Here are 10 of the most important (not coolest or fastest) cars from the last decade in no particular order. There was never a better decade for consumers in terms of selection, safety and performance, and until the credit crunch, it was great for manufacturers. You think differently to this list then please leave your comments below.
Bugatti Veyron 16.4 (2005-present)
Since 2005 when the Bugatti Veyron was unveiled to us all, supercars have showed up that are faster and more powerful but none have come close to blending it all together so beautifully.
As the Veyron is the result of around one-third billion dollars' investment in research and development by Volkswagen, it will be a very long time before another car is built that will match its unique combination of total performance, complete driveability and marvelous engineering.
Ford GT (2003-2006)
All hail the GT. The Corvette ZR1 may be a world-beating bargain supercar, but it's still a Corvette. The Ford GT was the most covetous machine released by a major American manufacturer since, well, the Ford GT40 in the 1960s.
It doesn't much matter that it has windshield wipers from a Taurus and $.36 Focus key fob, the thing's a red-blooded, supercharged American triumph that did more for Ford's brand image than a decade's worth of Superbowl commercials. It also doesn't matter that the GT didn't break much in the way of stylistic ground, as the GT40 it apes is one of the more beautiful collection of hand-beaten panels ever to grace pavement (and kick Ferrari's ass on the racetrack).
Toyota Prius (2001-present)
The Prius wasn't the first hybrid sold in the UK, but it is undoubtedly the most successful, and Toyota has moved more than three-quarters of a billion units globally. The 2004 Prius made fuel efficiency hip and spawned a cult of douchebaggery worthy of its own episode of South Park.
The Prius is a spacious, fuel-efficient, unique-looking people mover that's as exciting to drive as a parked bus. Toyota's sales success with the Prius was sufficient to push damn near every manufacturer on the planet into hybrid strategies of their own. That's ultimately a good thing, if not for the planet than for the potential impact on performance.
Tata Nano (2008-present)
We have the Model T, Henry Ford's "car for the great multitudes," to thank for helping kick-start a manufacturing and transportation revolution that then aided in birthing a robust middle-class, urban America and modern consumer culture as we know it.
A "car for the great multitude" was Henry Ford's goal. We're not suggesting the Tata Nano will undo millennia of caste prejudices and reshape India — but a whole lot of families who used to travel by rickshaw and motorbike will now be rolling in a Tata Nano, the cheapest new available car in India, or anywhere else in the world. At $2K, the Nano is very much a real car with solid vehicle dynamics and will likely serve as the blueprint for similar mechanization elsewhere, for better or worse.
Tesla Roadster (2008-present)
There's enough controversy around this car and the company that produced it to spawn a movie. Hell, we're sure scripts have already been optioned. Regardless, Tesla managed to produce, if in very limited quantities, what established manufacturers said couldn't be built: an electric car with real range and performance that works like a real car.
We're aware of the existence of GM's EV1, but the Tesla Roadster beat in one very important area: Sexiness. People want the car, and not just posthumously. The Roadster is gorgeous, fast and usable when it's not blowing fuses. If you can get one.
Nissan Skyline GT-R (2008-present)
If we spend perhaps a bit too much time lamenting the soul-sapping impact computers have had on the motoring experience at large, the Nissan Skyline GT-R is what happens when all those zeros and ones are harnessed for a goal we approve of: the singular pursuit of speed.
The GT-R isn't world-beating because it's quick enough to reshuffle your internal organs, which it is. It whomps on various Ferraris, Lamborghinis and most other vehicles you can slap a plate on because it employs an army of processors to translate your accelerative, lateral and decelerative desires, however well or poorly informed, into improbable performance. It works well enough that a GT-R just won the One Lap of America, having beaten various Corvette Z06s and Porsche GT2s.
Audi R10 (2006-2008)
The Audi R10 did not single-handedly change the face of diesel technology, but it carved, in bedrock, the notion that diesel engines are a key component of our motoring future, and not a smoky, stinky relic from the past.
In 28 starts, it won 14 times, including the last three 24 Hours of Le Mans. Europeans clearly don't have the public perception issues with diesels that we do in the U.S., but then they weren't subjected to the Oldsmobile 350 diesel. The R10 demonstrated that far from being an oxymoron, diesel performance is now and forever a part of the enthusiast lexicon; we learned this firsthand, as it was a turbodiesel engine that bestowed our little Sipster-that-could with unlikely acceleration and fuel efficiency.
Porsche Cayenne (2002-present)
Porsche has been making cars, almost always at a profit, since before WWII. In 2002, it made a truck that helped transform this sports car manufacturer from Stuttgart into one of Europe's more cash-flush automakers.
The Cayenne SUV was created for the U.S. market, but that didn't stop it from taking the globe by storm — you'll see as many examples clogging cobblestone streets in medieval towns in Italy as you will lining the parking lot at Bloomingdale's. When Lamborghini built an SUV in 1986, the LM002 was distinctly a Lamborghini, wild-assed and delightfully over-the-top. The Cayenne, on the other hand, isn't as Porschey as a Porsche perhaps should be, but there's a moment for every rock band to sell out, and Porsche chose its chart topper wisely.
Toyota IQ (2008-present)
If it weren't first sold in 1998, the two-passenger Smart ForTwo would have the IQ's spot on this list. The ForTwo marked the first time since Fiat's lovable postwar 500 ceased production that a truly small car was successfully marketed (outside of Japan, anyway) to the masses.
Toyota has advanced the concept with its 10.5-foot, in theory four-passenger IQ. It might even make it to these shores as a Scion. If we want more cars like the Lotus Elise and Mazda Miata whose fine driving dynamics are much informed by their relatively feathery curb weights, we cannot live in fear of the hardened-steel cow catchers, er, bumpers on Hummer H2s; the IQ sports nine airbags, including an industry-first rear-curtain airbag to better cushion the delivery of a physics lesson.
Hummer H2 (2003-present)
The Hummer H2 is the apotheosis of America's love affair with the SUV. There have been bigger (barely), more expensive beasts built, but none have been as in-your-face, none as erect a giant rolling middle finger, and few feature worse fuel consumption (single-digit fuel mileage is often reported by users).
At more than 3 tons, it weighs as much as two small cars combined which, ironically, once qualified its owners for a $10K tax break. It made Time magazine's list of 50 Worst Cars of All Time and stands as one of the great mobile altars to conspicuous consumption. It was ultimately public reaction to this sturdily assembled pile of pig iron that broke the back of the mega-SUV trend; good, normal Americans who like their cars big and their Hungry Man breakfasts even bigger decided that maybe the H2 is a bit much; fuel costs and common sense pushed the public toward the cultural adoption of the now ubiquitous CUV.