2021 Road Test Reviews and What You Need to Learn

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By Randi Payton
Decisive Media Network

Start your new vehicle search with objective expert analysis. Decisive Media Network has been test-driving new vehicles since 1991, and with each year, there are new technologies, performance, and safety features to learn.  So much so that it gets harder to determine which models are the best. Therefore, I’ll just give you my take on the 2021 vehicles I have tested this year.

As soon as I think one vehicle is a winner, another one comes along to outmatch it. It’s the nature of the auto industry to outdo itself and the competition. But that’s good news for you because it means more bang for your money.

Determining which new 2021 vehicle to buy depends on your personal preference, budget, and style. Indeed, all the new cars and trucks are more fuel-efficient, safer, and equipped with many advanced features, even the lower-priced economy vehicles.

So, take your time to shop for a new 2021 model to learn about the new features before investing in a new set of wheels. Some of the advanced tech equipped in 2021 vehicles make safety and driving in dense traffic less stressful. Some features to look for includes:

Smart- or Adaptive-Cruise Control: Speeds up and slows down while maintaining a safe distance behind cars in front.

Lane-Keeping Assist: Keeps the vehicle in the lane on highway driving.

Lane-Departure Warning: Sounds an alert if the driver is drifting off lane.

Blind-Spot Monitoring: Lets you know when another car is in your blind spot.

Reverse-Brake Assist: Senses if an object is behind the vehicle when backing up and applies the brakes to avoid an accident.

Cross-Traffic Alert: Lets you know when traffic is crossing while backing up.

The new 2021 models tested by Decisive Media Network this year include a week with the 2021 Pacifica Pinnacle minivan, which I fell in love with; the 2021 Land Rover Defender, which has first-class performance and style; the new Corolla SE hybrid is larger and more fuel-efficient; Hyundai Elantra keeps winning awards and outdoing its competition; Lexus ES is sportier and more luxurious; Mazda CX-5 is a great family SUV;  Mazda3 is a premium compact with more power and excellent handling, the VW Jetta, is redesigned and reliable; and the Genesis G80 which is out to swash Mercedes and BMW.

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Pinnacle

The new Pinnacle edition is an Ultra-luxury version of the successful Pacifica minivan. It has the versatility and compacity of a minivan but feels more like an SUV. The Pinnacle comes with all the bells and whistles, including Nappa leather seats, second-row captain chair pillows, a vacuum cleaner, Chrysler’s new center console, and it has 13.6 liters of storage capacity.

Models and Pricing: The newly restyled Chrysler Pacifica comes in four trims: Touring FWD ($35,495), Touring L FWD ($38,795), Limited AWD ($48,490), and Pinnacle AWD ($53,770). The top-of-line Pinnacle comes standard with many of the latest tech features, plus a power liftgate, remote start, heated steering wheel, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto, Alexa compatibility, a 3-pane panoramic moonroof, and second and third-row window shades.

Power: All four models are powered by a 3.6-liter V6 engine that generates 287 horsepower, paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard in the first two, and all-wheel-drive is available and standard in the Limited and Pinnacle models.

Fuel Economy: The Pacifica averages 17 city/25 highway mpg.

2020 Land Rover Defender 110 X

After a 22-year hiatus in the U.S., the Land Rover Defender returns as a two and four-door SUV with advanced off- and on-road capabilities.

Models and Prices: The Land Rover Defender comes in eight trims and 11 configurations. They include the base Defender 90 two-door ($47,450) and four-door 110 ($50,500), Dynamic S two-door 4×4 90 ($57,800), First Edition ($64,100), and the top-of-line X model two-door ($80,500) and four-door for $83,000 MSRP.

Power: The base model Defender comes with a 2.0-liter Inline four-cylinder engine that gets 296 horsepower or an upgraded turbocharged Inline-6 that generates 395 horsepower.  Both powerplants are quick on the feet and assisted by an eight-speed auto w /OD and auto-manual. The turbo-6 has a 48-volt mild-hybrid, a twin-scroll turbocharger, an electric supercharger, and a starter motor that can assist the gas engine and provide regenerative braking. 

Fuel Economy: The two-door gets 19 combined mpg/17 city/22 highway, while the four-door averages 18 mpg.

2021 Corolla LE Hybrid         

Toyota introduced the Corolla Hybrid as an all-new sedan for the 2020 model year. An automatic engine shut-off was added to all 2021 Corollas. This system automatically shuts off your engine if your Corolla is left running.

Models and Pricing: The factory MSRP for a 2020 Corolla LE is $20,050, while 2021 is $20,275. The 2021 Corolla Hybrid comes in one trim level and starts at $23,600 (MSRP), with a destination charge of $995.

Power: Toyota’s compact hybrid sedan uses a 1.8-liter four-cylinder gas engine, paired with two electric motors, which together get 121 horsepower and 105 lb-ft of torque. It has just enough horsepower and torque to dodge in and out of city traffic.

Fuel Economy: The EPA rates the 2021 Corolla Hybrid at 52 city/53 highway, with a combined 52 mpg.

2021 Hyundai Elantra

As the winner of the 2021 North American Car of the Year award, the new Hyundai Elantra impressed most of the 50 judges on the panel as the Best Car introduced for the 2021 model year. In a statement issued, “The all-new 2021 Hyundai Elantra takes top honors for its forward-thinking design and next-level technology.”

