OneShift Car Of The Year: The Best Cars Of 2021
2021 has been a year of trying our level best in getting back to a normal life.
Armed with more experience and knowledge of the unknown, we are in a state of promising transition.
The car industry has also accelerated in its charge towards its superthemes. Tesla has been a flagbearer of all of the change that is going on in the marketplace now, with electrification well and truly embraced now by the powers that be. This explains why of our 28 category winners, nearly 20% are either hybrid or fully-electric cars. We can expect this proportion to only increase in the coming years.
The internal combustion engine (ICE) offerings continue to be extremely competitive, with many being swan songs of their type and represent the zenith of its technology. It is true now that it is not easy to find an incapable car in the market, even at the lower end of the spectrum.
Yet it is at the top where we find the most sumptuous ICE-powered examples that will continue to flourish for those who can afford it. These will be ever rarer, but also will offer an experience that can never be replaced.
And so, we present to you, the category winners of the OneShift Car Of The Year.
The overall Car Of The Year winner will be announced shortly after, so stay tuned!
The Kamiq won us over with its upbeat styling, punchy engine and versatility. More interesting than its peers and with premium build quality thanks to the VW Group, the Kamiq takes this win easily.
Despite a long list of strong competition, the MG HS continues to impress us with its value proposition, offering surprising performance and refinement.
The Palisade is just content going on its own path, offering a dissenting big cc V6 in an equally massive body - and it’s really refreshing. There’s plenty of space, luxury that only a higher cylinder count can offer as well as a reasonable price.
The quintessential Golf continues its dominance by being incrementally better in almost every measure than its predecessor, which itself was already a class leader. Despite some cost-cutting, it's still the best all-rounder compact hatchback.
Surprisingly perky with a clever use of a mild hybrid system, the Swift Sport remains one of the most affordable, and honest, ways to have fun. It requires a little more effort with its manual gearbox, but it’s oh-so worth it.
It’s a quirky little segment that didn’t quite exist a decade ago. The A3 Sedan still does it the best and has the most flattering lines.
To be fair, we tried the spicier CLA45S this year, but Mercedes has done the CLA for a while now and has nailed its looks even with lesser endowed variants. Its interior would appeal to techy types, too.
Shocking in front-wheel drive, but absolutely necessary if it were to go mainstream. The 1-Series is now more spacious and practical than ever, yet is still a decent steer so long as you don’t expect rear-wheel drive dynamics.
This category is shrinking faster than the collapse of meme crypto coins, but those that hold their ground are still fairly decent options.
Does what the immensely popular Volkswagen Jetta did, yet with much more flair, quality, space and a hatchback to boot. It’s definitely the most complete car in its category, which helped it take the win.
At times the Camry Hybrid may feel quite cheap relative to its peers, but all is quite forgotten when it has gotten under your skin. Like a Seiko watch, it can probably outlive the cockroach yet return you mileage figures that are more consistent than ERP gantry times. Refined, likeable and rides as soft as a pillow, too.
It’s one of the oldest in its segment but really, there’s magic in its damping and a lightness in its feet that transcends generations. It wins by being sharpened to a point that it can easily rival any of its newer peers.
BMW has remained sensible with the 5er’s grille, which is already a huge plus point. It’s the most engaging to drive among its peers, yet has impeccable road manners.
Its looks might draw some unkind references, while its interior seems like a step too far into Elon Musk’s territory, but the S-Class is still King of the Hill for pampering its passengers. It’s also fairly wieldy behind the wheel too, feeling like a much smaller car.
The Carnival, like the Palisade, treads its own path by offering a workhorse turbodiesel to haul its load and it makes plenty of sense. Its efficient for its size, interesting to look at and keeps the family very happy indeed.
The Cupra Leon pips the Golf GTI for its more peppy engine and slightly sharper dynamics. Close fight, though.
The M3 manages to do nearly everything right while wearing the badge that people want, too. An absolute terror at its most extreme settings.
The concept still bewilders me, but you get some Mini-ish dynamics in a feel-good, premium package with decent space. It’s fun and cheerful, and likeable.
Like much of the Volkswagen Group products, it manages to do everything very well, but it also looks unique enough to stand out. Plenty of practicality too, despite the cool profile.
The fact that the GLB manages to squeeze 7 seats into its compact chassis is remarkable. It stands out with its quirky looks, in a good way.
Beautifully crafted, a soulful drivetrain and a true debonair. Feels very special, not just a money-making exercise for AML.
Porsche knows a thing or two about the Asian way of doing things. It threw in the 2.9 V6 from the last Panamera 4S into the base model ‘for free’, and fixed all the minor details at the same time while at it. It’s the swansong ICE Panamera and what an achievement it is.
Try it and you’ll be genuinely shocked how good it is. Yes, it’s a little dated inside and out, but the drivetrain is as future-ready as you wish it would be.
The ZS EV still puts up a commendable fight for being one of the most affordable EVs in its category, yet being a no-compromise EV with all the speed and range you could hope for for its price.
For once, a luxury EV that actually is a value proposition other than the incumbent Teslas. BMW is making a statement by making the iX3 the cheapest X3 you can buy, yet endowing it with a drivetrain that is flagship-rivalling.
Large kidney grilles aside, the 4-Series Convertible really looks the part and is great to drive, too.
Your heart wants a Golf GTI, but all you really need every day is the 1.5 eTSI engine in the basic Golf. Paired with DSG, it's smooth, fairly punchy and more frugal than ever now with a mild hybrid system. It's quite likely the near pinnacle of the ICE powertrain for the masses as we transition into electric.
Rather out of the blue, Toyota rocketed up to the top of enthusiasts’ Christmas wish lists with the GR Yaris. Engaging, bespoke, lightweight and desirable, it’s the homologation special we’ve now almost forgotten and dearly miss. Cue resale values of past homologation specials for reference…