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Category: Special and Limited Editions

HWA Evo is a modern take on the Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.5-16 Evo II


In 1989, Mercedes-Benz built 502 units of a very racy sedan called the 190 E 2.5-16 Evo, its homologation car for the 190 E racer in the German Touring Car (DTM) series. This is the same series that convinced BMW to create the M3, which BMW drivers used to win the DTM Driver’s Championship in 1987 and 1989 (there was no manufacturer’s championship at the time), and the first Evo was the car Mercedes used to return to factory motor racing after quitting all such activities in the wake of the Le Mans crash in 1955. (M-B began supplying Peter Sauber with engines for Group C racing in the mid-1980s, though.) Mercedes drivers couldn’t lift the big trophy with the Evo, so in 1990 and 1991, Mercedes turned its first effort into the 190 E 2.5-16 Evo II. Thanks to DTM instituting a manufacturer’s championship by this time, Mercedes driver Klaus Ludwig drove the Evo II to both trophies in 1992, and the 502 roadgoing versions became collector rarities. Whereas Evo I values average somewhere in the low $100s, Evo II sales average around $300,000 according to Classic.com. 

This is one of the reasons a German outfit called HWA chose to create a modernized version of the Evo II on a standard Mercedes 190 E chassis, that of the plain beige four-door that filled taxi fleets in Germany at the time. The other reason is that HWA stands for Hans-Werner Aufrecht, the gentleman who provided the “A” in AMG. When AMG was a separate company, Aufrecht worked with Mercedes on the Evo I and Evo II, and his independent HWA outfit continued never stopped prepping Mercedes race cars even after Mercedes completed its acquisition of AMG.

Based on the sedan’s specs, it’s probably best not to think of the HWA Evo as a restomod, since nothing is restored and everything is a modification. The only pieces that remain from the 190 E shell are cant rails (the structural member running over the doors between the A- and C-pillars), and C-pillar. It’s best to consider this a current imagining of what an Evo III might look like, using modern components. Start with the engine. Instead of the Cosworth-tuned, high-revving 2.5-liter four-cylinder, the HWA Evo is powered by Mercedes’ M276 twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 from cars like the AMG E 43 that Mercedes recently replaced with its twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six. HWA buys the M276 new, disassembles it to balance the rotating assembly, installs a dry sump so the engine can sit lower in the chassis, and plugs in an HWA-programmed ECU. Final output for the standard version is 444 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, an Affalterbach Package raises that to 493 hp, to move a car targeted to weigh about 3,220 pounds. Shorter gearing in the six-speed manual transaxle transmission give the standard car better acceleration but a lower top speed of 168 miles per hour. The longer legs in the Affalterbach Package take top speed to 189 mph.  

Side note: When Motor Trend asked HWA why it went with a six-cylinder when the original made do with a four, we’re told that a V8 would have been too tough to fit into the bay, and HWA chief technical officer Gordian von Schöning said, “In the beginning we were really pushing for a four-cylinder engine because we thought this was something AMG is promoting, and we can probably push it to 500 horsepower. But customers said a four-cylinder engine was not special.”

The body shell is stripped and reinforced with aluminum and high-strength steel for stiffness and improved crash protection. The front axle’s moved forward two inches, the rear axle 1.2 inches, helping deliver a 50:50 weight balance. HWA sourced Evo II-spec glass, thinner and lighter than the regular sedan’s windows. The new carbon fiber body panels are bonded to the shell, and swell so much below the belt line that the HWA Evo is nine inches wider than an Evo II.

KW shocks connect a race-spec multi-link suspension at both ends, the base car offering manual shock adjustment, the Affalterbach Package giving drivers electronic suspension controls in the cockpit. Six-piston front brakes work 15-inch rotors behind 190-inch wheels, while in back, four-piston calipers clamp 14-inch rotors behind 20-inch wheels.

Inside, front passengers sit in Recaro seats looking at digital gauges that mimic the original displays.

HWA’s putting the one car it’s built so far through a year-long testing and development phase. Once completed, HWA will build one car per week, up to 100 units in total, 75 of which have already been sold at €714,000 ($765,000 U.S.) apiece. After that, we hear there are plans for HWA to come up with a modern interpretation of the AMG Hammer.



