The automotive future looks bright.
There’s no shortage of amazing cars and trucks on the market right now. From the eco-friendly and versatile Tesla Model Y and the stylish Genesis G80 to the wild Ram 1500 TRX and controversially mid-engined Chevrolet Corvette, 2020 was very good in terms of cool automotive debuts. But with a new year on the horizon (hopefully bringing with it an end to the coronavirus pandemic), 2021 will likely be even better.
Automakers are gearing up with a bevy of faster, cooler, sleeker, more efficient, and safer vehicles, and we can’t wait to get behind the wheel as soon as possible. Next year will bring more electrification, with full EVs arriving from more mainstream and luxury brands than ever. It’ll also be a new golden age for performance vehicles, thanks to a higher-performance Chevrolet Corvette (possibly bearing the Zora name), Subaru BRZ, and Nissan Z. Pickups, family cars, and black-tie premium sedans will have their day in the sun, too. Without further delay, the Motor1.com editorial staff presents the 15 vehicles we’re most looking forward to for 2021.
Audi E-Tron GT
Audi’s EV family, which includes the E-Tron SUV and its E-Tron Sportback “coupe” sibling, will get a bit larger next year thanks to the E-Tron GT. Sharing its premium-electric bones with the Porsche Taycan, the E-Tron GT adopts a similarly low-slung four-door shape, giving the Four Rings a proper electric flagship to battle the luxurious Lucid Air and the forthcoming Tesla Model S Plaid. With an estimated 590 horsepower (434 kilowatts), the E-Tron GT should even give the Audi R8 V10 a run for its in-house money.
If that’s not enough, Audi will also build an RS E-Tron GT, packing an outrageous 630 hp (470 kW) and ripping to 60 miles per hour in less than 3.0 seconds. Pricing and final specifications are still a long way off, but we think the E-Tron GT should undercut its Porsche siblings by a fair amount – maybe $100,000 to start and $130,000 for the RS model.
Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing / Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing
We have not been kind to either the Cadillac CT4 or CT5, criticizing their somewhat lackluster interior materials and styling relative to the competition. At the very least, however, they maintain Cadillac’s modern reputation for excellent handling dynamics, traits that their forthcoming Blackwing variants should magnify further. Using the company’s new nomenclature for high-performance vehicles (borrowed from the late and lamented Blackwing twin-turbo V8), the hottest versions of the CT4 and CT5 will boast more power, improved cornering, and revised styling that we can’t wait to sample.
The CT4-V Blackwing might take motive force from the twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V6 found in the old ATS-V sedan, where it made 464 hp (346 kW). That will be a massive improvement over the current CT4-V’s 2.7-liter turbo four, sourced from the Chevrolet Silverado and feeling similarly trucklike. Meanwhile, the CT5-V Blackwing will ditch the standard V’s turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 in favor of a supercharged 6.2-liter V8, making about 650 ponies (485 kW). Most temptingly, both Blackwing models will offer a six-speed manual. Wahoo.
Chevrolet Corvette Z06 / ZR1 / Zora
The Chevrolet Corvette C8 is arguably the most controversial entry in the book of Chevy history, with some ‘Vette fans calling the mid-engine layout hypocrisy and others praising the company’s daring performance and budget pricing. But in spite of the philosophical divide between the old and new schools, the Corvette family is going to get even more exotic in both performance and price. That’s because a faster C8 is on the way next year, either the Z06, ZR1, or Zora (an homage to the longtime Corvette engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov) – as with the C6 and C7, there’s more than one high-po Chevy in the works.
Rumors abound that the Z06 will boast the same 5.5-liter, dual-overhead-cam V8 as the C8.R racing car, with 625 hp (466 kW) and a redline of 9,000 rpm. Such an engine would turn the Z06 into a proper road racer, akin to the first Z06 model that debuted on the second-gen Corvette nearly 60 years ago. A ZR1 model, meanwhile, could follow within a few years using a twin-turbocharged version of the standard Corvette’s 6.2-liter V8, while a top-spec Zora would add plug-in hybrid technology and a likely total of 1,000 hp (746 kW).
This one goes without saying, but we can’t wait to get behind the wheel of the 2021 Ford Bronco, especially after sampling its unibody Bronco Sport sibling. The big Bronco is unfortunately delayed until at least the middle of 2021 owing to pandemic-related supplier issues, but when it arrives, it’ll all-but-surely be a huge concern to Jeep and Land Rover. That’s because a hardcore Sasquatch model will offer a wild 94.7:1 crawl ratio thanks to a low-range transfer case and a granny-geared seven-speed manual transmission, along with available 35-inch tires, beadlock-capable wheels, and front and rear locking differentials.
