Huzzah, it’s 2021! Everything’s totally better now, right? No, not in the slightest, but at least there are some new cars we can all look forward to.
Without the traditional auto show circuit, new car reveals were more scattered throughout 2020, and it was honestly a bit harder to keep track of what we might be driving here in 2021. Some were easier than others to remember, with launches of the Ford Bronco and GMC Hummer EV most readily coming to mind. But we also saw introductions of the next-generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Subaru BRZ, concept versions of the new Honda Civic and Nissan Z car, a reborn Jeep Wagoneer, and potential game-changing electric cars in the Volkswagen ID.4 and Nissan Ariya.
Those are just some of the new cars coming in 2021, and although there’s a good chance we won’t drive them all (the Hummer seems most likely to be later), we’ll hopefully be able to share our impressions of most at some point, pandemic willing. Here are the cars (and SUVs) each of our editors are most looking forward to driving in 2021.
Associate Editor Byron Hurd: 2022 Subaru BRZ
No hesitation with this pick. While I’m in the camp that would have liked to see a boosted engine in Subaru’s second-gen sports coupe, the new BRZ’s comprehensive overhaul looks incredibly promising on paper. Affordable enthusiast cars are few and far between, and that situation shows no sign of improving, so I’m thankful the Toyota/Subaru twins are coming back for round two.
Apart from the aforementioned power bump, the balance of my wish-list for an updated BRZ would be some slightly better road manners, especially with the performance package, which really ups the road noise in a car that already has a lot of it. My expectations aren’t high based on what we’ve seen so far, but if Subaru managed to sand down some of the rough edges even just a little despite the carry-over curb weight figure, that’d be a win in my book.
Road Test Editor Zac Palmer: Nissan Z
Looks like 2021 is going to be a good year for affordable Japanese performance cars. I’m not sure if I’ll be driving this before the year is out (Nissan still hasn’t provided a hard timeline), but I sure hope the next-gen Z hits the road in 2021. I drove the 370Z for the first time in late 2019 and came away mightily impressed at how well it performed. I was considerably less impressed by literally everything else. The next Z (maybe 400Z?) looks like it’s going to fix all my previous gripes, add horsepower and keep the manual transmission. Hell yeah.
I’ve driven the Supra a couple times over the past year, and both times I came away thinking: Wow, great car. But it’d be even better with a manual. The next Z has the opportunity to be the complete driver’s car the Supra ought to have been, and it’ll likely be a good bit cheaper than a Supra, too. Plus, c’mon, just look at the Z Proto. It’s the definition of retro styling done right. I can’t wait to get behind the wheel.
West Coast Editor James Riswick: Rivian R1S
It’s quite likely I won’t get to drive the Rivian R1S in 2021. If there’s a first drive event, there’s a good chance I won’t be the editor assigned to cover it. If there are Rivian press vehicles, there’s a good chance one won’t make it up here to Portland. Both of those “ifs” are also pretty big ones to begin with as we’re talking about a startup carmaker here and a pandemic-stricken world.
Nevertheless, there is no vehicle I’m more excited to drive than the Rivian R1S. From the moment it wowed at the 2019 L.A. Auto Show with myriad engineers on hand to show how serious the company was, I’ve been eager to experience what they’ve accomplished. In short, the R1S promises to be an all-electric Range Rover. Those are two descriptors that very much appeal to me. I also love the design and Rivian’s decision to offer it in vibrant colors. New brands don’t come along often, and as with any startup I have a great deal of skepticism, but everything I’ve seen, read and heard indicates Rivian stands a better chance of making it than most. Nothing would do more to further that goal than a well-executed product, and there’s only one way to find out if it is: Drive it.
Consumer Editor Jeremy Korzeniewski: 2021 Ford Bronco
The news that Ford had to push back the official launch date of the 2021 Bronco didn’t surprise me. And really, considering how long we’ve all waited for the reborn off-roader to hit the dirt, what’s a few more months? Once it finally does arrive, I’m hoping to get an early shot behind the wheel to see how Ford’s answer to the Jeep Wrangler compares with its competition. The specs look good, the pictures look great, and I’m hoping it all adds up to a legitimate rival to the Jeep.