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Junkyard Gem: 1991 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz


GM’s Cadillac Division introduced the ultra-swanky Eldorado as a 1953 model, and the Biarritz name was first used on the Eldorado convertible three years later. After that, Eldorado Biarritzes in various forms were built intermittently through the following decades. The end finally came for the Biarritz in 1991, when the last eleventh-generation Eldorados rolled off the Hamtramck line. Today’s Junkyard Gem is one of those cars, found at a self-service yard near Denver, Colorado.


Biarritz is a resort city on the Atlantic coast in France’s Basque Country, just the sort of place where a high-living oil heiress might have flaunted her new Eldo during the late 1950s. The Biarritz title was used to designate Eldorado convertibles through 1964, then got dropped until its revival as the name of a gloriously rococo trim level for 1976.

For me, the definitive Eldorado Biarritz is the 1979-1985 version, with its stainless-steel roof panel inspired by the one on the 1957 Eldorado Brougham. When Robert De Niro as pink-suited Ace Rothstein falls victim to a bomb in his car in the 1995 film “Casino,” that car is a 1983 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz.


The Eldorado got a radical downsizing for the 1986 model year and its next-to-last generation, losing 16 inches of overall length and a corresponding portion of general bulk. The Biarritz version stuck around, but with no stainless-steel roof. 


The 1991 Biarritz package did get you two-tone paint, “Tampico” carpeting, birdseye maple wood on the dash and console plus 10-way power front bucket seats.


Also included were “wire wheel discs” aka faux-wire-wheel hubcaps.


The padded landau roof with slick-looking integrated opera lamps also went onto the 1991 Eldorado Biarritz.


All 1986-1991 Eldorados got a full digital instrument cluster.


This generation of Eldorado never got the DOHC Northstar engine. Instead, all were powered by a member of the Cadillac High Technology pushrod V8. The Northstar went into final-generation Eldorados from 1993 through the end in 2002.


This is the 4.9-liter HT engine, rated at 200 horsepower and 275 pound-feet. If you want to enrage engine-name purists you should call it the “HT4900” within their hearing range. Earlier versions displaced 4.1 and 4.5 liters, with 1991 being the first year for the 4.9.


When this car was new, no manual transmission had been available in a new Cadillac since the last three-pedal Cimarrons were built as 1988 models. The gearbox in this car is a four-speed automatic.


The final year for the Cadillac Eldorado was 2002, after which it was replaced by the CTS coupe. The 1986-1991 eleventh-gen Eldos ended up being the smallest of all the generations.


This one had an MSRP of $34,425, or about $80,326 in 2024 dollars. That was a bit cheaper than the cost of the similarly sized 1991 BMW 525i, which listed at $34,900 ($81,434 after inflation). Meanwhile, the costliest Cadillac of 1991, the Allanté hardtop convertible, cost $61,450 ($143,384 today).

Winner of the 1990 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award!



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Junkyard Gem: 1998 Cadillac DeVille Tuxedo Collection


Cadillac began using the de Ville name (which means about the same thing as “town car” but is more French and thus classier) in the late 1940s, becoming a model name in its own right for the 1959 model year. The seventh generation of the Cadillac de Ville was sold for the 1994 through 1999 model years, and many of these cars received dealer-installed aftermarket packages to increase their general opulence. Here’s one of those cars, with the E&G Classics “Tuxedo Collection” treatment applied, found in a South Carolina car graveyard a few rows away from a Toyota Avalon with nearly a million miles on its odometer.

Cadillac went through many variations of this model name over the decades, including de Ville, De Ville, DeVille and Deville. For most of the 1959-1993 period, the two-doors were named some version of “Coupe de Ville” while the “Sedan de Ville” name went on four-doors. The two-door was dropped after 1993 and eventually the model ended up being simply the DeVille. After the DeVille name itself got the axe in 2005, production of what amounted to the same car continued with DTS badging through 2011.

