Leave the minivans to the buff books, the sales stars to the wire services, and the hybrids to the green freaks. As Best10 week continues, here's Jalopnik's Best10 of the past decade.
Before putting together a list of the cars we dug the most — the stuff from the past decade that most represents Jalopnik — we decided to put down some ground rules:
1. This ain't Jalopnik Fantasy Garage — the car has to be attainable for an ordinary person, or perhaps an ordinary person who has mortgaged a kidney and inherited half of their hometown. MSRP is capped at $200k.
2. No matter what it is, the vehicle in question has to have made us cackle the first time we drove (or, in some cases, saw) it. Fuel mileage and practicality matter, but they aren't what gets us — or, we assume, you — in showrooms. Yes, we're admitting a bias toward the impractical. If you don't agree, come up with your own damn list in the comments.
3. To make the list, a car or truck has to be sold in the United States between 2000 and 2010. It has to be available to the public through an ordinary, open-door dealership. No gray-market imports allowed. No kit cars. Production must exceed 1,000 units per year.
4. Some of these cars are blindingly fast, but this isn't meant to be a list of salt-flat options. Nor is it a list of cars that made a difference in the industry. More than anything, these machines are what motivate car-obsessed freaks like us to find a way, any way, to justify a purchase. In other words, no one buys a hybrid in a fit of passion, so those are automatically out.
One more thing: Favorite set of wheels didn't make the cut? Wondering why it was left off? You're in luck. When you're done with the list, hit the link at the bottom of the last car to see the "SecondBest10" — the ten cars that, for one reason or another, just missed the list.
Without further ado, here's Jalopnik's Best10 cars of the decade!
BMW M Coupe
Years Produced: 1999 - 2002
Base Price When New: $45,990 (2002)
Engine: 3.2-liter I-6, 240 hp, 3.2-liter I-6, 315 hp
Curb Weight: 3230 lb (2002)
Power-To-Weight Ratio: 10.25 lb/hp (2002)
This is it, propellerheads — this is the last of the nuthouse BMWs, the last car Munich built where the loonies were in charge of the asylum. Step one: Take a Z3. Step two: Graft a steel roof onto it, increasing structural rigidity threefold. Step three: Add a version of either the E36 or E46 M3's in-line six. The Z3 M Coupe is as unhinged as BMWs come, a rolling testament to the fact that the company once gave a shit about the die-hard enthusiast. Every BMW since has been too ordinary, too dull, and too fat by comparison.
M Coupes made in 1999 and 2000 featured a version of the E36 M3's 240-hp S52 six-cylinder. These are nice cars — and they're far cheaper than 2001-2002 models — but something is missing. We prefer to think of that something as "batshit crazy."
What You Probably Didn't Know: The M Coupe's semi-trailing-arm rear suspension effectively dates back five decades; BMW first used this layout on its 600 microcar, produced from 1957 to 1959. The Z3 and Z3 Coupe were the last production BMWs to use a similar design. (The same setup was also found on Munich's legendary 1600/2002 and E30-chassis M3.)
What You Probably Didn't Know, Short Wheelbase And Big Power Doth Not Always Equal Hoonage Edition: A stock Z3 M Coupe understeers like mad, the victim of liability-focused suspension engineers and a heavy nose. Add some roll stiffness and shuffle the spring rates, however, and that sucker will dance.
Chevrolet Corvette (C6)
Years Produced: 2005 – Present
Base Price: $48,930 (2010)
Current Engines: 6.2-liter V-8, 430 hp; 7.0-liter V-8, 505 hp; 6.2-liter V-8, 638 hp
Curb Weight: 3175 – 3333 lb (2010)
Power-To-Weight Ratio: 5.2 lb/hp (ZR1)
It would not be an exaggeration to call this Corvette the single greatest American car ever built. The sixth-generation ‘Vette is smaller, lighter, and faster than its predecessor. In base form, it offers better fuel mileage than any Corvette before it. It looks good, even to people who traditionally don't like Corvettes, and normal people no longer get claustrophobic in its cockpit. If that weren't enough, GM refuses to sit still, consistently refining sales-irrelevant details like shift quality and steering feel in the name of building a more kick-ass car.
