Let’s talk about the mind-blowing variety of cars, trucks, vans, and SUVs available to today’s consumer. From size to technology, luxury to capability, the rainbow of choices exists across a spectrum that’s almost hard to comprehend. Here in America, you can buy everything from the subcompact 2021 Chevy Spark to the massive 2021 Ram 2500, and just about everything in between.
Americans are addicted to choice, and that’s more than apparent with the plethora of new, refreshed, and proven vehicles that auto manufacturers continue to produce in an attempt to keep up with ever-changing tastes, spiking gas prices, and a common thirst for lowering our carbon footprint. And don’t get us started on the rising demand for the latest tech. It’s a race to the biggest infotainment touchscreen, with some of our favorite new vehicles offering incredible 15.5-inch screens.
For the 2021 model year, this heated race to innovate is more competitive than ever. Automakers are not only competing for new buyers – they’re also trying hard to keep their existing owners loyal. It’s a tall order and one that probably feels a lot like a hamster on a wheel. This is great news for auto enthusiasts, though, especially in certain categories.
Here we review some of our favorite new vehicles as well as some old friends that continue to provide trusty service. We focus on the fun stuff, including luxury and performance, but we don’t leave out budget buyers either. That category is exploding with a variety of frontrunners, from tiny compacts to all-electric cars that deliver impressive performance and range.
Luxury: 2021 Cadillac Escalade
Take everything you know about luxury vehicles, multiply it by 100, and you’ll begin to approach the insanely over-the-top luxurious 2021 Cadillac Escalade. From puddle lighting that activates automatically, announcing you as you exit the vehicle (including a virtual full-color Cadillac crest) to a futuristic 38-inch curved LED display, nothing – and we mean nothing – is left out. Cadillac has thought of every available comfort, luxury, and convenience feature.
How does a 36-speaker AKG Studio Reference sound system, custom made for the Escalade’s specific interior acoustics, sound? We’ll tell you – it sounds incredible. There’s a crisp night vision camera setting integrated into the driver display to allow to see at night, while interior microphones are strategically located throughout the cabin to project conversation in a more civilized manner than raising your voice to get the attention of your third-row passengers (how gauche!).
Shell out a cool $100,000 for the Escalade Premium Luxury Platinum, and you’ll get an SUV with more luxury touches than your primary residence. These include supple Aniline leather touches from the seat trim to the dash inserts, 16-way power seats that are also heated, ventilated, and equipped with a soothing massage function, a rear-seat entertainment system with dual 12.6-inch screens, and an available console refrigerator that also has a freeze function because why not?
Performance: 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E
At first, we didn’t get it – why in the world would Ford put the beloved Mustang nameplate on an SUV? Then, we remembered Tesla. The Mach E is a punch in the nose to Tesla. It’s a shout from the rooftops that, yes, a traditional car brand can compete with the electric behemoth, the current “it” car, and it can do so by marrying nostalgia with amazing performance and capability. There is no doubt that the Mach-E earns a spot next to the Model Y.
The 2021 Mustang Mach E is a gorgeous crossover-style SUV that puts out incredible performance numbers. It also reassures hesitant EV buyers with its solid range of up to 300 miles, putting it in the same ballpark as the Tesla Model Y’s impressive range and handily exceeding the current EV’s from every other manufacturer. Opt for the upcoming GT model, and that number dips to 235 miles, but in return, you’ll get impressive performance. We’re talking about 634 lb-ft of torque and a zero-to-sixty time of just 3.8 seconds (that’s faster than the Shelby GT350 Mustang with its 5.2L flat-plane crank V8).
Even with its impressive range and spirited performance, the Mustang Mach E’s headline is tech. Standard tech, to be specific. Every single Mach E comes with a massive 15.5-inch touchscreen that’s powered by Ford’s next-generation SYNC 4A infotainment system. The system allows storage settings for three custom driver profiles and one guest. Over-the-air updates keep it constantly refreshed, and all the goodies are right at your fingertips, including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, and an optional Bang & Olufsen premium audio system.
