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The greatest automotive innovations of 2021

The automotive industry came into 2021 trying to beat out some extremely tough odds, not least of which being a choked supply chain. It may seem surprising, then, just how truly revolutionary the year ended up. If you’re a fan of pickup trucks, 2021 was a banner year, with Ford bringing its super-popular F-150 into the post-combustion era, and Rivian finally delivering on its lofty promises of a versatile battery-powered truck. We even got a few pleasant surprises, such as the charming Hyundai Santa Cruz, which packs the soul of a pickup into a transformed crossover. Overall, it was a pretty good year for people who like to lug stuff around.

Rivian, the Amazon-backed electric automotive startup, finally launched its long-awaited R1T electric pickup. In doing so, it beat (or at least matched) veterans like Ford and General Motors to the punch. The R1T is Rivian’s “adventure vehicle,” meaning that while it can do pretty much anything that a gasoline-powered pickup can, the company doesn’t promise the highest towing capacity or best overall bed volume. Instead, it’s more of a lifestyle truck—one capable of off-roading, overlanding, and just general outdoorsy activities, but in an EV with a roughly 400-mile range.

Rivian offers an array of add-ons that are especially handy for such adventuring. An optional three-person tent accessory enables camping on the go, and a slide-out Camp Kitchen stovetop fuels eat-what-you-catch fishing trips. And all that stuff neatly stows away in the R1T’s gear tunnel—a hollow just behind the cab—to avoid taking up precious bed space. Even with all of those features, it’s still a totally capable pickup truck. Each wheel is powered by an independent hub-mounted electric motor that together deliver a total of 800 horsepower and 900 pound-feet of torque. That’s enough oomph for the all-electric pickup to sprint from 0 to 60 in just three seconds. Yes, really.

Featuring a twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V6 engine, the CT4-V Blackwing puts out an incredible 472-horsepower and 445 pound-feet of torque—more than enough from a sedan that can hop from 0 to 60 in less than four seconds. In order to achieve those speeds, the Blackwing employs a customized spoiler at the back, as well as air-guiding fins and a molded wing under its front, all of which keep the car pressed into the pavement so that just the right amount as air rushes over it at speed.

Seemingly out of left field, Hyundai launched its all-new Santa Cruz, a compact pickup meant for urban-dwellers who need a bit more utility. The Santa Cruz has a four-foot open-top bed, but it takes its styling cues from Hyundai’s smartly designed crossovers like the Santa Fe—but with a ground clearance at a respectable 8.6 inches. The bed can’t match the total capacity found in a full-sized truck, but it can accommodate full sheets of plywood or drywall without having to angle them.

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