Even the base Bronco should be pretty fun to drive, owing to that aforementioned manual gearbox; removable roof and doors; and good approach, breakover, and departure angles. A base price of less than $30,000 means lots of consumers should have access to off-road fun. And for those with more cash to burn, keep an eye on this space – an outrageous "Warthog" model is on the way to give the Mercedes-AMG G63 a run for its money.
Ford Mustang Mach-E GT
The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E is an all-electric, all-wheel-drive–capable, four-door crossover, so what’s it doing wearing that galloping badge? Skeptics will have less to complain about when the Mach-E GT arrives. With 480 hp (358 kW) on tap, the GT will hustle to 60 in 3.5 seconds with the performance package, according to the automaker. That’ll make it the second-fastest pony in the stable, only 0.2-second behind the outrageous Shelby GT500. All in a crossover with 29.7 cubic feet of cargo space in back.
In addition to far more power, the year 2021 will also bring Active Drive Assist to the Mach-E (and F-150) family. Ford’s answer to Tesla Autopilot or Cadillac Super Cruise, Active Drive Assist will be available via an over-the-air software update that will cost $600; it will offer full hands-free driving assistance on 100,000 miles’ worth of limited-access highways in the US – think interstates, toll roads, and large state highways.
GMC Hummer EV
Thanks to an all-electric tri-motor setup and a 350-plus-mile estimated range, the 2021 GMC Hummer EV blends its namesake SUV’s off-road prowess with some modern eco-sensibility. But if the company is to be believed, it won’t sacrifice much in the way of go-anywhere ruggedness. A novel crab-walk mode, an air suspension that can provide 15.9 inches of ground clearance, 13 inches of front and rear suspension travel, and 35-inch tires should conspire to make the Hummer EV a genuine off-roader.
Meanwhile, a stylish exterior, removable and transparent roof panels, and abundant moon-landing Easter eggs in the spacious cabin should help the Hummer EV attract the same status-conscious customers as the original AM General Hummer and Hummer H1. A Hummer EV SUV is on the way too, giving H2 and H3 fans something to look forward to.
Honda Civic Si
The current Honda Civic is a delightful vehicle, offering decent performance and good efficiency without sacrificing the compact-car virtues that people expect of the Civic name. We expect even more of the 11th-generation Civic, previewed a few months ago by the eponymous prototype. What’s more, Honda has already confirmed that the new Civic will include Si and Type R models as well.
It’s possible the Si model will debut at the same time as the main Civic family, and we think it’ll continue in its predecessor’s trend of offering nimble performance without sacrificing passenger comfort or fuel economy. It’s possible the Si will get a 2.0-liter turbo four, possibly making the same 252 hp (188 kW) as the Accord. This would help the Civic one-up the Volkswagen GTI, which will make 241 ponies.
Hyundai Santa Cruz
Based on the Hyundai Tucson platform, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz will be the first properly compact pickup in the US market since 2011. As such, it will offer some of the small-truck traits held dear by those of us who grew up behind the wheel of Ford Rangers and Nissan Hardbodies – namely easy loading and maneuverable proportions, two attributes lost on their comparatively large modern successors.
However, unlike those little trucks of the 80s and 90s, the Santa Cruz won’t merely be a thirsty and crude tool. It’ll feature the same beveled styling as the Tucson and Elantra, and fitting for a modern Hyundai, it will also boast plenty of in-cabin technology, including a digital instrument cluster, large center touchscreen, and phone-as-key capability. A crew cab body and short rear box will make it ideal for suburb dwellers who like to get outside on the weekends, but the Santa Cruz probably won’t be a great trailer hauler. Think of it less as a super-rugged pickup and more as a city-friendly crossover with a hose-out cargo bay.
In spite of its rather understated exterior styling, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class boasts some highly advanced technology under the skin. Key among them is the newest iteration of MBUX infotainment, comprising a five-screen digital cockpit and augmented-reality head-up display, as well as much-improved processing power. Rear passenger airbags, four-wheel steering, and an avant-garde interior make the S-Class more usable and stylish than ever.
The 2021 S500 will come with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six, good for 429 hp (320 kW), while the V8-powered S580 will boast 496 hp (370 kW). Both come standard with EQ Boost mild-hybrid technology, enabling more refined engine idle stop, faster and smoother gear shifts, and regenerative braking. The S-Class will also come in a new, plug-in hybrid AMG flavor, carrying the same S63 badge as before but now offering more than 600 hp. Not to mention an all-new Maybach variant.
The first new sports car from Nissan since 2009, previewed by the Z Proto show car, is on its way to market for the 2022 model year. Possibly carrying the 400Z badge, the Nissan banks heavily on its heritage, with a front end inspired by the original 240Z and taillights that borrow liberally from the Z32-generation 300ZX. Under the hood will be a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6, backed up by a six-speed manual transmission as standard (yay!).
