July 21, 2024
Electric & Hybrid Cars

The Autoblog 20: Ranking the Most Important Cars of the Last 20 Years

In case you hadn’t heard, Autoblog turns 20 this month. A lot has happened over the past two decades, from the crossover boom to the rise of hybrids and even the first widespread adoption of battery-electric cars. Hyundai and Kia have both exploded into the mainstream, and despite the slow march toward bigger and clumsier cars, we saw the resurgence of American muscle and the pony car supremacy wars. Cars are cleaner than ever before, yet absurdly quick. The future may not be perfect, but if you look at the past, where we’re going is incredibly promising. 

So that’s exactly what we did — took a look at the past.

We were tasked with nominating cars that had a significant impact on the automotive scene over the past 20 years, whether by virtue of success, failure or something else entirely. The list proved extensive, and was shortened to 45 final nominees. We were then told to chose our individual top 10 and rank them, from which we culled the list to 20. Some of our choices are technically a couple of years older than Autoblog itself, but we felt their inclusion was warranted based either on an impact that wouldn’t become apparent until later, or because they’ve had a profound influence on the industry since the turn of the 21st century. Without further ado, here are our picks. 

20 — 2009 Nissan GT-R

The R35 Nissan GT-R’s story has been one of defiance from the get-go. It was crowned the final boss of mainstream performance cars before such a concept even existed and was cast as the rowdy, upstart villain before it even went on sale. And now, 15 years into its run, it has lived long enough to see itself become the hero. Where it was once panned for its too-digital and unengaged driving experience, it’s now among the most analog offerings in the high-performance market. It came in defying the world; it’ll go out defying its own reputation.

19 — 2022 Ford Maverick Hybrid

The Maverick was a big throw of the dice for Ford. Not only was the Blue Oval pitching a new, small, unibody pickup truck, but it did so on the heels of cancelling virtually all of its affordable offerings. On top of that, pickup builders told us for years that smaller models weren’t worth exploring because their customers would always buy as much truck as possible; why leave those profits on the table? Yet, this baby cargo hauler has more DNA in common with a Focus than with an F-150, and shoppers don’t seem to care one bit. Even the front-wheel-drive-only Hybrid model — briefly the least-expensive variant offered — has been so popular that Ford has been unable to meet customer demand since release. Perhaps its full significance is yet to be seen, but early signs point to it featuring prominently the next time we do this little exercise in 10 years.

17 — 2003 Honda Pilot

Remember the world before three-row crossovers? Back when everybody crammed themselves into Explorers and Trailblazers or settled for a minivan? That’s the marketplace that greeted the Pilot back when it debuted (yes it was a year before we launched, but its significance built thereafter). Although it literally wasn’t alone as a three-row crossover, it was the one that established the blueprint of size, layout and family-friendly character that basically every three-row family crossover uses today. In the beginning, there was a Pilot.

2017 Chevy Bolt EV

16 — 2017 Chevy Bolt

The Nissan Leaf may have been the first modern mass-market BEV, but the 2017 Chevy Bolt EV was the first mass-market EV to really do it right. Principally, it was all about the range. While other EVs could barely squeak past the 100-mile mark, the Bolt crested 250. Game changer? You bet. It was also practical and surprisingly fun to drive. The design and body style probably held it back in the marketplace (a mid-cycle update and the introduction of the EUV changed that), but there’s no denying how significant the Bolt was when introduced and to this day.

15 — 2008 Dodge Challenger

It says a lot that the Chrysler LX platform (technically LC here) shows up twice on this list. The Challenger proved that a big, snarly muscle car could still sell in a world where conspicuous consumption is falling under increasingly intense scrutiny. From Hemis to Hellcats, Redeyes and Demons, there was a Challenger for every power-hungry customer on the road — one of your authors included. That it has survived, barely changed, for most of the past 20 years and has arguably become even more relevant for enthusiasts also speaks volumes.

14 — 2003 Nissan Murano

If you’re under the age of, say, 30, this one probably won’t make much sense to you. For those of us who had our fingers on the pulse of the market in the very early aughts, the 2003 Nissan Murano was wild. Nothing looked like it — everything was boxy and/or completely anonymous. These days, everything looks like it. Nissan has made many mistakes over the past two decades, but forecasting styling trends was not one of them.

13 — 2005 Bugatti Veyron

If there was one car that the whole world was talking about right at the start of Autoblog, it was the Bugatti Veyron. It was the superlative automobile: a price tag over $1 million; 1,000 horsepower; a 250-mph top speed; 16 cylinders; 4 turbochargers. This was a car defined by numbers. It was so far beyond any supercar made before it, and it became the benchmark for at least a decade. It set the mold for what a supercar needed to be: a monument of monstrous machinery.

12 — 2010 Ford SVT Raptor

Being able to catch big air and come down safely in a completely stock production truck or SUV wasn’t exactly a thing before the Ford F-150 Raptor. Off-roaders were plentiful, but the Raptor with its Trophy Truck-esque, air-defying antics was an alien vehicle when it launched (literally) in 2010. Today, the Raptor name is synonymous with epic off-road capability, and the Raptor R continues to set hilarious standards for others of its ilk.

17 — 2003 Honda Pilot

Remember the world before three-row crossovers? Back when everybody crammed themselves into Explorers and Trailblazers or settled for a minivan? That’s the marketplace that greeted the Pilot back when it debuted. Although it literally wasn’t alone as a three-row crossover, it was the one that established the blueprint of size, layout and family-friendly character that basically every three-row family crossover uses today.

2017 Chevy Bolt EV

16 — 2017 Chevy Bolt

The Nissan Leaf may have been the first modern mass-market BEV, but the 2017 Chevy Bolt EV was the first mass-market EV to really do it right. Principally, it was all about the range. While other EVs could barely squeak past the 100-mile mark, the Bolt crested 250. It was also practical and surprisingly fun to drive. The design and body style probably held it back in the marketplace, but there’s no denying how significant the Bolt was when introduced and to this day.

14 — 2003 Nissan Murano

If you’re under the age of, say, 30, this one probably won’t make much sense to you. For those of us who had our fingers on the pulse of the market in the very early aughts, the 2003 Nissan Murano was wild. Nothing looked like it — everything was boxy and/or completely anonymous. These days, everything looks like it. Nissan has made many mistakes over the past two decades, but forecasting styling trends was not one of them.

13 — 2005 Bugatti Veyron

If there was one car that the whole world was talking about right at the start of Autoblog, it was the Bugatti Veyron. It was the superlative automobile: a price tag over $1 million; 1,000 horsepower; a 250-mph top speed; 16 cylinders; 4 turbochargers. This was a car defined by numbers. It was so far beyond any supercar made before it, and it became the benchmark for at least a decade. It set the mold for what a supercar needed to be: a monument of monstrous machinery.

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