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2021 Honda Accord

The 10 Best Cars Overall For 2021

Going Car Shopping? Be Sure to Check These Segment Leaders

The Best of the Best in the Non-Luxury Car Segment

It is always a difficult task to determine the top ten of anything, be it cars, songs, favorite sports teams, and the like.

As such, for our list, we’ve gone the overall objective route of letting the numbers speak for themselves, with our overall subjective score for the cars determining their objective placement on this list.

These are the cars that we found to be the best value for the money, with the best driving feel and equipment. These are the cars that we think anyone would be happy to own.

Without further ado, here are the top 10 cars for 2021.

ALSO READ: If you’re car shopping for cars, you may also be interested in the best small luxury car list and best midsize luxury car list for 2021. If you’re truck shopping, check out our best trucks list.

2021 Honda Accord

1. 2021 Honda Accord

Important Info

  • Base Price:$24,770-$36,700
  • Updates: Minor
  • 0-60 mph: 5.6-7.0 sec
  • Fuel Economy: City 29- 48 mpg / Hwy 31-48 mpg
  • Basic Warranty: 3 years / 36,000 miles
  • Our Rating: 9.0/10

Our Thoughts: Pros & Cons

Summary: As the family sedan segment shrinks, Honda produces a car that could turn that trend around

Pros: Precise and agile handling for a car this size, excellent engines, spacious and upscale feeling interior

Cons: Less interior storage than many competitors, some mild blind spots

Honda has been making the Accord for decades, and for decades it has been the #1 recommended buy for someone looking for a practical, stylish, decently powerful and fun to drive family sedan. It’s no different for 2021, with another home run hit by Honda.

Minor upgrades from the 2020 model make the optional 8-inch infotainment screen now standard in all models, as well as a new safety feature that we would love to see become standard across the industry: rear seat check. What this does is that after the car is unlocked, if either of the rear doors was opened before the car moves, the onboard computer will pop a message up on the infotainment screen when the engine is shut off to check the rear seat.

Powering the entire line are three engines. The standard is a 1.5L turbocharged inline-four with variable boost sensing, which sports 192 HP. The upper echelon of the model range gets a 2.0L turbocharged inline-four with a grunty 252 HP. A dual electric motor hybrid is available that pairs with the 1.5L engine.

However, what gets people to drive cars is the feel of them, and Honda has not dropped the ball here. Cornering effort is easy, there is little to no body roll, and the car communicates just enough information without making the ride uncomfortable. Added to that is laser-sharp steering that gives a confident turn-in and very neutral dynamic feel that will move to mild understeer if you push it too hard.

It’s not hard to see why the 2021 Accord has earned our accolade as the best budget-friendly car of 2021. It checks all the boxes: comfortable, fun to drive, economical, utilitarian, and has Honda’s trademark reliability.

2020 mazda 3 sedan

2. 2021 Mazda 3 Sedan

Important Info

  • Base Price:$22,500-$32,450
  • Updates: Minor
  • 0-60 mph: 6.0-8.1 sec
  • Fuel Economy: City 24-27 mpg / Hwy 31-36 mpg
  • Basic Warranty: 3 years / 36,000 miles
  • Our Rating: 8.9/10

Our Thoughts: Pros & Cons

Summary: A sharp sedan with a hatchback twin that loves to live in the city. Easily the best small sedan you can buy in 2021.

Pros: Upgraded design language over previous generations, premium-feeling interior at a bargain price, excellent engine options

Cons: Some blind spot issues on the hatchback, road noise at freeway speeds is prevalent

The Mazda 3 sedan and hatchback models have been challenging the small car segment for a while now, with incremental upgrades added each model refresh. Now in its fourth generation, the venerable little car has finally unseated its Japanese rival in the Honda Civic as the quintessential recommended buy.

While not as fast as its predecessors, Mazda’s KODO design language of making cars “human-centric” has meant that the car is an absolute blast to drive. It is light on its feet, agile, with just enough road feel to be communicative but not uncomfortable.

