2021 is here and it brings with it a fresh batch of cars, trucks, and SUVs. No matter what kind of vehicle you have your eye on and no matter how much you’re looking to spend on a new vehicle, there are some new and updated entries this year that should be on your shopping list.
We’ve evaluated the latest and greatest new cars to save you some of the homework that comes with shopping for a new ride. Our panel deciding the best new cars of 2021 consists of Autotrader Executive Editor Brian Moody and Contributing Editors Eric Brandt, Jason Fogelson, Chris O’Neill, Andrew Ganz, and Autotrader Editor Rob Nestora.
To even be considered for our 2021 lists, vehicles had to meet a few criteria. We limited entry to cars, trucks and SUVs with a base price under $75,000, they had to be available for sale within 6-8 months from the time this list is published, include a diverse mix of prices and body styles, no more than two of any one brand with an emphasis on mainstream brands, and of course, it has to be all-new or updated for the 2021 model year. Finally, we only picked from vehicles that received a score of 4.0 or higher on our 5-point rating scale.
This list includes practical cars and SUVs of all sizes, hybrids, an EV, a pickup, and a few luxury vehicles that are seriously competitive with more expensive rivals. In total, there are five vehicles on the list with electrification either as standard or as an option. We also have an interesting “first.” For the first time since we’ve been compiling this list, we have two brands that have two cars each, Ford and Kia. It’s worth noting as this shows just how competitive the new car arena has become.
In alphabetical order, here are the best new cars for 2021.
2021 Acura TLX
With the fully redesigned Acura TLX and new MDX, we’re seeing Honda’s luxury brand return to its roots with an emphasis on performance and technology. This is much more than an Accord wearing its Sunday best.
Brian says the new TLX is an “excellent sport sedan” that’s “fun and good-looking.” He added that the car “revives the spirit of the old TL but does it in a completely modern way,” which is exactly what we hoped to see in the new TLX.
Rob thinks the TLX “embodies confidence and comfort with its nimble handling, smooth ride and pleasing engine note while providing a bevy of tech features, well appointed-interior and refined exterior.” Nestora adds “What’s not to love?”
Chris praised the TLX as having “similar sensibility as Lexus, but closer to the Europeans in terms of emotional appeal.” If you’re in the market for a midsize sport sedan, but you don’t like the price or ownership costs of the German all-stars, then the TLX is an excellent alternative with little compromise. Find an Acura TLX for sale
2021 Chevrolet Tahoe
The Chevy Tahoe has long been a favorite family rig of suburbia and its 2021 redesign makes it better than ever. It borrows from the playbook of its most direct competitor — the Ford Expedition — and modernizes with four-wheel independent suspension. This not only provides a comfier ride but yields more interior space for passengers and cargo. That’s just the beginning; the new Tahoe also has a whole new look inside and out and an appealing range of engines including a diesel.
Chris and Jason both praised the new suspension and Chris called the new Tahoe “an evolution of a winning formula.” Find a Chevrolet Tahoe for sale
2021 Ford Bronco Sport
Take the spirit of the rugged new Ford Bronco and turn it into a sensible compact crossover and you have the Bronco Sport. Ford fantastically executed the bold undertaking of bringing the personality of the new Bronco to a more road-friendly crossover that’s not afraid of a little adventure. This is Ford getting the idea of the old Bronco II right this time.
Brian said the Bronco Sport is “a mildly off-road capable small SUV that’s affordable.” And added “This is exactly what many shoppers are looking for.” He also noted that it provides “a lot of bang for the buck.” Jason was understandably afraid this SUV would be a mistake but ended up satisfied with the result. “The Bronco Sport is a delight, sharing a platform with the competent Escape but amping up the adventure quotient,” Jason said.
Andrew called the Bronco Sport “the smart Bronco” and our resident off-road nut Chris said it has “more tangible features to back up a rugged aesthetic than any other crossover” while adding that it will “have an advantage over a normal crossover on a forest road, and that’s what 90% of off-road driving consists of.” Find a Ford Bronco Sport for sale
2021 Ford F-150
You might not notice at first glance, but the best-selling Ford F-150 is all-new for 2021. Ford knows a thing or two about what people want in a full-size pickup truck and the 14th-generation F-Series simply gives us more of everything.
Brian describes this truck with one word: More. “More of what everyone already loves about the F-150. More choices, more flexibility, and packed with little details that make using a truck that much easier – the ruler built into the inside of the tailgate, the power outlets, the upscale interior options. It’s still the truck to beat.”
Andrew praised the sheer level of variety in the F-150 lineup, which has something for every taste and every budget. “The breadth and depth of the F-150 lineup are astounding.” Find a Ford F-150 for sale
2021 Genesis GV80
We’ll be honest; when Genesis first spun off into its own luxury brand that at first only consisted of two sedans we weren’t sure how long it would last. However, with one winner after another in just the last few years, we’re confident that it’s here to stay and can’t wait to see what’s coming next.
