Every autumn since 2003, when Robb Report began inviting readers to judge its Car of the Year, participants have asked how to weigh a sexy super–sports car against an ultra-luxury sedan, and the answer has been… you don’t. The fact is, one car just can’t do it all. Each year, it seems that some low-slung, hip-high projectile makes the loudest, most memorable impression and, like a weekend in Las Vegas, obfuscates more clear and sober vision. The reality is that our judges—like most readers in the Robb Report universe—have garages populated with two-, four- and five-door choices for scratching different itches at different times. Is a mid-engine slingshot just what the doctor ordered this weekend? Is your preferred daily driver a rolling bank vault akin to an earth-bound Gulfstream?
This year’s roundup of cars from Germany, Italy, Japan and the UK yielded some discerning observations from our judges, as well as considerable debate about the relative merits of hard-core performance versus unbridled luxury. For the first time, a luxury icon sedan—Rolls-Royce’s Ghost—was an overall session winner. It also wowed drivers in the three other sessions, not just with its refined character but by turning on its pointy head the notion that luxury and driving enjoyment are mutually exclusive. Lamborghini’s Huracán Evo RWD Spyder was the favorite sports-car, proof that bull-riding continues to thrill, despite that car’s ability to carry little more than a passenger, the driver’s wallet and a couple of toothbrushes.
And so, after almost two decades of tortured tallying, Robb Report confers two awards in 2021: Sports Car of the Year and Luxury Car of the Year. Still, it’s an understatement to say this year’s offerings made reaching a decision difficult. Not just because of the close call between Maranello horses and Sant’Agata Bolognese bulls. Or winged victories from Goodwood and flying B’s from Crewe. But also because, in the year of Covid, “What if?” loomed large, as one might imagine a dream bout between Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali. In the case of Car of the Year, the presence of Porsche’s brilliant 911 Turbo S (unavailable at the time of our event) could have well turned the tables in favor of the German team and whisked the proverbial carpet out from under the Italian champ. Even its electric Taycan Turbo, which was lined up at one stage to compete, might have surprised a few people, too. Or instead of Ferrari’s elegant, beautiful Roma, what if its F8 Spider—let alone an SF90 Stradale (likewise unavailable last fall)—showed up at the party? What if, indeed?
But the real takeaway for the marque-agnostic editors of Robb Report (who do not cast votes) is that every car in this lineup has much to recommend it. In an age when the trophies-for-all mentality is oft derided, we can genuinely regard each of our entries a winner.
11. Mercedes-AMG E 63 S Wagon
A practical wagon with the perfect amount of impracticality. —Ken Kladouris
A wolf that runs errands, Mercedes’s weapons-grade wagon can handily outpace many purpose-built sports cars while hauling a dozen cases of Central California’s finest juice. Though Europe’s best-kept secret is almost unknown in the States, it may be the ultimate combination of high-performance sedan and high-riding SUV. Mercedes-AMG’s unicorn was familiar to a few participants, but most judges were bewildered by the presence of a station wagon in the company of 10 exotics.
Despite preconceptions, many drivers extolled its impressive power and capable handling. “The sheer power and grip of this wagon are astonishing,” said Ken Kladouris, who appreciated it as “a practical wagon with the perfect amount of impracticality.” Najeeb Thomas called out the dual nature of the beast, imagining that Mercedes’s “GL and the Roadster have given birth to the coolest wagon on the road.” Charlotte Rawa sensed its Jekyll-and-Hyde personality, calling it “a cool family truckster on steroids.”
In typical Mercedes-Benz fashion, the interior affords plenty of silver-star luxury but, in this case, pairs it with 64 cubic feet of cargo space when the rear seats are folded down. Nikki Bass pronounced the entire cabin “spectacular.” With its expansive infotainment panel spread across the dash, Tracy Bilek “loved the full glass screen,” but with all the information and graphics on display, Praveen Sharma thought that “the dash was a bit too colorful.”
A few folks regarded the Affalterbach oddity as an answer to an unasked question. Mike Bilek minced no words, calling it “the ugliest car out there.” But Versha Shah put the car in perspective, referring to it as “the best grocery-getter I have ever driven.”
ENGINE: 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8
POWER: 603 hp
0-60 MPH: 3.4 sec
TOP SPEED: 180 mph, limited
BASE PRICE: $112,450
OUR CAR: $141,050
10. Lexus LC 500 Convertible
Rides like the Rolls-Royce of sports cars. —Burton Young
The LC 500 Convertible takes the lid off and lets the sun in with a shape as elegant as Lexus’s stylish coupe. Even with a price nudging into six-figure territory and plenty of practical power and torque, the Lexus faced tough competitors, some of which were much more powerful and costly. Still, the Lexus’s fit and finish continue to set exceptional standards against which even the most expensive cars are judged.
