It’s that time of the year again. 2021 is done and dusted and it’s time to reflect back on what we thought of the vehicles we reviewed last year.
Even though we saw multiple lockdowns across the country, we still managed to review 64 vehicles in 2021, up around ten over 2020. Our team generally does our car of the year awards for the previous year in January; this gives us the Christmas break to mull over choices, throw brands and models at each other to (eventually) come to some sort of an agreement.
DriveLife is the only online car magazine in New Zealand that does independent, feature-length car reviews, so you know you are getting all the nitty-gritty details on that car you are looking at purchasing. We understand that whether you are spending $20K, $40K or even over $100K, you want to know what that car is really like. We clock up the miles on our test cars, so you can be sure we will deliver all the pros and cons for each car we review. For that reason, we know we can be sure the cars we give the following awards to are deserving. If you don’t agree or if you do, leave us a comment.
A quick note regarding our 2021 awards. You’ll notice they are not boring awards, like “Best Small /mid/large SUV of the Year”. Meh. We like to do it differently, so here’s our Best Of list. Keep in mind we do have some criteria that must be adhered to, such as the car having been reviewed in New Zealand – so any tests by our man in Japan, Ken Saito, are out. The review has to have been published in the 2021 calendar year, and the car must have been supplied by a distributor or brand – not customers or dealers.
Enough of the talk, on with our awards. We’ll start off first with a description of the award, and then get on with it, with a summary of the winner and runner-up by the person who reviewed the car.
2021 DriveLife Best Gadget of the Year
This award is for the coolest feature or technology advancement, the one that feels like it comes from Q’s lab waiting for James Bond to arrive.
WINNER – Hyundai Ioniq 5 – Solar Roof
I had serious doubts about the effectiveness of the $3,000 solar roof on the top-spec Ioniq 5 Limited. But on picking up our test car that had covered 2,000Km, the panels had already pumped 58,000Wh into both the 12-volt and drive batteries. That was at least ten times more than I thought it would be. While I had the car we had some of the worst weather, with rain on all but one day of my week and a half with the Ioniq 5. But even with that terrible weather, the total charge went up to 63,000Wh. Okay, that’s not quite a ‘full tank’ of charge, but it is so much higher than I would have laid money on.
I can see this option being very popular, and hopefully, we’ll see more of this on other EVs and more importantly on EVs that are down the other end of the price scale. Getting some free charge in when you are parked at work has got to be a big bonus.
RUNNER UP – Kia Sorento – Blind Spot Camera
Many have heard of blind-spot detection in cars, but how many have a blind-spot camera? In Kia’s latest Sorento, flick on either indicator and a camera view of your rear side blind spot will show up on the driver’s instrument cluster. We reckon it’s an excellent bit of safety equipment, which more manufacturers should be doing.
We first saw similar technology offered by Honda, but their camera only shows the left side via the central infotainment screen. Hyundai/Kia has moved the mark forward, with camera displays on both sides of the vehicle. The technology is now being offered in other Hyundai/Kia vehicles. All the better, in our opinion.
2021 DriveLife Best Value Car of the Year
The value for money award is a subjective thing but sometimes overlooked. Regardless of cost, this award represents excellent value in technology, performance, safety – or just features – compared to their competitors.
WINNER – MG ZS EV
The MG ZS is New Zealand’s cheapest EV, by some way. As an entry point to electric transportation, it’s hard to go wrong with the MG ZS EV. It’s roomy, comfortable, has good safety features and equipment. Sure, there are a couple of things that could be improved, but everything you need is there, including a very impressive 7-year unlimited mileage warranty and 7-year unlimited mileage battery warranty. For value, it’s very hard to beat.
RUNNER UP – GWM Cannon Ute 4WD
As the popularity of utes continues to grow, their price tags have mirrored this growth. It’s not uncommon to see flagship utes from established manufacturers breach the $70,000 mark. With more Kiwis prepared to turn their pockets inside-out for their favourite vehicles, GWM saw an opportunity.
The GWM Cannon is a capable ute, which is loaded with features and manages to undercut the competition by many thousands of dollars. Sure, GWM is a newcomer in the New Zealand market. But you’d be a fool to let your prejudices prevent you from checking out the sharply priced, feature-laden ute.
2021 DriveLife Driver’s Car of the Year
This award goes beyond you grinning when you approach the car, eager to get behind the wheel. To be eligible for this award, the driver has to be grinning about the drive, without even seeing the car; that’s the sign of a true driver’s car.
