The 2000s as a decade can be defined by two key, tragic events.
The first is 9-11. It was the day the ‘90s truly died. When we were forced to accept that history was not over as the previous decade had predicted.
The second was the 2008 financial crash. A cataclysmic event which wiped out livelihoods and savings, and which saw some of the oldest nameplates in American automotive disappear forever.
In between were two ethically dubious wars. Some transformative cinema. The election of the first African-American U.S. president. And cars. Some, actually quite interesting, awesome and nothing if not indicative of their place in time.
The 2000s tend to get written off in the minds of automotive enthusiasts. Most will mark the return to sports performance in the early 90s… but then mentally jump to the ultra-high performance of today with nothing in between. No transitions. No evolution. No growing pains.
And true enough there was a lot of truly boring, humdrum crap from the 2000s. The bean counters and boomers still reigned supreme forcing nostalgia-bait trash like the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Chevrolet HHR into the market. The Dodge Caliber is the worst car I have ever driven.
But the ‘00s was also the dawn of the millennials and the return of engineers to the helm of development. Seeds were planted in the ‘00s for what would be the true golden age of sports cars, muscle cars, hot hatches, and even SUVs here in the ‘20s.
Still, so few vehicles can escape the time in which they were created and lived. So many ‘00s cars boomed, then busted… and then disappeared. So many on this list feel like a defiant western hoorah — cheap, loud, bold, classless — with lives abruptly cut short by a crisis triggered by shortsightedness and greed.
If ever an entire generation of cars were an allegory for capitalism, it was in the ‘00s.
Cadillac XLR-V (2006 - 2009)
Gather 'round children and let me tell you about the time GM made a luxury Corvette, and incidentally, the last convertible Cadillac.
It’s not difficult to see GM’s thinking with the XLR. Since the average Corvette buyer was in their mid-50s and the ‘Vettes of the day were only getting more hardcore and back-breaky, why not make something a retired golf-ist might enjoy? Seems like a solid pitch. But the XLR was still a sales flop, failing to excite both the Cialis oldies and the Escalade newbies.
Still, there’s nothing to mock about the ultra-hot XLR-V which not only featured a supercharged variant of the 4.6-litre Northstar V8, but also an early version of GM’s magna-ride suspension. The XLR-V’s historical significance, combined with its rarity may just make it a future collector’s item.
Chevrolet Cobalt SS (2005 - 2010)
It cannot be overstated how integral the Cobalt SS was to my generation of car enthusiasts. Parking lot meets were simply littered with the things from the mid-2000s through to the early teens. In many ways, the Cobalt SS was like the millennial Chevelle — a cheap, two-door commuter Chevy with a “hot’ engine stuffed under the hood, mostly purchased second-hand by dazed and confused youths.
The standard SS received a 2.4-litre NA engine, which was admittedly a little asthmatic — a meager 171 horsepower was only good for 0 - 100 km/h times around 7 seconds. The supercharged 2.0-litre variant, however, boasted 205 horsepower and cut 0 - 100 times by over a second and a half.
Best of the bunch, though, was a final turbocharged version, which received high praise in 2008 for its impressive powerband and handling prowess. With its FWD layout, 260 horsepower, and 0 - 100 times around 5 seconds, the turbo SS may
just be able to scratch that Type R itch for a third of the price. Or at least, a third of the itch.
Chevrolet Trailblazer SS (2006 - 2009)
Long before Dodge was stuffing Hellcat V8s into the Durango, Chevrolet had the bright idea to drop its Corvette-sourced LS2 V8 into a completely unassuming, grocery and hockey-practice Trailblazer, creating one of the best sleepers to come out of the mid-2000s.
The 6.0-litre V8 delivered a healthy 395 horsepower and its 20-inch chrome wheels are some of the most indicative styling choices of the decade. The whole thing seemed like something done on a whim, and that’s perhaps just one of the many reasons why Chevy decided to axe the Trailblazer SS post-financial collapse.
Dodge Magnum SRT-8 (2006 - 2008)
For any Gen Z readers, the Magnum was a Charger station wagon. No more. No less. However, it actually beat the Charger to market by a few short years. I remember as an early teen trying to convince my mother to get this new sensible station wagon… with a HEMI.
She didn’t go for it and that’s probably for the best because like all Chrysler products from this era, the build quality was simply dreadful and the value plummeted like a stone.
That is, except for anything with an SRT badge. Just like the Charger SRT-8, the Magnum SRT-8 received the 6.1-litre HEMI producing 425 horsepower. Always an oddball in the lineup, it's easy to see why Dodge decided they could do without the Magnum, especially if it meant making room for the upcoming Challenger.
Still, one can’t help but imagine what a Hellcat Magnum might have been like…
Pontiac Firebird Trans Am WS6 (1996 - 2002)
When GM killed the Camaro for the first time in ‘02, its sister car, the Firebird Trans Am went with it. However, with Pontiac’s demise in 2009, the Trans Am would not return in 2010 alongside the Camaro.
