The best new cars we drove in 2021

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Alfa Romeo Giulia GTAm 8

What are some of the best we drove in 2021 that you can buy now or in 2022? Read on to find out.

Wow, 2021 flew by and all too soon we were looking back down the long list of new cars we’d tested over the last 12 months, trying to pick out some highlights. As usual, we’ve had the keys to some superb vehicles – some that haven’t even landed in Australia yet – and others that didn’t quite deliver the goods, but on this page we’re focused very much on the year’s stand-out automotive offerings.

If you’re looking to buy a new car in 2022, you could do a lot worse than seeking out one of the models featured here. We’ve got everything from thoroughbred sports cars to the mainstream hatchbacks and SUVs that most of us end up driving, every one of them has excelled in its own way.

So without further ado, here are the best cars we drove in 2021, our road tests of the year…

Kia EV6

2022 Kia EV6 RWD review 1

We couldn’t wait to try the new Kia EV6, because of its close relationship to the incredibly impressive Hyundai Ioniq 5. Both cars use similar underlying tech, and while we found that the Kia wasn’t quite as practical as the Hyundai, once we got behind the wheel in August, it was clear that the EV6 was a sportier machine and still one of the best electric cars around.

We loved that it offered close to 480km of real-world range and could be charged faster than almost any other EV. It proved that you can buy an electric car right now that’s easily able to do the kind of lengthy journey you’d previously only take on with a petrol or diesel car.

The Kia was also packed with impressive in-car tech and was composed on bumpy, twisty roads, although it wasn’t as much fun to drive as we might have liked (which might change with the hyper GT model that’ll come later). We concluded that the Kia EV6 was well worth its price tag and was a sportier, sleeker alternative to the Ioniq 5 that should be added to your next-car shortlist.

Mercedes-Benz C-Class

2022 Mercedes Benz C Class review side

Mercedes pulled out all the stops for its latest version of the C-Class. This small executive sedan is packed with tech, including some form of electrification for every powertrain, and we got behind the wheel this year to find out what it was like.

The new C-Class sticks with the same platform as the previous version, but the Modular Rear Architecture (MRA) has been heavily updated. It features 48-volt mild-hybrid assistance that we tried, and although we barely noticed it when driving, it’s able to improve efficiency.

We said that the C-Class was punchy, efficient and quiet, all key elements for a typical buyer. Other impressive elements on the new model included the level of comfort and cabin quality, which was excellent for the price. There was loads of hi-tech kit in the superb interior as well, so we were very impressed after our first drive of the Mercedes sedan.

Audi Q5

2022 Audi Sq5 Sportback Review Australia 12

Despite 2021 following on from where 2020 left off when it came to the charge to full electrification, cars such as the newly updated Audi Q5 showed that buyers still want premium, combustion-engined SUVs. A refining of the formula here proved that the Q5 could still cut it in its class, with subtly tweaked styling, mild-hybrid tech and improvements inside. Despite the popularity of diesel dropping, our 40 TDI test car was smooth, efficient and refined, and suited the chunky SUV well.

Audi RS3

Audi RS3 lead

Hyper hatchbacks such as Audi’s latest RS3 will soon be legislated out of existence, so the chance to sample this 295kW five-cylinder monster was a welcome one. That unique 2.5-litre engine is the icing on the cake, and feels perfectly capable of delivering on its remarkable claims of 0-100km/h in just 3.8 seconds.

We can’t wait to put it head to head in a group test with its closest rival, the Mercedes-AMG A 45 S.

Alfa Romeo Giulia GTAm

Alfa Romeo Giulia GTAm 10

We called the Alfa Romeo Giulia GTAm “a crazy car for an insane amount of money” in our verdict, but one that was also “the most exciting sedans we’ve ever driven.”

This limited-run version of the already very special Giulia Quadrifoglio had incredible grip, a great soundtrack, a very involving chassis and fantastic brakes, plus it looked stunning. No wonder the Alfa received a fantastic verdict from Steve Sutcliffe when he drove it.

Hyundai i20 N

i20 N 09

Our first drive of the Hyundai i20 N was exciting – and not just because of this hot hatchback’s punchy 150kW 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine. The hot supermini proved that the excellent i30 N was not a one-off.

The i20 N followed a similar formula to its sibling, offering punchy performance while also being great on twisty roads, thanks to advanced chassis kit such as a mechanical limited-slip differential.

Hyundai’s second N model offered as much fun as the Ford Fiesta ST and did so in a more practical package, with all the kit you’d want. We were impressed by the i20 N’s grippy chassis and fairly composed ride, although the quick-but-numb steering was one setback. Overall, though, we loved the new Hyundai hot hatch.

Hyundai Ioniq 5

Hyundai Ioniq 5 Australia 2021 8

It’s safe to say that we were beyond impressed with the Hyundai Ioniq 5 when we got behind the wheel for the first time this year.

The new electric car exceeded all expectations, with a stunning and roomy interior packed with tech, a quiet and comfortable driving experience and, best of all, a long real-world range. Not only that, the rapid-charging tech also felt like something from five years in the future.

Hyundai Kona N

KONA N Entry Model 03

Hyundai’s N division was on a roll this year as we found out when we drove the new Kona N. It proved to be really impressive, offering the thrill of a hot hatchback in a practical SUV bodystyle.