Power comes from three excellent, efficient engines: a 2.0L inline-four with 155 HP, a 2.5L inline-four with 186 HP, and that same 2.5L engine with a turbo that puts out a gutsy 250 HP.

As well, an all-wheel-drive version of the higher-spec Premium, 2.5 Turbo, and 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus models is coming in mid-2021. While the Honda Civic is still a better selling car, Mazda has definitely focused its attention and is starting to steal away some market share.

In deciding between the Mazda 3 and the Honda Accord for top honors, the only thing that truly put the Mazda 3 in second place was subjective feel. Having driven both, we felt that the Accord felt a little bit more open, a bit more overall friendly to the everyday driver. Keep in mind, the difference between the spots was only 0.1 points, so realistically, both cars are definitely on our recommended buy list!

2021 Kia Cadenza

3. 2021 Kia Cadenza

Important Info

  • Base Price: $37,850-$43,550
  • Updates: Minor
  • 0-60 mph: 6.2+ sec
  • Fuel Economy: City 20-24 mpg / Hwy 27-31 mpg
  • Basic Warranty: 5 years / 60,000 miles
  • Our Rating: 8.8/10

Our Thoughts: Pros & Cons

Summary: The Cadenza offers luxury-brand levels of comfort and features, at a price point that makes it actually attainable.

Pros: Very smooth engine and power delivery, luxury cabin without luxury pricetag, Kia’s exceptional warranty

Cons: No real excitement when driving, numb steering, rear seats do not fold down for extra cargo room

The Kia Cadenza is probably the biggest gauntlet-slap-across-the-face challenge to the established European and American luxury brand companies with lower priced cars that can be given. Nicely styled, with standard features that many other companies will charge you exorbitant amounts for, it is the best value for a full-sized car today.

Providing the power to get the Cadenza rolling is a refined, powerful 3.3L V6 that puts out 290 HP, mated to a driving-style selectable automatic transmission. Want to cruise around the city? Set it into drive and go on your merry way. Want to have a bit more involvement? Simply move the gear select into sport or pull one of the paddle-shifters on the wheel, and it drops it into sport mode.

The interior is where the real feature set gets shown off. Standard heated front seats. Standard 12.3 inch wide infotainment display with included navigation. A wireless phone charger built into the center console cubby. Remote start standard. LED lighting all around. Fine leather and wood grain finish in the cabin. Dual-zone front climate control, and single-zone rear climate control. So many driver assists it would take an entire article on its own to describe them.

Truly, the only failing point of the Cadenza is that the rear seats don’t fold down to allow for large pieces of cargo to be carried. It is also, as are most luxury-level cars, a bit numb on the steering without any real excitement transmitted through the wheels.

What impressed us the most about the Kia Cadenza was, quite honestly, how strongly that 3.3L V6 pulled. The gearing is set up perfectly, and when planting your foot at pretty much any revs, it just surges power through the wheels and you definitely feel it. It doesn’t crush you into your seat, but it will make your eyes widen noticeably with just how smoothly it pulls, and how much torque makes it to the road.

2021 Hyundai Sonata

4. 2021 Hyundai Sonata

 

Important Info

  • Base Price: $23,600-$35,300
  • Updates: Unchanged
  • 0-60 mph: 7.3+ sec
  • Fuel Economy: City 28-34 mpg / Hwy 37-40 mpg
  • Basic Warranty: 5 years / 60,000 miles
  • Our Rating: 8.7/10

Our Thoughts: Pros & Cons

Summary: The Sonata lives up to its name, singing to the driver through a premium feeling interior, great dynamics, and a ton of standard features

Pros: Low drag exterior design, luxury-grade interior, superb fuel efficiency, outstanding 10 year powertrain warranty

Cons: Not as much get-up-and-go as the Honda Accord, can be jarring on extremely rough roads

Hyundai and its sub-brand Kia have been rewriting the book on expectations of what a new car should have as standard, and what a warranty for that new car should be. The South Korean manufacturer has made sure that the 2021 Sonata is no different.