Burton Young appreciated the comfort, saying the Lexus “rides like the Rolls-Royce of sports cars.” Lexus’s careful attention to top-down airflow management and noise cancellation merited mention by John Kim, who noted the “cushy seats and a quiet cabin for a convertible.” Linda Young also found much to like in its “classy, sporty design,” describing the Lexus as “comfortable on the road, with a simple, clean and sleek interior.” Nicholas Nikolov praised the “great overall comfort, with beautiful interior design.” The Lexus elicited a no-nonsense streak in Donald Barry, who observed, “This car has a very modern interior, a great heads-up display and everything is intuitive. It’s efficient and very good-looking, a tremendous buy for the money.”
If only by comparison to the others, the LC 500 Convertible suffered from its horsepower deficit. Steve Way called it “a little underpowered, maybe.” Sandy Kim acknowledged the “smooth ride” but found it “slow to accelerate.” Duraid Antone noted a “lack of power,” and Candy Antone agreed, saying, “Not enough punch!” Still, some judges considered the Lexus a welcome discovery. Patricia Low called it “the convertible that works in the real world.”
ENGINE: 5.0-liter, naturally aspirated V-8
POWER: 471 hp
0-60 MPH: 4.6 sec
TOP SPEED: 168 mph, limited
BASE PRICE: $101,000
OUR CAR: $113,320
9. McLaren GT
Catch me if you can. —Adrien Signorello
The British automaker named after late racing great Bruce McLaren has always been a front-runner when participating in our contest—that is, until this year. Its finish near the back of the pack is unprecedented, but then so is this model, the first grand tourer from a marque known for compact supercars with mind-blowing performance and agility—the Cirque du Soleil acrobats of the automotive world. The McLaren GT breaks that mold with an enlarged interior and, purists be damned, space for luggage. The result was the most polarizing vehicle in the field.
For Morgan Maureze, the car made him feel “young and in control of life,” and Carrie Ferry said it “drives like a dream wrapped in a perfect bow… The exterior is gorgeous, and I love that there’s room for shopping.” Another fan, Najeeb Thomas, observed, “This car has as much power as a Category 5 hurricane.” Although the GT’s looks are certainly arresting, its optional motorsport-inspired carbon-ceramic brakes were not, at least for many of the judges. “The brakes were incredibly hard to kick in,” noted Shery Zarnegin, while Duraid Antone lamented, “The brakes felt like I was driving a bumper car at the fair.”
The consensus was that the low-profile coupe didn’t meet lofty expectations.
“Someone put training wheels on my McLaren 720S,” Anthony Ferry complained, a sentiment shared by Kimberly Worsnop, who said it was for “a 12-year-old boy in men’s clothing.” What’s certain is that while the current GT may not measure up to its smaller siblings, room for improvement has been built right in.
ENGINE: 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8
POWER: 612 hp
0-60 MPH: 3.1sec
TOP SPEED: 203 mph
BASE PRICE: $210,000
OUR CAR: $281,185
8. Audi RS 7 Sportback
For a daily car, it brings a ton of fun and sleek looks to match. —Steven Rogstad
Now into its second generation, Audi’s hot-rod five-door hatch shows German rivals from BMW, Mercedes-AMG and Porsche how to combine blistering performance with incredible versatility. Peter Krauss called the RS 7 “a real beast that gives AMG and [BMW] M class cars a real run and beats them in many aspects.” All-wheel drive, four-wheel steering and adjustable air suspension make the RS 7 handle as well as it accelerates, and optional carbon-ceramic brakes with 22-inch wheels add stopping power and snazz. Versha Shah called it “practical and sophisticated,” but although Phil Garrison said that “the RS 7 delivers a performance-packed package at a reasonable price,” he added, “It didn’t leave a memorable impression.”
Most judges were suitably impressed. Cohiba Cigars ambassador Sean Williams, at over six feet tall, liked the feeling of space, saying, “This is a luxury performance vehicle that a big guy can really appreciate!”
