SHARP Autos: A Year in Review — The Best Cars of 2021

Do you ever get a sneaking suspicion that something good is about to happen? While the car business is in disarray — reverse mergers, monster IPOs, supply chain chaos, unbridled R&D spending — the business of being a gearhead has been pretty great recently. In 2021, we got new EVs that feel like they’re from five years in the future, Iron Man−style augmented reality windshields, and some of the best driver’s cars the world has ever seen. Even your dad’s old Harley-Davidson t-shirt is cool again. Best of all: this decade is just kicking off. It’ll be one in which electric vehicles finally go mainstream and the last generation of purely gas-powered sports cars goes out with an almighty bang. Roaring ’20s indeed. As we tiptoe gingerly through the first month of 2022, let’s take a look in the rearview mirror at what got auto enthusiasts properly revved up this past year.

The One — The Year’s Best Car

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The GT3 is the best sports car money can buy, and the contest isn’t even close. To drive it is to mainline the manna that has always made driving such a thrill — today, and since the first brave soul discovered oversteer. The GT3 Touring is the same world-beating machine without the race car costume. So, actually, that’s the best sports car money can buy. In fact, we liked it so much, we commissioned one. As you read this, the one-of-one SHARP × Porsche GT3 Touring should be shipping across the Atlantic. The last all-motor GT3? A future classic? We think so. ($180,300)

The Best SUV of The Year — The Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic All-Terrain

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This long boy is a deep cut from Mercedes’s catalogue. As such, it would be easy to overlook it — but don’t. The E 450 4Matic All-Terrain is a hidden gem and, sure, the name hardly rolls off the tongue, but this car is German. What did you expect? The All-Terrain label means this wagon rides on (slightly) taller air-suspension and has SUV-esque black cladding to reassure drivers that, yes, this machine can tackle snow and the occasional gravel road with ease. The ride’s a tad firm, but the All-Terrain can do anything your old crossover SUV could do and look better doing it. The clever mild-hybrid engine delivers plenty of low-end grunt and surprisingly good fuel economy. Need lots of space? Two old-school jump seats in the back make this a real seven-seater.

At heart, under all that rugged cladding, this is still an E-Class wagon. Historically, these were the faithful chariots of families from Rosedale and the like, but today those driveways are filled with SUVs like the Mercedes GLE. That’s the obvious choice, but the All-Terrain wagon is just as capable and far from obvious, which is why it’s our pick for the best SUV of this strange year.

The Best Supercar Revival — The Lamborghini Countach

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Mitja Borkert was born in East Germany in 1974, and so, unlike most other car-crazed kids in the 1980s, he had no idea what a Lamborghini Countach was. “I grew up behind the Iron Curtain,” he explains. “We could choose only from one product: there was one motorcycle, one car, one radio”. As a result, he came to appreciate wedge-shaped Italian supercars much later in life, which is perhaps why he doesn’t take his current job — head of Lamborghini Centro Stile — for granted and always seems to be having so much fun, even when the task is daunting.

Recently, Borkert was given the unenviable job of designing a new Lamborghini Countach, which is like being told to paint a new Mona Lisa. When he stood onstage at The Quail car show in California and pulled the sheet off the Countach LPI 800-4, a limited-edition supercar to mark the 50th anniversary of its namesake, Borkert said it was like a big weight lifted off his heart. “For me, a well-done homage to the heroes of the past, like in the movies — there’s nothing wrong with that,” he says. “It’s enriching our lives. It’s keeping the dream of such heroes alive.”

The Best Sports Car of The Year — The BMW M240i xDrive

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Let’s make this easy. If you’re looking for a classy, entertaining, and practical sports car under $70,000, you should get the all-new 2 Series coupe, preferably in six-cylinder all-wheel drive M240i xDrive trim. Why? Well, for one thing, where BMW’s latest M4 looks challenging, the new 2 adopts a more classic, timeless style. That alone is cause for celebration among diehard fans, who will surely welcome the return of classic BMW design cues like the Hofmeister kink and horizonal kidney grilles. For another, it’s sized just right, with a longer wheelbase that grants more usable rear seats and a better stance on the road. As a result, the car’s silhouette is reminiscent of the early ’00s M3, one of BMW’s all-time greats.