Even the lowest spec SE model has a 191 HP 2.5L engine, 16-inch alloys, an 8.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system, 8-speed automatic, forward collision avoidance automatic braking, lane follow assist, rear camera… the list goes on and on.

The SEL Plus and Limited models get a 1.6L turbocharged four that produces 180 HP. While this is lower than the lower-spec models, it’s the nearly 200 lbs-ft of torque that gives this spec the performance edge. So much so, that for these models, Hyundai has partnered with Pirelli to equip new cars with the sublime Pirelli P-Zero performance tires.

Leather seats with leatherette/dinamica suede swathe the interior in a luxury feel, and upper spec models get a fully digital TFT instrument cluster. As well, all specs get standard LED daytime, head-, and highbeam- lights, which are often high spec options on other midsized cars.

Even more exciting, for those with a bit of a kid-racer inside of them, Hyundai has announced that a Sonata N is coming, with tuning and upgrades from the company’s racing department. It is expected to have a 2.5L turbocharge inline-four with nearly 300 HP, and possible all-wheel-drive. So far, however, no news or specs have been announced, so we can’t include it (yet) in this listing.

The Hyundai Sonata is the car on this list that we think is one of the most understated. It has sharp looks, but it also is subtle in the way that some Audi’s just blend into the landscape. Yet, for less than $30,000 for a reasonably equipped one, you get levels of comfort and luxury, as well as interior quality, that are a miles above what a car of this price should cost. This is a firm statement from Hyundai, and we like that they are being bold enough to earn the respect they are earning.

2021 Kia Rio5

TIE 5. 2021 Kia Rio5

Important Info

  • Base Price: $16,790
  • Updates: Unchanged
  • 0-60 mph: 8.6 sec
  • Fuel Economy: City 33 mpg / Hwy 41 mpg
  • Basic Warranty: 10 years / 100,000 miles
  • Our Rating: 8.5/10

Our Thoughts: Pros & Cons

Summary: The 2021 Kia Rio5 is exactly what a small city hatchback should be. Easy to drive, extremely effiecient, well equipped for a great price

Pros: Sporty styling, large-for-its-size hatchback room, comfortably seats 4 full adults for carpooling

Cons: Engine can bog a little in lower revs, road and wind noise can be intrusive above 60 MPH

Out of left field, Kia has quietly and constantly introducing better and better versions of their cars ever since the big turnaround the company did in the late 2000s. Instead of the laughing stock cheap cars, many competitors struggle to equip their cars as well as the Rio5 is and keep a straight face on the price.

Featuring a gutsy little 1.6L inline-four, the Kia Rio5 puts out 120 HP. That may not sound like much, but the littlest Kia is a lightweight at 2,762 lbs. It was designed in South Korea, a country with packed cities and tight streets to navigate, and that translates across the Pacific excellently to places such as Los Angeles and New York.

Add to that an extremely well-appointed feature set. Two-stage heated front seats, 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system with rearview camera as standard, remote keyless entry, a variable 6-speed automatic transmission that is nearly telepathic in its shift points, and 17.5 cubic feet of space in the hatch… with the rear seats up!

A nice chunky, thick steering wheel also makes the car feel a lot more premium than a budget car should. Add to that the in-city fuel efficiency of 33 MPG, paired with a 12-gallon fuel tank, and you can realistically drive the little Rio5 for almost 400 miles between fill-ups.

And all of that starting at a whisker under $17,000!

What impressed the most about the diminutive Kia Rio5 is that it is just absolutely the perfect size as a city runabout. The standard features on this little pup are night on unbelievable for its price range compared to pretty much any rival, and it feels a lot faster than it is because of how low you sit in it (with lots of headroom!) and the fact that you get that thick steering wheel in your hands.

Author’s note: I personally owned a 2013 Kia Rio5 for 5 years before trading it in for my current 2017 Ford Fiesta ST. One of the best cars I’ve ever owned. Just sporty enough, huge range, great reliability, and could carry flat pack stuff from IKEA… just.