Inside, Audi’s well-reasoned layout and materials are tastefully understated, while twin touchscreens keep everyone entertained and informed. “The tech is awesome,” exclaimed Patricia Davidson. Alexander Sadak focused on those details, observing, “The interior finishes and dual displays are utterly flawless, a command center that pays homage to clean lines and modern textures.” With the rear seats upright, the Sportback still offers 24.6 cubic feet of cargo space, proof that practicality and power are not such odd bedfellows. That fact was not lost on Tim Rogers, who considered the RS 7 “just a good, commonsense choice.” His wife, Twanna, added, “I could buy this car.” Chris Bauer summed it up, saying, “I would love this as a daily driver.”
ENGINE: 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8
POWER: 591 hp
0-60 MPH: 3.5 sec
TOP SPEED: 155 mph / 190 mph with carbon-ceramic brakes
BASE PRICE: $114,000
OUR CAR: $125,140
7. BMW M8 Gran Coupe
Because kid seats won’t fit in the Lambo. —Carrie Ferry
A true outlier, BMW’s M8 Gran Coupe would be equally at home pulling out of a racetrack’s pit lane as it is pulling up to the red carpet. Akin to Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent, the five-passenger Gran Coupe hides surprising power and ability thanks to its trim and tuning from the German automaker’s M division, responsible for BMW’s motorsport prowess late last century. Most notable is its 600 hp output, roughly the same as the Lamborghini Huracán Evo RWD Spyder.
“It looks so innocent but drives like a beast,” Peter Desforges said, adding, “The guttural sound of the engine when you push the pedal down is nothing short of breathtaking. I actually turned the radio off just so I could listen to it.” And Avrum Elmakis thought that “the value for what you get here is second to none.” The four-door also impressed Versha Shah, who said, “Wow, I forgot I was driving a sedan—an amazing mix of power and polish. There’s nothing to dislike, unless you don’t like having fun.”
Mike Bilek was one of the dissenting voices, however, finding the model to be “the same old BMW look—not much out-of-the-box thinking with its design.” Phil Garrison concurred, noting that “the overall cabin feel lacks sophistication.” Peter Krauss’s opinion came down to market positioning: “The price is a mistake. BMW enters a very crowded space with fierce competition and better brand cachet. Brand snobs looking for the valet’s respect at their favorite restaurant won’t find it.” But perhaps that’s its allure, being inconspicuous to all but a select few who know the truth. Just ask Lois Lane.
ENGINE: 4.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8
POWER: 600 hp
0-60 MPH: 3.1 sec
TOP SPEED: 155 mph, limited / 190 mph, optional M Driver’s Package
BASE PRICE: $130,000
OUR CAR: $154,295
6. Aston Martin Vantage Roadster
Stylish, light and fits like a suit. —Vipul Shah
Much like the UK’s royal family, British marque Aston Martin always keeps up appearances, even when there’s chaos behind closed doors. Despite the albatross of financial instability, Aston continues to make cars that fuel aspiration, and its new Vantage Roadster is no exception. The Vantage is the marque’s most accessible model in price point and, with the 3,860-pound convertible, in visceral experience—a small package with far more sportiness than the lineup from Gaydon has shown in some time.
For Everett Robert, the Vantage Roadster is “a real sports car with massive power and a great ride.” The words Linda Young used to describe the vehicle were “fast, elegant and sleek.” Similarly, Suzanne Desforges applauded its “beautiful craftsmanship and strong performance.” Vipul Shah said the car was “stylish, light and fits like a suit,” while Ryan McKay went a step further by calling it a “little baby rocket ship.” Avrum Elmakis raved about the “incredible responsiveness,” and Praveen Sharma was enamored with the twin-turbocharged V-8’s “delightful harmonics.”
But not everyone was smitten. John Kim found the interior “unappealing,” and Patricia Davidson dismissed the tech as “outdated,” a complaint shared by several of the judges. Michael Sisk said the Vantage handled like an “expensive go-kart,” while Michael Steinger deemed it an “upgraded [Mazda] Miata.” When all votes were tallied, the balance of disparate opinions landed the car roughly in the middle of our pack. With its recently announced new leadership and infusion of capital, Aston has a good shot at rising back up our leaderboard next go-round.
ENGINE: 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8
POWER: 503 hp
0–60 MPH: 3.7 sec
TOP SPEED: 190 mph
BASE PRICE: $147,000
OUR CAR: $199,186
5. Bentley Flying Spur
The Ritz-Carlton has merged with the Daytona 500! —Najeed Thomas
At once sober, sleek and almost sinister, the Flying Spur is not just new but so refined that it replaces the hallowed Mulsanne as the top sedan in the lineup of extraordinary four-doors from Crewe. “This is a luxury automobile with exceptional power and class,” said Everett Robert. Mark Izydore agreed, bowing to the “effortless power” of the Bentley’s W-12 engine, while also bowing because “the roofline is too short… It’s hard to get into.” He wasn’t alone: Michael Steinger also found ingress and egress challenging but gave the big Bentley his vote for the “smoothest ride with the most power.”