The 1994-1999 DeVille lived on the same platform as the front-wheel-drive Seville, after a decade of being a cousin to the Buick Park Avenue and Oldsmobile 98. It weighed just a hair over two tons.

For 1994 and 1995, the DeVille was powered by the 4.9-liter version of the pushrod Cadillac High Technology V8 engine, then received the DOHC Northstar V8 until the final DTSs were sold as 2011 models. This one is a 4.6-liter rated at 275 horsepower and 300 pound-feet.

Padded roofs, landau or otherwise, had fallen out of mainstream car-shopper favor by the late 1990s, and even the Brougham name had been dumped by Cadillac by that time (as far as I can tell, the final Brougham-badged car available in the world was the early-2000s Nissan Cedric VIP Brougham). That’s where Cadillac dealers stepped in, and Washington D.C.-area-based E&G Classics provided a Tuxedo Collection by E&G kit for those dealers to install.

E&G wasn’t the only outfit providing such services for dealers selling seventh-generation Cadillac DeVilles; I found a 1995 Sedan DeVille St. Tropez Edition, featuring non-padded landau roof and special badging, a few months ago in Denver.

Both today’s Junkyard Gem and the St. Tropez DeVille were sold out of Don Massey’s mighty Cadillac empire.

The E&G Tuxedo Collection DeVille got this body-color grille.

The heyday of the full padded vinyl roof for Detroit was the 1970s, and owners of the E&G Tuxedo Collection DeVille were able to flaunt their style in true 1979 fashion.

You’ll find one in every car. You’ll see.

The average age of Cadillac buyers plummeted the following model year, when the Yukon Denali-derived Escalade hit showrooms.



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Junkyard Gem: 2003 Ford Focus ZTS Centennial Edition


The very first car produced by the Ford Motor Company was the 1903 Model A. 100 years later, Ford decided to build some special Centennial Edition cars and trucks. Ford shoppers could get five Centennial Edition models for 2003: the Taurus, Mustang, Explorer, F-250/F-350 and Focus. All were painted black, the only color available for the 1914-1925 Model T. I’ve been searching for a Centennial Edition Ford over many years of junkyard exploration and finally found this Focus in a Denver-area yard.

Some junkyard visitor before me pried off the special fender and decklid badges, but the “two-tone signature Centennial Leather” seats were still there.

Sadly, the special Centennial Edition key chain, hardcover edition of “The Ford Century” book, wristwatch and letter from Bill Ford weren’t inside the car.

This Junkyard Gem is in rough shape, so here’s what it looked like in the sales brochure. The only previous Focus in this series was an ’02 Mach Audio, so we were overdue.

While the Centennial Edition Mustang was available in either coupe or convertible form, all the Centennial Edition Foci were ZTS sedans.

4,000 each of the Centennial Edition Taurus and Explorer were built, with only 3,000 apiece for the Focus, Mustang and F-Series.

100 years is quite a milestone for a car company, but plenty of special-edition cars for other production anniversaries have been built and I’ve documented many of them in car graveyards. There’s the 50th Anniversary Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight (commemorating a half-century of the 88 model), the XC Edition Oldsmobile Ciera (commemorating 90 years of Oldsmobile), the 40th Anniversary Pontiac Grand Prix, the 30th Anniversary Pontiac Grand Am, the 10th Anniversary Black Red Edition Datsun 280ZX, the 50th Anniversary Nissan 300ZX (commemorating 50 years of Nissan), the 25th Anniversary Chevrolet Camaro, the 30th Anniversary Mercury Cougar and many more. It’s too bad Studebaker isn’t around anymore, because 2040 will be the 300th anniversary of the first horse-drawn wagon built by Peter Stutenbecker in the British Province of Maryland.

This being a ZTS, the top-grade 2003 Focus sedan available in the United States, it has the 130-horsepower DOHC Zetec engine.

Its 1903 predecessor had a clutchless two-speed planetary transmission to go with its two-cylinder pushrod boxer engine, but this car has a more modern five-speed manual.

The Focus remained in American Ford showrooms through 2018, then got the axe because “silhouettes are changing.” You can still buy a new Focus elsewhere in the world, though; it’s built on the same platform as the current Maverick.