The Kona N’s punchy 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol has 206kW, which means there’s plenty of performance, but it was the chassis that really got under our skin. Like the other N models in the stable, the Kona N was a delight to drive.

Skoda Fabia

Skoda Fabia 2022 Review 1

Our first drive of the new Skoda Fabia came in November, where we found that the new supermini had held onto some of its key selling points while also adding appeal in plenty of ways. It was still among the most practical models in its class, plus we said that it had a lot of great tech with a well finished cabin and a comfortable ride that makes it easy to live with every day. The Fabia was also quiet and smooth to drive, so we said it would be a real challenger to the current crop when it launches in Australia next year.

BMW iX

98 bmw design in electric era feature

BMW’s iX was arguably the firm’s most important new car of the year, but straight away the electric flagship impressed. The looks won’t be to all tastes, but there’s no denying that the iX is a striking machine that offers the presence buyers will want from a large electric SUV.

It also has the tech and ability to back this up. With two powertrain options at launch and an M-badged model in the works, the iX offers choice. It’s not cheap – prices start at $135,900 before on-road costs – but it proved it’s the best car on offer in this class.

Porsche 911 GT3

1 porsche 911 gt3 2021 uk first drive review hero front

For sports car fans, the launch of a new Porsche 911 GT3 is a huge event. We found that the new model was even more focused than before and was supremely fast and confidence-inspiring on track.

Its engine was a delight, the chassis was close to perfection and we even praised its price, which looked cheap next to rival cars. Yet we felt that the huge demand for the 911 GT3 was its downfall, making it very difficult to get hold of one.

Skoda Enyaq iV

SKODA Enyaq iV Sportline 80 front static

We got behind the wheel of a Skoda Enyaq iV in June this year, and we discovered that the new model was to be one of the most appealing new electric cars of 2021. It is coming to Australia, but the timing is yet to be confirmed. It was impressively comfortable even on bumpy roads and the interior was both high in quality and well equipped.

The Enyaq’s 77kWh battery provided a range of 536km (lesser 58kWh models can drive for up to 412km), which we felt was plenty, although performance was only adequate. We’d come to expect punchy power delivery from EVs, so the softened responses of the Skoda felt a little lacking. However, we were pleased to find that the interior was roomy as well as pleasant to sit in, with plenty of headroom and legroom in the rear, plus a big boot.

Maserati MC20

maserati mc20 coupe 15

Our long-awaited chance to drive Maserati’s first new supercar in a generation came in May. In recent years the Italian brand has focused on sedans and SUVs, but new owner Stellantis has allowed it to launch the MC20. This is constructed using carbon fibre and features a mid-mounted 463kW twin-turbo V6 engine.

Thanks to 730Nm of torque and a low 1475kg kerbweight, the MC20 can go from 0-100km/h in just 2.9 seconds and up to a top speed of more than 320km/h. Yet this supercar isn’t a pure combustion dinosaur, because there are also plans for an electric model to join the range later on. We got to try the petrol model, which proved to be a masterclass in performance and handling up there with the very best cars of its type.

We tried it on some seriously rough roads in Italy, where the complex suspension dealt with bumps easily, yet still brought excellent body control. We compared it favourably to the stunning Alpine A110, and said the steering was better than on most Ferrari models. On our track test the Maserati was just as good, with explosive performance and loads of grip.

Nissan Qashqai

Nissan Qashqai 2022 Australia 8

We got behind the wheel of the all-new Nissan Qashqai before it launches in Australia early 2022. The second-generation model had fallen behind the mid-size SUV pack, so we found out if the Mk3 had the talent to compete in a segment that Nissan helped to create.

The new Qashqai wasn’t the most complete car to drive in its class, but it offered all the right ingredients for a family SUV: it was practical, easy to drive, smooth and had all the tech you could want.

Ineos Grenadier

Ineos Grenadier prototype drive review 7

We got the chance to drive a car from a new car manufacturer this year: the Ineos Grenadier. It’s positioning itself as a substitute for the old Land Rover Defender since the new Defender is aiming for more upmarket appeal. (We also went for an Australian ride-along drive.)

The Grenadier is a rough-and-tumble 4×4 with stocky looks and impressive off-road ability as a result. It proved to be more secure on the road than we expected, while also being in its element on tough off-road trails.

Land Rover Defender (P400e and V8)

land rover defender 90 v8 review 11

We drove two new versions of the Land Rover Defender: the plug-in hybrid P400e model and the rapid V8.

We found that the plug-in model was every bit as good as other versions of the off-roader, but with the added benefit of lower running costs for many buyers. The Defender V8 proved to be more of a luxury cruiser than a V8 bruiser, but we still felt it was excellent.

Updated Dacia Duster

2022 Dacia Duster Review 9

Dacia is undergoing a period of change and is on the cards for an Australian launch. Its brilliant new Sandero now uses the latest tech, and while we’ll see a new Duster soon, the updated model is still based on the older platform.

It proved true to Dacia’s values when we tested it, with affordability mixed with practicality and useful tech, plus the availability of a new automatic gearbox. We found the Duster is still best in mid-spec trim with a frugal petrol engine.

MG ZS EV

2022 MG ZS EV Review 1

Revisions to the MG ZS EV’s design made this updated car look much sharper than the old model, while fitting new infotainment tech added advanced connectivity and meant the ZS felt fresher inside, too, and it has a much better range, rounding off a convincingly affordable EV package.

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