As is Bentley tradition, interior amenities define luxury as few cars on the planet can. Kimberly Worsnop called it “sublime opulence” and “a transformational experience.” Other drivers offered aviation analogies, with Adrien Signorello likening it to “a G6 in air.” Peter Desforges elaborated: “As the name suggests, it’s the closest thing to flying in the competition, with a private-jet interior and an incredibly luxurious ride without losing the feel of the road.” Patricia Low called it a “New York–to–Palm Beach express,” adding that “the ride is smooth and the interior is magnificent.” So much so that Stuart Winston quipped, “I want to move in.”
Notable, too, was the Naim for Bentley audio system, which struck a note with Avrum Elmakis, who called it “incredibly well done.” Ryan McKay said the Bentley would be “the perfect road-trip car for you and your hedge-fund buddies.” Moti Ferder was succinct, calling the Flying Spur “perfection,” and Tim Rogers gave it first place, opining, “This is the winner of Car of the Year.”
ENGINE: 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged W-12
POWER: 634 hp
0–60 MPH: 3.7 sec
TOP SPEED: 207 mph
BASE PRICE: $216,700
OUR CAR: $270,860
4. Mercedes-AMG GT R Roadster
Be prepared for blastoff. —Ricky DeCastro
When you’re behind the wheel of the Mercedes-AMG GT R Roadster, it’s hard not to feel like racing icons Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio as they piloted their Mercedes-Benz 300 SLRs to a record-setting first-place finish and a second-place finish, respectively, in the 1955 Mille Miglia. After all, the GT R shares some of the remarkable DNA of its predecessor, including the outstretched hood and ability to wring every iota of performance from the eight cylinders on hand. With the addition of more than a couple hundred horsepower, the current incarnation pays tribute to the German manufacturer’s past and present motorsport accomplishments in a street-legal convertible that kept many judges smiling as wide as its grille.
“The pickup, torque and roar of the engine are spectacular,” said Morgan Maureze. Perhaps that’s why Ken Kladouris noted, “The exhaust’s ‘crackle’ and ‘pop’ on downshifts induce sinister laughter, and the blistering acceleration and handling will take you right to the edge. It’s an attack missile ready to fire—the best Mercedes-AMG GT to date.” For Patricia Low, the bottom line was simply that “it delivers on its promise.”
Despite the GT R’s aggressive aesthetic, the model came across as overengineered to some. “The excitement has been refined out of this car,” Donald Barry lamented. “It’s a wonderful flavor of vanilla.” A similar assessment came from Mark Izydore: “It does everything well, but that doesn’t make it fun to drive.” And John Kim thought the “transmission was sometimes jerky.” Admittedly, not all voters were unbiased. Nikki Bass couldn’t get past a case of sour grapes: “If Mercedes wasn’t killing Ferrari and everybody else in Formula 1, I might like it more.”
ENGINE: 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8
POWER: 577 hp
0–60 MPH: 3.5 sec
TOP SPEED: 197 mph
BASE PRICE: $189,750
OUR CAR: $216,240
3. Ferrari Roma
Ferrari gave us a new car that looks fresh while still maintaining its heritage. —Mark Izydore
The Ferrari Roma aims to be what Maranello’s carmaker calls La Nuova Dolce Vita (The New Sweet Life), a contemporary take on the era when Rome exercised a global influence on art, music, fashion and film. In the views of most judges, it hits the mark. Alexander Sadak called the Roma “the epitome of Italian sexiness.” “It’s a super-elegant Ferrari,” said Steven Rogstad. “It’s a car that’s fun to be seen in, but even more fun not to be seen in—find your remote, windy roads and unwind.” And Linda Young called the Roma “gorgeous, fast and powerful.”
For Nicholas Nikolov, the Roma offered the best of everything, with “beauty and exceptional performance all in one. This car has amazing handling and the power to match it. You can drive in comfort every day during the week and go crazy having fun with it on the weekends.” Anthony Ferry found it “so easy to drive—very approachable and not intimidating at all—with lightning-fast shifts.” Peter Krauss discovered plenty to like as well, saying, “Ferrari has built a solid, sexy daily GT with an amazing, award-winning engine and the best Ferrari transmission I have ever experienced,” thanks to the new eight-speed gearbox taken from the SF90 Stradale. The cosseting cabin made the Roma an attractive Italian soul mate for Carrie Ferry, who called it a “sexy beast! Seriously, I love this car.” Ken Kladouris put first things first: “Ferrari just redefined the GT with the perfect fusion of exotic and luxury. I’m six-foot-four and I fit!”