Of course, there’s also how the 2 drives. With adaptive dampers, it’s both more comfortable for daily use and much sharper on a racetrack than the old M240. There’s less understeer, less body roll, more grip, and even more power. The fact that 0–100 km/h comes up in 4.3 seconds is less important than the fact that the steering feel is intuitive, and the rear-biased handling means powering out of corners never fails to entertain. This new-generation 2 Series, which should be with us for roughly seven years, is likely to be the last generation of classic little gas-powered coupes from BMW. The future is hybrids and electrics, but if this is indeed the beginning of the end, it’s a hell of a send-off.

The Best Wing of The Year — The Lexus RC F Track Edition

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If you have a thing for carbon fibre, get yourself a Lexus RC F Track Edition. It’s $35,000 more than the standard RC F, but it comes with a pristine carbon-fibre wing — plus a titanium muffler and carbon aero kit — that would make the cast of Fast and Furious jealous. ($120,000)

The Best (First) Electric Truck — The Rivian R1T

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Upstart Rivian beat Ford, Tesla, GM, and everyone else to the punch with an electric pickup truck; the R1T is rolling off Rivian’s production line in Illinois now. While it’s a bit too pricey to be a work truck, it’s surely the nicest pickup on the road right now. ($90,000)

The Best Restomods (That Aren’t Electric, For a Change)

1. Aimé Leon Dore Porsche 911SC

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“The creative direction for the project came from both my childhood on the Greek islands and the unique beauty of things that get better with age,” says Teddy Santis, founder of New York fashion label Aimé Leon Dore. He collaborated with Porsche on this restored 911 SC, which is both more personal and less serious than your usual Porsche restomod. Note the family photos on the sun visor, the Persian rug floor mats, and the beaded Recaro seat cover.

2. Kimera Automobili EVO37

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This project is the bright idea of Luca Betti — a championship-winning rally driver — and includes a who’s who of Italian auto industry veterans. The idea is to turn ancient Lancia Beta Montecarlos (which were less than stellar to begin with) into something like Lancia’s legendary rally-winning rear-wheel-drive 037. These mid-engine, 500 hp machines will set you back €480,000.

The Best Automotive Design of The Year — The Polestar 2 (SWEDISH STYLE)

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If you are in the market for a stylish electric car, the Polestar 2 should already be at the top of your list. In that case, you’re in luck, because Polestar has just taken $7,000 off the price off of their fastback sedan by removing one of its motors. The new single-motor Polestar 2 starts at $49,900 and is rated for 427 kilometres of range, which makes it not just stylish but a sweet deal, too.

The Best Interior of The Year — The BMW iX xDrive50

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Earlier this year, we took a drive across Germany in the BMW iX — the spiritual successor to BMW’s groundbreaking i3 — and realized that the best thing about it isn’t the fact that it’s all-electric or that it comes loaded with next-gen tech. It’s that the iX is the first car that succeeds in offering an alternative vision of what driving should feel like. Sitting in other nice cars tends to feel like sitting in a fighter jet, an office, or a hunting lodge. But the iX feels like walking into the lobby of your favourite hotel in Copenhagen or being seated at the best restaurant in town.

It’s more social, and is emptied of all the usual fancy-car trappings: stereo speakers are hidden invisibly behind fabric door panels, buttons are embedded in wood and topped with a crystalline dial, the new widescreen display could be an Apple product, and the (optional) blue-grey fabric with copper accents is a palette worthy of an India Mahdavi interior. That this machine runs silent, powered solely by electricity, only adds to the blissed-out driving experience. As the first of BMW’s new fifth-generation EVs, driving range is a very healthy 475 kilometres (based on EPA estimates), and DC fast-charging ability means 30 minutes is all it takes to charge from 10 to 80 per cent, so no stress there either. If we had to be in rush hour (or get across the city or to the cottage in long-weekend traffic), the cabin of the iX is where we’d want to be.