The Corvette used to be little more than a shoddily-built speed bargain. The C6 was the game-changer; vaulting the Corvette out of Middle America and into the hearts of apex junkies everywhere. No matter how you slice it, this is what Detroit engineers do best. And this is the best they've done.
What You Probably Didn't Know: The Tremec T-56 six-speed manual used until 2007 was shared with the Dodge Viper and Aston Martin V-12 Vanquish, among others. (The C6 currently uses a Tremec TR-6060, the same 'box found in the Chevrolet Camaro SS and Dodge Challenger.)
Audi R8 (V-8 only)
Years Produced: 2006 - Present
Base Price: $114,200
Engine: 4.2-liter V-8, 420 hp
Curb Weight: 3450 lb
Power-To-Weight Ratio: 8.2 lb/hp
A hundred and fifteen grand will buy you a lot of things: A brand-new Porsche 911 GT3. A lifetime supply of gumballs and beef jerky. Sixty-four Victorian mansions in downtown Detroit. Were we in possession of a hundred and fifteen grand, we would probably not buy an Audi R8. (Beef jerky and a used GT3?) But that doesn't mean that it's not fantastic.
Audi's first mid-engined production car is many things: It is fast (if you have your wits about you, you will outrun Porsches). It is comfortable (you will mistake it for an A8 on long road trips, no lie). It is oversteer-happy (you will autocross it once and, by the first cone, be amazed that Quattro finally, finally, finally wants your ass to swing). But it is also a key part of its maker's recent rebirth. The R8 is the first car from Ingolstadt to offer widespread appeal, an uncompromised chassis, and rally-car-meets-land-speed-record soul in an exotic shell.
The V-10 is arguably the better machine — it's faster, more entertaining, and serves up more bang for the buck – but the V-8 car was there first.
What You Probably Didn't Know: According to street gossip, the R8 is little more than a reskinned Lamborghini Gallardo. That's bull — in V-8 form, the Audi shares only a general layout and two transaxles with the Lambo. (The V-10 R8 is similar but uses a mildly tweaked version of the Gallardo's engine.)
Years Produced: 1999 - 2009
Base Price When New: $34,995 (2009)
Engine: 2.0-liter I-4, 240 hp (@8300 rpm); 2.2-liter I-4, 240 hp (@7800 rpm)
Curb Weight: 2781 lb
Power-To-Weight Ratio: 11.6 lb/hp
It is, above all, a Honda: Legendary reliability. A four-cylinder that spins to ungodly speeds. An interior full of sensibly designed, relatively sturdy components. Parts of it feel expensive; parts of it feel cheap. In a nutshell, the S2000 is everything that Soichiro's minions know about building cars, albeit honed and sharpened. It's also a rear-wheel-drive relic, an homage to a time when sports cars required their drivers to pay attention.
The S2000 was launched to commemorate Honda's 50th anniversary, and it did so in one hell of a fashion – it combined a stiff chassis with an 8900-rpm four-cylinder and handling that former Car and Driver editor Csaba Csere once called "daringly neutral." (Read: Glorious oversteer put a bunch of people in ditches, so Honda later toned it down.) The 2.0-liter four made its peak power at 8300 rpm, but an uber-slick gearbox and the joys of wailing VTEC meant that you didn't mind winding the piss out of it. Later cars gained displacement and various refinements but lost little charm.
The S2000 is nothing so much as a legend in its own time. If you don't like it, you probably haven't driven it hard enough.
What You Probably Didn't Know: Peak piston speed of the 1999 - 2003 S2000 at its 8900-rpm redline: 4906 feet/minute. Piston speed of a Ferrari F1-2000 (the championship-winning, 2000-season F1 car) at 18,000 rpm: 4890 feet/minute.
Mini Cooper (R50)
Years Produced: 2001 - 2006
Base Price When New: $17,450 (2006)
Engine: 1.6-liter I-4, 114 hp
Curb Weight: 2524 lb
Power-To-Weight Ratio: 22 lb/hp
God bless the British. The people of empire and warm beer didn't invent the small car, but they arguably perfected it. The original Austin/Morris Mini, built from 1959 to 2000, redefined the automotive landscape and introduced — or at least extensively refined — every econobox trope in use today, including the notion that small cars should be fun. And while the 2001-2006 Mini Cooper and Mini Cooper S weren't exactly British (the second-generation Mini project was started by Rover but finished and manufactured by BMW), they were close enough.
