Automotive product planning requires lead times measured in years. And good thing, too, because otherwise I might not have had much to cover this year. Despite the pandemic, new cars kept rolling out and we here at Car and Driver kept driving them, albeit sometimes only around our homes. And, as always, certain themes emerged over the course of the year. Some were as obvious as a supercharged Hellcat (of which there are now many) and some were more subtle—like the persistent accommodations for physical keys, even in the Age of the Fob. Before opening the first notebook of 2021, a few leftovers from 2020’s pages.
It’s All Hellcats These Days
This year, Dodge took a look at its lineup and decided it was sadly bereft of 700-horsepower V-8s. So they put a Hellcat engine in the Ram. They put a Hellcat engine in the Durango. Then they took a look at the Charger and decided that, you know, it wasn’t Hellcatted enough—so they Redeyed it with 797 horsepower. Dodge held a track day at Carolina Motorsports Park. It was raining. All the cars were sterilized between drivers, so the only thing you had to worry about was 797 horsepower and rear-wheel-drive in the rain.
This Was The Year of EV Drifting
Metal Keys Live On
Sure, all but the cheapest cars use proximity keys (or now, even your phone) to unlock and start, but the old-school metal key remains a faithful backup. Did the battery die on your Ferrari Portofino? Fear not—here’s your lock cylinder on the door, just like you’d find on a 1983 Ferrari 308. It’s almost like we still don’t fully trust electronic components in mission-critical situations, and there might be an analogy to autonomous vehicles here but I can’t quite figure it out.
“Your Frontier Is So Old…”
“Yo, your Nisan Frontier is so old, it has a big round plastic puck next to the steering column because its platform predated RF key fobs and they had to cover up the ignition switch when they added that later!” Also, its VIN is 00000000000000001.
Confirmed, Again: Touchpads Are Not A Good Way To Do It
This is one from Lexus. It is not a good way to do it. Two knobs or a scroll wheel and a few buttons—that’s a good way to do it. But the LC500 Convertible (which, uh, this is not) can do whatever it wants because look at it.
Touchpads Are Not A Good Way To Do It, Part II
The 2021 Acura TLX A-Spec is a lot of fun. Except for this. Look at those two items on the right: They’re so close to getting it.
Not To Get Too Salty About Toyota Ergonomics, But…
Most cars orient their start buttons vertically, to the right of the steering column, or horizontally on the console. The 2021 Toyota Venza has a button next to the steering wheel, but—surprise!—it’s for the trip odometer. The start button is hanging out under the climate control. Yeah, you’d get used to it. But “let’s move the most important button farther away” seems like an odd design decision.
Most Hardcore Crossover Suspension: Volvo XC60 Recharge Polestar Engineered
So you can push a button and adjust the suspension on your crossover? That’s cool, but not as cool as the Polestar XC60’s manually adjustable Öhlins setup. To adjust the dampers, here’s all you do: pop the hood, turn the adjustment knob 20 clicks one way or the other, then count how many clicks you turn it the other way to make the damping softer or firmer. Then do the same on the opposite side (don’t lose count of those clicks!). Then close the hood and go to the rear of the car, where there are similar knobs on each side. But they’re covered by a dust cap that you’ll have to remove—once you jack up the rear of the car to get some clearance, because you probably can’t fit your hand in there between the tire and the fender. So anyway, you’re never going to do this are you?
Subaru Brought Back Gold Trim
Remember the 90s? There were no pandemics and plenty of cars had awesome gold badges. Sadly, gold fell out of fashion, along with low-rise jeans and Creed. But it’s back, baby, thanks to Subaru. Just look at this 2021 Crosstrek badge! Subaru calls that color “plasma yellow pearl,” but we know it’s totally golden.
CVTs Aren’t Bad… With Turbos
While the Michigan crew tested the AWD Buick Encore GX, I got the FWD version, which uses a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) instead of a nine-speed automatic. I was primed for disappointment, yet the CVT wasn’t bad, thanks to the 1.3-liter turbo’s 174 lb-ft of torque. Without need to ever rev the little three-banger very high, you can forget what kind of transmission you have, for the most part. Thanks, turbos!
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