A lot has changed in car design over the past 22 years. Since the turn of the century, hybridization and electrification have taken over and helped shape the vehicles we see out on the road today.
But we wondered if there was any one vehicle that had done more to sway the minds of car builders and buyers so far in the 21st century. So we turned to you and asked what you think is the most important car to come out so far this century.
And from electric vehicles to utility trucks, we were inundated with some excellent suggestions. So sit back, relax and take a look through your picks for the most important cars of the 21st century.
2 / 20
“Ugh, as much as I hate to say so with the brand, I’d say the Tesla Roadster. Almost single-handedly made EVs desirable and set us on our current course of electrification (as opposed to the toaster Prius course of electrification that preceded it).”
Unveiled in 2006, the first ever Tesla car was based on a Lotus Elise and packed in more than 200 miles of range. It was on sale between 2008 and 2012 and, arguably, was one of the first cars to show that EVs could appeal to car fans.
Suggested by: Boter
3 / 20
“The Leaf. Proved viability of EVs for the masses, and did it before the Model S.”
If the Tesla Roadster showed an aspirational side of EVs, then the Leaf should be applauded for offering a zero-emission option that most people could afford.
“This was one of the vehicles tested by West Virginia University in testing that led to the discovery of diesel emissions cheat devices.
“Because of this vehicle (alongside a Passat and a BMW X5), the research, and the scandal that rose out the test results, the market share of diesel cars has fallen dramatically. In the fallout of ‘dieselgate’ we also learned that VAG wasn’t the only one cheating. Now, one of the world’s largest automakers and its brands are committed to EVs. Basically, a VW Jetta, a Passat, and researchers incidentally helped reshape a part of the future.”
Normally, I’m not a fan of an answer that starts “hear me out,” but I’ll make an exception here.
The fallout of the emissions cheating that went on at VW can’t be overstated. In fact, the firm is still struggling to win back some buyers in the aftermath of the scandal. It’s also what lead the firm to pursue hybrid and electric models across its lineup.
Suggested by: smart
5 / 20
“So far, the Ford Explorer....and it didn’t even debut this century.
“No, it wasn’t high quality or flashy or the most technologically advanced, but look what it did to kickstart the small SUV trend of the last +25yrs.
“EVs are definitely on the rise and Tesla is the trend setter and market leader, but despite the hype, they are nowhere close to a sizeable market share yet. Do I think they are the future? Yes, absolutely. But so far, SUVs and crossovers have defined the 21st century in the consumer vehicle market.”
There’s no denying that the SUV is king these days, and the Ford Explorer was one of the earlier pioneers of the genre.
Suggested by: Zach Dubas (Facebook)
6 / 20
“The obvious answer is either the Tesla Model S or the Ford Mustang Mach E (first desirable electric vehicle from a manufacturer that will actually exist 20 years from now).
“Mercedes’ answer of the Jetta TDI that killed diesel engines (which for a bit had looked like they were going to be the solution to fuel economy woes) is a great one.
“But thinking a little outside the box, the big story of 21st century automobiles has been the rise of crossovers — from about 4% market share in 2000 to over 50% today — and while the two big originators of the crossover as we know it came out in the 90's (the Toyota RAV4 and Lexus RX), I’m going to go with the first crossover (other than arguably the AMC Eagle) from an American manufacturer. That’s right, the Pontiac Aztek.”
Never go for the obvious answer, always take the option that sits a little outside the box. And if that means we have to concur that the Pontiac Aztek is the most important so far this century, then so be it.
Suggested by: neverspeakawordagain
7 / 20
Dodge Challenger Hellcat
Dodge Challenger Hellcat
“We’re only a fifth of the way through the century and I’m unclear on the definitions of importance here.
“If we’re speaking of market influence: Tesla Model S or 3 should certainly be near the top as they’ve served as proof of concept that there is a market demand for EV’s and that governments will jump on board with assisting to develop support infrastructure.
“If we’re talking about recognition and just batshit crazy for the sake of being crazy: HellCat which has also spawned a flurry of obscene-horsepowered vehicles from other manufacturers.
