2020 has been the strangest year we can remember, but that doesn't mean we're not thankful for some of the amazing things going on in the auto industry. That said, there's plenty we can also complain about, but we'll hold back until the holidays are over. This year, we want to show our thanks for cars that might not sell especially well but are nonetheless near and dear to our hearts. Here are our five picks, and not a single damned one of them is a stupid crossover.
1. 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF
The Miata RF ($33,045 base MSRP) is truly the only affordable exotic car on the market today, largely because of its retractable fastback roof that deploys quickly and balletically for all to watch. The RF's folding hardtop roof really does add a new level of specialness to an already great roadster with flying buttresses behind the cowls, and it also makes it more winter-friendly. Did we forget to say how good it is to drive? The Miata RF's balance, lightness, agility, and its precise 6-speed manual transmission make it a thrill to drive, no matter the speed.
Now, powered by the 181-horsepower inline-four-cylinder engine, it has just the right amount of grunt to render it both quick and tossable. The 2020 model also benefits from the addition of standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, standard i-Activsense safety package, and the GT-S package (front shock tower brace, a limited-slip rear differential, and Bilstein dampers) that comes standard on the manual transmission Grand Touring trim. The Miata also topped recently released reliability ratings in the entire industry. All the more reason to get one while it's still being made.
2. 2021 Honda Civic Type R
There's nothing remotely subtle about the drunken origami look of the Civic Type R ($37,495 base MSRP). It's a hot hatch that's about as in-your-face as they come, and it is a lot to look at (especially from the back end, that seems inspired by a Gundam robot). The 306-hp Type R is a monster with its turbocharged four-cylinder and a standard six-speed manual transmission (an automatic isn't even an option).
For a front-wheel drive car, its performance capabilities are quite unbelievable. 1.02g of lateral acceleration, 0-60 in 5 seconds, and a top speed of 169 mph put it at the top of the hot hatch heap. It's quicker than the VW GTI and the Hyundai Veloster N, and only the all-wheel drive VW Golf R is quicker to 60 mph. You just have to get over its rather juvenile looks. For 2021, the Type R gets a special limited edition trim that's even lighter than the base car and receives Michelin Sport Cup 2 tires, as well a retuned steering and dampers for the new wheel-and-tire combination.
3. 2021 Hyundai Veloster N
Let's say the Civic Type R is a bit over the top for you, the Veloster N ($32,250 base MSRP) might just hit the sweet spot with its slightly more subdued look and its less powerful but still capable 275-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine. 0-60 comes in 5.5 seconds, and its handling capabilities are nothing short of impressive. Who would've thought Hyundai could come up with one of the best hot hatches around?
For the 2021 model year, the Veloster N gets an optional eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission in addition to the excellent six-speed manual. The performance package now comes standard, and the seats have been improved to provide more support when you drive aggressively. You can also opt to get heated seats, a heated steering wheel, and better infotainment. However you choose to outfit the Veloster N, you'll just be glad this car for driving enthusiasts lives today.
4. 2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
For those of us who have had to grow up due to marriage and family but still want fun behind the wheel, the Jetta GLI ($26,345 base MSRP) strikes the right cord. Not only does it have great handling chops and a willing a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, you can also get this sporty sedan with either a six-speed manual transmission or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. The special wheels, red trim, and GLI badging give it just the right amount of visual spice.
But it's not all fun and games for the GLI. It's ready for everyday driving duties. Ever model comes with dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, and push-button start. Our choice would be the excellent Autobahn trim level with ventilated leather seats, a 10.3-inch digital gauge cluster, a power-adjustable driver's seat, and a panoramic sunroof. The combination of the price, performance, and practicality makes it a truly unique mainstream sedan. Get one now because it might not last forever with the onslaught of crossovers (and the recent cancellation of the larger Passat).