It’s a shame. Because for two-thirds the price of a Corvette, you got a back seat and the same LS1 engine producing 325 horsepower, mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. The WS6 package also added wider tires and an air-induction system from the Corvette Z06.
While the performance would be considered lackluster by today’s standards, the WS6 was so dominating in the early ‘00s that it drove the Ford SVT boss mad. Cobras consistently lagged behind the Trans Ams. So SVT Mustangs were recalled, canceled, and then finally re-engineered into the mighty supercharged “Terminator” cars in 2003.
Pontiac GTO (2004 - 2006)
A lot of people write off the fifth-generation GTO as not really being worthy of the name. Indeed, the last generation GTO was just a rebadge job. In Australia, the car was a Holden. In the UK, it was a Vauxhall. In other parts of the world, it was a Chevrolet Caprice.
It also didn’t do much to differentiate itself visually from the average Pontiac Grand Prix. Debuting just a few years before the Mustang and Challenger brought “future retro” styling into the muscle car revival, the GTO seemed almost instantly outdated.
But in many ways, the fifth-gen GTO is as much a GTO as Pontiac ever made. The GTO always shared a platform with rebadged GM products — first the Chevelle, the GS, the 442, then the Nova. And it barely ever differentiated itself from other Pontiacs outside of hood scoops, badges, and stickers. Don’t tell me you’ve always
been able to tell a real GTO from a Tempest or LeMans from 50 feet away.
What really mattered about this GTO was a 5.7-litre, and then 6.0-litre LS-based V8 which made 400 horsepower in its final form. The GTO ultimately died to make room for the rebirthed Camaro. But to this day I still prefer the Pontiac because it was in Need for Speed Underground 2
. And because it was never sold in Canada. Forbidden fruit.
Pontiac G8 GT & GXP (2008 - 2009)
Everything you can say about the GTO you can say about the G8. Perhaps most tragically, this was the last great car Pontiac ever put its name on. The car received excellent reviews just before GM folded Pontiac for good after the 2008 crash.
The GT continued to offer the 6.0-litre V8, although the hottest model, the GXP received the updated 6.2-litre V8 which would later be offered in the new Camaro SS. 415 horsepower sent the GXP to 100 km/h in around 4.5 seconds. Quick even by today’s standards.
The car was rebranded simply as the Chevrolet SS after Pontiac’s demise. However, GM called no fanfare to the car, despite consistently positive reviews, as they planned to shutter the factory in Australia which produced the platform. Perhaps this is why Chevy avoided reviving a nameplate like Chevelle, Nova, or Monte Carlo as a way for the SS to compete with Dodge’s 4-door Charger.
With only two ever model years, and some genuine muscle car cred, if you’ve got a G8, it just might be worth holding on to.
Lincoln LS V8 (2000 - 2006)
My dad got one of these back in 2005 and I remember thinking we must have won the lottery. It was, by far, the nicest car he had ever owned up until that point. I had never sat in something so luxurious or with some many trick features. It was also fast
and fun to drive. A new paradigm in my world.
Sure, it seems like a humdrum grandpa-mobile. But the LS was actually based on the same platform as the Jaguar S-Type. It also featured near 50-50 weight distribution, a select-shift automatic, RWD and a 3.9-litre V8 engine — a shorter stroke version of Jag’s 4.0-litre V8.
The Lincoln LS was actually Motor Trend's Car of the Year in 2000
. “The LS not only brings a new dimension to Lincoln, but to American sport/luxury sedans as a whole,” the magazine claimed at the time.
Mazda RX-8 (2004 - 2012)
The RX-8 made it out of the 2000s but only just. I write a lot about the RX-8 because, for starters, I really miss my silver 2004 6-speed GT. And second because the prices on these things have sunk through the floor.
While the RX-8 never did and never will live up to the timelessly beautiful and culturally iconic RX-7, it remains a wonderfully compliant and exciting driver’s car. It is every bit a rotary-powered MX-5 that the sum total of its parts would lead you to believe.
If you can find one in good knick, and don’t mind topping up the oil every third gas fill up, then I can’t recommend enough the combined joys of a rotary engine screaming to 9,000 RPM, 50-50 weight distribution and RWD enough.
Mazda Mazdaspeed3 (2007 - 2013)
Again the Mazdaspeed3 managed to make it out of the ‘00s but it was more of a hangover than anything else. Amidst incoming and stiff competition in the hot hatch market, and Mazda’s imminent rebrand as “budget luxury” (the loudest and longest of yawns) the Mazdaspeed3 simply couldn’t continue.
Like the Cobalt, the Mazda 3 was a staple of the late ‘00s and early teens. They were simply everywhere. If you were in your early 20s, you either had one, or your friend did.
Of course, with its 263 horsepower, turbocharged 2.3-litre engine, 6-speed manual transmission, tuned suspension, and iconic hood scoop, the Mazdaspeed3 was the coolest and most desirable of its ilk. With its FWD layout and hatchback bodystyle, the Mazdaspeed3 could also be today’s solution to a budget Type R
or Golf R