WINNER – BMW M3 Competition
This is one of the most exciting awards for our team, as it’s all about the thrill of the drive, and there was no other car that topped the board this year more than the all-new 2021 BMW M3 Competition. It did everything I wanted and asked for and it never seemed to break a sweat doing it.
It’s so good at being an easy car to drive and then with the flick of a switch, it’s a monster that just wants to rip the tarmac out from under it. It’s also the first M3 since the V8 M3 that I have felt the sound is just right; powerful, angry, and all business. BMW didn’t miss the mark when it came to their updated performance icons, and this M3 Competition is a home run.
RUNNER UP – Renault Megane R.S. Trophy 300
It might have a crazy-long name, but it also has some great driver’s car creds: a 1.8-litre turbo-four that manages to output 221kW of power and 420Nm of torque. Add 4-wheel steering and a chassis that’s made for the track (it corners flat, honestly), and you have one excellent driver’s car. If John and I hadn’t both been in the M3 Competition, I would have pushed harder for the Megane R.S. Trophy 300 to win Driver’s Car Of The Year. The steering feedback is only just bettered by the M3, and the exhaust noise will have Type R owners crying as you pass them.
When you consider the cost of the M3 Competition, you can get two Megane R.S Trophy 300s for the same money. It’s great value and an awesome driver’s car.
2021 DriveLife Eco Warrior of the Year
This award is for the vehicle that just wanted to stick it to the oil companies of the world. It’s all about reducing running costs while doing your bit to save the planet.
WINNER – Hyundai Ioniq 5
This car was the only model we tested this year that has a pure EV chassis, and it shows. Huge amounts of space with no transmission tunnel, masses of legroom front and rear, and a decent 72kWh battery pack.
Not only that, but it’s simply the way the 2021 Hyundai Ioniq 5 Limited drives that blew me away. It really proves that a pure-EV chassis is the way to go.
Add in some avant-garde styling, a bright and modern interior with gallons of space, excellent energy economy and we have our winner.
RUNNER UP – Peugeot 208 EV
Of the few small electric vehicles available to kiwi buyers, the Peugeot 208 EV is also one of the best. Peugeot has managed to stuff a 50kWh battery into the small frame and make it energy efficient, giving the wee 208 EV more range than its closest competitors.
It’s also a looker – it’s easily one of the best-looking EVs on the market.
2021 DriveLife Family Car of the Year
This award is all about practicality, and if you could only have one car, then which would be the best all-around vehicle for the family of today. Family on a long road trip? Seven seats? Space for everything? Can it take knocks from unruly kids, and the dog in the back?
WINNER – Mitsubishi Outlander VRX
The new Outlander is a great value 7-seater SUV, hard to beat for spec in its class. It’s a big vehicle, has a luxury interior, 7-seats and it’s 4WD too. As family vehicles go, this would seem like it can do it all, whilst being among the best value in its class. It was one of only two vehicles we tested to get a 9 rating in our review.
RUNNER UP – KIA Carnival Premium
If it wasn’t for the price of the Outlander the KIA Carnival would have taken this top spot. It’s a no-brainer if you have a big family, as it’s the modern-day version of a platoon transport truck. It was great to drive, had all the gadgets and the kids loved it too.
2021 DriveLife Hottest Car of the Year
This award is all about looks. Which vehicle would create the best bedroom poster, desktop or phone background?
WINNER – Audi RS E-Tron GT
The fully electric Audi RS E-Tron GT is as stunning to look at as it is fast. No matter where we went in it, heads turned as if we had just appeared from the future. It’s not a car for everyone, with a price tag that will make you weak at the knees. But many of the most beautiful cars are not made to be the cheapest or most practical cars ever developed.
RUNNER UP – Honda Civic Type-R
Like I said in my review of this car when we first reviewed the Honda Civic Type R in 2017, I felt better driving it as I couldn’t see what it looked like on the outside. Fast forward to 2021, and I absolutely love the looks of the Type R. Our test car was finished in the new Type R colour of Boost Blue Pearl, and it turned heads everywhere.
Bedroom poster? Totally.
2021 DriveLife Luxury Car of the Year
The Luxury award represents the pinnacle of what manufacturers can offer in terms of comfort, quality, and style.
WINNER – Mercedes-Benz S450 4MATIC
Both John and I drove this car, and I managed to get 700Km of very enjoyable driving in. Luxury? Total. Just opening the door of the S450 and looking inside is enough for it to win this award, and the way Mercedes-Benz has managed to increase the level of luxury over and above the previous model is a credit to them.
