2021 What Car? Car of the Year Awards: The Contenders
In January, we'll reveal the best new cars in every category, plus our overall Car of the Year. These are the models in contention...
2021 What Car? Car of the Year Awards: The Contenders
What Car? has released the list of vehicles set to compete for the coveted Car of the Year title at the What Car? Car of the Year Awards 2021, comprising of 20 categories and more than 160 models. The Awards are held in association with ALA Insurance.
The ceremony, recognised as being akin to the Oscars of the car industry, will see winners named across each of the categories, as well as an overall victor which will be crowned What Car?’s Car of the Year. This year, the presentations will be entirely digital and will take place across an entire week, starting on 11 January.
In this slideshow you'll get an early look at all of the models in contention.
SMALL CAR: Dacia Sandero
Due to go on sale in the UK in the Spring, the new Sandero retains its headline-grabbing price tag, but brings a host of extra safety kit as well as an interior upgrade.
Find out more about the new Dacia Sandero >>
Fiat's iconic city car has gone fully electric, with an official range of 199 miles between charges and nippy performance.
Read our full Fiat 500 review >>
The Mini Electric matches the cutsey styling of Mini's iconic hatchback with an electric motor, which is good for a range of around 100 miles in real-world conditions.
The Peugeot e-208 can officially carry you up to 217 miles between charges, plus it has a classy interior and comes loaded with kit.
Updates to the Clio in 2020 have made Renault's small car more temopting, and it now comes with class-leading safety kit and a more practical boot.
The latest Yaris is one of the most economical small hatchbacks around, and comes with a good amount of luxury and safety kit.
This all-electric version of the big-selling Vauxhall Corsa has an official range of up to 209 miles, and is pleasant to drive.
Last year's defending champion in the small car class still impresses, offering a comfortable ride, generous interior space and quiet driving manners.
The Up is a small car which is great fun to drive, but it won't cost you a lot to run thanks to its economal three-cylinder engines. An interior that's classy by the standards of this class works in its favour, too.
FAMILY CAR: Audi A3
The Skoda Octavia consistently ranks among our favourite family hatchbacks, and the latest version impressed us with its plush ride and huge boot.
An all-new Golf is always big news, and the latest model has impressed with its tidy handling and strong yet frugal engines.
The ID.3 is an electric family car which can travel for up to 261 miles between charges, but as well as its good electric range, it offers sprightly performance and a decent ride and nippy handling.
HOT HATCH: Audi S3
This hot version of the Audi A3 hatchback comes with a decent glut of power under its bonnet – 306bhp coming from a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine, in fact – meaning it's capable of covering the 0-62mph sprint in just 4.8sec.
The latest hot hatchback from BMW is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine developing a heady 302bhp. It's pleasantly fast, then, but it also offers sharp and enjoyable handling and an excellent infotainment system.
While most hot hatchbacks get their brute force from a big petrol engine, the Cupra Leon gets its power from a petrol engine plus an electric motor, which combined develops 242bhp. That means it's still fast and fun, but can also travel for up to 30 miles without using any fuel.
Honda Civic Type R
Honda's hot hatchback is our defending champion in this class, and updates made to the car in 2020 have only made it even more fun to drive. As well as offering thrilling performance, however, it's also more comfortable and practical than most rivals.
The i30N is proof that you don't need to spend a lot to get a great hot hatchback. It's great to drive, with precise handling and a responsive engine, but also represents great value.
Acting as a halfway house between the regular A-Class family hatchback and the fire-breathing A45, the A35 gets 302bhp from its 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine.
Mercedes-AMG A45 S
This range-topping version of the Mercedes A-Class packs a shocking 415bhp under its bonnet. That means it's ferociously fast, and can cover the 0-62mph sprint in just 3.9sec. It offers immense grip through corners and a quick-shifting automatic gearbox to make the most of that immense power.
Skoda Octavia vRS
Unusually for a hot hatchback, there's a choice of engines available in the vRS, with a 197bhp diesel offered alongside a 242bhp plug-in hybrid. The latter is especially cheap to run for company car drivers, and both models offer a massive boot.
Toyota GR Yaris
The GR Yaris is a tiny car with huge power available. Its petrol engine develops 261bhp, meaning this small hatchback can accelerate to 62mph in just 5.5sec. The result is a car that's an absolute riot to drive, while competitive finance deals appeal to your wallet as well.
Volkswagen Golf GTI
The latest iteration of Volkswagen's hot hatchback offers strong performance and tidy handling. Add in the fact that it's also quiet and comfortable by the standards of this class, and it's well worth considering.
SMALL SUV: Audi Q2
DS 3 Crossback E-Tense
This fully electric version of the DS 3 Crossback small SUV can travel for up to 200 miles between charges. As well as its distinctive looks, there's also plenty of standard kit on board.
