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21 best cars of the 21st Century

21 best cars of the 21st Century

What makes a great car? Terrific performance? Solid handling? Supreme luxury?

They’re certainly important in the right situation, but above all a great car needs to put a smile on your face, whether that’s after a blat down a winding road, a cross-continent trudge, or even as you lock it away in the garage at night.

Sometimes you know it’s a winner as soon as you sit behind the wheel. Sometimes you only realise after you’ve part-exchanged it for your next motor.

And other times it takes several attempts before you find a good ’un, which is why we’ve saved you the trouble by giving you 21 cars that stand out in their particular fields. Happy hunting.

01 Mini Cooper (2001)

0-60mph    9.3sec
Top speed    125mph
Average economy 42.2mpg

BMW took a huge risk when it resurrected the Mini brand. The new hatchback was bigger than the original car but its internal packaging was nowhere near as clever. But it looked great, handled well and caught the imagination of thousands of buyers - and spurred a raft of other models.

02 Porsche Boxster 2.7 (2007)

0-60mph    6.1sec
Top speed    160mph
Average economy    30.4mpg

The second-generation Boxster appeared in 2005 as a subtle evolution of the the Mk1 car, but it took another couple of years before it really came into its own, when it was given the same 2.7-litre engine as the Cayman. Its variable valve timing gave it a bit more power and helped it sound terrific when revved. 

03 Nissan GT-R (2009)

0-62mph    3.5sec
Top speed    195mph
Average economy    23.5mpg

The successor to the Skyline GT-R sent its 3.8-litre V6’s 478bhp through all four wheels for a scarcely believable 0-62mph time of 3.5sec. Even more amazing was its comparatively low list price. Yes, it was basically a supercomputer on wheels, but booting the throttle was a hard habit to break.

04 Toyota Prius (2004)

0-60mph    11.9sec
Top speed    101mph
Average economy    65.7mpg

No, not the original Prius, which was a still too quirky to go mainstream, but the second version of the petrol-electric hybrid. In reality it wasn’t as economical as the figures suggested, but it proved a hit with Hollywood celebrities and its success gave other car makers the confidence to develop their own hybrids.

05 VW Golf GTI (2005)

0-60mph    7.0sec
Top speed    136mph
Average economy    34.9mpg

The superb original GTI made its debut in 1976 and was followed by the almost-as-impressive Mk2 in 1984, but the Golf GTI lost its mojo after that. Then the Mk5 appeared. The turbocharged 2.0-litre engine had close to 200bhp, build quality was much improved and it handled brilliantly. The hot hatch was back and better than ever.

06 Bugatti Veyron (2005)

0-62mph    2.5sec
Top speed    253mph
Average economy    11.6mpg

Hypercars mean big numbers. The original Veyron had more than 1000bhp, produced by a 16-cylinder, 8.0-litre engine and got to 124mph in 7.4sec (okay, that’s a small number). As you’d imagine, you’d need big pockets to run one - the cost of a service will buy you a VW Polo.

07 Tesla Model S (2014)

0-60mph    5.4sec
Top speed    125mph
Average economy    na

Electric cars might have been around for more than 100 years but it’s the Model S that made the world sit up and take notice, thanks in part to a 250-mile range, impressive performance and a practical interior. Subsequent software updates have given the Model S semi-autonomous abilities.

08 BMW 320d (2005)

0-60mph    8.1sec
Top speed    136mph
Average economy    49.6

Diesels haven’t had a good press of late, but when BMW launched this 2.0-litre engine in 2005 we couldn’t get over how well it performed while still managing to return close to 50mpg. The 320d’s beautifully built cabin, impeccable handling and low running costs were the icing on the cake.

09 Audi R8 4.2 quattro (2007)

0-60mph    4.4sec
Top speed    187mph
Average economy    19.3mpg

Supercars have a reputation for being weekend cars because of their hardcore nature, but here was a coupé you could use for the daily commute and even a trip to the shops. That’s not to say it was boring - the R8 offered scintillating performance, immense body control and a glorious V8 soundtrack.

10 Rolls-Royce Phantom (2003)

0-60mph    6.0sec
Top speed    149mph
Average economy    17.8mpg

This was Rolls-Royce under BMW ownership, rebooted for the 21st century. It might be in the same class as the Mercedes S-Class and Range Rover, but those cars simply don’t offer the same ambience; nothing else says you’ve arrived in quite the same manner as a Phantom.

