On the Road Review: My 10 Favorite Vehicles From 2021



Optimism reigns in the auto industry despite facing multiple challenges. Brand leaders are embracing the regulatory rush toward battery electric vehicles despite low consumer demand; dealer profits are at all-time highs despite negligible new vehicle inventory; and consumers are caught in the middle of this tumult facing the highest transaction prices, ever, rising fuel prices, as well as little ability to buy any new products that aren’t preordered. Fair to say that the dynamics of buying cars is evolving — very quickly.

Automakers reduced their press fleets this year, yet a decent representation of new products found their way Downeast. Here are the 10 favorite vehicles from the 50 that visited — the cars, crossovers or pickup trucks that I would buy with your money.

Only two cars make the list — 20 percent, which is actually representative of what purchasing decisions consumers are making as they race toward crossovers and trucks. Honda’s redesigned Civic sedan is easily its best compact class offering in decades, while Ford’s latest Mustang Mach 1 was a stark reminder of how important (good) pony cars are to our motoring memories. Ford’s Mach E Mustang got the media attention, but the Mach 1 moved enthusiasts’ hearts.

In June, we abused a Toyota Sienna Hybrid just like thousands of families do daily, commuting duty, dirty clothes, wet boots, food wrappers everywhere, plus dirt, grime and seashells ground into the carpet. The Sienna returned an honest 37 mpg during its visit, easily eclipsing every full-size crossover ever reviewed, while admirably hauling four to six people and their gear. The Sienna exceeded expectations.

The next three picks represent the impressively bold moves emanating from Korea’s Hyundai Motor Corp. The Genesis GV80 midsize crossover was more luxurious and just better all-around than its similarly sized rivals from Acura, Lincoln and others, while the new Kia Sorento left similar impressions in the mass-market midsize crossover segment. Both are stylish, stocked to the gunwales with features and practical content and drive better than any previous editions from these brands.

These two are joined by the Hyundai Tucson Hybrid, also new, and finally a worthy rival to the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CRV hybrid crossovers. The combination of comfort, superior value, swift AWD performance, 37-mpg efficiency and useful features creates such an obvious win-win scenario that the navigator who shares my toothbrush rack decided to commit to owning one for herself.

Ford’s Bronco was another attention-generator in 2021, which prospective owners hope will prove reality for them in 2022. While the compact class Bronco Sport is generating the sales, the return of the off-road-focused Bronco — now a two-door or four-door midsize SUV — finally gives Jeep’s Wrangler a true competitor. Our exposure revealed a more polished on-road performer, with greater cabin space and plenty of verve to challenge the Jeep in the woods.
Jeep didn’t back down from the Bronco’s arrival and sent a hot-rod Wrangler Rubicon 392 packing a 6.4-liter, 470-hp, V-8 engine that instantly reconfigured any notion of what this aging platform could do. Talk about driving with your hair on fire! The 392 Jeep never got old and grabbed the spot on this list that would have otherwise gone to the beloved Dodge Durango with the Hellcat engine.

Ford and Ram also are battling for pickup supremacy, with each brand sending several deserving selections in the half-ton class.

Ford’s F-150 PowerBoost Hybrid pickup is the quickest and most fuel-efficient F-series, while the revised Raptor remains a well-rounded decathlete that took us deep into the Maine North Woods in October. In the absence of any rival, the innovative (and still top-selling) Fords shine.

Yet the new Ram TRX off-road warrior, with the tremendous Hellcat powerplant, plus the premium comfort of the conventional Ram 1500 Crew Cab and its flexible RamBox cargo containers and new dual action tailgate, easily proved the Rams to be the among the most refined pickups available. The Ram’s top-level cabin and smoother ride, due to rear coil springs, cause me to go back and forth day-to-day on which pickup truck is the better choice. You will have to make your own choice for which best suits your needs.

A big thanks to Bugsy Lawlor and his minions for sharing the vehicles we bring to you, as well as the various automakers’ press relations staffs for helping to make this column possible. And never forget the role that your hometown newspaper provides. Without them, there is no local news. Happy 2022 to all.

Next week: Chevrolet Trailblazer Activ

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.

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