The latest addition to this burgeoning luxury marque is its first crossover; the Genesis GV80. Brian calls it a “luxury car beyond its price.” Indeed, it’s a midsize premium SUV with available three-row seating that starts under $50k while competing with much more expensive European rivals and making it look easy. “An imposing, slick, refined, and comfortable SUV. Looking for a BMW? Drive the GV80 first,” Brian said. Find a Genesis GV80 for sale
2021 Hyundai Santa Fe
A midcycle refresh makes the midsize, two-row Hyundai Santa Fe look and feel more like the outstanding three-row Palisade. It’s added a lot more variety under the hood with a powerful turbo option, a hybrid (with standard AWD), and a plug-in hybrid.
The Santa Fe moves upmarket with a new range-topping Caligraphy trim that serves as a serious alternative to a similarly sized SUV from a luxury brand. However, the lower and mid-range models still present an excellent value.
“Hyundai is rather good at SUVs and at hybrids,” says Andrew, “so it was about time the two came together.” Find a Hyundai Santa Fe for sale
2021 Kia K5
Say goodbye to the Kia Optima and hello to its replacement; the Kia K5. This is a midsize sedan with more attitude than we ever expected from the Kia brand. Not only does its exterior design turn heads, but the interior is roomy and high-tech, especially for its price point.
Rob thinks the K5 is an “eye-catching sedan that should make 330i shoppers seriously reconsider their options – especially in GT form.”
“An affordable sport sedan done right,” is how Brian describes the K5. “Cool-looking, high-end options, sharp handling, and a fresh new look are all reasons to test drive the new K5.” The K5 is almost as cool and almost as fun as the more muscular Kia Stinger, but with a starting price of about $10k less. Find a Kia K5 for sale
2021 Kia Sorento
Kia continues its hot streak of pumping out class-leading crossovers with the newest generation of the Sorento. This midsize three-row SUV borrows some of what makes the bigger Telluride one of our favorite SUVs like a rugged, yet modern look and a surprisingly upscale and high-tech interior. There’s a terrific hybrid option with a best-in-class combined fuel economy rating of 37 mpg while still having plenty of power.
Brian calls the new Sorento “a near-luxury SUV with a not-so-luxury price. Engine and interior choices are impressive, it’s also a lot of fun from behind the wheel.” That fun-to-drive factor is a claim that few of the Sorento’s rivals can make. Andrew points out that the Sorento “may not be as much of a visual knockout as the Telluride, but the Kia Sorento is probably a smarter choice for most families.” Find a Kia Sorento for sale
2021 Lexus IS
Japanese brands trying to compete with Europe’s finest compact luxury sedans has been a mixed bag over the years. One of the bright spots in this ongoing rivalry is the all-new 2021 Lexus IS. “This sedan is beautifully balanced, precise, and crisp; a pleasure to drive,” according to Jason. What more could you ask for in a small luxury car?
Jason also points out that luxury sport sedans from the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz are not exactly known for long-term reliability or affordable running costs. This gives the Lexus a big advantage in those important categories with the brand’s reputation for Toyota reliability. This redesign has brought the IS from being an also-ran in a crowded segment to being worth a serious look for discerning sport sedan shoppers. Find a Lexus IS for sale
2021 Nissan Kicks
With a sub-$20k starting price, the most affordable new car on this list is the 2021 Nissan Kicks. This subcompact crossover has no shortage of quirks providing a lot of personality and customizability at a price that a wide range of drivers can afford.
Brian calls the Kicks “a great ‘first car’” because of its “price, value, tech, and personalization.” He adds that “if you want a small crossover with a distinct look and for a reasonable new car price, the Kicks is it.”
Andrew was also impressed with the new Kicks noting that it “sits at the cross-section of style and value.” This Nissan crossover is proof that an affordable new SUV doesn’t have to be just basic transportation. Find a Nissan Kicks for sale
2021 Toyota Venza
After a brief hiatus, the Toyota Venza is back, this time as a hybrid-only midsize two-row crossover. It’s a decidedly premium offering from Toyota that wouldn’t be out of place in a Lexus showroom. Hybrid used to be a compromise where you sacrificed any semblance of performance for better fuel economy. The Venza is here to debunk that myth.
“It’s an old name but a totally new and modern crossover SUV,” Brian said of the Venza. “Hybrid is the only way it comes but that only enhances the driving experience. It’s a Toyota but it has the soul of a Lexus.” If you’re considering a hybrid luxury SUV, make sure to test drive the Venza. Find a Toyota Venza for sale
2021 Volvo XC40
We keep hearing about how electric cars are the future. While there are a handful of all-electric cars and trucks available today, most seem to be arriving “soon.” The 2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge makes that future available today. True, the Volvo XC40 is a great small SUV no matter how it’s powered but the Recharge version really has our attention. It’s an all-electric subcompact luxury crossover that does just about everything well. Stand-out styling, 402 horsepower, and 208 miles of range are just the beginning of what makes this little SUV so compelling.
“Think of the XC40 Recharge as a performance EV for the masses,” said Andrew of the XC40 pointing to the lively performance of this EV. Brian echoed this sentiment praising its “Tesla-like fun, decent range, and impressive acceleration.” Not to mention the Volvo brand reputation for safety. “Yes, it’s safe, but that’s not what you’ll be thinking when piloting the new XC40 Recharge,” Brian said. Find a Volvo XC40 Recharge for sale