When some hooptie early-1980s GM sedan tries to spray your new black Focus with no-doubt-contaminated washer fluid, you know what to do.



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What is the fastest car in the world in 2024?


It wasn’t that long ago that the notion of reaching 200 miles per hour in a car, on a road, seemed basically impossible. As you likely know by now, that time has passed. And once that threshold was crossed, the automotive world immediately began eying the next triple-digit benchmark: 300 miles per hour. It may have taken a little while, but the 300-mph line has been crossed, and some cars have moved well past that seemingly insane speed number. While some of these speeds have been achieved in simulations (including the fastest car listed below), there’s little doubt that a driver with nerves of steel and a heavy right foot could indeed push several automobiles up to 300 miles per hour and beyond.

Interestingly, it’s not just one car or automaker in the 300-mph club, as a handful of models have earned a place (sometimes claimed but not yet demonstrated) on the leaderboard.

The fastest car in the world is: Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut (330 MPH)

Fastest car in the world 2023

That title goes to the Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut, which recorded a staggering 330 mph top speed earlier in 2023. The car’s twin-turbocharged 5.0-liter V8 lays down 1,600 horsepower and 1,106 pound-feet of torque, which plays a significant role in delivering that speed, but Koenigsegg’s engineers have given the car a lot more than mind-blowing power.

The Jesko Absolut has a super-slippery 0.278 drag coefficient and a nine-speed transmission that shifts so quickly it’s almost imperceptible. Koenigsegg calls it a Light Speed Transmission (LST), saying its shifts happen at almost light speed. While that might be a slight exaggeration, the gearbox is impressive, bringing several wet multi-disc clutches and a super lightweight construction.

As Koenigsegg says, “the Jesko Absolut is destined to achieve higher, more extraordinary speeds than any Koenigsegg or any other fully homologated car before it.”

How expensive is the Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut?

If you were reading that and wondering how much the fastest car in the world costs, the price tag is just another dizzying number on the Jesko Absolut’s spec sheet. All 125 Absolut cars offered sold out at a price of almost $3 million. Of course, being able to afford the Koenigsegg is just the first step in realizing its full potential. There are very few places on the map that can support a 300-plus-mph speed run, and the locations that do are not conveniently located. That said, it’s likely that many people who shelled out the cash for a Jesko Absolut will be happy with the bragging rights instead of using the speed.

So, the Jesko Absolut holds the speed crown and does so with more than a few miles per hour to spare, but the other cars in the 300-mph club are nearly as impressive.

Other cars that drive faster than 300 mph

BUGATTI Bolide 300 mph

The Bugatti Bolide sees 1,847 horsepower and 1,365 pound-feet of torque from a quad-turbo 8.0-liter W16. Its top speed lands at 311 mph, and its styling is just as wild and exaggerated.

However, unlike the Koenigsegg, the Bugatti is a track-only affair. Though it shares an engine and some of its underlying structure with the road-legal Chiron, Bugatti opted to keep the Bolide limited to track duty. While that’s a bummer, especially at the roughly $4.4 million price tag, not having to build a car to meet road car regulations gave Bugatti the freedom to create a brutal car with speed that defies logic. The Bolide is also far more exclusive than the Koenigsegg, as Bugatti produced just 40 of the extreme cars.

The car’s suspension is far stiffer than the Chiron’s, and the car rides on Michelin slicks. It utilizes a revised carbon monocoque and is built using an array of 3D-printed parts. Without the need to worry about curbs, speed bumps, and pedestrians, Bugatti could go wild with aerodynamics and bodywork, resulting in a car that looks like it could cut you.

What goes into creating a car that can go faster than 300 mph?

The Jesko Absolut and Bolide make reaching 300-plus mph sound easy, which you’d expect for their multiple-seven-digit price tags, but there’s a lot that goes into hitting their mind-blowing top speeds. Beyond the fact that it takes miles of glassy-smooth tarmac, the cars have to be exceptionally aerodynamic and be able to consume gobs of air, and fuel consumption at those speeds is immense. Engineers have to shape a car that easily slices through the air while also creating tremendous downforce to keep it on the ground.