11 Porsche 911 GT3 RS (2010)

0-60mph    3.9sec
Top speed    193mph
Average economy    21.4mpg

This is the only car you should be looking at if driving enjoyment is right up there at the top of your requirements list. The 444bhp flat six engine comes courtesy of Porsche Motorsport and is simply phenomenal, while the car remains glued to the road in fast corners and puts the driver right at the heart of the action. 

12 BMW i8 (2014)

0-60mph    4.3sec
Top speed    155mph
Average economy    134.5mpg

It’s easy to think that stricter CO2 emission limits will spell the end of sports cars, yet the i8 shows they do have a future, even if they won’t sound quite as good as they used to. The i8 uses a turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol engine and an electric motor to incredible effect and emits only 49g/km of CO2.

13 McLaren 570S (2016)

0-62mph    3.2sec
Top speed    204mph
Average economy    25.5mpg

The 570S might be McLaren’s entry-level model but it still has 562bhp and counts the Porsche 911 Turbo among its rivals. Its twin-turbo V8 is supremely responsive, while its adjustable suspension deals with rutted roads in Normal mode and gives the 570S terrific poise in the hardcore Race setting.

14 Ferrari 458 Italia Speciale (2013)

0-62mph    3.0sec
Top speed    202mph
Average economy    20.6mpg

The 458 is undeniably one of the best Ferraris of all time. In Speciale form it loses 90kg and gains new engine internals and bespoke aerodynamics. Meanwhile its ceramic brakes come into their own on the track, although the car feels just at home on regular roads.

15 Ford Fiesta 1.0T (2013)

0-62mph    10.8sec
Top speed    112mph
Average economy    65.0mpg

Don’t let its super-mini dimensions fool you into thinking that this is some humdrum shopping car - it’s genuinely good to drive, with great handling yet pliant suspension and a zippy turbocharged petrol engine that never feels out of its depth on the motorway, yet also returns great economy.

16 Skoda Superb 1.8T (2002)

0-60mph    9.2sec
Top speed    134mph
Average economy    34.0mpg

Looking for limousine levels of passenger space and VW dependability for a bargain price? The original Superb had your name all over it. The boot was huge and the rear seats allowed even those more than six feet tall to stretch out. Best of all, it had a decent amount of standard kit. 

17 Mazda MX-5 2.0 (2015)

0-62mph    7.3sec
Top speed    133mph
Average economy    40.9mpg

Mazda’s little roadster has been with us since 1990 and every version has collected accolades from around the world, but it’s the latest car that takes things full circle after having lost weight. It’s now nearly as light as the original classic and is just as good to drive.

18 Porsche Macan S (2014)

0-62mph    5.2sec
Top speed    157mph
Average economy    31.4mpg

This isn’t Porsche’s first SUV but it’s definitely the best. The S uses a twin-turbo 3.0-litre petrol engine - it’s not as quick as the Turbo version but it’s still rapid, and the Macan handles itself very well for a two-tonne car. And, of course, it’s a proper off-roader once fitted with the right tyres.

19 Nissan Qashqai 1.5 dCi (2007)

0-62mph    11.9sec
Top speed    113mph
Average economy    74.3mpg

Sales of small SUVs are growing like never before in the UK, and it’s the Qashqai that’s leading the field despite some impressive competition from rival car makers. This version in economical, has a practical cabin, is good to drive and comes with plenty of standard kit.

20 BMW 7 Series 730d (2016)

0-62mph    6.1sec
Top speed    155mph
Average economy    60.1mpg

BMW’s luxury car has always played second fiddle to its key rival, the Mercedes S-Class. No longer. The new 7 Series is a technological tour de force, with suspension that reads and reacts to the road ahead and a body that’s reinforced with ultra-light carbonfibre.

21 Audi A2 1.4 TDI (2000)

0-62mph    11.9sec
Top speed    107mph
Average economy    64mpg

The A2 brought a touch of luxury to the supermini class and was made largely from aluminium, which kept the weight down and gave it class-leading economy figures. It was also well equipped as standard, which was just as well considering the high list price.