Rugged Capability: 2021 Ram 2500
All that luxury and tech is enough to send traditional car-buyers into a woe-is-me depression, but thankfully there are a few gritty and capable rigs that just might turn that frown upside down. While it may not be all-new for 2021, if you are looking for a do it all pickup, there is no better choice than the 2021 Ram 1500. Not only does this truck bring incredible capability and versatility, but it also picks up an honorable mention for being the most luxurious pickup truck on the road today.
When equipped with the available 6.7-liter Cummins Turbo Diesel I6 engine, the Ram 2500 ratchets up towing capability to 19,680 lbs and max payload to 3,160-lbs. It gets there by way of an impressive 850 lb-ft of torque and 370 horsepower, plenty of low-end power for towing boats, RVs, or heavy equipment. But that’s not to say the standard gas-powered 6.4-liter HEMI V8 is weak – with 429 lb-ft of torque and 410 horsepower, that is anything but true. Max towing capacity is a little lower, at 17,540-lbs, but max payload improves to 4,010-lbs. Combined with the smooth eight-speed transmission and segment-exclusive coil-spring suspension, and the massive Ram 2500 boasts a car-like smooth ride.
Ram takes towing seriously and offers the Ram 2500 with a plethora of available equipment to make the process easier and safer. The special power-fold tow mirrors and optional Surround View Camera work together via a five-camera system to display a complete view of the truck, the trailer, and the surrounding area. The trailer tire pressure monitoring system keeps an eye on your trailer’s tires, and the special Auto-Level Rear Air Suspension lowers the bed for easy trailer hook-up. Choose the Fifth-Wheel/Gooseneck Prep Package, and the Ram 2500 is ready to haul.
Budget: 2021 Chevy Spark & 2021 Kia Soul
If you are looking for an affordable new car, you may be depressed by the price tags on most 2021 models. However, there are still plenty of extremely affordable models out there. The subcompact 2021 Chevy Spark wins the affordability award and an honorable mention for the cutest of all time. We also love the 2021 Kia Soul for SUV body style fans.
First, the Spark. This sharp little hatchback will get you there, albeit slowly, thanks to the itty bitty 98 horsepower four-cylinder engine, but what you lack in performance, you’ll gain in fuel economy. The 2021 Spark delivers an epic combined fuel economy rating of 33 MPG, notching it up into hybrid territory. Opt for the bare-bones base model with a manual transmission, and your out-the-door MSRP is just $13,400.
Are you looking for an affordable crossover? You’re in luck because, as with most of the recent model years, automakers are heavily focused on building vehicles for this popular category. Try the 2021 Kia Soul, arguably the quirkiest most personality-filled option of the bunch. It’s boxy, sure, but there’s something about the Soul that turns heads. Maybe it’s the colorful palette of exterior color options, including a British Undercover Green and an Inferno Red that looks just like it sounds.
The 2021 Kia Soul goes easy on the wallet, starting at $17,490, and it’s freshly redesigned for the current model year. Your base Soul LX gets you 147 horsepower via a very peppy 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and a snazzy 7-inch infotainment touchscreen with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. That’s a lot of performance and tech for the price.
Get Ready for 2021
We could write volumes about the upcoming fleet of new and newly redesigned 2021 cars, trucks, vans, and EVs, but even just scratching the surface nets some truly amazing stories. These are category-leading options that are innovating in areas consumers are demanding, like tech and performance, but they’re also staying mindful of price.
This new season of vehicles is disruptive and exciting. They’re pushing the envelope in capability, like the Ram 2500, and teaching us how all-electric technology doesn’t mean sacrificing exhilarating performance, as in the Mustang Mach-E. Over-the-top luxury isn’t forgotten either, and it comes to us in the form of the beloved land yacht that is the Escalade.
Even with all this cool tech and refined luxury, our favorite storyline is the one that benefits the environment. Electric vehicle research and development is focused primarily on driving down battery costs so that entry-level buyers can get on board with the future. This makes environmental stewardship possible for all buyers.