Adding thousands of pounds of downforce stresses almost every part of the car, especially the suspension and tires. The dampers have to be able to support the temporarily heavier car while also keeping the tires in contact with the tarmac. At 300 mph, even subtle imperfections in the road surface come faster and much harder, so the car has to be able to cope.

Tires take a particularly brutal beating during the top-speed runs, as their sidewalls get compressed with all the downforce. They’re also subjected to extreme temperatures due to the friction that comes from rubber clawing against the pavement at 300 mph. At that speed, the tires rotate thousands of times per minute, so they must also be sturdy enough to hold their shape through the harsh rotational forces. Finally, high speeds do funny things with the weights of vehicle components, such as the tire pressure monitoring sensors, which can weigh several times their normal amount when rotating at 300 mph and cause wheel imbalances and other issues.

What about the previously fastest cars from Ferrari and Porsche?

1969 Dodge Charger Daytona

While we’re now talking about cars reaching speeds in excess of 300 mph, the first car to cross 200 mph did so more than 50 years ago. The 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona hit 200 mph in March 1970 at Talladega in Alabama. That’s right, the first car to 200 wasn’t wearing an Italian name on its nose, though many of the most well-known cars in the 200 club do. That said, the Charger Daytona, like the Bugatti Bolide today, was not street-legal, and the first road-going car to hit the benchmark was a Ferrari.

Several years after the Dodge’s record-setting run, the Ferrari F40 (below left) reached 200 mph as the first production car with the record. Its twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V8 cranked out 471 horsepower when new, giving it a 0-60 mph time of 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 201 mph. Interestingly, the most impressive Porsche at the time, the 959 (below right), fell just short of the F40’s speed, reaching “just” 197 mph.

Electric power could change everything

As the automotive world moves toward full electrification, there are questions about EVs’ top speed and battery power, but there are at least five models on sale today with a 200-plus mph top speed. The slick Lucid Air Sapphire offers a 200-mph top speed and a 0-60 time of under 2 seconds. It tied the Tesla Model S Plaid’s top speed but did 0-60 quicker, as the Tesla takes 2.1 seconds to do the deed. The Lotus Evija also promises a 200-mph top speed, but the top two cars are helping move the EV performance needle close to the extreme numbers seen from today’s fastest gas cars. The Pininfarina Battista offers a 217-mph top speed and a crazy 1.8-second 0-60 time, and at the tippy-top of the performance hill is the Rimac Nevera, which offers a 258-mph top speed and a 1.9-second 0-60 mph time.

The 5 fastest cars in the world in 2024

  • Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut: 330 MPH (Claimed)
  • Bugatti Bolide: 311 MPH (Claimed)
  • Bugatti Chiron Super Sport: 305 MPH
  • Hennessey Venom F5: 300 MPH (Claimed)
  • SSC Tuatara: 283 MPH



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The Autoblog 20: The most significant new cars of the past two decades


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. 

 

18 — 2009 Hyundai Genesis

Some of the cars on this list were segment-defining automobiles, while others defied contention and created their own niches, but there aren’t many automobiles one can point to and say, “That was the genesis of an entire brand.” In this case, well, that’s about as literal as it gets. The Genesis lineup now includes eight distinct models, including the descendants of the Genesis and Genesis Coupe themselves, the G80 and G70. Sadly, the latter is unlikely to survive to see another generation. 

 

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. And we can’t put this one out there without acknowledging the Infiniti FX, which despite not being mechanically related to the Murano, sported an equally futureproof design.  

 

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. Ram followed years later with the TRX. GM’s put forth its own challengers with the ZR2 line, and the Raptor’s in-your-face styling can be seen throughout the industry. It’s a trailblazer of excess and just plain silly fun, and it’s a type of vehicle we don’t see dying out any time soon.

 

11 — 2011 Nissan Leaf

The Nissan Leaf was the first mass-market EV, and it was a big deal. As one would expect, skepticism surrounded it, and range anxiety was real. It may not have been for everyone, but it was the first step on what has become an industry-wide, even cultural, journey. A bit over a decade on, and we’re still in uncertain terrain when it comes to electrification — the Leaf was like the Sputnik launch, and now we’re shooting for the moon.

