’s Super Cruise hands-free driving technology, and a 36-speaker stereo also is optional.
While technology is increasingly a part of the luxury experience, Cadillac didn’t skimp on the materials. High-quality surfaces abound, including the leather that wraps the seats, dashboard and even the 38-inch display. Cadillac also included high-quality physical controls, having learned that touch-sensitive everything isn’t a good idea.
The Escalade is so good that the near-flawless performance of its powerful standard 6.2-liter V-8 and 10-speed automatic transmission are almost afterthoughts. But that’s just how good the new Escalade is — and why it’s a candidate for Best of 2021.2021 Cadillac Escalade Specs & Reviews Find a 2021 Cadillac Escalade Near You
From the G90 full-size luxury sedan to the Best of 2019-winning G70 sports sedan, we’ve been impressed with the vehicles that have come from Genesis, the South Korean luxury brand spun off from Hyundai. With the all-new GV80, the brand’s first SUV, Genesis takes its winning formula to the mid-size luxury SUV class.
The GV80 rides on an all-new rear-wheel-drive-based platform that emphasizes driving performance; it handles well for a big SUV and stays flat when cornering. Two turbocharged engines are offered: a standard 300-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder and an available 375-hp, 3.5-liter V-6. Both engines pair with a responsive eight-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive is available. The GV80’s exterior design is distinctive, and the theme carries over to the cabin. The well-appointed interior has high-quality materials, and it’s peppered with unique finishes and controls. All trim levels of the GV80 are fitted with a 14.5-inch widescreen display with navigation.
The Genesis brand is only in its fifth year in the U.S., but it’s quickly proven itself as a worthy alternative to established luxury marques. While Genesis also rolled out a 2021 redesign of the G80 mid-size sedan that had carried over from its Hyundai incarnation, we believe the GV80’s suspension is better sorted, and we appreciate the ability to add features like leather upholstery and an adaptive suspension to the four-cylinder version, unlike the G80. So we’ve nominated the stylish, comfortable and luxurious Genesis GV80, an SUV for those willing to look beyond traditional luxury brands, for our Best of 2021 award.2021 Genesis GV80 Specs & Reviews Find a 2021 Genesis GV80 Near You
Sometimes driving makes all the difference. On paper, and even based on static perusal, the redesigned 2021 Hyundai Elantra compact sedan seemed like a nicely updated model with sharper styling and new tech. But once we took to the streets, it was clear that Hyundai had produced an unlikely driver’s car in a class that’s mostly devoid of them.
Most praiseworthy is its excellent dynamics, but here’s the important part: It doesn’t sacrifice ride quality. And we’re talking about a mid-level Elantra SEL powered by an eager 147-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder with an agreeable continuously variable automatic transmission, a version we tested that made clear the chassis is capable of much more. Hyundai offers that, too, with the 201-hp N Line (with manual and dual-clutch automatic gearboxes) and, soon, an even more powerful Elantra N.
On the other end of the spectrum, we were equally impressed by the Elantra Hybrid, which boosts efficiency while retaining the non-hybrid’s drivability, as well as its interior and trunk space, unlike hybrid sedans of the past.
Attributes like high-resolution, optional dual 10.25-inch displays sit in a car that’s a breeze to understand and use overall. Even the available Bose stereo is a cut above. All of this comes with the generous warranty and many standard features for which Hyundai is known. The Elantra has stood out in its class before, and it’s poised to do so again, earning it a chance at Cars.com’s Best of 2021 award.2021 Hyundai Elantra Specs & ReviewsFind a 2021 Hyundai Elantra Near You
Take pickup trucks and minivans out of the mix, and SUVs outsell cars by about 2 to 1. But they aren’t cheap: The median list price for a new SUV on Cars.com is around $7,500 more than that of a new car. So what’s a shopper to do? Enter the entry-level SUV, a class of mass-market runabouts that are light on size and price. Among the 10 most affordable SUVs is the new Kia Seltos, a nimble trucklet that beat three rivals in Cars.com’s Affordable Small SUV Challenge.
How’d it do that? Simply put, Kia fielded a value-oriented SUV that presents the fewest sacrifices to meet your budget. The bottom two of the Seltos’ four available trim levels start under $25,000, and even a factory-loaded top trim won’t set you back more than about $31,500. Between those extremes, the Seltos offers all manner of advanced features, from adaptive cruise control and lane-centering steering to a 10.25-inch touchscreen and capable turbocharged engine. Regardless of which Seltos you buy, the SUV boasts intuitive controls, a roomy backseat, a large cargo area and Kia’s impressive warranty. Don’t let the boxy shape fool you: This is a well-rounded little SUV.
Amid the economic uncertainty unleashed by a full year of the global COVID-19 pandemic, affordability matters more than ever — yet shoppers’ devotion to SUVs remains steadfast. Right in the middle of that Venn diagram is the small affordable SUV. For 2021, few models execute it as well as the Seltos.2021 Kia Seltos Specs & ReviewsFind a 2021 Kia Seltos Near You
The three-row SUV field is a crowded one, packed with lots of comfortable, affordable options, and the redesigned 2021 Kia Sorento is now among the best. Sitting under the also-impressive Telluride in Kia’s lineup, the Sorento has a thoughtfully designed and quality-focused cabin, comfortable road manners and a robust list of standard safety features.
The Sorento seats six or seven across three rows, depending on seating configuration, and occupant room is up this year, most notably third-row headroom. In addition to space, there’s a lot to like about the cabin, from its high-quality materials to its ample storage spaces for smaller items. We’re also fans of the Sorento’s multimedia system, which is the total package: It sits high on the dashboard within easy reach of the driver and is straightforward to use and responsive to touch.
The choices continue with the Sorento’s available powertrains. There’s a base 191-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine; an uplevel 281-hp, turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder; and a hybrid model that’s due later in the year. It’ll use a 1.6-liter four-cylinder and electric motor for a total system output of 227 hp. The model debuts a quick-shifting eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that also caught our judges’ attention.
The Sorento’s generous list of safety features also helped earn it a shot at Cars.com’s top award. Standards across the lineup include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear seat alert, a driver attention warning system, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, lane keep assist and automatic lane-centering.