Every passenger was blown away by the sheer abundance of both tech and luxury, with much of that tech feeding into the luxury side of things.
It’s been said for many years that Mercedes-Benz S Class is the class leader in the luxury segment, and others follow. Never has this been more true than with the 2021 model.
RUNNER UP – BMW M8 Competition Core Edition
It may seem a little strange to see an M car as runner-up for Luxury Car Of The Year, but there is a reason; our test car cost $350,400 and so was the most expensive car we had tested last year. Does that automatically make it a luxury car? No, it doesn’t, but the M8 still exudes plenty of luxury.
In doubt? Check out our review and look at the interior shots; red-quilted leather is everywhere, armrests and centre console are heated for your comfort, the suede headlining, the audio system. It was a great place to spend a week and be cocooned in luxury, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
2021 DriveLife Toughest Car of the Year
This award is about the rough and tough. Which vehicle would take you over the toughest terrain while trying to survive a zombie apocalypse?
WINNER – Toyota Hilux SR5 Cruiser
There’s a reason that the Toyota Hilux continues to be a dominating force in the ute market. Its reputation for hardiness, reliability, and off-road capability has resonated with New Zealanders for decades. The newest Toyota Hilux is better than ever, offering fresh styling, improved ride quality, and more features. Its revised 2.8-litre turbo diesel engine demonstrates improved power, torque and fuel economy, whilst retaining Toyota’s reputation for reliability. If you require a tough work vehicle, it’s difficult to look past a Hilux.
RUNNER UP – Mazda BT-50 Limited
Sure, we know it’s mechanically identical to the Isuzu D-Max underneath. Yet, Mazda’s BT-50 has managed to sweeten the deal for New Zealand buyers, undercutting the Isuzu equivalent by thousands of dollars, whilst offering more features. Mazda delivers a tough, capable ute to New Zealanders for a better price.
2021 DriveLife Unexpected Car of the Year
This award is for the vehicle that turned out to be a big surprise compared to our unjustified expectations.
WINNER – Cupra Leon Sportstourer
We really didn’t know what to expect from the Cupra in New Zealand. Would it stand up to the performance cars already on the market and would breathe life back into the performance wagon?
Thankfully, Cupra Leon VZ Sportstourer is the full package; a 310hp power wagon that has all the toys, many of which others don’t, and does not cost the earth to run or buy. Nothing about this car looks cheap, the final finish looks like a vehicle that would be $20k-$30k more but still have fewer options.
It’s not a car to underestimate, with a 0-100kp/h time of under 5 seconds.
RUNNER UP – Ford Escape PHEV
Sometimes it feels like half the cars we review are mid-sized family SUVs, and they’re great cars, but they can all start to feel very similar. I wasn’t expecting anything unusual from the Escape PHEV, especially given it was a hybrid. After a few days of using it on pure electric mode, its comfort and refinement impressed.
But it was when I took it on a road trip and got the chance to actually drive it on some twisty back roads that I realised how much fun it was. This is an SUV that’s good for the school run, light on fuel, but with some impressive driving dynamics. Nice one Ford!
2021 DriveLife Car of the Year
And so it comes to this – our Car of the Year for 2021. This award is for the best car of the year and is only open to those vehicles that we rated the highest in our reviews. We take lots of things into account to award our Car of the Year, so it’s not focused on just one aspect. Please note this is not the Cheapest Car of the Year award. It isn’t about cost – it’s about being the best car overall that we have reviewed. Cost is taken into account, but so are all the other factors.
Winner – Mitsubishi Outlander VRX
As the saying goes, save the best for last. The all-new Mitsubishi Outlander was the last car I tested in 2021, and I was just blown away at the package they have put together. The new Outlander ticks all the boxes: stylish, modern, luxury interior, practical, 4WD, efficient. All this for the incredible price of $54,990 for the top-spec model.
The new Outlander is a clear sign that Mitsubishi is looking at what their customers love about the brand, updating what works with new technology, and fixing what isn’t working so that they continue to offer a solid all-around family vehicle at an exceptional value.
Runner up – Skoda Octavia RS
It was a close call, with both cars ranking a 9.0 overall. But the Octavia was beaten by price and number of seats to the Outlander.
There will always be a place in my heart for a sport or performance wagon. I just never really thought that one of those brands would be a Skoda, but I do now. The Skoda Octavia Wagon RS is a very impressive car. Yes, there are other performance wagons out there that would outperform the Skoda on the track. However, you would be able to buy at least two Octavia RS for the price of one of those. A hugely worthy runner-up.