 

10 — 2013 Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ

Remember Scion? Toyota’s “youth” brand seemed more popular with baby boomers than anybody else, but we still got some pretty sweet machinery out of the deal. Today’s Toyota GR86 is yesterday’s Scion FR-S, while the BRZ is, well, still the BRZ. Those who grew up with these on the market may not appreciate their significance, but considering just how un-sporty Toyota showrooms were circa 2010, these cars represented a critical inflection point for the brand. Subaru certainly benefited, but one glance at Toyota’s lineup today reveals just how much the FR-S influenced the company’s enthusiast offerings. It’s the only piece of Scion that survives in America today.

 

9 — 2010 Hyundai Sonata/Kia Optima

In 2009, Korean cars were sensible, decently made and delivered tremendous value, but were seemingly styled for the witness protection program. Then the 2010 Hyundai Sonata landed, followed by the 2010 Kia Optima. They were literal game changers, kicking off an onslaught of products that were not only new and greatly improved, but were designed in a way that car buyers really noticed. They weren’t alone: We asked a Toyota designer once if there was a rival car introduced that made his team stop and re-evaluate what they were doing. His answer was quick: the 2010 Hyundai Sonata. Midsize family sedans could no longer be anonymous, boring boxes, and with rare exception, they never were again. While recalls cost Hyundai and Kia quite a bit of goodwill, both cars made undeniable impressions on American buyers and positioned the brands for further upmarket expansion.

 

8 — 2020 Chevrolet Corvette

Rumors of a mid-engine Corvette go back decades longer than Autoblog has existed, and yet it never happened. Until it finally did. And when a multi-generation American automotive icon undergoes such a radical transformation, it sure seems significant to us. Despite its radically different layout, though, at its heart was still a good, old-fashioned American V8. It was just behind the driver now. We’re not sure how significant the mid-engine Corvette will ultimately be in terms of influencing the overall automotive industry as other selections on this list did, but in terms of historical significance and the sheer quantity of enthusiast interest there was when the C8 finally dawned, this was an easy pick. 

 

7 — 2005 Chrysler 300

The Chrysler 300 was a seminal car that went against the grain. When the rest of the industry moved to smaller vehicles with better fuel efficiency — or doubled-down on SUVs — Chrysler dropped a V8 onto a rear-wheel-drive Mercedes chassis and said to hell with all of that. Twenty years later, the 300 remains a high-water mark for American sedans. Its styling is timeless and demonstrated that Chrysler could build an aspirational car. For Chrysler to recapture some of its early 2000s mojo, it needs to look no further than the 300.

 

6 — 2004 Toyota Prius

If you asked a non car person “What was the first hybrid car?” they’d almost certainly say this, the 2004 Toyota Prius. Of course, it wasn’t; it wasn’t even the first Prius. But this was the car that made “Prius” and “hybrid” synonymous with each other as well as household names. Celebrities and other wealthy folks drove them just to make an eco statement, much as they would when inevitably moving on to Teslas thereafter. It’s not hyperbole to say the Prius was a cultural phenomena, but by making hybrids both fashionable and acceptable from an automotive standpoint, it opened the door to electrification. It did so by not only because exponentially more efficient than other cars, but it was a funky in an agreeable way that clearly announced your greenness, while also being surprisingly practical. It wasn’t a dorky eco science project like its predecessor or the Honda Insight. There were those on our staff that argued vehemently for this to be higher on the list. 

 

5 — 2005 Ford Mustang

To understand the 2005 Mustang, look at the years prior. Camaro? Dead. Challenger/Charger? Long dead. For decades, Mustangs had carried a few design cues from the first generation but had no cohesive style — stick a pony badge on a coupe and call it a Mustang. At their nadir, some Mustangs were putting out 88 and 91 horsepower; the second generation was based on the Pinto. But the S-197 Mustang envisioned by Sid Ramnarace, Hau Thai-Tang and J Mays was a clean-sheet redesign, revolutionary and retro. (Chief designer Mays also had a hand in the VW New Beetle and retro baby Thunderbird.) The 2005 Mustang reminded boomers of the car they first fell in love with. It was the automotive equivalent of a romantic gesture. It also really helped that the Mustang GT V8 offered 300 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. Soon, the retro Camaro and Challenger came along, and many formidable Mustangs would follow. Pony cars, muscle cars were back.

