Every year, we're impressed by the quality and style of the vehicles for sale on the American market. Despite the fact that 2021 was riddled with COVID-19 and all manner of political drama, that didn't prevent the automakers from delivering some seriously great cars, trucks, and SUVs. We get to drive a fair number of them, and we always have a tough time whittling our favorites down to just one in each major segment. Our criteria, as always, were that 1) the winners were brand new or fully redesigned for 2021 and 2) we actually drove them and reviewed them.
There were a handful of vehicles that impressed us (like the VW Taos) but didn't make the final cut. That's not because they aren't truly excellent, but they were beat out by vehicles that really did check nearly every box in terms of style, driving experience, technology, comfort, and safety. Each one of our selections stood out prominently in an illustrious field. We thoroughly enjoyed our seat time and were amazed by how much vehicles have advanced in the past year. Here are the winners in the three important segments: Car, SUV, and Truck.
Car of The Year: 2021 Kia K5 GT-Line AWD
Who would've thought the best car this year would come from Kia? Well, it should come as no real surprise given what the brand is doing across the board. Not only is the Telluride SUV selling like gangbusters, but that same approach to style and practicality comes to the brand's mainstream family sedan. The new K5 replaces the Optima, and it does so in heroic fashion because it simply trumps the rest of the field in terms of advancements, style, standard features, and safety.
Not only does the K5 level up the Kia family sedan, but it also manages to be better looking than every other family sedan on the market. Its edgy and original styling looks great from every angle, and those signature 'S' daytime running lights are just stunning. From front to back, the K5 looks like a premium sedan without commanding premium prices.
Designers didn't ignore a single aspect of the K5: the dark and wide Tiger Nose grille, the rakish clamshell hood, the long and elegant roofline, and that broad expanse of LED taillight caps off the whole look wonderfully. It looks like a sports sedan without actually being one.
The interior is similarly attractive with a flat-bottom steering wheel (for the N-line trim), a lean and linear dashboard, and excellent physical controls like a conventional shift knob, and knobs and buttons for audio and climate. Even the simplicity of the K5's steering wheel controls are brilliant and make versions from competitors seem needlessly complex.
The sporty seats in the K5 N-Line are brilliant in terms of both looks and comfort with great bolstering and properly wide cushions and seatbacks. Even the SynTex synthetic leather material could truly pass as the real thing. They certainly had us fooled. In terms of overall comfort, the K5 is an excellent vehicle that has added legroom compared to the Optima. It's not the most spacious in the segment, but tall occupants fare decently in row two thanks to 35.2 inches of legroom.
The infotainment system is crisp, easy to understand, and simple to operate. That's not something the competitors can brag about. Kia does in-car technology incredibly well, better than most of the mainstream carmakers. The optional 10.25" touchscreen looks stunning as an extension of the gauge cluster, and it sits nicely atop the dash.
The car's only real demerit is the lack of power compared to its competitors. The 180-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder isn't exactly powerful, and it doesn't exploit the car's good handling, steering, and braking. What the K5 does better than most sedans is manage to look premium and truly modern. It upstages the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry in this regard, and even their recent redesigns look dated by comparison. While it might not be the best driving family sedan on the planet, it's definitely the best new all-around mainstream sedan on the market today.
SUV of The Year: Genesis GV70 AWD 3.5T Sport Prestige
The GV70 is easily the best vehicle we've driven this year, not just the best SUV. We weren't prepared to love it as much as we did. The styling, interior comfort, in-car technology, and the power and driving dynamics were simply incredible. It looks like its stablemates but that much better thanks to great proportions, unique details, and truly premium styling elements.
Especially in matte paint, which might not be all that practical in terms of upkeep and touch-ups, the GV70 is stunning to look at, and the body creases, parallel lighting, and huge round exhaust tips give it an upscale look. The GV70 3.5T in Sport Prestige trim looks like it could've rolled out of Bentley's factory. No joke.
The robust 375-horsepower 3.5-liter twin-turbo six is smooth and powerful, taking the GV70 to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds. It actually feels faster than that, and the rear-wheel bias lets you have fun kicking things out in the turns. Sport mode and paddle shifters are sweet partners in the ballet of the driving experience. It might not be the quickest in the segment, but the whole package is impossible to beat.
In terms of the cabin, there's nothing quite like the GV70, even amongst its own brethren. It's the right blend of sportiness and refinement. Real carbon fiber, ample amounts suede on the seats and the headliner, as well as real metal, give it a look and feel that's truly special. We were really blown away by the originality of the looks inside, as well as the functionality of the systems.
The wide infotainment screen is so easy to read, there's zero deciphering as to what's what. The knurled control wheel looks and feels great, but it could improve its actuation and grip and perhaps reduce its size while increasing its height. It also needs to differentiate itself from the very similar gear selector.
The cabin can also accommodate five comfortably while wowing them with its power. It's also proof you don't need a German or Japanese sport-luxury SUV to get street cred, head turning looks, and true opulence. There's no SUV at this price that provides so much as an entire package. We didn't think it would be the best vehicle that the brand makes, but it truly is for multiple reasons, and it gives us ample reason to someday own one ourselves. The GV70 is what we would call truly great, and it deserves our highest praise.
Truck of The Year: 2021 Ford F-150 Supercrew Lariat Powerboost
The new F-150 might not look all that different from its predecessor, but it does manage to take the mantle away from the top dog Ram 1500 that we awarded last year. More than just slight cosmetic changes, it's the powertrain that transforms the best-selling light-duty pickup truck on the market. The new F-150 Lariat with the PowerBoost hybrid engine is simply unbelievable. The 3.5-liter PowerBoost V6 and the electric motor rocket the F-150 PowerBoost smoothly and with alacrity. It's also remarkably efficient. as well as great efficiency for a truck.
The 3.5-liter V-6 with a 47-hp electric motor delivers 430 horsepower and 570 lb-ft while still being able to tow 12,700 pounds and haul 2,000 pounds of whatever you require. It's the most powerful F-150 made by Ford (aside from the Raptor), and you feel its immediacy and smoothness whenever you mash the pedal.
The cabin of the F-150 PowerBoost is also unlike any other truck on the market. The digital instrument display is visually beautiful, as it is easy to read. Even the choice of font is brilliant, and the different drive modes show up in Pixar-worthy animation. The retractable shift knob, paired with the deployable work surface are a roving office guy's ultimate dream.
Other brilliant features such as the onboard generator, known as the Pro Power Onboard, can charge up and power devices and tools like a roving workshop. We can't imagine any light-duty vehicle that's this practical and tech-laden. The 4G LTE Wi-Fi also works incredibly well and makes getting a computer modem dongle a thing of the past.
Storage doesn't get any better than in the F-150, especially in SuperCrew configuration. The cavernous armrest and door pockets ensure easy gear stowage, and there's even well-thought-out and capacious storage in the back row. In terms of passenger space, there's a whopping 43.6 inches of legroom. That's almost as big as the Audi A8L long-wheelbase luxury sedan. How's that for family friendly?
Ford gave the Lariat a huge 12" SYNC4 that's just about the most responsive system we can think of. It's quick, easy to read, and it shows the right amount of information when you need it. The climate control and audio buttons and knobs are reachable and right where you need them. Finally, the F-150 has just about everything you can think of inside and out, and coupled with the driving dynamics and hybrid efficiency, it's the king of the hill once again.