“If we’re talking about successful rollout of new technologies - the Prius (specifically 2003+) is easily the most common hybrid on the planet and has often been the butt of many eco or granola stereotypes, but has shown that the technology works quite reliably.
“If we’re talking about the future? Whomever can build a cost-effective euro-style (think Sprinter, Transit, etc) delivery truck with electric powertrain.”
While we await the arrival of that glorious Euro-style electric van, we’ll just have to agree that the Hellcat is a great suggestion. It showed that supercar lev els of power aren’t reserved for those on a footballer’s salary.
Suggested by: Scott Pro (Facebook)
8 / 20
Ford F-150 Lightning
Ford F-150 Lightning
“It’s admittedly too early to say definitively, but past Tesla’s first big steps at making electrification mainstream, the F-150 Lightning is going to be the one to take it all the way. Ford already sells 800k+ F150's yearly, it’s a solid product with wide appeal, and electrifying it is already clearly starting to appeal to buyers who haven’t been won over by current choices.”
There were a few good options for game-changing electric pickup trucks. But, despite Rivian being the first to go on sale in the U.S., it was Ford’s electric F-150 Lightning that you thought could earn the title of this century’s most important car.
Suggested by: maymar
9 / 20
“The Prius - (don’t tell my car friends I said that) - first car to really get people thinking about switching away from ICE in long run. It laid the groundwork for Tesla.”
While it might have launched in 1997, the Prius hit the big leagues with the MK2 in 2003. That car helped spark a hybrid revolution that swept cities around the world.
Suggested by: Lou Mickley (Facebook)
10 / 20
“So, obviously the Teslas, Prii, Leafs... all the cars that the future of EV is being built on, are critical.
“I’m going to throw the P4/5 into the mix. It’s an aspirational car; the product of a dream that Glickenhaus had for something better, something unique, something truly bespoke. It properly paid homage to the past and very clearly aimed at the future. It made the Veyron seem pedestrian. If you were a car-person in the mid aughts, it was the thing.”
This one-off Ferrari was built in 2006 for filmmaker James Glickenhaus. It used the same V12 engine as the Enzo, but paired it with this stunning Pininfarina-designed bodywork.
Suggested by: JohnnyWasASchoolBoy
11 / 20
“The 1st gen Volt: It was a well engineered car that overcame “range anxiety” and was the first mass market PHEV. PHEVs are everywhere now… even in the Wrangler.”
GM’s first foray into the plug-in hybrid was the Volt, and it has since gone on the become the best selling PHEV in the world.
Suggested by: @N701Gv (Twitter)
12 / 20
Ford F-150 Raptor
Ford F-150 Raptor
“Might not be the, but for sure one of, has to be the 2010 F150 Raptor. You have to seriously hand it to Ford to stick to it in releasing a gas guzzling V8 pick up truck with off-roading bits, in the middle of a financial crisis, where gas pegged $5 a gallon and the Geo Metro value was like MSRP.
“Yet Ford built it, and couldn’t keep up with demand, sure MSRP was under 40k, but good luck dealers were at least asking 20k markups, this in a time where 2 out of 3 US automakers basically collapsed and had to be rescued, where the industry as a whole was going through an existential crisis along with a financial one. The bigger deal, was how it changed car design, better or worse, we got TRD Pro, the TRX, but also the slew of simulacra ‘off-roader’ SUV trims like AT4 or Ford’s own Timberline and Subaru’s Wilderness lineup.
“Begs the question what would the auto industry today look like if the Raptor never came to be?”
For 12 glorious years, Ford has been ignoring common sense and churned out its quite ridiculous Raptor series of F-150 pickup trucks. The latest model packs a 5.2-liter V8 taken straight out the Mustang.
Suggested by: Baz8
13 / 20
Tesla Model 3
Tesla Model 3
“As much as it pains me, the Tesla Model 3 for bringing EV prices into the mainstream. They’re the Brewdog of the car world. A shit product founded by an equally shit person, but without them…”
I like this description of Tesla/Brewdog, I like it a lot.
Suggested by: George East (Facebook)
14 / 20
“The Fisker Karma.