 

4 — 2003 Porsche Cayenne

The Boxster may have saved Porsche in the late 1990s, but it’s the Cayenne that’s turned the company into the profit machine it is today (and allowed it to make increasingly amazing performance machines that almost certainly wouldn’t have been possible without that war chest). Purists stuck up their noses in 2003 when the Cayenne launched, but we wouldn’t be surprised if those same naysayers are driving around in performance-focused SUVs now. Of course, they have the Cayenne to thank for kick-starting the trend. Mercedes-AMG, BMW M and Audi Sport SUVs run wild across America now and have ever since those OEMs saw how successful the Cayenne was. Porsche’s effect is still being felt today, as the most reluctant sports car and supercar brands continue to introduce high-performance SUVs – even Ferrari is joining the crowd with the Purosangue.

 

3 — Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

You will note that are two Wranglers shown here: the TJ and JK generations. We had some internal debate on this one as both generations were responsible for introducing the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, a more daily drivable version of America’s iconic off-roader that we’d argue was the genesis of today’s rampant trend of daily drivable off-roaders. We ultimately just said “to hell with it” and put both. The original TJ Unlimited didn’t have rear doors; it was still a two-door Wrangler but with a stretched wheelbase and therefore more back seat room. The idea for a more versatile and even family-friendly Wrangler was there, even though the concept wasn’t fully realized until the four-door JK Unlimited launched for 2007. After that, there was no going back, as Unlimited sales quickly outpaced two-doors while Wrangler sales in general started a consistent, meteoric rise. More importantly, it established a trend that continues today. With rumors swirling of the two-door Wrangler’s days being numbered, it seems wild that just two generations ago, the four-door didn’t exist at all

 

2 — 2011 Chevrolet Volt

Was it a plug-in hybrid? A range-extended EV? Was it a government-backed boondoggle or a genuine effort to advance powertrain technology? Whatever you want to call it, the “Government Motors” Volt was developed under serious duress. These days, a PHEV customer can afford to be a bit picky, but back in 2011, Chevy was blazing a trail. We recognized it at the time, too, as the Volt was a BIG story when it launched. Cars this fundamentally different don’t come along too often. Of course, it wasn’t a runaway sales success and GM never seemed that committed to making the Volt nor its powertrain concept successful, but with the industry and GM in particular shifting back toward hybrid tech, its legacy seems bound to be even more relevant in the coming years. 

 

1 – 2012 Tesla Model S

We’ve had a lot to say about Tesla, and much of it has been critical, but here’s a reality check for you. Of the 45 vehicles nominated, only one received votes from every member of the staff, and not only that, received the maximum possible from every single one of us. 80 points — a perfect score — to the Bolt’s 38. We don’t often agree on much around here, but in this case, no deliberation was necessary. It was the Model S by an absolute landslide. 

Quite simply, what car introduced in the past 20 years has done more to change the automotive industry and even the world? The Model S was not the first electric car, nor even the first Tesla, but it was what made Tesla more than just another pet project of a rich guy with more dollars than sense (although it’s totally still that). It was a real car and a wildly impressive one at that, despite the warts. More importantly, it made electric cars cool … as opposed to the exact opposite of cool considering what had come before. Making them cool and desirable to be seen in by well-heeled and fashion-forward buyers made getting one more than just an eco statement, which was vital to making electric cars viable. Without the existence and success of the Model S, there would be no Tesla today … or at least as we know it. Ergo, we wouldn’t have a car company that has fundamentally and radically changed the automotive industry. We wouldn’t have the current level of electric vehicle adoption nor the prospect of even more in the coming years, in this country and others. Say what you will about Elon Musk and the dubious empire he oversees — and believe us, we’ve said plenty — but without the Model S, the automotive world in which we live would not exist.

