Best 2000's Cars

Our writers research, try, compare, and recommend only the best products. We're reader-supported, and may earn commissions when you buy through our links.

As the 21st century dawned, America would face its toughest test since Pearl Harbor, but the automotive industry would be key to shaping the times.

The best cars of the 2000s are listed below, with a description of each one.

  • 2004 Toyota Prius
  • 2002 Honda S2000
  • 2005 Ford Mustang
  • 2002 BMW M3
  • 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1
  • 2006 Toyota Rav4
  • 2008 Hyundai Elantra
  • 2008 Hummer H2

The 2000s would prove to be challenging times for the nation. With the events of 911 firmly entrenched in the national psyche, Americans developed an intense patriotism for all things USA. Nostalgia was in. Retro was cool. Performance and muscle reemerged in the automotive landscape. Let’s look at some of the most influential cars of the 2000s to see how our nation’s love affair with the automobile helped teach us some hard lessons about priorities.

Table of Contents

table-of-contents-icon

What Are The Best 2000s Cars?

We have included some of our favorite vehicles for the first decade of the 21st century.

2004 Toyota Prius

2004 Toyota Prius
2004 Toyota Prius

Even though the Camry gained king of the hill status in 1997 and stayed on the throne for over 20 years, the Yaris was turning heads. The simple gas/electric hybrid won MotorTrends Car of the Year by being a versatile hatchback with ample room, unheard-of fuel economy, and driving fun. More than any other car up to that time, the Prius dispelled the notion that electric hybrids were inefficient and underpowered (even if they sounded like a hair dryer going by). With the aid of the 50 kW electric motor, the 1.5L inline four-cylinder engine can provide 76 hp while sipping on fuel and delivering over 60 mpg in city traffic.

Toyota enlarged the Prius so that this hot hatch could comfortably seat five adults while providing nearly 17 cubic feet of cargo space. The push button start (which was just gaining traction in the early 2000s) and clean instrumentation allowed drivers to see the power flow as it was happening.

Just to understand how important this car is to the hybrid revolution, consider that there were over 530 different patents that emerged from its development. Toyota backed up the Prius with a 100,000k mile/8-year warranty on the hybrid components, so owners also had some peace of mind about the reliability of the new technology.

The base price was a modest $19k, and owners often scored with tax incentives for purchasing the environmentally friendly sub-compact. The Prius sold close to 54k units in 2004, many of which are still on the road today.

2002 Honda S2000

2002 Honda S2000
2002 Honda S2000

When Honda debuted the S2000 roadster in 1999, it offered the production version of its two-seater concept car to commemorate its Golden anniversary. Little did they know that the powerful little sports car would morph into one of the best cars made in the early 2000s and that even today, collectors would be stepping all over themselves to own one.

The AP1 (1999 - 2003) was powered by a 2.0L inline-four cylinder VTEC engine, making 247 hp and 161 lb/ft of torque. The Honda S2000 was sleek and quick, posting a 5.8 time 0-60 mph with a top speed of more than 150 mph, which is quick for a naturally aspirated engine. Paired with the six-speed manual transmission, and double wishbone suspension, the rear-wheel drive sports car could take on all comers.

The interior of the car was sparse, with no glove compartment or real storage. Digital displays highlight the instrumentation panel (even before digital was common). While the trunk was small, the car did come with a standard spare tire.

Honda offered the car in the US market in a hardtop sedan and convertible. (The vinyl top was standard and electrically powered). With an MSRP price of $32,840, it wasn’t as cheap as a Mazda Miata 5 but cost less than a Porsche Carrera GT and was almost as fast.

2005 Mustang

2005 Mustang
2005 Mustang

When Ford decided the new fifth-generation Mustang should look like the old ‘Stangs of the day, they drew inspiration from the old muscle car designs of the late 60s. Ford knew the

Fox body platform had issues, and sales showed how much Americans hated the current aesthetics. Ford’s solution was to bring back many of the design elements of the classic late 60s Mustangs but equip the car with the latest technology. Hence, the idea of “retro-futurism” was born.

The 2005 rendition of the Mustang had a choice of two solid V6 engines. The smaller 4.0L SOHC V6 produced a pitiful 210 hp, while the GT models had a 4.6L Modular V8 that pushed horsepower up to 300 hp. With a five-speed manual transmission or Ford’s C3 five-speed transmission as an optional choice, the car could push 160 mph, making it one of the fastest cars from the 2000s.