It’s possible that the next-generation Z will actually use a significantly revised version of the current 370Z’s platform, but that’s not a huge issue, as the rear-drive FM architecture is still very stiff and relatively lightweight. Crucially, the new Z must offer improved interior quality and a modernized powertrain if it wants to compete with the Toyota Supra, and as we noticed in a brief walkaround of the Proto show car, we think it has the goods to back up its promising styling.
Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo
While Audi goes slightly Porsche-like with its E-Tron GT, Porsche is taking a page from Audi’s Allroad playbook with its wagon version of the Taycan. The Taycan Cross Turismo bundles a longer roof with a slightly higher ride height, giving the EV some rough-road capability that the low-slung Taycan fastback couldn’t touch. The Taycan Cross Turismo’s long wheelbase would spell certain breakover-angle disaster on a hardcore off-road trail, but getting around town in deep snow or driving a washboard dirt road should be much more comfortable than in the regular Taycan.
We expect the Cross Turismo to be offered in 4S, Turbo, and Turbo S variants, each with all-wheel drive courtesy of an electric motor mounted to each axle. The 522-hp (390-kW) 4S should start at about $110,000, while the $155k Turbo and $190k Turbo S will offer 670 hp (500 kW) and 750 hp (560 kW), respectively.
The 2022 Rivian R1T will likely be the first serious all-electric pickup on the market, beating the Tesla Cybertruck by a few months. Built in Normal, Illinois, the Rivian R1T will offer 300-plus miles of range, up to 11,000 pounds of towing capacity, and a wading depth of 3 feet (according to the automaker), meaning it has some legitimate truck credentials to go along with its zero-emissions powertrain. Four electric motors, one on each wheel, accelerate the R1T to 60 in three seconds; those individual motors also allow an off-road turning radius that’s effectively zero feet.
The R1T will arrive at dealers in July in $75,000 Launch Edition form, although each example is already spoken for. The similarly equipped R1T Adventure arrives in January 2022 with the same price, while a slightly cheaper R1T Explore ($67,500) loses some features (power tonneau cover, ventilated seats, and wood interior trim) but retains the large battery and four-motor powertrain. After those trims launch, Rivian will release a cheaper, 250-mile variant of the R1T.
Fans of cheap, rear-drive sports cars have been spoiled for choice for the last decade or so, thanks in part to genuinely good four-cylinder versions of the Chevy Camaro and Ford Mustang, the sterling Mazda MX-5 Miata, and the lightweight Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ. That last vehicle is getting a significant and comprehensive refresh for 2022, bringing new styling, better handling, and a more torque-rich 2.4-liter flat-four to the table. Plus, as we learned in our ride-along (embedded above), it sounds the business.
Arriving sometime in 2021, the new Subaru BRZ will offer 228 hp (170 kW), but much more importantly, torque will rise all the way to 184 pound-feet (249 newton-meters), a stout 15-percent improvement over the outgoing vehicle. That will imbue the 2022 BRZ with better midrange response, allowing drivers to power out of corners without necessitating a downshift. The balanced BRZ should become even more driftable thanks to that added twist, a boon for sports car enthusiasts everywhere.
The 2022 Toyota Tundra is expected to be all-new, finally putting the old 2007-era truck out to pasture. Along with a comprehensive redesign, the 2022 Tundra is expected to offer a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 in place of the current truck’s thirsty 5.7-liter V8; a version of the engine appears in the Lexus LS500, where it makes 416 hp (310 kW) and 442 lb-ft (600 Nm). The new Tundra may also offer a hybrid model to do battle with the Ford F-150 PowerBoost.
Modular architecture, dubbed TNGA-F (or F1), will show up under the Tundra, but in spite of its similar name, it will share very little with other Toyota platforms. Expect most – if not all – global body-on-frame vehicles to use the F platform, meaning next-generation versions of the Tacoma, Sequoia, Land Cruiser, Hilux, and Prado.
Volkswagen Golf R
The tasty and tantalizing Volkswagen GTI Mk8 – which we also can’t wait to drive – will give way to an even faster and sportier Golf R sometime next year. With 315 hp (235 kW) and 310 lb-ft (420 Nm), the Golf R will hit 60 mph in well under 5 seconds, allowing VW to effectively rival the speedy Hyundai Veloster N and the nimble Honda Civic Type R. With a richer interior than either, the Golf R should also be a bit more expensive, though we hope it’ll still start at less than $40,000.
It will also get a Volkswagen Digital Cockpit and modern driver-assistance and safety features. All-wheel drive will be standard, with the driver’s choice of either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
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