2021 Toyota Avalon

TIE 5. 2021 Toyota Avalon

Important Info

  • Base Price: $35,875-$$43,000
  • Updates: Minor
  • 0-60 mph: 6.1+ sec
  • Fuel Economy: City 22-43 mpg / Hwy 28-43 mpg
  • Basic Warranty: 3 years / 36,000 miles
  • Our Rating: 8.5/10

Our Thoughts: Pros & Cons

Summary: A Japanese full-sized sedan that is polarizing, but powerful

Pros: Very efficient engine for the size, a trunk capable of carrying an elephant, standard features list is impressive

Cons: Very polarizing exterior looks, AWD only on one trim, infotainment stuck in the early 2000’s

The Toyota Avalon is one of those cars that definitely ranks in the love-it-or-hate-it section of looks. The standard Avalon does have an aggressive nose that ties into the Toyota Gazoo Racing-styled cars such as the GR Supra and some of the Lexus luxury brand sport models, but the hybrid model, in efforts to make it as slippery as possible, looses most of the fun nose in exchange for better aerodynamics.

The Avalon comes with three distinct powerplants, across 6 sub-models. The top-spec engine is a 3.5L dual-injection system V6 with 301 HP, mated to an 8-speed sport automatic. The other gas-only spec is a 2.5L liter inline-four that, despite not having a turbocharger, makes a respectable 205 HP.

The hybrid model combines a detuned and more economical version of the 2.5L engine that produces 176 HP, combined with a high-output electric motor that has the equivalent of 118 HP. Toyota’s brochure states that when both engines are working together, they produce 215 HP in equivalent force.

In terms of being a full-sized car, however, the Avalon has one of the best features available: a trunk combined with fold-down rear seats. The trunk itself is massive at 16 cubic feet of space but expands to nearly 65 cubic feet with the rear seats down.

As well, being a Toyota, there is very little that can go wrong, as they are known for building some of the most reliable, long-lasting cars and engines in the world. We only wish that the infotainment system would not fall into that long-lasting spectrum, as it doesn’t seem to have been updated since 2010.

The Toyota Avalon is one of the suprises we discovered when forming these rankings and this list as a while. We much prefer the non-hybrid models for the front nose look, but cannot deny that the hybrid engine model does have some serious get up and go due to the instant torque from the electric motor. And then there is the absolutely cavernous cargo space with the rear seats folded down. It honestly earned a full point on our checklist for that feature alone.

2020 Honda Civic Sedan

7. 2021 Honda Civic

Important Info

  • Base Price: $21,000-$38,000
  • Updates: Unchanged
  • 0-60 mph: 5.0-7.8 sec
  • Fuel Economy: City 22-32 mpg / Hwy 28-42 mpg
  • Basic Warranty: 3 years / 36,000 miles
  • Our Rating: 8.4/10

Our Thoughts: Pros & Cons

Summary: The Civic may not be the prettiest, fastest, or most special of the Honda lineup, but it is still a workhorse and, with the Type-R, a warrior

Pros: Sharp styling, interior design by people that understand what drivers want and need to see, monstrously powerful turbocharged models available

Cons: Cheap plastics on lower-priced models, rear-seat headroom on the coupes is non-existent

It wouldn’t be a proper small car list without putting the venerable, reliable Honda Civic somewhere near the top. For almost 50 years, Honda’s best selling car of all time has carried millions of people to millions of destinations, and due to the fact that the car is known to be almost completely bulletproof, even in the used market, it is still the go-to first car for many 20-something’s with their first post-college jobs.

If you just need a car, Honda has your back. For $21,000, you can get a sedan or coupe that will get you from point A to B without fail. 158 HP from a 2.0L inline-four is also enough to haul around friends and family efficiently, as this engine gets 32 MPG in city. A 1.5L turbocharged engine is available for the higher specs of the base coupe or sedan if you need a bit more grunt, and it puts out a respectable 178 HP.