Models and Pricing: Redesigned for 2021, the Hyundai Elantra comes in seven trims and 11 configurations – a sedan, a coupe, a hatchback, and a wagon. The 2021 Elantra price starts at $19,650 and ends around $25,450 MSRP, with a destination charge of $1,005.

Power:  The base engine is a 2.0-liter I-4 that gets 147 horsepower. The N Line gets a 1.6-liter I-4 that produces 201 horsepower. Transmissions include a two-speed CVT in the base, an automatic 6-speed manual w/OD, or a 7-speed auto-shift manual in the N-line models.

Fuel Economy: The Elantra averages a combined 37 MPG. It drops to 28-31 in the sportier N Line.

2021 Lexus ES 250 AWD

The seventh-generation Lexus ES introduced the four-cylinder 250 to the line-up for 2021, joining the V6 powered ES 350 and ES 300h hybrid models. All-wheel drive is standard on the ES250 model. The ES is comfortable and designed with upscale features and technology, including adaptive cruise control, lane departure mitigation, automatic emergency braking, an eight-inch touchscreen display, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa integration.

Models and Pricing: The Lexus ES comes in four trims and four configurations: Base ($41,798), F Sport ($46,207), Luxury ($47,304) and Ultra Luxury ($46,319),

Power: Powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that generates 203 horsepower and assisted by an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Fuel Economy: The Lexus ES 250 averages a combined 28 mpg

2021 Mazda 3

The Mazda 3 is a premium luxury hatchback that is fun-to-drive and loaded with high-tech driver assistance tech and convenient features. The Mazda 3, redesigned in 2019, added a turbocharged 2.5-liter four and a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter for the base model,

Models and Pricing: Base starts at $21,645, the 2.5 S ($22,645), Select ($24,845), Preferred ($25,495), Premium ($27,995), 2.5 Turbo ($31,045), and Premium Plus ($33,595).

Power: The Mazda 3 offers three different engine options: a 2.0-liter that gets 155 horsepower with FWD, a 2.5-liter that gets 186 horsepower, and a 250 horsepower 2.5-liter turbocharged engine. A six-speed manual is available with the FWD models.

Fuel Economy:  The 2.0-liter engine averages 28 city/36 highway mpg. The 2.5-liter gets 26 city/35 highway, while the AWD turbocharged model averages 23 city/31 highway.

2021 Genesis G80

The all-new 2021 Genesis G80 is out to swash its European competitors with its aggressive shape, quality sheet metal, and classy appeal. It drives like it looks and comes at a lower price range than many other vehicles in its class.

Models and Pricing: The 2021 Genesis G80 offers five different trims: 2.5T ($48,745), 2.5T Advanced ($53,325), 2.5T Prestige ($57,625), 3.5T ($60,145), and 3.5T Prestige ($66,125).

Power: The entry-level G80 comes with either a standard turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-four-cylinder engine that generates 300 horsepower or a more powerful twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 that produces 375 horsepower. They are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and either rear- or all-wheel drive. The Genesis G80 doesn’t just look good; it also rides with power, smoothness, and precision. 

Fuel Economy:  The 2021 G80 averages 23 city/32 highway mpg with the base four-cylinder engine and 19 city/27 highway from the six-cylinder twin-turbo.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta

The newly redesigned fifth-generation Jetta is a reliable and fuel-efficient compact sedan at an affordable price. It has a new front grille, is a bit longer with a broader stance. It is still a little subdued but with more style.  Introduced two years ago, the new Jetta is roomier, has upgraded interior quality, and is agile on the road.

Models and Pricing: Volkswagen offers the 2021 Jetta in five trim levels: S ($19,990), R-Line ($23,790), SE ($23,890), SEL ($26,740) and SEL Premium ($29,040).

Power: All models are FWD and powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that gets 147 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. The S and R-Line come with a six-speed manual, and an eight-speed automatic transmission is standard on the SE, SEL, and SEL Premium. For more power, consider the high-performance Jetta GLI or GLI Autobahn with a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder that produces 228 horsepower.

Fuel Economy: The Jetta gets an estimated 30-city/40-highway mpg.

2021 Mazda CX-5

One of the best SUVs in its class, the 2021 Mazda CX-5 is fun-to-drive, agile, and eye-catching. U.S. News calls it “the 2021 Best Cars for the Money”. The CX-5 is also a great family choice because it combines top safety, reliability, convenience, space, and high-tech connectivity.

Models and Pricing: The 2021 CX-5 offers seven trim levels and 12 configurations: Sport FWD/AWD ($25,370-$26,770) , Touring FWD/AWD ($27,110 – $28,510), Carbon Edition FWD/AWD ($28,995-$30,355), Grand Touring FWD/AWD ($30,560-$31,960), Carbon Edition Turbo FWD/Turbo AWD ($30,760-$32,160), Grand touring Reserve AWD ($35,385), and the top-of-line Signature AWD ($37,505).

Power: The Mazda CX-5 Sport, Touring, Carbon Edition, and the Grand Touring comes with a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder that gets 187 horsepower. The CX-5 Carbon Edition Turbo, Grand Touring Reserve, and the Signature are powered by a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder that gets 227 horsepower.

Fuel Economy: The CX-5 gets an EPA-estimated 28 city/26 highway with the 187 HP engine and 25 city/24 highway in the 227 hp engine.

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Randi Payton, Decisive Media Network.

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