It’s that time of the year again when we round up our list of cars Id buy from vehicles tested that impressed well enough that if we were shopping in a given class, category or price range – we’d buy it. It’s our way of saying it’s good, it’s worth a look, and most important – we would buy one.
This year we have a larger list than in past years, testament that cars are becoming more competitive, better in quality, and offering more to catch our attention than in past years. Whether you are looking for a bargain like the Ford Maverick Pickup or a top of the line Mercedes-Benz, we’ve got a little bit of both and everything in-between for our list this year.
2021 AMG GT43
Kicking off the list this year in alphabetical order is the AMG GT43 coupe – a high-performance luxury grand tourer – the brand’s base model – that just flat out won my heart. Sexy and svelte in its styling, silky and smooth in its delivery, and sumptuous in how it coddles you I could not help but love it.
About the same size as a Mercedes-Benz E-Class but with a sleeker form, the AMG GT43 features a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that just sings a song you have to hear. It’s huge 21-inch wheels and fat tires make it stick to the planet like super glue, its chassis managing all of it deftly with poise.
Priced at $107,995 it isn’t cheap and you can spend a great deal more. This was the entry level mind you and even so feels every bit worth the need for a second mortgage.
There aren’t many rear-wheel drive American sedans left and Cadillac makes most of what you can still get. The entry level for GM’s luxury brand is the Cadillac CT4, a blocky and chiseled styling piece that carries on the brand’s familiar look of the past decade.
Priced at $41,115 it compares closest to the Lexus IS of its competitors and here came with the same 310 horsepower 2.7-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine found in the Chevrolet Silverado pickups. In spite of that humble connection, its power and refinement was more than fitting for this sport sedan – giving a good kick in the back on the back roads.
I was honestly surprised with its combination of quality, performance, fun to drive character and value which compared to what you have to spend much more to get from Mercedes, BMW, Lexus and the like.
2021 Ford F-150 Powerboost
For 2021 the F-150 got a significant refresh that addressed one of the most glaring complaints I have had about it since almost forever – it’s low rent interior that never fit well at a $70-80,000 price tag in fully loaded models. An all new interior, fresh sheet metal and a host of new tech upgrades make it now feel worth the money.
Big news though is the addition of the hybrid Powerboost powertrain option that combines the popular 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine to a new variation of their 10-speed automatic transmission that contains a powerful electric motor. All in, you get 430 horsepower and 570-pound feet of torque.
So you get all the goodness of the F-150 plus some new power and efficiency never before seen here. 0-60 comes quick, the refinement is astounding, it drives like a normal pickup-truck, and it can tow and haul just the same. While we only achieved 19 mpg combined, it’s rated at 24.
2022 Ford Maverick
The 2022 Ford Maverick is likely the biggest breakout product of this year, just now arriving on the scene in dealerships. The new compact pickup-truck from Ford made headlines with its starting price of $19,995 and its standard hybrid powertrain with a 42 mpg fuel-economy rating.
It handles with the precision and refinement of a car with the firm toughness of a truck. Available in either aforementioned 2.5-liter hybrid electric model or a 2.0 EcoBoost gas model you can choose a base model XL with steel wheels all the way up to a decently equipped Lariat there are plenty of ways for buyers to choose their own.
Smaller than a Ford Ranger, built to a value price and equipped as such across the board, The Maverick received over 100,000 online reservations starting last June. In fact the 2022 hybrid models are sold out, If you haven’t ordered one by now you are waiting until the 2023 model year to get on the order roles again next summer.
2021 Ford Ranger Tremor
In its last years of the current generation, the Ford Ranger gained the a more fortified “Tremor” off-road package that improved the many on and off-road handling deficits we complained about in previous years.
The package upgrades wheels, suspension, exterior trims, interior fittiments all in a way that got my attention. Powered by a 270 horsepower 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine it still isn’t up to the competition from Chevrolet in terms of power but beats Toyota all day long. Most importantly it feels solid as a rock. The Tremor package with the Ranger made me more than willing to put it in my garage for just under $50,000.
2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The Honda Accord is one of the top selling and likely the best mid to full size front-wheel drive sedans available today. This is because of its quality, it’s value, its reliability and the poise in which it just seems to do no wrong. At $37,590 fully loaded in our Touring trim, it’s competitive there too.
Add in the efficiency of a 212 horsepower hybrid powertrain to an expanded suite of styling and technology features for 2021 and the Accord Hybrid just sings a naturally popular song in the sweet spot. It achieved excellent acceleration with a pretty smart observed fuel-economy of 46 mpg, a number that can be bettered with lower trim grades which have smaller tires.
2021 Honda Ridgeline
Redesigned for 2021, the Honda Ridgeline got a few important styling and equipment tweaks that finally pushed me over the edge to say yes it would be a buy. Most important, it gets a more rugged look especially with the new HPD appearance package that gets off-roady wheels and beefy fender flares.
We tested a Sport HPD which with options came in at $40,860. The Sport is the base model which had comfortable cloth seats to go with an otherwise well equipped interior and technology list of features. You can’t get better quality from any its competitors, its handling is best in class hands down – remaining one of the quietest and most refined mid-size trucks you can get. Oh, and you can town and haul too.
2021 Hyundai Elantra Gas & Hybrid
This year I tested both an Elantra Limited gas and hybrid model – both of which I just loved for their origami design theme, bulletproof build quality, boatload of feature content inside and out, and a fun to drive character that makes it one of the strongest options in the compact sedan class with pricing that ranges for the most part in the mid $20,000’s
The interior design is impressive in its forms and functions, materials, and tech features offering a sense of pizazz that competitors just seem to have forgotten. Performance from either of the two mainstream powertrains provides a fun to drive character with excellent fuel efficiency – especially with the hybrid in which I observed 53 mpg. If that doesn’t sell I a car, I don’t know what will.
2021 Mercedes AMG GLE53 Coupe
Handsomely and athletically styled, the GLE Coupe represents the coupe roofline variant of the Mercedes-Benz G lineup of crossover SUVs which are available in a vast range of models from mild to wild.
A highlight for me was the cabin. The brand’s interiors are the best in the business, even better with AMG seats, full leather soft trims everywhere and the full electronics tech treatments.
Power from its silky smooth EQ Boosted 429 horsepower plus 21 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six is seductive in its sound and in its push. Handling is as tight and precise as it comes in this class. The AMG GLE53 for me was a quite simply nice combination of style, performance and luxury that feels every bit worth its as tested price of $95,875.
2021 RAM 1500 TRX
Because we needed a 702 horsepower Hellcat powered pickup-truck. The RAM TRX was a wild ride in every way that made its 89,365 price tag fade way back into an area of doesn’t matter that much. All the off-road goodness, the power, the balls hanging virtually from its trailer hitch receiver make a twisted sense of value that perhaps only a guy could understand.
It is expensive to buy and to feed. It’s fast as hell. Muscular styling oozes all over but most importantly is backed up by a lot of good hardware that makes it all work as advertised. though and RAM did a great job putting a chassis together that can keep up with a Ford Raptor out in the bush. It can flat leave it behind on the street. It is scary to drive at speed, which is part of its charm. If I could burn money like a drunken cowboy, I’d buy one.