However, if you want to kick things up a notch, the Civic Si coupe is becoming with a 205 HP engine paired with adaptive dampers and a 6-speed manual to get your heart beating a little faster. And if you truly want to have the best sports hatch under $40,000, the Civic Type-R is ready to rip your face off with 306 HP and a monstrous 295 lbs-ft of torque, while staying comfortable above the 20 MPG mark that denotes “efficient” from “excess.”

There’s a reason Honda seemingly can’t build the Civic models fast enough… they have a version for everyone, and everyone has a favorite Civic.

The Honda Civic impresses year after year, and this year is no different. While it has met some new competition in the much improved Mazda 3, there is no denying that no matter where you look on American roads, you’ll often see more than one. And it ties back into the fact that there really is a Civic for everyone, although we personally, being car people, would take the Civic Si or Type-R…

2021 Hyundai Veloster

8. 2021 Hyundai Veloster

Important Info

  • Base Price: $18,900-$27,600
  • Updates: Unchanged
  • 0-60 mph: 5.5-7.3 sec
  • Fuel Economy: City 22-27 mpg / Hwy 29-34 mpg
  • Basic Warranty: 5 years / 60,000 miles
  • Our Rating: 8.1/10

Our Thoughts: Pros & Cons

Summary: At one time thought quirky and weird, the Veloster, through sheer driving feel, is now seen as a viable and fun small car

Pros: Small on the outside but huge inside, excellent hatchback cargo space, an absolute blast to drive

Cons: The 3 main door setup can be awkward in tight parking lots, some cheap feeling plastics in the cabin around the center stack area on lower specs

The Hyundai Veloster is an example of perseverance by a company that knows they have a great small car to sell. The first model generations available in the US unfortunately were mocked for having their jutting lower bumper spitter and some odd styling around the air intake. That changed in 2018 when Hyundai, after a few years back at the drawing board, brought forth a sharp, exciting shape that completely reversed opinions.

With that refresh also came a more powerful base engine, a 147 HP 2.0L engine that is more than enough for the tiny car. However, Hyundai realized that Americans can, at times, be a bit power-hungry, so for just $5k more than base price, a turbocharged 1.6L engine produces 201 HP and smashes a grin onto the face of anyone that puts their foot to the floor in it.

The Veloster keeps getting better, with a whopping 20 cubic feet of cargo space in its hatch with the rear seats up. It will comfortably seat two adults up front, although if you’re taller than 6’2″, the rear seats can be a bit of a squeeze, and are only accessible from the right side of the car.

A variety of transmissions are available, from an excellent dynamic 6 speed automatic, a 7-speed DCT dual-clutch semi-automatic, and a snappy, great feeling 6-speed manual.

And, if you want to experience what Hyundai’s racing division can do to a Veloster, for $27,600, you can get yourself a Veloster N, a 250 HP 2.0L turbocharged weapon that carves a curved line through physics with its superb handling. It’s the perfect Office on Friday, Racetrack on Saturday car for the responsible adult with that little kid inside of them.

For the Veloster that was tested for this list, it was the 6-speed Turbo manual model. And it was one of those manuals you really could kick the clutch in, heel-toe to rev match that wonderful turbo engine, and slot the shifter home as you let up on the clutch. We’re extremely happy that Hyundai is finally bringing the N-spec models over, and we can’t wait to give the Veloster N a go as the big brother of the Turbo model!
2021 Kia K5 GT

9. 2021 Kia K5

Important Info

  • Base Price: $23,490 – $30,490
  • Updates: New vehicle
  • 0-60 mph: 5.5+ sec
  • Fuel Economy: City 32+ mpg / Hwy38+ mpg depending on engine
  • Basic Warranty: 5 years / 60,000 miles
  • Our Rating: 8.0/10

Our Thoughts: Pros & Cons

Summary: The replacement for the excellent Optima comes with more tech, more options, and the sharp styling modern Kia’s are known for

Pros: Excellent value for a mid-sized 4 door sportback sedan, optional AWD, 5-star NHTSA safety rating

Cons: Driver’s seat quite high, not the most communicative steering, somewhat anemic low-end power before turbo kicks in

Kia has been riding on a wave of great cars since the major overhaul that they underwent across the range in the late 2000s. New build quality standards, new production facilities, and heavy investment into more efficient engines and some hybrid options have moved them from a bargain-brand into a competitive and well-regarded mainstream brand.