Ford extensively used plastics to create the dash and increased spacing for the rear seats (although there was never much room in the back of a Mustang). The 2005 Mustang allowed customers to choose MyColor, which allowed them to choose what color the instrument panel would display (125 color choices - which was an industry first). While a single CD player was standard, customers could opt for a Shaker sound system.

With an MSRP ranging from $19k for the V6 pony to over $32k for the Convertible 2-door, customers had plenty of options. Ford sold over 160k Mustangs in the first year of the retrofit alone, appealing to speedsters with the Mustang’s “pavement pounding performance.”

2002 BMW M3 E46

2002 BMW M3 E46
2002 BMW M3 E46

If you are familiar with the M3 E46, then you already know that it is one of the best cars BMW ever made. The subtle sedan sold more than any other M3 at 85k units and was a hit internationally and in the North American market. Drivers found themselves having the “ultimate driving machine,” which echoed the ad campaign that BMW had been using for almost thirty years.

The US version of the M3 was equipped with the 3.2L naturally aspirated straight six-cylinder that produced 335 hp and 285 lb/ft of torque. The car was quick down the track with a 0-60 mph time of 4.8 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph.

The M3 was offered in both coupe and convertible, built in Germany, and shipped over to dealers in the US. The car offered a sexy look, with large tires, simple body lines, and near-perfect manual transmissions (a standard six-speed manual and an automated manual) was offered.

The M3 had a $49,745 price tag for the coupe (about $6k more for the convertible), which American drivers seemed more than willing to pay for this visceral driving experience. And while it's hard to believe BMW could perfect the M3 any more than they had, the next generation debuted in 2007 (E90) and was every bit as solid as the E46 from the early part of the 2000s. Both versions are destined to be classic cars.

2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1
2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

In 2009, Chevrolet unleashed the muscle car it had longed to produce for decades. The famed “Blue Devil” had a 638 horsepower engine (6.2L V8) that could scream down the road doing - 0 60 in 3.8 seconds. As the most powerful Corvette ever built, Chevrolet warned customers that its top speed of 192 mph was the “official” rating (Chevy did test the car), but frankly, they couldn’t determine the top speed limit because, well, it was just too fast.

The Corvette got plenty of press when it was released (there had been rumors about the “Blue Devil” project for years). When Car and Driver test-drove the sportscar for a Dec. 2008 issue, they wrote that they suspected GM of trying to kill them.

Chevrolet integrated carbon fiber materials to keep the car’s weight down, including a clear hood section where owners could watch the engine perform its glorious magic. With oversized rear wheels for stability in curves, the car handled ridiculously well. Magnetic ride control allowed sensors to adjust the stiffness of the suspension based on road conditions.

The interiors were borrowed from the Z06, with a cockpit surrounding the driver with a fighter-jet design. Amenities like premium leather seating, side curtain airbags, air-conditioning, XM satellite radio, and navigation were all included in the uplevel interior package.

It was the most ambitious Corvette on the road, and Chevy knew it was special because they only made 1,415 of these sports cars in 2009 and slapped a $103,970 price on it. If you had the money, it was proof that American supercars had the speed and power to match overly-priced Ferraris and MacLarens.

2006 Toyota Rav4

2006 Toyota Rav4
2006 Toyota Rav4

The Rav4 or its direct competitor, the Honda CR-V, would have been a fine choice. Both vehicles are well-made, have similar features, and battled for American families' hearts and souls since the late nineties. As more consumers shied away from large gas-guzzling SUVs, the option for smaller, more fuel-efficient models slipped into the void.

For 2006, the RAV4 entered its third generation, with an upgraded 3.5 V6 engine, fresh new styling, and an affordable $22,530 price. The V6 put out a respectable 186 hp, got an impressive 30 mpg on the hwy, and when equipped with all-wheel drive, proved to be an off-road warrior. The RAV4 led sales in 2006 and continues to be the best-selling SUV in the world.

The Japanese automaker demonstrated a commitment to safety in the Rav4 by increasing the number of airbags to eight while equipping the crossover with vehicle stability control (only about half of the cars built that year had any kind of ESC). Crumple zones were fashioned in the engine compartment, and reinforced steel panels were embedded on the sides. The car earned a five-star crash test rating from the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).