Honorable mentions

As noted above, our “short” list included 45 cars, meaning more than half weren’t represented in the list above, including quite a few that received votes. We feel it would be a disservice to leave them out entirely, so here’s a few of those that didn’t survive the cull. It’s a testament to how many impactful new cars have debuted over the past two decades that some of these didn’t merit more than an honorable mention. We suppose that’s a good problem to have, but it’s likely little consolation for fans of some of these rides. Were your picks done dirty? Let us know in the comments. 

  • 2003 Cadillac CTS
  • 2010 Chevy Camaro

These two breakout nameplates for GM performance were nominated but neither made the cut. The C5 Corvette Z06 was deemed juuuuust too old to qualify. Yes, it’s hair-splitting. C’est la vie.

Worth noting that this beast’s electrical successor was not even nominated. 

The thud heard (almost) ’round the world. Volkswagen managed to keep the Phaeton alive in Europe, but its highfalutin’ American aspirations died with this boondoggle. 

Ask us again in 20 years. 

After the Cayenne, Porsche’s first sedan just wasn’t anywhere near as groundbreaking. 

The S550 Mustang was a huge quality-of-life upgrade and much of its fundamental engineering still underpins the pony cars leaving Ford’s Flat Rock facility today. 

Other unibody trucks would eventually join it (see the Maverick above), but it took guts to launch the Ridgeline in a market where body-on-frame Ford Rangers could still be had for pennies by comparison. 

A pioneer in unconventional suspension design, but a bit too niche. 

  • 2013 McLaren P1
  • 2013 Ferrari La Ferrari
  • 2013 Porsche 918

This trio of hyper-hybrids set the tone for a new era of electrification in high performance. 

Ford’s return to the 4×4 space made a massive splash, but this is another one that needs time to marinate. 

Arguably, Kia’s first true breakout success. The Soul walked so Telluride could run. 

  • 2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid, 2022 F-150 Lightning

Both of Ford’s electrified half-tons were nominated, but neither has really had a chance to leave its mark. 



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Junkyard Gem: 2007 Audi S8


If you want to find examples of punitive automotive depreciation, look no further than the European luxury sedans in your local Ewe Pullet car graveyard. How about a Mercedes-Benz S600, which sold new for an inflation-adjusted $282,544? Or a BMW 745i and its $114,895 price tag in today’s money? Big, powerful Audi sedans face the Depreciation Grim Reaper as well, and today’s Junkyard Gem was the one of the most expensive 2007 models Americans could buy with the logo representing Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer on its snout.

The 2007 Audi S8 started at $92,000 (the example that awed our reviewer was a fully loaded model that listed at $110,920), which comes to about $141,958 in 2024 dollars. The A8 W12 for 2007 cost even more, but it wasn’t as evil-looking as the S8.

This car, currently residing at the Denver Pick Your Part, is only the second discarded S8 I’ve documented, after a 2001 model in a North Carolina yard. Ordinary A8s are much easier to find in junkyards, of course, as are examples of its Audi V8 predecessor.

Under the hood is a wild Lamborghini-sourced DOHC V10 engine, rated at 450 horsepower and 398 pound-feet and connected to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission.

This car was governed to 155 mph and could run mid-13-second quarter-miles (about the same as the small-block-powered ’65 Chevy Impala sedan I was driving a few years earlier).

It still has the proprietary cable that allowed you to connect your iPod to the audio system.

This car has the optional Ban & Olufsen sound system, which pushed the price tag past the six-figure threshold (in 2007 dollars).

Why is such an amazing machine in a place like this? Well, you can’t skimp on the maintenance in a car with this much technological wizardry inside, and A8/S8 repair costs often look unfavorable when balanced against the resale value at age 14.

The keys were still with this car when it arrived here, so we can assume that it needed a fix that cost more than its current real-world value.

You’ll find one in every car. You’ll see.

The music in this dealer promo video is appropriately oonsk-oonsky for the Autobahn.

Vorsprung durch Technik.



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