One of the paragons of their success was the Kia Optima, a mid-sized family sedan that was superbly equipped for the mid-$20k price you paid for it. Now, however, the Optima is being quietly discontinued so that Kia’s new mid-size sedan, the K5, can move in.

The K5 is available with either a 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-four making 180 HP and 195 lbs-ft of torque across the majority of the range or, in the GT spec, a 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-four with 290 HP and 311 lbs-ft of torque. All specs come with an 8-speed automatic transmission, with the GT’s automatic being a Dual Clutch Transmission with paddle shifters on the steering column.

While Kia’s are not widely known for their power, what they are known for is just how much you get for your hard-earned cash. Even the base LX model comes with 16-inch alloys, LED lighting all around, an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, dual-zone climate control, remote keyless entry, driver lane, and departure assist… we could go on. With Kia, what are options or part of optional packages are standard and included in the base price.

Even more exciting is the upcoming AWD option in early 2021 on the EX and GT models. If you live in the North of the country, or up in Canada, you’ll know how valuable all-wheel-drive can be when the going gets slippery and steep.

While we are sad to see the excellent and reliable Optima silently slipped off the model list, the K5 is more than worth it as a replacement. It really nails it in the looks department with that bow-tie front grille that speaks of subtle aggression and the swooping sportback design. We just wish the driver’s seat would go lower, as a few of us are quite tall individuals and fitting in the K5 took some neck gymnastics.
2021 Nissan Maxima

10. 2021 Nissan Maxima

Important Info

  • Base Price: $34,450-$42,980
  • Updates: Minor
  • 0-60 mph: 5,8+ sec
  • Fuel Economy: City 20-23 mpg / Hwy 29-32 mpg
  • Basic Warranty: 3 years / 36,000 miles
  • Our Rating: 7.9/10

Our Thoughts: Pros & Cons

Summary: A sports car this is not, but the Maxima does have the under-hood grunt to get the heart beating

Pros: Slick modern styling, a grunty V6 is standard, features set is good on the low end of the pricing and just gets better the higher you go

Cons: CVT sucks the life out of the driving experience, not as much cargo space as rivals

In a list of full-size cars, something called the Maxima just fits in like it was meant to be. Yet, there is something about this big beast of a car that makes it seem more than just a big chassis with four wheels and a body on top of it.

The real heart of it is that the engine is of the legendary VQ like of Nissan V6’s. The VQ V6’s have appeared in some cars you may have heard of, such as the Nissan 350 and 370 Z cars, and was the basis for the VR36DETT engine in the astounding Nissan GT-R.

Providing 300 HP and a grunty 261 lbs-ft of torque, the 3.5L VQ V6 in the Maxima easily makes it the fastest accelerating foreign car on today’s list, by a country mile. It also isn’t afraid to unleash some of that classic Nissan howl when pushed hard.

The fun of the engine, however, is countered by the fact that all trims, despite having sport mode buttons and great comfort and cabin features, are equipped with a CVT. This sucks all the fun of hearing the engine climb through multiple sets of revs and instead makes it almost into a flat droning sound.

A DCT or even a classic 6-speed manual option would shoot this car to the top of this list without question, but alas, this is the age of efficiency, and CVT’s are seeming to be the way forwards.

As always, Nissan’s Maxima impresses with the pure rowdy power of its V6. It is also quite comfortable and the doors are big enough for a 6’1″ author of this list to easily enter and exit. The truly tragic part of the Maxima, however, is that there is no option for a DCT or even sport-shift automatic. The CVT doesn’t let the engine properly climb through the revs, and being a bit old fashioned, we like the rise-shift-rise-shift sound of an engine as part of the driving experience.