“Sure, the 2nd generation Prius made owning a hybrid that got such amazing gas mileage obtainable, and the i8 (along with the 918 and the P1) showed how hybrids can be dangerously fun (ok, maybe not the i8 in that context then), the Karma just seemed to have everything going for it.
“It literally was the car in many aspects for many people that made a hybrid ‘cool’ for the hot minute it was in the spotlight before it tanked due to delays and recalls.
“It was such a good idea that not only was Elon mad that Henry didn’t make a such a nicely styled car for Tesla (after designing the Model S and pretty much jumping ship), but even after ALL the problems and the tank in reputation, SOMEONE still said it had to be built and it did under new ownership and made a hefty push to fix what was wrong with it before they tried to resell it.
“Was it uber successful? No. Did people love it? Yeah.
“The most important doesn’t always have to be whatever sold the most. Maybe it was just whatever made something cool.”
Whether you see hybrids as the answer, or just a stepping stone to full electrification, this poster makes some good arguments in favor of the Karma.
Suggested by: turnworld
15 / 20
“I guess maybe the Porsche Cayenne. It may have started this trend of high performance crossovers making up the bulk of the profits for even the most prestigious brands and ensured that this class of vehicle would dominate at every segment of the market.
“The Cayenne Turbo was ‘respectable’ in a way that the X5 and whatever that bubbly Mercedes thing was called were not and I think it kicked off a trend that is still going. Unfortunately.”
A great suggestion! Remember how out of place the Cayenne looked on Porsche forecourts of old? Now, it’s the pioneer that lead the way for SUVs from Lamborghini, Aston Martin and even Ferrari.
Suggested by: bridge-of-doom
16 / 20
“Hard to argue with the Tesla Model S being the most consequential choice. But on the internal combustion side of the spectrum, the Bugatti Veyron (pretty sure that’s a Lambo, dude) blew most of what we thought possible with car engineering out of the water. That technology tour-de-force combined with the pressures of the EV rise helped open the doors to the very powerful smallish turbo engines we enjoy today, maybe a decade before ICE vehicles finally go gently into that good night.”
The Veyron probably should have been the last car of its kind, and I guess that makes it pretty important.
Suggested by: gto62
17 / 20
Mercedes S Class
Mercedes S Class
“Mercedes S Class. Every new technology on cars was in there first. Mass-produced.”
This is what I’ve always heard. If you want to see what will be in your car in five years time, test drive an S Class.
Suggested by: Kevin Blankenburg (Facebook)
18 / 20
“It’s not a car, but Volkswagen’s MQB architecture is probably the most important innovation in vehicle design and production in this century.
“Fifteen years ago every car was underpinned by structures that could vary widely from carline to carline. Now most manufacturers make only one or two highly modular architectures that share a lot of the same suspension mounting points, firewall and trans tunnel shapes, A-pillar angles, etc. so there’s a ton more commonality of parts. The design teams then stretch the wheelbase or add some width, but they underlying architecture and the main hard points don’t change.
“All the other manufacturers (Toyota with TNGA, Subaru with SGP, etc.) took that method from the success of MQB, and this way of doing things has proliferated throughout the industry at incredible speed over the past decade—far faster than EV or hybrid adoption, or really any other technological change.”
The MQB platform from VW was a modular approach to car making that premiered on the MK7 Golf in 2012. It’s successor is still in use today, you’ll find the MQB Evo underpinning everything from the Audi A3 to the Transit Connect van.
Suggested by: stoke
19 / 20
“Ford F-350+ series Ambulances. Some of histories most harrowing stories happened in the back of an ambulance. And millions of people have had their lives saved in them, some were born in them, and some died in an ambulance. Perhaps our most emotional moments of crisis, and life moments happened while waiting on one to arrive. No one ever forgets an ambulance ride, but for all the reasons to ride in one, the common denominator is that everyone went broke riding in one.”
Ford’s F-350 and F-550 Superduty trucks form the basis of thousands of ambulances across the U.S. They might not be the most influential vehicles, but they certainly are important to a lot of people’s lives.