When the new Mini hit our shores, it shook up the status quo. Like the original Mini, it transcended status and income levels; like the first Volkswagen GTI, it possessed giant-killing performance that also happened to be perfectly suited to the vast American landscape. Europeans decried it for being too big, too thirsty, and too space-inefficient, but we didn't care: We bought the little buggers by the truckload. The Mini was fun. It was fast. It was . . . well, it sounds a little stupid, but it was cheeky. And cheeky is never bad.
After 2006, BMW's only front-wheel-drive car got faster, fatter, and lost some of its charm. Mini, we miss you. We like warm beer. Come back.
What You Probably Didn't Know: The Mini's multilink rear suspension purposely mimics the rear suspension found in the 1999-2006 BMW 3-series.
Porsche 911 GT3 (996)
Years Produced: 2004 - 2005
Base Price When New: $99,900 (2005)
Engine: 3.6-liter H-6, 375 hp
Curb Weight: 3050 lb
Power-To-Weight Ratio: 8.1 lb/hp
Porsche has taken a lot of crap over the past decade for diversifying its lineup, but the world's most effective counter-argument needs only three characters: G-T-3. The 996-chassis GT3 was the first GT3 produced, and while it came before the heretical Cayenne and Panamera (Europe first got the model in 1999), it would have been a one-time experiment without their financial support.
This is the purist's Porsche, the 911 for apex hounds with brake dust on the brain. Weissach named the GT3 after the FIA GT racing class that it was intended for, and with good reason – it was, as the cliché goes, little more than a race car for the street. An 8200-rpm, 375-hp, naturally aspirated flat six lived in its tail and spit out a spine-chilling wail. Weight was down, options were minimal, and the suspension was track-oriented. Motorsport touches were everywhere: A old-school split crankcase with "964" cast in its sides owed much to the air-cooled world and increased engine rigidity, and a quick-change, steel-synchro gearbox offered easy ratio swaps and track-ready durability.
The 996-chassis GT3 is a lithe, contrast-filled machine. It's at once delicate and sturdy, forgiving and intolerant. It cries out for you to be better, but it flatters you if you suck. It was the first of its kind, and while it is no longer the fastest or newest GT3, it's for damn sure the coolest.
What You Probably Didn't Know: Porsche claimed that the GT3 was the first production car to lap the Nürburgring in under eight minutes. Walter Rohrl clocked a 7:56.33 lap, or 40 seconds quicker than his time in a base 911.
(Photo Credit: Storem / Flickr)
Years Produced: 2004 - 2009
Base Price When New: $188,425 (2009)
Engine: 4.3-liter V-8, 483 hp
Curb Weight: 3200 lb
Power-To-Weight Ratio: 6.6 lb/hp
Forgive us if you've heard this before, but many Ferraris — especially the older ones — are disappointing. Depressing build quality, truckish steering, and a cartoonish personality are par for the course. Maranello's current lineup, however, is one of the rare exceptions to the rule. The 599 is a suit-and-tie supercar with all the speed (if not the personality) of an F40; the 612 is a flabby but interesting grand tourer; and the F430 is the manic, nervous rock star, the hyperkinetic-yet-sane ADHD black sheep.
This is a good thing. The F430 is the first prancing horse to make its stablemates look tame, and the first base Ferrari to offer the streetability and manic presence that you expect. It has been accused of being too digital, too cold, and too calculating, but frankly, we don't care. We've been in a lot of Ferraris. Whether yowling around town or rocketing up a mountain road, the 430 speaks to us like no Lamborghini or Maserati ever has. It is the Ferrari of the past ten years, and that makes it the best Italian car of the decade.
Also, it sounds like Uncorked Angry Jesus.
