Despite the SUV craze, millions of people buy traditional passenger cars every year. If you’re one of those folks, the 2021 MotorTrend Car of the Year competition is made for you. With 18 nameplates and 30 variants submitted for testing and evaluation, this year’s field was one of our most competitive ever, ranging from powerful convertibles and snazzy luxury coupes to practical minivans and honest family sedans. Scroll on to see the contenders and finalists for the most prestigious award in the industry.
Car of the Year: Our Criteria
To crown our 2021 Car of the Year, MotorTrend’s testing team and editors put each SUV in the field through a rigorous 10-day evaluation process of both instrumented and subjective testing. This is not a comparison test; to make things equitable between a $200,000 Porsche and a $25,000 Nissan, each vehicle is judged on its own merits against our six key criteria:
Advancement in Design: We consider interior and exterior styling, as well as the clever selection and use of materials. We won’t hesitate to tell someone their baby is ugly.
Engineering Excellence: We examine both the vehicle concept and execution in its totality and the use of technologies that benefit the consumer. This can range from new-tech powertrains to new suspension and transmission tech. Inside, we judge the vehicle’s ability to fit people and cargo, plus the success or failure of infotainment systems.
Efficiency: How does the vehicle’s fuel economy compare to the competitive set? Overall operating costs, weight, and recyclability are also part of the discussion. And yes, we consider mpg-e and well-to-wheel equations for electric vehicles.
Safety: We examine the safety measures that protect occupants from harm in a crash, and we test a vehicle’s ability to help a driver avoid a crash in the first place.
Value: How well does each vehicle deliver excellence relevant to its price tag? When applicable, our IntelliChoice subsidiary weighs in with predicted retained value of the vehicle after five years of ownership.
Performance of Intended Function: Essentially, it’s how well the vehicle does the job its designers, engineers, and product planners intended. If you build a luxury sedan, it damn well better ride like one. A minivan must be packed with thoughtful features to keep the kiddos occupied. And a tire-scorching sports car can’t be sloppy around corners. If there’s ever a case where a tie must be broken, it all comes back to this.
And unlike other automotive publications with lengthy “best” lists, only MotorTrend has the testing discipline—and let’s face it, the guts—to award one vehicle we deem the finest of its class.