Let’s face it: cars feel more and more like computers with propulsion and wheels. Exteriors feature cameras and sensors, while interiors boast giant touchscreens and all sorts of gadgets. There’s a ton of technology packed into modern cars, that’s for sure. What’s the “best tech?” That’s a tad fluid if you ask our editors.
However, we hashed out the vehicles best for those wanting the most cutting-edge tech right now. Some are luxurious and other may shock you for the amount of tech packed in for a low price. Read on to see what our editors chose.
Whether you’re talking about the cabin tech or the stuff that lives under the body, there’s all sorts of new technology hiding out in Ford’s first electric Mustang, which just so happens to also be a crossover SUV.
Slide into the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E’s cabin and you’re immediately greeted with a honkin’ 15.5-inch portrait display. This screen covers the traditional infotainment duties, but it also hides a wealth of vehicle settings and other related features that let you customize all sorts of vehicle parameters. It’s also Ford’s best iteration of its Sync software to date.
Ford has given the Mach-E’s underlying tech some modularity, too. Want just a single electric motor on the rear axle? Great! If you want all-wheel drive, just slap another one in the front. Want a bigger battery? Don’t worry, Ford can slap one of those in, too. And with even more variants on the horizon, there’s bound to be a Mach-E variant that will fit your needs — and your performance joneses, too.
-Andrew Krok, reviews editor
Whenever a new Mercedes-Benz S-Class hits the scene, it comes with a whole bunch of new tech. Whether it’s a novel infotainment feature, an important new safety system or just some gee-whiz feature to impress your passengers, the S-Class never ceases to impress. That’s especially true with the new 2021 model.
For the driver, the new S-Class offers a 3D gauge cluster and a huge — and I mean huge — head-up display. The HUD projects the equivalent of a 77-inch diagonal display onto the dashboard, and has augmented reality overlays to ensure you’ll never miss a tricky turn while using the navigation system. There’s also a brand-new version of Mercedes’ excellent MBUX infotainment system, with the ability to share data between other passengers’ screens, including the rear occupants. Audio tech more your jam? There’s an optional Burmester 4D sound system with 30 speakers. And don’t even get me started on the heated, cooling, massaging seats, cabin fragrance integration or the door handles that automatically pop out as you approach.
Arguably more important is the new S-Class’ list of safety tech, which starts with an industry first: a rear-seat airbag. This bag deploys from the back of the front seat and envelops the rear passenger in a wing-shape cushion, preventing injury in the event of a crash. In addition, a whole bevy of driver-assistance goodies come standard on every S-Class, including adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, cross-traffic assist, automatic parking assist and more. Whether your tech preferences surround luxury, entertainment or safety, the 2021 S-Class has you covered.
– Steven Ewing, managing editor
2021 Mercedes-Maybach S-Class raises the bar for luxury sedans
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Want the perfect intersection of futurism and function? For me, that’s Tesla. And there’s no better option these days than the 2021 Model Y. The newest interior refresh of this all-electric crossover SUV does away with many of the nitpicks owners zeroed in on (say “goodbye” to the glossy black center console and all the fingerprints that came with it).
Tesla’s always updating its software with new features; far more than any other manufacturer out there, I’d wager. Those over-the-air updates for this EV include a good balance of performance tweaks and fun easter eggs. Even though there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, the 15-inch infotainment screen is loaded with Google Maps and Spotify, so you probably won’t miss much.
The Model Y has also picked up a 5-star safety rating in every category from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, so not only are you getting a crossover that will continue to evolve technologically long after it rolls off the assembly line, you’re getting one that promises to be incredibly safe for you and your family. If you love tech, what better option than a vehicle that is tech, from the ground up?
-Ashley Esqueda, senior video producer, CNET
I like low-cost cars, as evidenced by my not buying a brand-new one since 1993 — massive depreciation isn’t a feature I want on my spec sheet. But if I had to buy something new, it might be a 2021 Nissan Versa. Starting at $15,930 including delivery, the Versa is a good-looking car, inside and out, which neutralizes the typical No. 1 turnoff of low-cost cars.
Even on the bottom S trim level, Lane Departure Warning and Automatic Emergency Braking are standard. S is also the only trim that comes with a manual transmission, which I would welcome, not to make some “gasoline in my veins” statement, but to carry through the economic and industrial elegance of the machine. The Versa gets 32 miles per gallon city and 40 mpg on the highway.
