As the decade draws to a close we identify the cars that had the biggest impact in the last 10 years. No, not every car in the list was launched in the past decade, but every car here has been influential.
The 10 most influential cars of the 2010s
As the 2010s draw to a close the pressure to be ‘woke’ is being felt even in the sports car world, where social acceptability for 200mph-plus speeds and the relevance of such excessive performance is increasingly hard to justify. Making this the perfect moment for the revival of Alpine, a sporting brand whose traditional links with Renault have now been formalised with a clever reimagination of the iconic ‘60s A110. By concentrating on lightness the Alpine rejects sports car norms by combining comfort and refinement with super-sharp, driver-focused response. A battle for ever-increasing horsepower and technology led by the German marques has dominated the last decade; as we enter a new one this French revolution in feel and feedback could represent a major shift in focus.
Whether you buy into the virtue-signalling or not it’s impossible to ignore Toyota’s success in bringing hybrids to the fore. It started modestly, the original Prius of the late 1990s concealing its revolutionary tech beneath resolutely frumpy lines before the second generation settled on the more distinctive look that has now become a ubiquitous feature of city streets the world over. Its ability to swerve increasingly tight regulations for emissions may or may not play out at the pumps but, regardless, legislators have gifted the Prius – and its drivers – a free pass where more conventional cars have been penalised and demonised. And as an emblem of the Uber age the Prius has come to represent gig economy and its wider influence on both work and transport over the last few years.
Promising supercar start-ups come and go with depressing speed and regularity but the arrival of McLaren on the scene was something different. The F1 of the early ‘90s remains one of the most acclaimed supercars ever made, and also one of the most exclusive. With the MP4-12C, McLaren brought signature motorsport technology to the relative mainstream, not least the carbon-fibre construction it helped pioneer in Formula 1 cars. The 12C was reasonably conservative in looks but the huge punch of its twin-turbo V8, its innovative interlinked suspension and the cachet of its badge helped it overcome early wobbles and establish the brand as a true rival to Ferrari, Lamborghini and others.
Range Rover Evoque
SUVs and crossovers have become the dominant automotive trend of the last decade and manufacturers have scrambled to adapt their ranges to meet demand. By co-opting the premium Range Rover badge and applying it to a boldly styled and more affordable crossover format, Land Rover skilfully adapted its 4x4 credibility to this fashion-conscious sector, cleverly using celebrity tie-ups to add a sense of glamour to proceedings. The 2010s will be known as the decade the crossovers took over, the Evoque a potent symbol of how fashion, brand power and aspirational design captured the hearts of a generation of motorists.
The Nissan GT-R landed here in 2009 but its influence over performance cars for the decade since has been immeasurable. Truly a car born of the videogames generation, the GT-R successfully channelled the giant-killing reputation of the Skylines of an earlier age and used its obsessively engineered combination of technology and raw power to humiliate European rivals, not least on home soil with a series of astonishing Nürburgring lap times. Porsche and others didn’t like it, critics denounced it for being a PlayStation on wheels but it was impossible to ignore. And it’s still going strong.
Tesla Model S
Whatever your views on Elon Musk the impact of his ambition, free-thinking and cash resources have arguably created one of the greatest disruptive influences on motoring since Henry Ford and the Model T. Tesla’s toe in the water with an electrified Lotus Elise (since blasted into space) showed little hint of what was to come but the rest of the industry should have taken notice, given the kick up the backside the Model S was soon to give it. The chutzpah to then deliver an infrastructure of ‘superchargers’ to keep owners mobile showed similar swagger, the playfulness of ‘ludicrous mode’ acceleration underplaying the seriousness of the brand’s ambitions.
The last decade has seen huge advances in technology and something of a horsepower arms race among performance manufacturers. Engines have got more powerful, wheels and tyres have got bigger and cars ever more complex but many keen drivers felt left behind. The idea that a white goods manufacturer like Toyota could spearhead the revival of back to basics sports cars with an affordable, rear-wheel-drive coupe dedicated to feel and feedback over outright speed seemed crazy but the GT86 – built in partnership with Subaru – was a nod to the purists that handling could matter more than stats. The argument hasn’t been entirely won yet. But the GT86 deserves recognition for starting it.
For half a century the Porsche 911 successfully cornered the market as the supercar-chasing sports car you could drive every day. Many tried to field a viable alternative but it wasn’t until the Audi R8 appeared in the late-2000s there was a true contender to the 911’s crown, Audi adopting the traditional mid-engined supercar format, fitting it with powerful and charismatic V8 and V10 engines but making it as accessible and user-friendly as any A4 saloon. And by the dawn of the new decade the R8 was fully-formed with a thundering V10 motor, a second-generation version coming in 2015 and winning the Nürburgring 24-hour just 10 weeks after the car’s show debut and before the road car even went on sale. A 911 still has the advantage of its occasional rear seats but Audi has given the iconic Porsche its biggest scare in years.
For all the pressure to electrify and look at fresh approaches to mobility the motor industry has been deathly slow in showing any appetite to move with the times. Sure, we’ve seen electrified versions of regular hatchbacks and SUVs but true innovation has been sadly lacking. BMW’s establishment of a dedicated sub-brand to develop a new generation of part- and full-electric vehicles based around lightweight construction and bold styling gave it room to experiment without distracting from the ‘day job’. With its combination of electric power, a small three-cylinder petrol engine and carbon-fibre construction the i8 (and its more hatchback i3 stablemate) deserve greater recognition for pushing forward with new production and propulsion technology.
Volkswagen Golf R
In the ‘90s and noughties if you wanted a 300hp road car with four doors, everyday practicality and all-weather four-wheel-drive you had to commit to driving a full-blown rally replica, complete with wings, bonnet scoops and full boy racer attitude. The Golf R changed all that, successfully gentrifying the same format into a typically polished and practical package everyday drivers could enjoy with a socially respectable image. Having laid down the template for the modern hot hatch with the Golf GTI in the ‘70s, the Golf R created a whole new class of super hatches, tempting premium brands like Audi and Mercedes into the field with 300hp-plus, all-wheel-drive rivals of their own.
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