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Best new cars of 2021: July to December

We drive hundreds of cars every year and some stand out more than others…

Welcome to the second half of our look back at the best new cars we had the pleasure of driving in 2021. We've covered January to June on page one, now it's time for July to December... 

July

Land Rover Defender (P400e and V8)

We drove two new versions of the Land Rover Defender in July: the plug-in hybrid P400e model and the rapid V8.

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We found that the plug-in model was every bit as good as other versions of the off-roader, but with the added benefit of lower running costs for many buyers thanks to the low company car tax and electric running. The Defender V8 proved to be more of a luxury cruiser than a V8 bruiser, but we still felt it was excellent. 

​​MG 5 EV Long Range

In July we got the chance to try an updated MG 5 EV that now features a larger battery. This change brought a range of 250 miles on a single charge, and we felt that this was a really impressive development for one of the UK’s best-value EVs. 

The MG 5 EV offers loads of practicality and a relaxed driving experience, plus a good range and excellent 100kW charging capability. Best of all was the price, from £26,495 after the PiCG, which makes it one of the cheapest EVs, adding hugely to its appeal as a family car.

August

Hyundai Kona N

Hyundai’s N division was on a roll this year as we found out when we drove the new Kona N. It proved to be really impressive, offering the thrill of a hot hatchback in a practical SUV bodystyle.

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The Kona N’s punchy 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol has 276bhp, which means there’s plenty of performance, but it was the chassis that really got under our skin. Like the other N models in the stable, the Kona N was a delight to drive.

Skoda Fabia

Our first drive of the new Skoda Fabia came in August, where we found that the new supermini had held onto some of its key selling points while also adding appeal in plenty of ways. It was still among the most practical models in its class, plus we said that it had a lot of great tech with a well finished cabin and a comfortable ride that makes it easy to live with every day. The Fabia was also quiet and smooth to drive, so we said it would be a real challenger to our current supermini favourite, the Renault Clio.

Kia EV6 

We couldn’t wait to try the new Kia EV6, because of its close relationship to the incredibly impressive Hyundai Ioniq 5 that picked up several Auto Express Awards in 2021. Both cars use similar underlying tech, and while we found that the Kia wasn’t quite as practical as the Hyundai, once we got behind the wheel in August, it was clear that the EV6 was a sportier machine and still one of the best electric cars around.

We loved that it offered close to 300 miles of real-world range and could be charged faster than almost any other EV. It proved that you can buy an electric car right now that’s easily able to do the kind of lengthy journey you’d previously only take on with a petrol or diesel car.

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The Kia was also packed with impressive in-car tech and was composed on bumpy, twisty roads, although it wasn’t as much fun to drive as we might have liked.

We concluded that the Kia EV6 was well worth its £40k price tag and was a sportier, sleeker alternative to the Ioniq 5 that should be added to your next-car shortlist.

September

Updated Dacia Duster

Dacia is undergoing a period of change. Its brilliant new Sandero now uses the latest tech, and while we’ll see a new Duster soon, the updated model is still based on the older platform. 

It proved true to Dacia’s values when we tested it, with affordability mixed with practicality and useful tech, plus the availability of a new automatic gearbox. We found the Duster is still best in mid-spec trim with a frugal petrol engine. 

BMW iX

BMW’s iX was arguably the firm’s most important new car of the year, but straight away the electric flagship impressed. The looks won’t be to all tastes, but there’s no denying that the iX is a striking machine that offers the presence buyers will want from a large electric SUV.

It also has the tech and ability to back this up. With two powertrain options at launch and an M-badged model in the works, the iX offers choice. It’s not cheap – prices start at more than £70,000 – but it proved it’s the best car on offer in this class.

October

Audi RS 3

Hyper hatchbacks such as Audi’s latest RS 3 will soon be legislated out of existence, so the chance to sample this 395bhp five-cylinder monster was a welcome one. That unique 2.5-litre engine is the icing on the cake, and feels perfectly capable of delivering on its remarkable claims of 0-62mph in just 3.8 seconds. It’s pricey at £58,650, true, but then it does offer decent practicality, with seating for five.

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We can’t wait to put it head to head in a group test with its closest rival, the Mercedes-AMG A 45 S.

November

Renault Megane 

After Renault kicked the year off in style, announcing its big electrification plans (Page 72), we rounded the year out by sampling the new Mégane E-Tech Electric, a pure-electric crossover alternative to its ageing Mégane family hatchback that still lives on (for now) in plug-in hybrid form.

We loved the looks, with a slick new design that signifies Renault’s future styling direction and gives the Mégane a more premium appearance than even its inflated list price (due to being an EV) suggests.

The design inside matched its exterior, too, with a new OpenR infotainment system combining a 12.3-inch digital dash and a portrait touchscreen in one seamless panel. Even bigger news was that the Android Automotive-powered set-up was a huge improvement over anything Renault had previously offered, delivering seamless smartphone integration and some great connected services. Its response times proved nice and quick, too.

However, the engineering underneath the new SUV was every bit as impressive. We tried a 60kWh model with a claimed range of 292 miles, and our initial experience suggest the Mégane should be good for that. Performance was lively and the E-Tech Electric felt genuinely fun to drive, without compromising on comfort or refinement, so the Renault’s dual personality was most welcome.

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We did have some reservations, though, not least with the level of practicality on offer, compounded by a slightly cramped-feeling rear passenger compartment. However, the Renault’s 440-litre boot is big and counteracts this trait by offering plenty of storage space, including an area for the charging cables. And with 130kW rapid-charge capability, the Mégane scored highly in this respect, too. Overall, the impression was of a relatively high-quality vehicle that pipped the VW ID.3 when it came to its interior materials.

Just one question mark remained: the Renault’s price. Our top-spec car was estimated to start from £38,000, which means it would miss out on the Government’s £2,500 Plug-in Car Grant. 

Variants from lower down the Mégane line-up may well qualify for this when UK pricing is confirmed next year – and we suspect that this is where the sweet spot for value in the range will lie. To judge from our early encounter, the Renault Mégane E-Tech Electric proved 

to be a promising family crossover that had lots to like.

MG ZS EV 

When we had the chance to drive MG’s updated  ZS EV, we set out to determine if it was Britain’s best-value EV. It can certainly lay claim to that crown, offering up to 273 miles from its new, larger 72.6kWh “Long Range” battery and with prices starting from just £28,495. 

Revisions to the MG’s design made this updated car look much sharper than the old model, while fitting new infotainment tech added advanced connectivity and meant the ZS felt fresher inside, too, rounding off a convincingly affordable EV package.

Check out some more of our 2021 review of the year pages here...

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