An S trim Versa has a 7-inch touchscreen central display, but it doesn’t offer CarPlay or Android Auto. Being an Android user, I won’t actually mind since my phone OS has a car mode that essentially turns the phone into an automotive head unit, a function that CarPlay doesn’t offer. Once I get a high-quality phone mount for my Versa I’ll have a $16,000 car with modern streaming, navigation, communication, and the best voice interface in the world. (For those of you who want embedded CarPlay or Android Auto, you’ll have to pony up for one of the Versa’s higher trims.)
-Brian Cooley, editor at large
Ford’s F-Series pickup is America’s best-selling new vehicle of any kind, be it truck, car or SUV. It might not seem particularly intuitive that a beast-of-burden pickup truck might also be one of America’s best high-tech models, but in this case, it is — handily so.
One of the best things about the redesigned 2021 Ford F-150 is its available PowerBoost hybrid option, which piggybacks atop the engine range’s top-dog 3.5-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V6. By adding an electric motor to the existing six-cylinder engine, the Blue Oval has created a more fuel-efficient powertrain whose 430 hp and 570 lb-ft of torque can tow 12,700 pounds.
In addition to great tech features like Sync 4 infotainment with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android auto, along with bumper-to-bumper OTA updates. Plus, there’s a trick power folding shifter that creates a large, desk-like work surface and first-class lay-flat seats for naps on the job site. That’s all well and good, but the F-150’s Killer App feature is its available Pro Power Onboard built-in generator. This in-bed power station generates up to 7.2kW of power — enough juice to power many job sites, or potentially even your house in a blackout.
-Chris Paukert, executive editor
2021 Ford F-150 King Ranch PowerBoost matches hybrid smarts with Western flair
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More performance through technology
2022 Porsche 911 GT3
The modern Porsche 911 is always a fascinating mix of electronic and good ol’ fashioned mechanical engineering. It’s an exercise in bending physics to your will and it’s also a flagship vehicle for one of the most engineering-focused car companies out there. In short, it’s a tech-geek’s playground.
The 2022 Porsche 911 GT3 is mechanically fascinating in a number of ways, but it’s hard to get around its unbelievable 4.0-liter flat-six engine that revs to 9,000 rpm while making well over 100 horsepower per liter. It does this while offering a warranty and meeting emissions requirements. Also amazing is the inclusion of tech that just a decade ago would have seemed almost like science fiction. This includes stuff like four-wheel steering that operates almost transparently, insanely quick-shifting PDK dual-clutch gearbox and more. This Porsche is as carefully considered and finely fettled as a Swiss watch, and there are few cars that come close to it.
From an electronics standpoint, the 992-generation 911 doesn’t disappoint, either. It offers a gorgeous interior where its large infotainment screen is beautifully integrated. The screen is sharp, and the system running on it is many-layered and granular, yet easy to use and very responsive. Beyond that, the instrument cluster does a brilliant job of taking the 911’s iconic five-dial gauge and bringing it thoughtfully and cleanly into 2021. This is done by keeping the massive, central analog tachometer — something that provides a visceral connection to the car’s drivetrain and surrounding it with multi-information displays. I could go on and on about Porsche Active Suspension Management and this car’s electronically controlled engine mounts and the like, but you get the idea. The 911 GT3 is a true treat for the technologically inclined.
-Kyle Hyatt, news and features editor
A stylish EV with next-generation Android smarts
2021 Polestar 2
I had to pick an EV for this one, because they’re just inherently more appealing to those who like to be on tech’s cutting edge. But which one? There are actually a lot to choose from right now, and more will be on the market by the end of the year. But, when it comes to the features I want in a car, Android Automotive is a big one, and the 2021 Polestar 2 is one of the few places to get it.
Android Automotive takes Android Auto to the next level by baking Android right into the car. Now, instead of your phone driving the experience, everything runs natively, relying on the car’s data connection. Google Maps is built right in, as are things like YouTube Music and a bunch of other apps — not enough yet, but it’ll get there. It makes for an intuitive, seamless experience in this Polestar. That is, at least, assuming you’re an Android user. Apple CarPlay support is coming, I’ve been promised.
But it goes beyond infotainment. The Polestar 2 has the modern look and feel that resonates with me. It drives as sharply as an EV should and can even be configured with adjustable Ohlins suspension. Love fiddling with things? It’s perfect.
-Tim Stevens, editor in chief
Why the hell is a Jeep Wrangler on this list, with its antediluvian ladder frame and a suspension that’s anchored by a pair of iron logs? Well, the answer is simple: Not all technology needs to be electronic.
