The best cars we drove in 2021

The Mercedes-Benz EQS really impressed us this year.


We say it every year: We at Roadshow are incredibly lucky to drive all the latest and greatest cars. Sometimes we get brief stints in exotic locations, and other times we have multiple weeks of testing at home on familiar roads. Every experience is worthwhile, but as we reflect on the past 12 months, some stand out more than others.

These are our favorites from the year 2021, from incredibly practical compacts to hilarious supercars, a concept and a classic.

Picking my favorite car of the year was exceptionally easy. It’s not a Rolls-Royce or a Porsche or a McLaren, but a 64-year-old Mercedes-Benz with 215 horsepower. The 1957 300SL is mechanical perfection: It has the best manual transmission I’ve ever used, impeccable road manners, a phenomenal straight-six engine and incredible steering feel through its giant ivory wheel. Plus, it looks like that. Piloting this roadster around Pebble Beach on a foggy morning was nothing short of amazing.

— Daniel Golson

While far from the sexiest or most entertaining new vehicle I drove this year, the 2022 Ford Maverick might be the best — or at least the most meritorious. Specifically, I’m talking about the cheap XL and XLT hybrid models. I love small trucks, and I’ve been waving my arms clamoring for the industry to develop an honest, basic and affordable pickup for a decade. With a standard hybrid powertrain netting up to 42 mpg, seating for five and a rock-bottom $21,490 MSRP (delivered), Ford’s Maverick isn’t just cleverer than it has any right to be. It’s more well-rounded, too.

— Chris Paukert

Read our Ford Maverick review here.

Seriously, is a list of “best cars” ever complete without some version of the Porsche 911? I would argue no, because simply put, this iconic nameplate is the gold standard in performance vehicles, delivering superb driver engagement, more speed than you could ever need, plenty of tech and even a luxurious (if not terribly spacious) interior.

Earlier this year, I reviewed the new 2022 Porsche 911 GTS and it was absolutely sublime, a joy to flog on the twisting roads in northeastern Georgia. Like other GTS models, this sports car walks a fine line, delivering noticeably more-potent performance than lesser trims without being as overblown — and expensive — as Turbo variants. A rear-mounted flat-six delivers a rousing 473 horsepower, 420 pound-feet of torque and a big smile every time you roll on the throttle. Go with the available seven-speed manual transmission and you’ll never be bored. The 911 GTS is an absolute sweetheart, a car I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to experience.

— Craig Cole

Read our Porsche 911 GTS review here.

I’m a sucker for affordable, rear-wheel-drive coupes, but sadly the market isn’t flush with those nowadays. That’s why the second-generation Toyota GR 86 is such a treat. It’s drastically different than its predecessor from a styling perspective, with more defined and slightly more grown-up sheetmetal, while the interior is clean and straightforward.

But really, it’s the performance changes that are most welcome. A bigger 2.4-liter boxer-four engine brings 228 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque to the party and it can still be had with slick-shifting six-speed manual. Hooray! There’s an automatic, too, but don’t. Just don’t. The 86 also boasts sharper and more composed handling than before with a stiffened body structure and reworked suspension. Oh, and I can’t forget that Toyota is finally equipping the 86 with respectable rubber from the factory with Premium trim levels getting Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires as standard issue. Thank you, Toyota (and Subaru), for giving us a fresh 86.

— Jon Wong

Read our Toyota GR 86 review here.

I’ve been lucky to drive a few prototypes and concepts over the years, but it’s pretty rare you’re invited to, you know, really drive the things. Porsche not only got me behind the wheel of the Mission R weeks after its debut, but gave me a private track upon which to really have at it. This is Porsche’s vision for the all-electric future of its racing program, 1,000 horsepower directed to all four wheels. It’s not only exciting and wild to drive, but it shows that the future of motorsport is going to be very good. 

— Tim Stevens

Read our Porsche Mission R review here.

All of the Lamborghinis of my youth were wild, unhinged things with wings and vents all over and seemingly zero hecks given about being refined or precise or anything but insane and powerful. Those cars captured my imagination, and while Lamborghinis have grown objectively better and better to drive over the intervening years, I always felt like something got lost along the way: the drama. The Huracan STO brings a lot of that back for me. It’s certainly insane-looking with its dorsal fin and giant wing. It’s not especially practical or reasonable for daily use like other Huracans, but it’s a truly stunning driver’s car. It’s sharp, violent and exciting — easily the best car I drove in 2021. It’s not a car I’m likely to ever forget.

 Kyle Hyatt

Read our Lamborghini Huracan STO review here.

Does the world need a Jeep Wrangler that can scoot from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, chirping its tires and emitting a V8 roar like no other? Nope. But hot damn is it fun. Powered by a 6.4-liter Hemi V8 with a stonking 470 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, the Wrangler 392 is the most ridiculous fun I had all year. It bounded up dunes, conquered rocks and let me do it with the top down and the doors off. Sure, the fuel economy is horrendous and it’s nothing I’d want to commute in on the daily, but as an off-road rig, this V8 Jeep is tough to beat.

— Emme Hall

Read our Jeep Wrangler 392 review here.

The Rivian R1T hits the road with unbelievable acceleration and tackles trails with an eerily silent confidence. Besides boasting plenty of power and range for daily driving (up to 314 miles) with a bit of wiggle room for light towing, the fully electric pickup is also packed with unique features like its Gear Tunnel storage that can be converted to a pull-out camp kitchen. The R1T is unlike any truck I’ve ever driven and is an excellent vanguard for the upcoming wave of electric pickups.

 Antuan Goodwin

Read our Rivian R1T review here.

I did not want to stop driving this car. The wailing flat-six engine, the perfect six-speed stick, the excited shiver running up my spine as the tach needle hits 9,000 rpm — driving the Porsche 911 GT3 Touring is an experience I won’t soon forget. The only car that came close to the thrill of the GT3 Touring this year was the standard GT3. Everything else? Far, far behind.

I’ve got another GT3 tester coming in January. So if you see a repeat on our 2022 list, you’ll know why.

— Steven Ewing

Read our Porsche 911 GT3 Touring review here.

For the longest time, our experience with high-end luxury electric vehicles was limited to a single car from a single manufacturer. But now, we’ve finally reached a tipping point where legacy automakers are bringing their know-how to the table to deliver a new generation of EVs. So it should come as no surprise that Daimler — you know, the folks who invented the automobile — rolled out one of the best in 2021.

The Mercedes-Benz EQS was handily the best car I drove all year. It proved that an electric car can be every bit the rolling block of sumptuousness that gas-powered Benzes can be. It drives like a dream, delivering more than enough punch when needed, although the AMG variant sure sounds spicy, too. And then there’s Hyperscreen, a marvel of a dashboard that incorporates three separate displays to create one component with a whole lot of wow factor. The EQS has set the high water mark for all future luxury EVs, whether they come from startups or longtime OEMs.

 Andrew Krok

Read our Mercedes-Benz EQS450 review here.

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