The Best Motorcycles of The Year

1. Moto Guzzi V100 Mandello

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It’s like Michelangelo carved his David a motorcycle. To mark its 100-year anniversary, Moto Guzzi is creating its first properly new motorcycle in decades — and it’s to die for. With the Mandello, the old Italian firm is (very) belatedly embracing water-cooling for its traditional transverse V-twin. The bike’s not out until next year, but we’re already smitten. (Price TBD)

2. BMW S1000 R

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Among the lunatic fringes of the naked superbike world, this BMW is relatively sane. It’ll tiptoe around town reasonably comfortably. Given the tiniest bit of space, though, it’ll make your eyes pop and your heart pound; agility is its forte. With 165 hp, it’s not the most powerful bike, but trust us when we say you probably don’t want more on the street. ($16,500)

3. Husqvarna EE 5

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Nobody could have predicted a pandemic would be a boon to motorcycling, but this past year, a whole new generation of young riders discovered the sport through motocross. It’s outdoors, physically distant, and ridiculously fun. Even kindergarteners can rip around dirt tracks on miniature bikes like this electric, state-of-the-art Husqvarna. ($6,200)

4. Harley-Davidson Sportster S

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Harley took a risk this year reinventing the legendary Sportster, a model with roots in the ’50s. Unlike the old ones, the all-new Sporty is crazy fast, loves corners, and has a flat-trackish look unlike any other Harley in recent memory. The risk paid off. If this is where the Motor Company is headed, we’re in. ($18,000)

The Best Car for Speed — The BMW M5 CS

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All four seats are deeply bolstered in the M5 CS, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about how absurd this thing is. Only M could make such a big car drive so sweetly when pushed to the limit. Good luck finding three people brave or foolhardy enough to ride along as you flog this lighter, quicker, more powerful M5 around a racetrack, though. ($165,900)

The Best in Fast Fashion

It’s not just your dad’s old Harley-Davidson shirt that’s cool again. Being a total car nerd has somehow come back around to cultural acceptability, as evidenced by all this swag.

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GTI/OTH: Digital Audio Tee ($50)

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Jacob Rochester for Actual Source: GT2 Shirt ($60)

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Palace × AMG: Driving Jacket (Sold Out)

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Ferrari: Luxury Lifestyle Collection (Various Prices)

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Volvo X Casca limited-edition sustainable sneakers ($198)

The Best Grand Touring EV — The Audi RS e-tron GT

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Even on the road, the RS e-tron GT still doesn’t seem real. It’s too low, too wide, too hunkered-down on those huge 21-inch wheels. But drop way down into the driver’s seat, put the car in drive and put your foot down, and things get very real, very fast. For reference, Audi’s RS 6 Avant feels like swinging a sledgehammer. It’s mighty powerful, but it takes a moment or two to build up momentum. In the GT, the force is similarly mighty, but it arrives instantly.

The sudden rush is accompanied by a noise like a helicopter turbine starting up. Total driving range is officially 373 kilometres as rated by the EPA, but as we and others have discovered, the EPA numbers are overly conservative. In the real world, driving normally, 410 klicks or more on a charge is very doable. The underlying mechanicals of this car were co-developed with Porsche, but Audi Sport has given the RS e-tron a feel all its own. Find a twisty road — or, better yet, a racetrack — and the low-flying GT rails through corners as if glued to the tarmac by some cosmic force, just like you’d expect a fast Audi would.

James Bond’s Best Aston Martin — The 1987 V8 Vantage

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Hint: it’s not the overused and overrated Aston Martin DB5. The best Aston Martin, driven by the world’s most famous spy in No Time to Die, is the 1987 V8 Vantage. Don’t @ me. Shout-out to Timothy Dalton who was ahead of the curve on this brutish British muscle car; he drove it in 1987’s The Living Daylights.