This rough-and-tumble SUV offers an abundance of useful features that enhance its off-road capability and make it more enjoyable to drive. Some of the Wrangler’s admittedly low-tech amenities include easily removable doors and a folding soft top so you can bask in nature’s glory while out on the trail. This off-roader also offers a two-speed transfer case for mountain-goat climbing ability, the available EcoDiesel V6 delivers locomotive levels of torque for easy drivability and Rubicon models even feature a disconnecting front sway bar, which provides greater suspension articulation, as well as locking differentials at both ends for maximum traction in even the most trying conditions.
Yeah, the Wrangler is totally old-school, and much of its technology is, well, pretty ancient, but this stuff is nonetheless super useful. If, however, you absolutely must have max circuits and software, this Jeep doesn’t disappoint. A range of electrified mild-hybrid powertrains is offered, along with a new-for-2021 4xe plug-in hybrid model. Plus, you can get a Uconnect infotainment system with an 8.4-inch screen and support for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus all kinds of modern electronic driving aids are available, including blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, trailer-sway control and even adaptive cruise control, to name a few. Thanks to features like these and its sledgehammer off-road capability, the Wrangler is an unexpectedly techy vehicle.
-Craig Cole, reviews editor
Chevy’s second crack at the Bolt EV delivers
2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV
General Motors is hell-bent on democratizing electric cars in the US, and while the first Chevrolet Bolt EV felt like a half-step, the new-for-2022 Bolt EUV feels like it strikes the target far better. And tech? The Bolt EUV is chock full of it.
The highlight of it all is Super Cruise — the first time the hands-free highway driving assistant will be offered in a Chevrolet. So far, the technology that actually lets you take your hands off the steering wheel has been a Cadillac-only ordeal. A lot of attention focuses on Tesla and its Autopilot system, but Super Cruise is truly a hands-free system in the right conditions, and it’s ready to roll on over 200,000 miles of US and Canadian roads.
Not to mention, the Bolt EUV features a typical slew of technology that will fulfill a technophile’s dreams. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard, and run on a large 10.2-inch touchscreen. Outside of Super Cruise’s smarts, there’s a sweet of other driver-assist and active safety functions. And an optional rearview camera mirror is a cherry on top. Seriously, you won’t miss a standard mirror. With all the tech mentioned here, you’re also taking about an EV under $40,000. Not only is it a good buy for tech lovers, it’s an affordable purchase if you’re eager to go totally electric.
-Sean Szymkowski, news editor
If you’re like me, being a fan of tech means having the freedom to upgrade, build-it-yourself and modify. Shiny new tech and mega screens are good, but everything eventually becomes obsolete. The 2020 Toyota 86 began its life as a Scion — a brand born with customization and personalization at its very core. Now, half a decade after Scion’s demise, the admittedly low-tech-for-starters Toyota 86 — and its doppelganger, Subaru’s BRZ — persists as one of the most customizable and easily upgradable new cars you can buy. That makes it ideal for tech-loving tinkerers and performance-loving modders.
Most new cars feature deeply integrated dashboard tech that is typically difficult to upgrade. Pop the radio out (if you even can) and, who knows, maybe the turn signals stop working? Maybe you lose all access to climate controls? The 86 is one of a handful of new cars that still features an honest to goodness, simple and standard-sized double-DIN dashboard receiver. That means that when its tech gets outdated or you just want something new, upgrading is as easy as swapping in an aftermarket unit. No other vital components will stop working; no expensive adapters or dashboard rebuild kits are required. Feeling weird and want to build your own tech powered by an old Android tablet or a Raspberry Pi? No problem, just punch out the Toyota unit, grab your soldering iron and get to modding. Ironically, being comparatively low tech makes the 86 and cars like it perfect for those who prefer a hands-on approach to tech.
The upgrades don’t have to stop in the dashboard, and the 86 is also an ideal candidate for modders who like to turn wrenches. This rear-driver’s well-sorted chassis and off-the-lot performance gets the driver’s car fundamentals right while leaving just enough on the table for you to discover and personalize with suspension, traction and power-adding mods of your own. Whether looking to build a track toy or just hone the performance and style for the streets, if “built, not bought” is your way of life, you’ll find a lot to love in the 86’s unique formula. (Note: While the 86 is a 2020 model year holdover, plenty remain at dealers.)
