Since the first gas powered car was put on the road in 1893, a slew of innovations have come out of the auto industry. Each decade brought forth cars that not only captured the attention of the masses, but fundamentally changed the way that we view and use automobiles.
While much of the 20th century was spent improving the safety and fuel efficiency of cars, the 21st century has largely been about integrating technology to make cars smarter and more sophisticated.
Here are our picks for the ten most influential cars of the 21st century.
1. Toyota Prius – $24,200
Once green cars started making their way onto the market, most people noticed one major problem: they were so expensive. Such vehicles remained out of the price range that most could afford until the Toyota Prius came along. Since the gas-electric hybrid first debuted in 2001, it has become the car that people go to when they want a more sustainable vehicle.
The Prius is not only affordable, it has enough room to be used by families. Today the Prius line has expanded, buyers can opt for a plug-in version, and millions of the cars have been sold in the US alone. The 2016 Toyota Prius has a more futuristic look, gets up to 58 city MPG and 53 highway MPG, and its engine produces 121 hp.
2. Mazda 3 – $17,845
The Mazda 3 came on the scene for the 2004 model year as a replacement for the Mazda Protege, and the car was an instant hit. This vehicle set the standard for today’s compact cars, and since its premiere the Mazda 3 has never been short on style or features. Before it became available, you had to buy a luxury car to get amenities such as blind spot warning systems, radar based cruise control, and adaptive headlights. Now, people can get all of this and more for a very reasonable price tag. The ever-reliable Mazda 3 gets up to 41 MPG on the highway, reaches up to 184 hp, and is attractive inside and out — it’s the perfect blend of affordability, practicality, and style.
3. Ford Explorer – $31,160
The Ford Explorer first debuted in 1991, but the changes made to it in the 21st century are what makes it so influential. In 2011, the Ford Explorer started being produced with a unibody frame instead of the traditional body-on-frame structure most SUVs had. It also became more fuel efficient, bringing those who had been driven away from other SUVs due of gas costs on to the Ford Explorer. Having a very attractive exterior helped this car win public approval as well. The Ford Explorer has received many awards and accolades, and the latest 2016 model incorporates more impressive features than ever.
4. Toyota Camry – $23,070
In the 21st century, the Toyota Camry cemented itself as a car that just won’t quit — do a decent job maintaining it, and you can drive this car for well over 200,000 miles. As the economy took an uncertain turn around 2007, its reliability, comfort, and attractive styling made the Toyota Camry all the more appealing. A recall in 2010 threatened to damage the model’s reputation, but it has bounced back in full force and has kept buyers coming back. The Toyota Camry is also sought after for its relatively high resale value. That it’s affordable, has an engine that produces up to 268 hp, and is fuel efficient are definite bonuses.
5. Hyundai Sonata – $21,750
This midsize sedan has been giving the Toyota Camry a run for its money, and it’s the quality and features of this car that makes it so influential and desirable. The Sonata helped Hyundai make a name for itself in the US auto market. It’s been repeatedly voted “best in class” by leading auto publications, is super fuel efficient, and has a very comfortable and roomy interior. Buyers can now get the Hyundai Sonata as a hybrid, plus all models come with comprehensive warranties.
6. Subaru Forester – $22,595
What other all-wheel, affordable model has the great resale value and premium features of the Subaru Forester? It’s well-loved for its performance and is one of the leading compact crossovers in the US. This model is also among the best at combining the practical aspects of a small wagon with the off-road capability of an SUV. The latest Subaru Forester has more leg room and cargo space than previous models.
7. Mini Cooper – $35,600
The Mini Cooper is not only among the most influential cars, it’s one of the most iconic. It’s loved by Brits and those abroad, and part of what made it so popular in the US is its celebrity endorsement. Few cars have enjoyed as much backing by stars as the Mini, and it has maintained its appeal well into the 21st century.
8. Ferrari Enzo – $3 million
A car named after the legendary founder of Ferrari had to be legendary itself, and the Ferrari Enzo definitely is. It was first produced in 2002, and has since become one of the top cars to emulate in the industry. Other automakers may try, but few cars will ever compare to the performance and beauty of this highly influential model. The Enzo even spawned several Ferrari cars based on it including the FXX, Pininfarina’s P4/5, and the Maserati MC12.
9. Nissan GT-R – $109,990
The Nissan GT-R has cult status and is one of the most influential cars of the last decade. It’s so highly favored that Nissan keeps it in production despite only selling 1,000 or so of the supercars each year in the US. The GT-R is all about power, performance, and more power. Its six figure price tag is still seen as a bargain when one considers the styling, impeccable engineering, and features that come standard with the car.
10. BMW i8 – $140,700
Simply put, the BMW i8 is influential because it represents the future of automobiles. First produced in 2014 after being introduced as the BMW Vision Efficient Dynamics concept in 2009, this hybrid sports car is impressive all around. Its engine produces 357 hp, it is plenty green, and the i8’s aesthetic simply has to be seen rather than described. Look at the i8, and you’ll know what’s directly ahead for the auto industry.