Eight we rate: new cars and concepts on the cutting edge

As the drive towards electrification continues industry wide, here's our guide to the best in class cars for 2021

Mercedes-Benz EQS
(Image credit: TBC)

In the absence of major motor shows, the past 12 months have seen car makers go their own way when it comes to launching new models. For many, those launches were as low-key as their sales, with private car buying dipping by an unprecedented amount – European sales were down by 23.7 per cent in 2020. Recessions aside, the majority of the big car makers were far advanced with ambitious plans for electrification. Apart from Jaguar, which had to cancel its high-profile XJ model, there’s no stopping the drive towards zero emissions.

Here are our recommendations of the wheels to watch in the first half of 2021.

Mercedes-Benz EQS

Mercedes-Benz EQS interior

The 'hyperscreen' in the new all-electric Mercedes-Benz EQS

(Image credit: TBC)

Of all the electric cars launched in the past few years, none have felt as significant as Mercedes’ new EQS. For the first time, a legacy manufacturer has taken on the technological advantage once owned by Tesla and attempted to beat it fair and square. We’re talking about range, and plenty of it, for first reports suggest the mighty EQS can hit the magic 500-mile mark before it needs a re-charge. Traditionally, MB piles new tech into its flagship S-Class and it looks like the EQS has taken on the mantle. As well as the powertrain, there’s the colossal (and optional) MBUX ‘Hyperscreen’, a vast OLED arrangement that covers the entire dash with graphics, with a dedicated screen for passengers to access media and more.


Citroën C5X

Citroen C5X against a white background under a blue sky

The new Citroën C5X is a crossover that stands apart from its peers

(Image credit: TBC)

A sparkling return to form for a company that once built big cars with no equal. Citroën’s new C5X is the manufacturer’s flagship, and the name even makes a passing nod to the iconic 70s and 80s-era CX. For the first time in nearly two decades, the company has created a big car that’s sufficiently different. The C5X shares a lot of components with Peugeot’s svelte 508, which in turn shaped the upcoming DS9. Perversely, while DS have left the Peugeot’s conventional saloon form largely intact, it’s been left to Citroën to do something different with the platform. As a result, the C5X is an intriguing hybrid of estate car, crossover and SUV, with a plug-in hybrid leading the field and an emphasis on space, comfort and practicality. We welcome the company’s return to being driven by design.


BMW i4

BMW i4 against a pink and blue background

The BMW i4 features subtle design details that set it apart from its conventionally powered siblings

(Image credit: TBC)

Slotting EVs into an existing product line-up seems to be a perennial problem for car-makers, with specialist sub-brands competing against electrified models. BMW was ahead of the game with its original ‘i’ cars, the i3 and i8, set apart in style and ethos from the rest of its range. Mercedes is now taking a similar tack, while BMW is backtracking and bringing EVs back into the fold. The i4 is the electrified version of the current 4-Series, bringing 366 miles of range and the usual blistering EV acceleration to this Gran Coupé fastback saloon.


Peugeot 308

Peugeot 308 against a salmon pink background

The new Peugeot 308, a straightforward hybrid for everyday use

(Image credit: TBC)

Peugeot’s latest compact car isn’t available as a pure EV, only a hybrid and conventional ICE. Instead, the 308 makes fine work of a conventional sector, with typically confident design that eschews big scale and big statements. With the company’s design renaissance largely complete, as well as a new CEO (former Citroën boss Linda Jackson), Peugeot is hoping to present a sleek and fashionable face in European markets, supported by bigger selling SUVs and region-specific models around the world. The 308 will work great as an all-rounder, with a plug-in hybrid allowing urban and suburban drivers to do the majority of their motoring with zero emissions.


Lexus LF-Z Electrified Concept

Lexus LF-Z Electrified Concept under a blue sky with tall buildings in the background

The Lexus LF-Z Electrified Concept is a big step forward for Lexus design

(Image credit: TBC)

The first big concept from Lexus for a while previews new tech and new design, with the latter finally walking the talk. The current crop of Lexus production cars never quite married up their proportions and forms with the underlying tech. Billed as a preview of the company’s first dedicated pure electric car, the LF-Z has a clean slate design and is all the better for it. Finally the slashes, streaks and folds that define Lexus design get the platform they deserve, with a long wheelbase and vents and slots that appear more integrated into the overall form. 375 miles of range should come as standard.


Aston Martin Vantage F1 Edition

Aston Vantage F1 Edition in front of a building during the daytime

Available as a coupe (above) or Roadster, the Aston Vantage F1 Edition is the ultimate version of Aston's super sports car

(Image credit: TBC)

Built to mark the brand’s return to F1 Racing, the Vantage F1 Edition is a strictly old school, V8-powered super coupe (and Roadster), cut from the company’s classically elegant cloth. Introduced in 2018, the Vantage was created to deliver exactly what Aston Martin’s customers expect – visual and aural drama. Now that the company’s name is attached to an F1 team for the first time in sixty years, the F1 Edition evokes the visual spectacle of motorsport with boosted performance to match.


Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo

Porsche Taycan Gran Turismo under a blue sky with greenery and rocks surrounding

A car designed to do anything, the Porsche Taycan Gran Turismo. And it's electric

(Image credit: TBC)

The second all-electric Porsche builds on the success of the original by adding more function and practicality. Think of the Cross Turismo as a high-tech estate car, a sleek EV with a maximum range of over 330 miles and the same exceptional driving characteristics and detail design as you’ll find in every other Porsche model.


Toyota Aygo X Prologue

Toyota Aygo X Prologue against a grey background that fades to black

The Toyota Aygo X Prologue looks forward to a new generation of city cars

(Image credit: TBC)

Compact and bold, the European-designed Aygo X is a preview of Toyota’s desire for smaller, more distinctive cars. An upgraded and uprated version of its small Aygo city car, the X prologue incorporates chunkier, most distinctive styling and intriguing elements like a built-in bike rack at the rear. Pitched exclusively at the European market, the X prologue is a strong indicator of the coming downsizing trend.


Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.