Mini's small SUV offers a good blend of space, style and desirability. It's rear seats are spacious and flexible, and the quality of its interior is excellent.
There's little arguing that the Peugeot e-2008 will make you stand out from the crowd on the school run, but there's more going for Peugeot's smallest SUV than just distinctive styling. We like its generous interior space, its quiet driving manners and its attractive interior.
Peugeot's smallest SUV has a classy interior, a punchy yet frugal petrol engine and comes with plenty of kit. It's a compelling small SUV.
Updates to the Captur in 2020 have sharpened its appeal, and the car impresses with a good safety rating, a flexible boot and a keen starting price.
Want SUV styling and practicality in a tiny package? The Suzuki Ignis is well worth looking at. It's cheap to buy and run, generously equipped and spacious inside.
FAMILY SUV: Hyundai Tucson
The latest Tucson is pleasantly frugal, yet its hybrid system still provides plenty enough performance. Add to that a well-made interior and space aplenty for passengers and luggage, and it's a compelling choice.
Land Rover Defender 90
While the larger 110 version of the Defender is undoubtedly a large SUV, this shorter 90 variant competes in the family SUV class. Like its larger sibling, though, this Defender is excellent off road, has a pleasant interior and will hold onto its value very well.
If you fancy an electric family SUV, then the Lexus UX300e is worth looking at. It's well equipped and has a pleasant ride around town, although rivals offer more rear space.
The MX-30 is Mazda's first fully electric car, and it can take you up to 124 miles at a time before needing to recharge. It has a smart interior with a great infotainment system, is relatively cheap yet well equipped, and strikes a pleasant balance between ride comfort and engaging handling.
While we didn't rate the original GLA very highly, this latest version is a lot better, with a well controlled ride and an interior which feels truly special. It comes with lots of luxury and safety kit, too.
The Peugeot 3008 is a good all-rounder in the family SUV class, with a stylish, high-quality interior, a large and practical boot and a strong range of engines.
Range Rover Evoque
Last year, we named the Range Rover Evoque as the best family SUV on the market, and it remains one of the best, with a high-quality interior, reasonable practicality and slow depreciation.
Updates made to the Tiguan this year have only made it more appearling. It comes with lots of standard kit, and its seats are flexible, so whether you need to fit in lots of people or a large haul from the local garden centre, it's a good choice. It handles well for a car of this size, too.
LARGE SUV: Audi Q5
Citroen C5 Aircross
Citroen's largest SUV offers a smooth ride, and is pleasantly quiet at motorway speeds. Frugal engines mean it's kind to your wallet, while it also has plenty of space for all of your luggage inside its large boot.
Land Rover Defender 110
Just like the shorter Defender 90 we saw earlier on in this list, the 110 version is excellent off road and should hold onto its value very well. This version has added practicality, though, since it can seat up to seven.
If you're looking for a smaller SUV which can seat seven, then the GLB is well worth looking at. As well as being practical, it also has a plush interior and a punchy yet frugal range of engines.
The 5008 is our reigning champion in the large SUV market, and a facelift in 2020 has only made it more compelling, with a stylish and plush-feeling interior and loads of space for your money.
The Across is based on the Toyota RAV4, so impresses in many of the same ways as that car. As well as low C02 emissions and a long electric-only range from its plug-in hybrid setup, it also offers punchy performance.
EXECUTIVE CAR: Audi A3 Saloon
This saloon version of the Audi A3 hatchback offers a good balance between a comfy ride and engaging handling, plus all versions come loaded with kit. Our recommended 35 TFSI petrol engine is a punchy performer, too.
BMW 3 Series
Last year's Executive Car of the Year remains one of the best options in this class, being brilliant fun to drive, offering a great range of engines and coming with a class-leading infotainment system.
LUXURY CAR: Audi S8
BMW 5 Series
Last year's winner in this class has been treated to a round of updates in 2020, but it remains a brilliant, classy and wonderfully refined choice, with a superb infotainment system and agile handling.
We've been impressed with the latest E-Class' sumptuous interior and supple ride, but it's not as fun to drive as some rivals and isn't especially spacious for rear passengers.
The Ghost is a luxury car in every sense, with a price tag to match its opulent interior and quietly hushed performance.
LUXURY SUV: Aston Martin DBX
The DBX is the first SUV that Aston Martin has ever made, and it's a corker, with a strong and characterful engine, playful handling and a luxurious interior.
Audi E-tron 50
It may not be as sharp to drive as some rival luxury SUVs, but the Bentayga is certainly special inside, with a beautiful, hand-finished interior and an impressive infotainment system. It offers effortless performance, too.