2003 Dodge Ram 1500

2003 Dodge Ram 1500
2003 Dodge Ram 1500

When Dodge RAM debuted its completely revamped half-ton in 2002, the third generation began to challenge the F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado (at least in the minds of some). The new truck had a new look, on a new frame, with suspension upgrades to match. The result was a capable truck that sold surprisingly well, scoring nearly 450k units in 2003, which was a record for the company at the time. (The numbers still couldn’t match the number Ford and Chevy were putting up).

One of the reasons were are enamored with the 2003 RAM is that this is the first year RAM offered with the 5.7L Hemi V8 which produced 345 hp and 375 lb/ft of torque. The new engine offered increased payload and towing capacities but also positively affected fuel economy, all of which delighted customers. A new automatic five-speed transmission was introduced, providing better low-end torque ratios for improved performance.

The interior included a 40/20/40 bench seat with lots of room for the driver and passengers. Side curtain airbags were a factory option, but the truck had adjustable pedals to help shorter drivers (which was an industry first). The audio system could be upgraded with optional steering wheel controls (another first).

The MSRP ranged from $19k to over $30 for the upscale Laramie. When the heavy-duty RAM 2500 won MotorTrends Truck of the Year in 2003, people began to take notice.

2008 Hyundai Elantra

2008 Hyundai Elantra
2008 Hyundai Elantra

The South Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia had been quietly gaining strength in the first decade of the 21 century, even though their first offerings in the late 80s and 90s were rolling tin cans aimed at the under $5000 crowd. Owners who often could not afford to have their cars break down found themselves stranded, and if involved in an accident, the car simply did not hold up. To help customers return to their showrooms, Hyundai decided 2005 to increase their powertrain warranty to 100k/10 years. (Kia followed suit for the ‘08 models).

The ‘08 featured a 1.6 four-cylinder and peppy 2.0L I4 for the North American market. The Elantra got excellent fuel economy, averaging nearly 33 mpg on the highway. The interior was roomier than other competitors, with a smoother ride and handling. When Consumer Reports issued a favorable report and consumers started telling their friends and family, Hyundai’s star rose quickly.

The GL (base) trim had side curtain airbags but lacked air conditioning, although it could be installed as a dealer option. The up-styled SE trim offered everything from air, power windows and locks, ESC, tilt steering, and even leather seating surfaces (optional). Hyundai also offered a wagon-sized Elantra called the Elantra Touring. While the wagon wasn’t too popular in the US, it proved very likable internationally, where it was known as the i30.

2008 Hummer H2

2008 Hummer H2
2008 Hummer H2

Unfortunately, several automotive manufacturers ended up being casualties of the 2008 recession. When GM and Dodge declared bankruptcy in 2009, the resulting financial earthquake rocked several long-standing companies, and purveyors like Saturn (2010), Pontiac (2010), Mercury (2011), and Hummer (2010) crashed and burned like a multi-car pileup.

So, we wanted to pay homage to those tough times by honoring one of the best of the bunch. The H2 was a sizeable SUV based on the military’s  M998 Humvee with an electronically controlled two-speed 4WD. The car developed a reputation as a capable off-roader and a head-turner when it was on the street. The SUV was loaded with lots of extras, which helped increase the price, but it also appealed to owners who wanted to show their national pride in the military that followed in the aftermath of the events 911.

In 2008, the H2 came into its own when GM threw everything that it could at the SUV (They went all the way in). A new 6.2 L V8 replaced the smaller 6.0 that had been a part of the vehicle’s makeup, producing 383 hp. The new six-speed added two more gears over the old 4-speed, with plenty of interior upgrades. The H2 was already well equipped, but in 2008, the company added things like navigation, Bluetooth capability, a new driver’s information center, rear DVD, and upgraded audio systems.

The love of this H2 was that Americans could travel off-road with the SUV’s power and clearance while enjoying the comforts of luxury vehicles. During the 2000s, the Hummer became the “it” car, designed to turn heads and get tongues wagging.

If you wanted to drive an H2 in 2008, you had to be quick about purchasing one since only 6k units were offered. The price you had to pay would have been shelling out a good $60k for the privilege. (We suspect that the handwriting was on the wall for Hummer, considering that by 2008 sales had seriously decreased from the 34k earlier in the decade).

About THE AUTHOR

Matt Lane

Matt Lane

My name is Matt and I've been around cars all my life! I have owned and worked on many different classic vehicles, so I started this site to share my experiences. If you're new to classic cars, then this website is for you.

Read More About Matt Lane