Cars, SUVs, and minivans dot the list of our top cars of 2021.
With the first quarter of 2021 wrapped up, it's time to look back on the highest-rated cars the Motor1.com team has reviewed so far this year. This will be a living list of vehicles that we'll update at the end of every quarter in 2021. That means new entries will be coming on July 1 and October 1, with a final roundup at the end of the year. With each update, we'll list a change log, so you can keep track of which vehicles got bumped and when.
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. So 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 scores 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 we've reviewed this year.
Class: Compact Electric Crossover
The Volkswagen ID.4 is far from the first all-electric crossover, but it's arguably the one with the widest appeal to regular people. We heaped praise on its comfortable demeanor, attractive design, and reasonable starting price. But it lacks the straight-line punch of similar EVs, like the Ford Mustang Mach-E and Tesla Model Y.
The wait for the two-motor, all-wheel-drive model, which we believe will draw in customers from snowbelt states, is disappointing. Still, the ID.4 feels much more like a very good crossover that happens to be electric than some bleeding-edge entry for early adopters.
Class: Plug-In Crossover
With the delays striking the Ford Escape PHEV, the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime stands out as the only mainstream plug-in-hybrid crossover. Even if there were competition, though, it'd be hard to pass over the RAV4. Not only is the Prime the most powerful member of the RAV4 lineup, but its 42-mile all-electric range and impressive fuel efficiency with its gas engine on make it a compelling entry for consumers that want to try an EV without sacrificing the versatility of petrol power.
Get pricing on the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime.
Class: Mid-Size Three-Row Premium Crossover
Like the TLX, the 2022 Acura MDX is simply a very good luxury vehicle with some sporting flair. Pleasant to drive, engaging in the corners, and still ultra-competent as a three-row crossover, the redesigned model boasts more modern styling and an improved technology suite. The MDX was already the best-selling three-row premium CUV, and this redesign shows that trend is likely to continue.
Get pricing on the 2022 Acura MDX.
Class: Common Off-Roaders
What more can we say? The Land Rover Defender is arguably the most exciting thing to come out of the British brand in years (although it's not the last). It marries the capability of its rough-and-tumble agrarian ancestor with modern charm and comfort, making the Defender at home on the school run or climbing a Colorado mountain.
Get pricing on the 2021 Land Rover Defender.
Class: Hybrid Minivans
Our top-rated vehicle from 2019 received a facelift at the beginning of 2020. That called for a followup using our new rating system. The industry's only plug-in-hybrid minivan, the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid scored well, impressing us with its all-electric range and smooth powertrain behavior. Those attributes, along with its impressive cabin space and segment-leading technology helped earn high marks, were enough for the Pacifica to make our top ten list again and vanquish the gas-electric Toyota Sienna in a head-to-head comparison.
Get pricing on the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid.
Class: High-Performance Wagons
Mercedes' decision to facelift the entire E-Class line for the 2021 model year was all the excuse we needed to get back behind the wheel of the stunning E63S Wagon. With 603 horsepower and plenty of space, the surprisingly comfortable AMG E came up short against its new Audi-badged rival, but this is still firmly one of our top scorers for the year so far.
Get pricing on the 2021 Mercedes-AMG E63S Wagon.
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: 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: 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.
- 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: TBD
- October 1, 2021: TBD
- January 1, 2022: TBD