BMW's first fully electric SUV has an impressive range of up to 285 miles between charges, which is more than most rivals, as well as a great infotainment system and keen pricing.
BMW X5 45e
Jaguar's electric SUV has an impressive real-world range, entertaining handling and futuristic looks. It's extremely appealing whether you're looking for an electric car or a luxury SUV.
Rival luxury SUVs are better all-rounders, but there's little faulting the GLS' impressive refinement, effortless performance or special interior.
PLUG-IN HYBRID: Audi A6 TFSIe
Audi A7 TFSIe
If you want to combine green motoring with svelte looks, then you could do a lot worse than the Audi A7 in plug-in hybrid form. Not only does it have a high-quality interior, but it can travel for up to 25 miles on electric power alone. Rivals are more exciting to drive, though.
In plug-in hybrid form, the Q7 mixes a V6 petrol engine with an electric motor, and can travel for up to 25 miles on electric power alone. It remains superbly practical, however, and retains the regular car's stunning interior.
BMW 3 Series 330e
Our defending champion in this class is the 330e version of the BMW 3 Series. Not only does it have a good electric-only range, but it remains excellent to drive and practical enough for family use.
BMW 5 Series 530e
This version of the BMW 5 Series luxury car can take you up to 34 miles without using a drop of fuel, yet can also hit 62mph in just 4.7sec. It's fast and frugal, then, as well as supremely comfortable inside.
BMW X1 25e
BMW X3 30e
BMW X5 45e
Citroen C5 Aircross hybrid
This C5 Aircross combines a 1.6-litre petrol engine with an electric motor for a combined total of 222bhp. Not only is it punchy, but it can travel for up to 31 miles on electric power alone.
Ford Kuga PHEV
We think the Kuga large SUV is best had in plug-in hybrid form, which mates a 2.5-litre petrol engine with an electric motor for a combined 222bhp.
Kia Ceed SW PHEV
This version of Kia's family estate car isn't especially quick, but it can travel for up to 30 miles on electric power alone, and has a good amount of space for luggage in its large boot.
Kia Xceed PHEV
If you want a frugal plug-in hybrid family car with the air of an SUV, then the Xceed is worth looking at. This version is powered by a 1.6-litre petrol engine and electric motor, and can travel for almost 30 miles without using a drop of fuel.
Kia Niro PHEV
While we think the fully electric Kia e-Niro is ultimately the best way to sample the Niro, this plug-in hybrid is a good choice for those who occassionally drive longer distances. It can travel for up to 30 miles on electric power before its petrol engine joins the fray.
Land Rover Discovery Sport PHEV
This version of the Discovery Sport loses points on practicality since it's not available with seven seats, but it is pleasantly frugal, and has an electric-only range of 38 miles.
Range Rover Evoque PHEV
If you're in the market for a family SUV but also want to save money on running costs, then you can't go far wrong with this plug-in hybrid version of the Range Rover Evoque, which has an electric-only tange of up to 40 miles.
Mercedes A-Class A250e
This version of the A-Class family hatchback is powered by both a 1.3-litre petrol engine and an electric motor, and the latter can carry the car on electric power alone for up to 44 miles.
Mercedes C-Class C300 de
Rivals are better to drive and have larger boots, but there's little arguing with the frugality of this plug-in hybrid version of the C-Class.
MG HS PHEV
Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4
This hybrid version of the Peugeot 3008 has four-wheel drive and a whopping 296bhp on tap. It's surprisingly rapid, and can cover the 0-62mph sprint in just 6.1sec. It also has an electric-only range of up to 40 miles.
Peugeot 508 PHEV
Renault Captur PHEV
Rivals have more rear seat space, but this plug-in hybrid version of the Captur is a good choice if you'll mainly be driving in the city.
Renault Megane PHEV
The Megane comes with plenty of standard comfort and safety kit, and is especially tempting in plug-in hybrid form.
Seat Leon e-Hybrid
Skoda Octavia iV
In plug-in hybrid form, the latest Skoda Octavia can travel for up to 43 miles before its petrol engine joins the fray. Elsewhere, it impresses with a plush ride and a huge boot.
Vauxhall Grandland X Hybrid4
An electric range of up to 35 miles helps this version of the Grandland X to stand out against rival family SUVs, although it's tricky to drive smoothly.
Volkswagen Golf GTE
Not only is this plug-in hybrid version of the Volkswagen Golf impressively frugal, but it's also fast, and can cover the 0-62mph in just 6.7sec.
A family SUV which can travel for more than 20 miles on electric power alone is a huge boon to families living in the city, and this XC40 still has the plush interior and strong safety kit which we've praised in other XC40s, too.
T6 plug-in hybrid versions of the XC60 are impressively frugal, but they're also fast, and can cover the 0-62mph sprint in just 5.9sec.