ENGINE: 3.9-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8
POWER: 611 hp
0–62 MPH: 3.4 sec
TOP SPEED: 199 mph
BASE PRICE: $218,670
OUR CAR: $316,240
1. Rolls-Royce Ghost (Luxury Car of the Year)
It’s like driving your living room, really fast. —Donald Barry
In the world of sports, game changers are those who possess a combination of effortless power, unique style and nimble athleticism that redefines expectations and perceptions—think Serena Williams and Simone Biles. This year, the automotive arena has such a player, the 2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost. With the latest iteration of its most commercially successful model, the baronial automaker has given the sedan paradigm not just a shift but a real shove.
As judges took into account the directive to evaluate each vehicle based on the respective manufacturer’s goal for its development, Rolls-Royce vaulted over its own high bar and decisively grabbed top honors in a category it essentially created 116 years ago. With the marque’s aluminum spaceframe platform, a new all-wheel-drive configuration and all-wheel steering, the enigmatic Ghost turned the majority of evaluators into true believers.
“This is a gorgeous automobile with deceptive power,” Everett Robert raved. “It’s like riding a cloud in front of a jet engine.” Anthony Ferry opined that “there is no higher level of luxury” and noted, “The acceleration is insanely smooth—it whispers its way up with zero drama.” Or as Donald Barry put it, “It’s like driving your living room, really fast.” Timothy Bass said he “loved everything about this car,” which coincides with Amy Way’s proclamation: “It’s the most comfortable car I’ve ever driven.” And Phil Garrison said, “The Ghost surprised me at every turn. The biggest surprise was that I didn’t want to get out of the driver’s seat.”
Many judges left empty spaces on their ballots when it came to criticism of the Ghost, but Stuart Winston ventured that Rolls “needs to move the massage button,” and Kimberly Worsnop complained that “it doesn’t come equipped with heated slippers.” So, obviously, there are still a few bugs to work out.
ENGINE: 6.75-liter, twin-turbocharged V-12
POWER: 563 hp
0–60 MPH: 4.8 sec
TOP SPEED: 155 mph, limited
BASE PRICE: $332,500
OUR CAR: $428,250
1. Lamborghini Huracán Evo RWD Spyder (Sports Car of the Year)
If you enjoy driving, you’d be in love.—Nicholas Nikolov
In the decades after its founding in 1963, Automobili Lamborghini was burdened by the perception that it built muscular but gaudy machines for equally brash owners. It’s a stigma from which the automaker now consciously distances itself with each increasingly sophisticated model, the Huracán Evo RWD Spyder among the latest. A variant of 2020’s winner, it maintains the latter’s super-processor that predicts driver response and re-adjusts accordingly, but it has a rear-wheel-drive configuration that presents a different specimen altogether, one with the same refined engineering but a lot more leash.
“Its aggressive exterior lines match the controlled chaos of its performance,” said Alexander Sadak. For Chris Bauer, driving the Evo RWD Spyder was “the closest thing to being a fighter pilot,” and Duraid Antone loved the way it “hugs the road and never lets it go.” Versatility was the clincher for Suzanne Desforges, who observed, “In Strada mode, it works well for daily driving, and in other modes it’s an exceptional race car.” Her husband, Peter, was more emphatic: “OMG—that pretty much says it all… It turns every road into a track, even driving the speed limit.”
Not everyone, though, was ready for the open-air Evo’s race-inspired dynamics. “I felt every pebble on the road,” Praveen Sharma complained, while Michael Steinger admitted that he actually found it “sometimes a little too fast,” referring to how quickly and effortlessly the speedometer advances. Ergonomics proved to be another concern. Burton Young said it’s “hard to get in and out of,” and Nikki Bass found it difficult “for a short person to see out the back window.” Acknowledging that image is still an issue, Timothy Bass said: “Great car, but I don’t think I would buy one just based on Lamborghini’s stereotype.”
But Charlotte Rawa was sold: “As I slipped behind the wheel, the goose bumps emerged… This car is an exhilarating, mind-altering bundle of perfection.” Now, that’s a reputation to build on.
ENGINE: 5.2-liter, naturally aspirated V-10
POWER: 602 hp
0–62 MPH: 3.5 sec
TOP SPEED: 201 mph
BASE PRICE: $229,428
OUR PRICE: $288,183