I’m also curious to find out how the various Bronco trim levels compare, in both two- and four-door guise. Based on my early impressions, there are Bronco variants designed to appeal to everyone, from those who just want a retro/fun machine to those who want to hit the rocks with all the proper off-road kit installed from the factory. I can’t wait to try ’em out.
Managing Editor Greg Rasa: 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E
In a decade of EVs, we’ve had limited-range, commuter cars such as the Nissan Leaf. And midrange but still-small cars like the Chevy Bolt. And expensive luxury EVs from Audi and Jaguar that generate limited sales, unless you’re Norwegian. Above all, we’ve had the early-adopter disruptor cars from Tesla. But 2021 is the year we get a good-looking electric crossover from a Detroit Three automaker, with strong performance, enough range for pretty much anyone, at a relatively affordable price. An EV that is mainstream. The Ford Mustang Mach-E.
Here’s hoping for a smooth launch, given the Explorer stumbles and the aforementioned Bronco delay. Ford’s got a lot riding on this. The first Mach-Es are arriving at dealerships right now.
For those who are still bugged that it’s called “Mustang,” time to move on. People are just going to call it Mach-E anyway.
More important, people who’ve driven it are calling it a game-changer. Our first-drive review certainly has us excited. It even does a credible job of hauling stuff. Expect to hear a lot more from us about the Mach-E in the days and weeks ahead.
News Editor Joel Stocksdale: 2022 Honda Civic
Yes, the Honda Civic is a bit of a mundane choice, but it’s also a big deal. It’s one of Honda’s best-selling models and has been a small car benchmark for decades. And of course, it’s the base for some of the best sport compacts on the market, the Civic Si and Type R. With so much riding on the Civic’s release, it has to be good, and it will be interesting to see if meets expectations.
At least as far as the design is concerned, I think Honda has a winner. It’s not quite as bold as the previous generation, but that’s not a bad thing. It has better proportions and more elegant, athletic lines. The interior rendering is very promising, too. I’m anxious to see how it has turned out.
Contributing Editor Joe Lorio: Land Rover Defender
The long-awaited new Land Rover Defender actually began to reach dealerships late last year — a year after I first laid eyes on it — but I’m not slated to get a turn at the wheel until later in 2021. The rollout of the new Defender has been slowed by the coronavirus, which really is just the latest issue in this model’s tortuous journey to market.
Land Rover seemed to cast around for years trying to figure out what a new Defender should be. The fact that the outgoing model in the U.K. is revered — above certainly the Queen if not quite on the level of warm beer — appeared to make things all the more difficult. An awful lot of people were worried Land Rover would blow it.
Based on what I saw at the reveal, however, Land Rover did not blow it. The new Defender looks great, and I particularly love that they retained the two-door body style and the bench front seat option. By all accounts, it has the go-anywhere capability, if not the rugged simplicity, of the old model. In this still-coronavirus-constricted world, any drive I undertake locally won’t challenge the Defender’s off-road chops the way a trip across the Serengeti or a slog through muddy Scotland might. But I’m still fascinated to see how Land Rover brought this historic icon into the modern age.
Editor-in-Chief Greg Migliore: Jeep Grand Wagoneer
So based on pure driving excitement, the Grand Wagoneer actually isn’t my top choice for the new year. Really, it’s something more like the Maserati MC20, which I imagine will be awesome. But as I look ahead into ’21, I’m intrigued by the notion of the modern Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer. These are heady names to give to this new luxury Jeep, which will compete against everything from the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition to more expensive utes, like the GMC Yukon and perhaps the Cadillac Escalade.
There’s clearly a market for this kind of vehicle, and there’s certainly room for Jeep. The question is: Can Jeep make an authentic vehicle that’s competitive in this size and shape? With Jeep’s off-road chops and distinctive design, there’s a compelling argument the Wagoneers should make GM and Ford nervous. That said, GM and Ford make excellent SUVs in this segment, and the Grand Wagoneer revealed in September has drawn mixed reviews for its awkward appearance.
Like Joe notes above, the idea of a modern Defender is intriguing, and that’s how I feel about the notion of a contemporary Wagoneer.