1 MINI (2000)
There are more practical, substantive and fairer-priced cars out there, but to my mind none in the last 25 years have been quite so iconic or influential as BMW’s re-born Mini — the poster child for all things retro-automotive. Arguably VW did it first with the new Beetle. But that car — dash-mounted flowerpot‘n’all — was woeful, when the re-engineered Mini brought back a sense of attainable prestige to small cars with greater intelligence. Enter the new Fiat 500, the new Citroen DS range, etc. Even the Isetta’s waiting in the wings.
2 MCLAREN F1 (1992)
Reaching 391km/h, Gordon Murray’s F1 is famous for two things — once being the fastest production car known to man or beast and being crashed by telly comic Rowan Atkinson. It made Murray the UK’s automotive equivalent to Isambard Kingdom Brunel and stuck two fingers up at the Italians, much in the same way McLaren boss Ron Dennis plans to do again with its successor, the MP4-12C.
3 MAZDA MX-5 (1989)
Without doubt the best value driver’s car in the world, the Mazda MX-5 is basically responsible for every affordable drop-top made since the early 90s. Its simplicity, unbound drivability and sheer sense of fun out-MGed MG and revised the concept of the small British roadster with the advantage of Japanese lateral thinking. Hello Boxster, TT, et al.
4 FORD FOCUS (1998)
Humble, unassuming, even Corolla-esque, Ford’s indomitable hatch isn’t the most eye-catching car on this list. Thanks to its quiet drivability, however, the Focus hasn’t just survived, but thrived in a way which brings tears to the eyes of Toyota executives. Recently voted the car of the decade in the UK, the third generation Focus is being set up to be the global Model T of the next by Ford boss Alan Mulally.
5 BUGATTI VEYRON (2005)
So ridiculous it makes the F1 look thoroughly sensible for a trip down to the shops. Not one V8 under the bonnet, but two, to make a W16 engine, not any old performance tyres, but specially-designed run-flats which cost around $25,000 US to replace. In fact, in every area, Bugatti owner VW pushed the envelope to breaking point to create a 407.9km/h machine which, thanks to climate change, may just be remembered as the unassailable peak of the combustion engined car.
6 ARIEL ATOM (1996)
Proving students are good for more than just consuming huge amounts of alcohol, the Ariel Atom began as a project at Coventry University. Its unique, lightweight exoskeleton brought F1 aesthetics to the road in a way the slick McLaren F1 couldn’t, and created a three second 0-100km/h acceleration platform with a power-to-weight ratio as high as 650bhp per ton, as seen in the supercharged models. Personifies thinking outside of the box.
7 TOYOTA PRIUS
Love it or hate it, the Prius hybrid is certainly one car which will be hard to forget. It may have been preceded by the Mk I Honda Insight, and the carbon by-product inherent in the production of its nickel-hydride batteries may make the entire endeavour highly debatable, but regardless, it’ll always be in the history books as the most ethical way we could have driven. Indeed, Toyota is now rushing to apply its hybrid technology across its entire model range. It’s the grand-daddy of a legion of smugmobiles to come.
8 MERCEDES-BENZ W124 (1984)
Okay, I’m breaking the rules slightly here, as the W124 chassis E-Class was first released just before 1985, but it’s too good to pass up. Famous as the pinnacle of German toughness and build quality, it is known as one of the last “no expense spared” Mercedes. It ushered in new design thinking in many areas, from its unique single wiper famous for reaching all corners of the windscreen, to its low drag coefficient body and safety features like a driver’s side airbag. It has since gained a slavish cult following as examples still run around to this day with more than 1,200,000km on the clock.
9 BMW X5 (1999)
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, soft-roaders have become a defining motoring trend. It started with runts like the Pontiac Aztec, but “going soft” only became a truly desirable option after BMW dropped the X5. Its acceptance by the establishment, if you will, can be found in a turn of phrase. The X5, according to BMW, was not an SUV — but an SAV, a Sports Activity Vehicle, to denote its on-road ability.
10 VOLVO XC60 (2008)
It is at this point you normally scrape the barrel, but the XC60, while being a fairly standard premium Euro soft-roader, will be remembered — especially if Volvo’s track record on safety innovations is anything to go by. Heard of ABS? How about the collapsible steering column or the driver airbag? All part of Volvo’s history of safety innovations which was recently updated with its City Safety radar technology that brakes the car to avoid causing rear-enders. Expect it to filter down and become commonplace.