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The Best Cars I Drove in 2021
The North State Journal Auto Awards
It's hard to believe that 2021 is almost over, but here we are. This year, I drove more than 60 cars from basic transportation to half-million-dollar luxury monsters. At the same time as my reviews appear in this newsletter, they also appear in the North State Journal, a statewide newspaper based in North Carolina.
We published the second annual North State Journal Auto Awards this week. These picks come entirely from my impressions of driving a car and comparing it to everything I tested this year. Last year’s winners are here.
I’ve narrowed the categories slightly from 2020, dropping Green Car of the Year because it's time for hybrids and EVs to compete on even footing (and compete they did). We have the Best of the Year, as well as Sports Car, Truck, SUV, and Luxury Car of the Year.
There was fierce competition in all categories, but this year's crop of cars was by far the best I've ever driven. It is an incredible time to be buying a new car. We’re spoiled for choice, and every vehicle is seemingly better than the last. But choose we must, so take note of the winners as we move into 2022.
BEST OF THE YEAR: Ford Maverick
I am astonished at how good the Ford Maverick is. This diminutive pickup comes standard with a hybrid engine that sports 42 mpg and is well-equipped even in the base $21,000 trim. Add a host of tech and convenience features, and you'll still get out for well under $30,000.
It's been so popular that Ford had to stop taking orders for the hybrid because the entire 2022 run sold out. I'm not sure how the rest of the market didn't see what Ford did, but I fully expect a whole host of small, car-based pickups to be rolling out soon. The Maverick is now my go-to whenever someone asks which affordable car to buy, and with good reason. Well done, Ford.
SPORTS CAR OF THE YEAR: Ford Mustang Mach-E GT
The Mustang Mach-E I drove in the first half of the year was terrific, but the GT version takes it to another level. Adding more performance, style, and comfort, the premium Mach-E GT is a worthy competitor to all the other luxury performance EVs out there.
And, it's so much fun on its own that it's one of the best sports cars around. Sure, it's not a sports car (or even a car), but I long ago decided that a "sports car" didn't need to have two doors, a low-slung design, or even a big, loud V8.
I want a wildly fun automobile that puts a smile on my face when I stomp the throttle, chuck it into a tight canyon bend, or take it for a spin on an autocross track. The Mach-E GT delivers everything you could ask for out of a sports car.
TRUCK OF THE YEAR: Rivian R1T
The Rivian R1T is the first EV designed for Americans. We love big trucks and SUVs, and we haven't had any good ones with an electric powertrain. That changed with the R1T, a luxury pickup filled with innovation everywhere you look.
It competes with luxury SUVs, fancy pickups from the Big 3 truckmakers, and even the latest crop of high-end electrics from Porsche, Tesla, and Ford. The R1T shows how exciting our future can be and that we don't need to make compromises in pursuit of a zero-emissions future. And who doesn't want a pickup with 800+ horsepower?
SUV OF THE YEAR: Ford Bronco
When I made this list, I had to check myself because Ford won three different categories. But each one is well-deserved. The new Bronco is an incredible SUV, with off-road chops and on-road comfort, not to mention a design that both honors the past and charges forward into the future.
Whether you're an experienced four-wheeler or you're never going to leave the pavement, the Bronco is a great choice. And, because they're seemingly infinitely customizable thanks to hundreds of accessories, you can make it entirely your own too. This one is special.
LUXURY CAR OF THE YEAR: Rolls-Royce Black Badge Ghost
Every once in a while, a car comes along that blows me away. This year that car was the Rolls-Royce Black Badge Ghost. It's a genuinely stunning automobile that has no equal in comfort, luxury, or attitude. And it's that last one that is critical for this particular Ghost.
Black Badge is the after-hours alter ego for Rolls-Royce, bringing a mysterious, dark, and playful attitude to the world's most refined motor car. The Black Badge Ghost is the Ted Lasso of cars: an unparalleled masterpiece.