– Antuan Goodwin, reviews editor
If you’re looking for an affordable compact sedan chock full of technology goodies, look no further than the 2021 Hyundai Elantra. New-for-2021, this wildly styled four-door sports a healthy list of infotainment and safety equipment that make it a tech standout in the competitive segment. Available in standard, Hybrid and higher-performance N-Line guise, the Elantra checks a lot of boxes for a lot of buyers.
In the cabin, a 10.2-inch customizable LCD gauge cluster is available on mid-grade SEL versions and comes standard on the range-topping Limited trims. Handling infotainment on most Elantras is an 8-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities, Bluetooth and an available Bose audio setup. Hyundai’s Digital Key system is available enabling owners to unlock and start their Elantra through a phone app without the key.
An impressive list of standard safety tech comes on the Elantra including forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert, lane-keep assist, lane-following assist and Safe Exit Alert. Adaptive cruise control and pedestrian detection are options.
-Jon Wong, reviews editor
If you’re a fan of screens and advanced driver’s aids, the 2021 Cadillac Escalade SUV should be at the top of your list. The cabin is dominated by three curved individual OLED panels measuring more than 38 inches across. The colors and graphics on these screens are brilliant and the system is lightning quick, with no lag even when using pinch-to-zoom. Navigation gets a bump with available augmented reality, overlaying directional arrows on a video feed displayed in the gauge cluster, so you’ll never miss a turn again.
In addition to screens galore, this full-size and super-lux Cadillac SUV can be had with Super Cruise, a hands-free driving technology that uses cameras and GPS data to keep the Escalade rolling down the road under certain conditions. This system only works on highways that have been 3D mapped, but the North American network is extensive and it’s likely your commute is covered. The system can change lanes on its own as well. Of course, you’ll have to keep your eyes up and pay attention (a driver-facing camera ensures you do), but Super Cruise is one of the only hands-off driving technologies currently available on the market. We at Roadshow prefer it to Tesla’s Autopilot, and so does Consumer Reports.
The Escalade’s OLED screens are standard on all trims, but if you want Super Cruise you’ll have to start with the Premium Luxury trim and then add almost $9,000 in options, putting the price at $93,140 including $1,295 for destination. Look, nobody said technology was cheap.
-Emme Hall, reviews editor
Best SUVs, trucks and cars for tech lovers for 2021
|Category||Name||Powertrain Options||Killer Tech||Base MSRP (including delivery)|
|Crossover SUV||2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E||Electric||EV powertrain, Sync 4 infotainment||$43,995|
|Sedan||2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class||Gasoline/Hybrid||EQ Boost hybrid, OLED screens, Burmester audio||$110,850|
|Crossover SUV||2021 Tesla Model Y||Electric||EV powertrain, Autopilot, MCU infotainment||$51,100|
|Sedan||2021 Nissan Versa||Gasoline||Low price, standard ADAS||$15,930|
|Truck||2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost||Hybrid||Hybrid, ProPower Onboard||$43,485|
|Coupe||2022 Porsche 911 GT3||Gasoline||PCM infotainment, PASM||$150,000 est.|
|Crossover SUV||2021 Polestar 2||Electric||EV powertrain, Android Automotive||$61,200|
|SUV||2021 Jeep Wrangler||Gasoline/Diesel/Hybrid||Powertrain diversity, customizability||$29,970|
|Crossover SUV||2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV||Electric||EV powertrain, Super Cruise||$33,995|
|Coupe||2020 Toyota 86||Gasoline||Plug-and-play customizability||$28,055|
|Sedan||2021 Hyundai Elantra||Gasoline/Hybrid||BlueLink infotainment, wireless AC/AA, phone-as-key||$20,655|
|SUV||2021 Cadillac Escalade||Gasoline/Diesel||OLED screens, AR navigation, Super Cruise||$77,490|
How we made our list
We drove these cars, trucks and SUVs! Roadshow’s new-car testers and editors are constantly on the road, evaluating a wide variety of vehicles in all conditions and situations (not to mention other gearhead essentials like, , and more). It’s our collective experience and decades of knowledge that guides the decisions that turn into these best lists.
The vehicles seen here represent our favorite new SUVs, trucks and passenger cars for tech lovers of all stripes. Whether you’re someone who wants an EV packed with the latest cabin conveniences and advanced driver assist systems; a low-cost DIYer who relishes personalizing your ride with your own brought-in solutions, or just someone who wants an affordable everyday car with commute-easing tech, the Roadshow by CNET editorial team has you covered.