And we're done. As the year 2021 comes to an end, it's time to look back on the highest rated cars we drove this year. Unlike our second update to this list, which saw more than half the rankings change, there's just a single change to complete the year as one Hyundai bumps out another.
You can check out the change log at the bottom of the page to see how our 2021 rankings have evolved, or if you want subjective views, our editors have named the best and worst cars they drove this year.
For those who need a refresher, we launched a redesigned rating system at the beginning of the year that focuses on rating cars more directly against their main competition. The seven categories remain the same, but we've sorted out the industry based on vehicle classes and implemented a unique algorithm for each segment that weighs categories differently. For example, instead of the Performance and Safety ratings affecting minivans and track cars equally, the former's algorithm emphasizes safety while the latter's places greater emphasis on the performance score.
Our new rating system also had the welcome side effect of boosting scores overall, so that our ratings more or less mirror an American grading scale. Instead of a bunch of 7s and a few 8s at the top of the chart, our top-rated vehicles earn at least a 9 overall, or the equivalent of an A-. We also began issuing ratings to vehicles we're testing for the first time, rather than waiting for a week-long loan on our home turf. That means not only are we comparing cars more directly, we're rating far more of them per year.
Refresher done, read on for the ten highest rated cars of 2021.
Class: Compact Premium Hatchbacks
While we’ve always had a soft spot for Audi’s mid-range S models, the S5 Sportback surprised us with its near-perfect balance of performance, comfort, and style. The five-door body is more versatile than a coupe while losing little of the look, but it’s also more versatile than a sedan. Combine that with a dynamite powertrain, typically excellent Audi technology, and a refined cabin, and the S5 Sportback is a tough car to beat.
Get pricing on the 2021 Audi S5 Sportback.
Class: Ultra-Luxury Crossover
The second vehicle in Mercedes' ultra-luxurious Maybach line is the GLS-based 600. By ditching the third-row bench, the Maybach GLS does its thing to make life for second-row occupants even better. The ride is superb, with a Maybach-specific driving mode that can soak up just about any punishment. That said, it disappointed us with some carryover tech items from the standard GLS.
Get pricing on the 2021 Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600.
Class: Mid-Size (Two-Row Standard) Premium CUVs
Like the G80 sedan, the Genesis GV80 combats its German competitors with an almost single-minded focus on a luxurious driving experience. Unlike the G80, it’s a more versatile family hauler, offering an available third row of seats that’s just large enough for smaller children. Even if you go with the standard five-seat model, though, you’ll find a crossover with an excellent tech suite, smart driver aids, and a quiet and comfortable cabin and ride.
Get pricing on the 2021 Genesis GV80.
Class: High-Performance Sports Cars
Arguably the best sports car to drive year round, the updated Porsche 911 Turbo now matches the previous 911 Turbo S, with additional power and more sporting suspension technology. All-wheel drive remains standard and, along with a set of winter tires, proves that if you want to go fast in the snow, a 911 is a stellar option.
Get pricing on the 2021 Porsche 911 Turbo.
Class: Compact Sedans
The latest Honda Civic takes a step away from the wild and angular design of last year in favor of a cleaner and more refined look. While some might view it as boring or safe, we mostly like what Honda’s done to the exterior. We love what’s happened in the cabin, though, which Honda has thoroughly revised, introducing a retro element to the dash that stands out while hiding the climate vents. Class-leading tech and an enjoyable driving experience, both trademarks from the last-generation car, remain. The result is arguably the best compact car in the class.
Get pricing on the 2022 Honda Civic Sedan.
Class: Mid-Size CUV
The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe looks like it's simply a mild facelift of the fourth-generation crossover, but the changes are much more than skin deep. Two electrified powertrains (a traditional hybrid and a plug-in model) are available thanks to the revised platform, while a new luxury-oriented Calligraphy trim edges the Santa Fe up against more premium offerings.
When we drove the top-end trim with the punchy turbocharged 2.5-liter engine, we saluted its excellent technology and active safety gear, as well as the revised interior materials. Those qualities helped earn the revised Santa Fe an impressive 9.6 on our ratings scale, a mere .029 points behind the Audi RS6 Avant.
Get pricing on the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe.
Class: High-Performance Wagons
After literal decades of waiting, Audi dropped the bombshell that the RS6 was returning with an all-caps press release and a long, tear-jerking YouTube video about all the long-roofs that came before. The 2021 RS6 Avant is an absolute joy – a blisteringly quick, supremely comfortable wagon that's capable of fulfilling the needs of virtually any owner, including Americans. It's about damn time.
Get pricing on the 2021 Audi RS6 Avant.
Class: Compact Crossover
The 2021 Nissan Rogue is an exceptional effort on the part of a troubled automaker. With impressive space, ample ride comfort, smart technology, and some of the best active safety gear in the class, only its plain exterior design lets down its near-perfect score. In terms of fuel economy, safety, comfort, and price – the things a family-focused crossover should be best at – it's a triumph.
Get pricing on the 2021 Nissan Rogue.
Class: Mid-Size Premium Sedans
The Genesis G80 earns its place for an avant-garde design, both inside and out, and a firm focus on a luxurious driving experience. It’s comfortable, stylish, and smart above all else. And while that might make it somewhat easy to argue against, especially for fans of sportier German alternatives like the Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the G80 fulfils its brief as a modern luxury sedan perfectly with a freshness that further separates it from the pack.
Get pricing on the 2021 Genesis G80.
Class: Flagship Premium Sedans
As we predicted in our second update to this list, the inimitable Mercedes-Benz S-Class reigns supreme at the top of our rankings table. Fully redesigned and loaded to the gills with technology, the S-Class remains the standard by which other luxury vehicles are measured. While we took some issues with this new model’s rather bland styling, we had nothing but praise for the way it seamlessly integrates technology to make driving more comfortable for its very lucky driver and passengers.
Get pricing on the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
- April 1, 2021: List created with Volkswagen ID.4, Toyota RAV4 Prime, Acura MDX, Land Rover Defender, Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, Mercedes-AMG E63 S Wagon, Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600, Porsche 911 Turbo, Audi RS6 Avant, and Nissan Rogue.
- July 1, 2021: Volkswagen ID.4 (9.0/10), Toyota RAV4 Prime (9.0/10), Acura MDX (9.1/10), Land Rover Defender (9.2/10), Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid (9.2/10), and Mercedes-AMG E63S Wagon (9.3/10) removed. Added Hyundai Sonata N-Line (9.4/10), Audi S5 Sportback (9.4/10), Genesis GV80 (9.5/10), Honda Civic Sedan (9.6/10), Genesis G80 (9.7/10), and Mercedes-Benz S580 (9.7/10).
- October 1, 2021: No change.
- December 31, 2021: Hyundai Sonata N-Line (9.4/10) removed. Added Hyundai Santa Fe (9.6/10).