What You Probably Didn't Know: You may not believe this (and it's actually outside the price range of this list), but the F430 Scuderia is the most docile mid-engine car we've driven. There is no reason that a $283,000 Ferrari track rat should inspire calm thoughts while sideways. This one does.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (Evo VIII/IX)
Years Produced: 2003 - 2006
Base Price When New: $31,994 (2006)
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I-4, 286 hp
Curb Weight: 3338 lb
Power-To-Weight Ratio: 11.67
When dino-fuel's all gone and the book is closed on the internal combustion engine, the powers that be will look back upon the rally-car wars of the late twentieth century and smile. Homologation specials, ever-escalating power levels, and monster rear wings? What's not to love?
America came to the game a bit late, but we should probably be thankful just to have gotten in the door. Subaru's turbocharged Impreza WRX was the first stateside salvo, a tentative lob across the Pacific that resulted in monster sales. Mitsubishi's response, in the form of the eighth-generation Lancer Evolution, simply upped the ante.
If the first American WRX was a relatively refined stage-stormer, then the Evo was its foaming-at-the-mouth redneck cousin. It didn't offer Subaru levels of solidity or interior quality, but it provided killer steering feel, better dry-pavement handling, and a more bonkers vibe. With both manufacturers officially out of world-championship rallying, the battle is essentially over, though the Evo and WRX live on in showroom form. Both cars are better than ever and yet, oddly, both seem to be past their prime. Where the rally-car wars are concerned, the Evo VIII and IX remind us, in loud, vivid tones, of just how good it got.
What You Probably Didn't Know: U.S. Evo VIIIs and IXs didn't receive Mitsubishi's superb Active Yaw Control rear differential due to government regulations regarding fuel-tank crush space. Nevertheless, if you've got about ten grand to blow on parts and labor, it's possible to retrofit AYC onto a U.S.-market car.
Pontiac G8 GXP
Years Produced: 2009
Base Price When New: $39,995
Engine: 6.2-liter V-8, 415 hp
Curb Weight: 3800 lb
Power-To-Weight Ratio: 9.59 lb/hp
We've said it before and we'll say it again: poor Pontiac. The G8 GXP was a cut-rate version of BMW's V-8-powered E39 M5 and nothing less than the most compelling sport sedan to ever come out of Detroit. A 415-hp LS3 lived under the GXP's hood, and there was some rear-wheel drive something something, and . . . uh . . . four-door Corvette . . .
Ok, that's enough. We can't finish this; we have to go cry in the corner. The G8 meant something. It could have been a contendah. It could have helped make Pontiac relevant again. And now it's gone. It was fantastic (OK, so the steering feel kind of sucked, but the rest was great), it was fun, it was D-Town incarnate, and we miss it. The possibilities are too depressing to think about.
Sigh. Where were we again?
What You Probably Didn't Know: That the G8 GXP feels like a cut-rate BMW E39 M5 is no coincidence — a few of the engineers who worked on the M5 also helped bring the Holden Commodore (the G8's Australian twin) to market.
Ford F-150 SVT Raptor
Years Produced: 2010 - Present
Base Price: $38,995
Engine: 5.4-liter V-8, 310 hp
Curb Weight: 6000 lb
Power-To-Weight Ratio: 19.4 lb/hp
Let's be honest: This thing makes no sense whatsoever. It's a much-tweaked Ford pickup with long-travel suspension, a relatively low price tag, and the ability to bomb over washed-out terrain at 80 mph. It's like something out of a dream.
In what world does this compute? What in unholy hell is a normal person supposed to do with this thing? The Raptor isn't like a balls-to-the-wall sports car; you can't really send it rocketing down back roads on the weekends. Nor is it akin to a lifted, worked-over Jeep or Land Cruiser; it can handle rock-crawling and trail-poking, but that's not its forte. No, it's happiest pounding over desert washes at 80 mph, blasting into the air with wheels at full droop and passengers pissing their pants. We love it, but unless you live in the desert, we'll be damned if we know what you do with it.
No matter. The Raptor is a frivolous project at a time when Ford has no business screwing around with frivolous projects. As such, it's the best kind of vehicle — one built with damn-the-torpedoes passion. In a rational world, it wouldn't exist. Thank God we don't live in a rational world.
Thing You Probably Didn't Know: Eleven inches of front suspension travel. Eleven.
Now that you've seen our Best10, here's the ten that didn't quite make the cut: