Some are fast and great to drive, some were pretty, and others just plain quirky. Hannes Oosthuizen picks his 100 most memorable cars from the noughties (2000-end 2009). Let us know which cars he missed!
- Note that only cars on sale in South Africa in the period January 2000 to December 2009 were considered for this list.
Alfa Romeo 147 GTA
Alfa Romeo dropped its 3.2L 24-valve V6 into the compact 147's body and created a real rocket. With 184kW of power, the GTA blitzed to 100kph in 6.3 seconds. It was a handful, to say the least.
Alfa Romeo 156 GTA
Alfa Romeo's seductive 156 (a Walter de Silva masterpiece) gained some aggression with the launch of the GTA in 2001. It used the fabulous 3.2L V6 "Busso" engine, so wasn't only fast, it also sang a lovely tune.
Alfa Romeo Brera
Yes, the Brera was a deeply flawed car courtesy of the clumsy GM/Fiat platform used in its construction, and even in V6 form hardly set the road alight, but it makes this list purely based on looks. Designed by the legendary Giorgetto Giugiaro at Italdesign.
Alfa Romeo GT 3.2
Based on the 156 platform and featuring gorgeous styling by Bertone, the flagship GT also made use of the lovely 3.2L V6 "Busso" engine. These days you can pick up a decent GT 3.2 for around R120k!
Aston Martin DBS
First seen in Daniel Craig's launch Bond film Casino Royale and again in Quantum of Solace, the DBS combined stunning design with a thumping 6.0L V12 engine (available with a manual transmission, too). Oh, and the sound!
Aston Martin V12 Vantage
Gorgeous looks plus a naturally aspirated 380kW 6.0L V12, coupled with a manual transmission... what's not to like?
Aston Martin Vanquish
Penned by Ian Callum, the Aston Martin Vanquish also has Bond heritage, having appeared in the 2002 film, Die Another Day. The last Aston Martin assembled at Newport Pagnell, the Vanquish makes this list by virtue of its drop-dead gorgeous looks, rarity and performance (delivered by a 5.9L V12).
Unleash your inner Jason Statham with this storming luxury sedan. Sporting a naturally aspirated V10 engine based on the unit found in the contemporary Lamborghini Gallardo, the S8 could blitz to 100kph in only 5.1 seconds.
To say the R8 arrived with a bang is an understatement. With dramatic looks almost unchanged from the stunning Le Mans concept, the R8 (first as a V8, later as a V10) certainly propelled the Audi marque up the desirability rankings. At the time of its launch few cars caused more rubber-necking by onlookers.
Audi RS4 (B7)
Definitely one of the most memorable sports sedans of its era, the B7-generation RS4 took the fight to contemporary offerings from Mercedes-Benz and BMW in a far more convincing way than previous fast Audi sedans. Its 4.2L naturally aspirated V8 made a lovely sound, too, while the all-wheel drive system didn't entirely blunt its dynamics.
Audi RS6 Avant
Audi rules when it comes to consistently delivering desirable, fast estate cars, and the 2008 RS6 Avant was one of its best. Packing a 426kW V10 engine, this macho wagon could sprint to 100kph in 4.6 seconds.
Later S3 models were faster and handled better, of course, but there's something quite special about the very first model, launched in 2001. Maybe it's those flared wheelarches, or maybe the fact that this little 154 kW pocket rocket is now so scarce.
Audi TT Quattro Sport
Picking which variant of the first-generation Audi TT to include is not so simple. Personally I love the purity of the original 1.8T Coupe (in silver), and some will argue that you really need the V6. So I've settled on neither, and rather included the rare, more powerful (176kW) 1.8T quattro Sport. I've only ever seen one, once!
Bentley Arnage T
An "old-school" Bentley powered by a twin-turbocharged 6.8L V8 that delivered a thumping 373kW and 1000Nm of torque. The T was positioned as sportier (compared with the Arnage R), and could leap to 100kph in 5.5 seconds.
Bentley Continental GT Speed
When launched in 2003 the Continental GT brought Bentley ownership within reach of a far wider audience, and today you could pick up one of these twin-turbocharged 6.0 W12 coupes for similar money to a new compact German executive sedan. Tempting, isn't it... The more powerful, more agile GT Speed is more exclusive, however, and arrived in 2008.
BMW 135i Coupe
Before there was the iconic 1M, the compact, rear-wheel drive 135i variant of the E82 range made good use of its 225kW 3.0L N54 turbocharged straigth-6. Add rear-wheel drive and a slick 6-speed manual transmission to the mix and you've got a potent package.
BMW 325ti Compact
South Africa never got the first-generation BMW 3 Series Compact, but we did get the E46/5 and though largely forgotten these days, I remember the 325ti as a crisp-handling, high-performance hatchback. Did look a bit odd, though.
BMW (E39) M5
The E39-generation M5's star is rising (fast), and it would probably make a Top 10 list of cars from this era, too. Key to its appeal? A lusty 4.9L V8 that had a 7 000 rpm red line, coupled with a 6-speed manual transmission.
BMW (E46) M3/M3 CSL
Whether in standard or CSL form, the E46-generation M3 was a true driver's delight and would likely come out tops in a Top 10 ranking of performance cars from this era. With fewer than 1 500 built, the CSL is already a collectible modern classic. A howling 3.2L straight-six engine and pin-sharp dynamics were the highlights.
BMW (E60) M5 + Touring
A highly controversial car, mostly because of its annoying SMG transmission, the E60-generation M5 was however a magnificent thing when driven in anger. Powered by a 373kW V10 engine and with excellent dynamics, it's increasingly coveted by collectors. If you can get your hands on one of the M5 Tourings, that would be even better, as only around 1000 were made!
BMW (E92) M3 Coupe
So many great BMWs from this era... the E92 M3 saw BMW switch to a naturally-aspirated V8 engine (309kW) that retained the high-revving character of previous 6-cylinder units. And it delivered the kind of dynamic finesse that one would expect from a car with the M3 badge. If I had to be picky, I'd try and get one of the 25 Frozen Edition units sold in South Africa. With more power and some AC Schnitzer bits, it was a spectacular drive.
BMW Z4 M Coupe
Powered by the same highly-acclaimed 3.2L straight-6 fitted to the E46 M3, the Z4 M Coupe certainly delivered fireworks. How could it be any different - rear-wheel drive, lower seating position... It's rare and the design has aged well, too, I think. I found a Z4 M Coupe on Cars.co.za for less than R300k...
Chevrolet Lumina SS Ute
And now for something different... I can't quite forget sliding around Cape Town in a bright purple Chev Lumina SS Ute. With 270kW, a 6-speed manual gearbox and very little weight over the rear axle, it was hilarious fun.
Chrysler 300C SRT-8
For a while the Chrysler 300C was quite a popular choice in South Africa. Based on the contemporary E-Class, but with very, uhm, American styling, it certainly was distinctive. In flagship SRT-8 form, it was also very fast. Power (318kW) came from a roaring 6.0L V8.
Chrysler Crossfire SRT-6
The Chrysler Crossfire was a missed opportunity. Based on the running gear of the first-generation Mercedes-Benz SLK, it just didn't look right when it hit the market in 2004. Initially only available with a 3.2L V6, it also lacked performance sparkle. Both of the above issues were addressed with the arrival of the SRT-6, however. This was essentially a SLK32 AMG underneath and, in coupe form at least, the Crossfire finally gained some visual appeal, too. Very rare.
Daihatsu Materia Turbo
Yes, seriously... Developed in South Africa, the boxy Materia Turbo got a turbocharged 1.5L engine that developed 110kW, hissing, popping and whistling as it went about its business. You could even get a limited-slip differential for it to put the power down better, but with Eibach springs, firmer suspension and cross-bracing it was a hoot to drive even without it. Only 40 were built, apparently.
Ferrari 430 Scuderia
The 430 was a pretty car and a significant improvement over the somewhat disappointing 360 Modena. In Scuderia form it gained a real performance edge, with some of the development driving done by none other than Michael Schumacer. It is said that the Scuderia lapped Fiorano in a similar time to the iconic Enzo hypercar. Its 4.3L V8 developed 375kW, enough to blast the Scuderia to 100kph in 3.6 seconds.
Ferrari 575M Maranello
What a beauty! Replacing the gorgeous 550 Maranello, the 575M was a big, seductive V12 in the classic Ferrari tradition. Significantly refined and upgraded compared with the 550, the "M" stands for modificata (modified). Very few manual-transmission cars were produced (246 overall), and one of them recently traded hands in South Africa. Watch a video featuring that car, here.
Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano
Replacing a car as gorgeous as the 575M Maranello was always going to be difficult, but Ferrari got it right with the 599 GTB Fiorano. The seductive Pininfarina-styled 599 was powered by a 456kW 6.0L V12 engine, giving it crushing performance.
Fiat Panda 100HP
A feisty little thing that used its power (only 74kW) to good effect. A 6-speed manual transmission, low weight and firm suspension set-up made it hilarious fun to chuck around.
Ford Fiesta ST
Ah... where are the days when you could buy a thrilling hatchback for a reasonable price? The Fiesta ST may have had "only" 110kW from its naturally-aspirated 2.0L engine but it made the most of it, courtesy of a beautifully balanced chassis.
Ford Focus ST
In a market dominated by the VW Golf GTI, the Ford Focus ST always provided a tempting alternative. Though it lacked the Golf's refinement, its slightly gruff and flamboyant character was endearing. Besides, that turbocharged five-pot made a lovely noise.
Honda Civic Type-R
South Africa's first taste of the Honda Civic Type R came in 2007 with the launch of the FN2-generation car. Predictably, the naturally-aspirated 148kW 2.0L engine loved to rev and the 6-speed manual gearbox was a gem.
Another contender to make a Top 10 list of cars from this era, the S2000 is held in very high regard by most motoring enthusiasts. Wringing its engine's neck to well over 8 000rpm and shifting through arguably the slickest 6-speed manual 'box of all time leave lasting memories.
Jaguar S-Type R
The S-Type definitely doesn't represent a high water mark in the history of the Jaguar marque, and received a frosty reception when it was launched. It just looked... odd. A facelift in 2005 improved matters, but it's the "R" model that started convincing critics. Dynamically entertaining and with a charming, supercharged 4.2L V8, the S-Type R can be had for peanuts, these days.
Many years ago I had the good fortune of spending a year with the Jaguar XFR. I never tired of it. At the time, Jaguar unleashed a number of cars with exquisite road manners, and for me the XFR was one of its finest. It was all about control-harmonization - the weighting and responsiveness of all the major controls (steering, brakes, throttle) were so beautifully judged.
One of the best-kept secrets of the noughties, the second-generation XKR can be had for almost no money at all, and what you get is an astonishingly big serving of performance, style and luxury.
Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera
The "baby bull" was big news (and very necessary) in the early 2000s but there was always the concern that it would not be a "real" Lamborghini in terms of spirit and performance. The Gallardo quickly proved otherwise. The most memorable of the first Gallardos? Definitely the Superleggera, which was lighter (by 100kg) and slightly more powerful. Fewer than 700 were built.
Lamborghini Murcielago LP640-4
The first Lamborghini to be developed under Audi ownership, the Murcielago was everything a flagship Lambo needed to be. With wild styling by Luc Donckerwolke, the Murcielago was continuously refined during the years, and the later LP640-4 was considerably more "resolved" than early cars. It was powered by a mega 6.5L V12 engine that delivered 471kW. Driving a Murcielago through a German forest was an unforgettable (nerve-wracking) experience.
Everyone wanted a slice of the performance sedan pie in the noughties, even Lexus. It rolled out the IS-F in 2008, powered by a 5.0 V8 engine that delivered 311kW so it certainly had grunt. Though charming in its own way it ultimately lacked the dynamism of a BMW M3 and the powertrain character of a C63 AMG. Still, if you can find one, the IS-F is a bargain muscle car.
Lotus Exige S
With on-off distribution in South Africa the Lotus marque hasn't always received the recognition that it deserves. It certainly produced some of the best driver's machines of the 2000s, and a stand-out car for me was the 2008 Exige S. With 163kW from its 1.8L engine, light weight, rigid structure and pin-sharp steering, it was a blast!
This car makes the list because of its... tail lights. Yes, the later, updated models (simply called Coupe) were better in every department, but I just really like the look of the 3200 GT's boomerang tail lights. By the way, the 3200 GT was the first car to feature LED tail lamps. So there's that...
The fifth-generation Maserati Quattroporte boasted seductive styling by Pininfarina and a Ferrari-sourced 4.2L V8 engine. Sure, it was never particularly well-built and the ergonomics were disastrous, but it was certainly distinctive and a thrill to drive.
Largely forgotten (not many were sold), the Mazda3 MPS certainly didn't lack firepower. It packed a 190kW whopper of a punch, but all of that power had to go through the front wheels only!
A real unsung hero, this car... The Mazda6 MPS was powered by a 191kW turbocharged 2.3L engine and featured all-wheel drive, too. Clothed in a handsome, but fairly anonymous body, it was a charming sleeper of a car that could give serious sportscars a real scare. Sadly, it didn't sell particularly well, so finding a good-quality example now is very, very difficult.
The second-generation MX-5 largely stuck to the formula of its iconic forebear. It was light, had a willing 118kW 2.0L engine coupled to a quick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission, and crisp, delicate dynamics. A rising star...
A memorable car for more reasons than just its creamy smooth, high-revving rotary engine. The RX-8's design was unique, too (rear suicide doors, for example) - interesting factoid; the RX-8 was designed by Ikuo Maeda, the son of Matasaburo Maeda, who designed the original RX-7!
Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG
The E90-generation of BMW M3 sedan is arguably the king of performance sedans from this era, but the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG was a charming and talented alternative. Much of that charm was due to its thumping powerplant - a 6.3L V8 that delivered 336kW and a wonderful sound.
Back in my early road testing days, the CL600 delivered a very memorable day of performance testing. Blasting to 100kph in only 4.8 seconds, while disappearing into the soft seats, I marveled at the silence as the horizon rushed towards the windscreen. The turbocharged 5.5L V12 was rated at 368kW and 800Nm of torque. No wonder...
Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG
Admittedly, I wasn't the biggest fan of the first-generation CLS. It looked a bit like an... uhm, banana. In CLS63 AMG form, however, it gained some welcome visual muscle, in addition to thumping power from a naturally-aspirated 378kW V8 engine. It looked sinister, but wasn't stealthy at all... not with that soundtrack!
Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
The thundering sound of the W211-generation E55 AMG under hard acceleration will forever be a fond memory. Very much like an old-school muscle-car in character, the E55 AMG's supercharged 5.4L V8 engine delivered 350kW, so performance was shattering. And while it lacked the dynamic finesse of an M5, it had a certain charm that I find irresistible.
Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG
A rising star in the modern classic car space, the R230 SL is ageing gracefully. In SL55 AMG form, however, the R230 trades grace for aggression. A wonderful memory is driving top-down with the supercharged 5.4L V8's roar bouncing off roadside cliff faces.
Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG Black Series
The ultimate evolution of the R230 SL, the very limited-edition SL65 AMG Black Series, traded its folding hard-top for a lighter fixed roof, sprouted some (very) muscular arches and featured a 493kW biturbo 6.0L V12 that churned out 1000Nm of torque. The result? It blasted to 100kph in 3.9 seconds and had an electronically limited top speed of 320kph.
Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG
I have a soft spot for the W220-generation S-Class and the model that is most memorable is undoubtedly the S65 AMG, powered by a 6.0L twin-turbocharged V12 engine. Whereas the 450kW V12 was near-silent in the S600, it made a wonderful noise in the AMG.
Mercedes-Benz SLK32 AMG
The otherwise relatively demure first-generation SLK finally gained some muscle with the SLK32 AMG. A flawed vehicle in some respects, but memorable because of its supercharged 260kW 3.2L V6 engine.
Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG
The second-generation SLK (R171) was a significant step forward from its predecessor, and at the top of the range sat a compact hot-rod of a car, the SLK55 AMG. Unlike the top-dog R170, which used a supercharged V6, the SLK55 AMG boasted a V8 with 265kW. Coupled with a 7-speed automatic transmission this roadster could sprint to 100kph in 4.9 seconds. You can pick up one of these for less than R200k these days...
In the early 2000s Rover and MG were having a go at the South African market and some of the products on offer were actually pretty good. The MG TF (in 160 guise) was one of them... offering frisky performance and nicely balanced handling. The interior wasn't of great quality, but it looked decent enough on the outside. Cheap as chips, these days...
MG ZT V8
Now here's something that's going to be very difficult to find in South Africa. Based on the Rover 75 (that's also on this list), the significantly fettled ZT V8 was really a modern-day muscle-car. It boasted a 4.6L V8 (from the Ford Mustang) that delivered 227kW to the rear wheels (the 75 was front-wheel drive by comparison) via a five-speed manual transmission. Mainly developed by Prodrive, this thing was a hoot to drive!
Mini Cooper S JCW GP
I fondly remember the first-generation Mini Cooper S, particularly the whine of its supercharged engine. But if I had to pick one Mini from the noughties I think this John Cooper Works GP edition would be it, largely because of its rarity, but also because it was lighter, faster and therefore even more fun.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
Towards the end of the Subaru Impreza WRX STI's glory days in South Africa, Mitsubishi finally launched the Scooby's fiercest rival, the Lancer Evo. In IX specification it boasted an output of 206kW and arguably better dynamics than the highly-rated Subaru.
There was a real buzz around the introduction of the 350Z, a modern-day (then) successor to the iconic 240Z. When it finally arrived in 2003, the motoring media was impressed. Powered by a 3.5L V6 developing 206kW, and sporting fine rear-wheel drive dynamics, the 350Z offered Porsche-like thrills at a lower price.
Following on the 350Z, the 370Z perhaps didn't have the same impact on the market, but it nevertheless delivered a thrilling drive. As the name indicates, it had a bigger, more powerful engine (245kW) and retained its predecessor's fun, rear-wheel drive dynamics.
The iconic GT-R was launched in South Africa in 2009, so (just) qualifies to be on this list. The expectation around the car was immense. I remember being in Tokyo when it was unveiled to the world media, and members of the Japanese media just about fainted as the covers were pulled off. When it arrived in South Africa it made an immediate impression - the 357kW beast offered gravity-defying dynamics and the ability to annihilate exotica costing much more.
Assembled in South Africa by Hi-Tech Automotive, the British marque was riding a wave of success in the noughties and the M400 was one of its best. Power came from the Mondeo-sourced 3.0L V6 engine, but twin-turbocharged to 317kW. It's probably one of the best-handling, most involving cars of its era.
Opel Astra OPC
The Astra G-generation was a largely forgettable car, particularly as it followed on model ranges that boasted halo performance derivatives such as the iconic Superboss and 200t S. Then, towards the end of this Astra's model life came the first OPC, and Opel fans rejoiced. It looked the business, and delivered sparkling performance, courtesy of a 147kW 2.0L turbocharged engine. When last did you see one of these?
Opel Astra OPC
Sporting dramatic looks, a 177kW 2.0L four-cylinder engine and the ability to blast to 100kph in 6.4 seconds, the Astra (H generation) OPC looked set to re-establish Opel as a performance brand in South Africa. It was a bit unruly, however, and lacked the polish of the fast Golfs of the era.
Peugeot 206 CC
Admittedly, the 206 CC makes this list by the skin of its teeth. That said, at the time of its launch in 2003 it brought drop-top motoring within reach of a far wider audience and at its core the 206 was a sweet-handling machine.
Peugeot 206 GTI 180
There was a time when the market was awash with fun-to-drive, compact and reasonably affordable hatchbacks, and back in the early noughties the 206 GTI 180 was one of the frontrunners. Its 2.0L engine delivered a meaty 130kW, resulting in sizzling performance. Thankfully the chassis was up to the challenge, too.
Peugeot 406 Coupe
Though originally launched in 1996, the 406 Coupe makes this list as it was still available in the early 2000s. Besides, the Pininfarina-designed and -built 406 was one of the last Peugeots that could be described as pretty (before the x07-designated cars arrived with their ugly faces), and in 3.0L V6 form offered effortlessly smooth (and swift) performance.
Porsche Cayenne Turbo
Not many SUVs will become classics, but times are changing and, in the case of Porsche at least, the right badge does wonders. The first-generation Cayenne was an eyesore, but it was vastly improved at the time of the 2008 facelift. There was never anything wrong with the way the first-generation Cayenne drove (compared with contemporary sports-SUVs it was a revelation) and in Turbo guise it was sensationally fast - 0-100kph in 5.1 seconds and a 275kph top speed. You can pick up a Cayenne Turbo for around R250 000...
Porsche 911 (996) Turbo S
Now, the 996 was not the greatest 911 generation ever, but there were some highlights. I've not included the spectacular 996 GT3/GT3 RS because there's the better 997 on this list, but the Turbo S was epic. The 3.6L engine was based on the unit used by the 1998 Le Mans-winning GT1 racing car and developed 331kW. Coupled with all-wheel drive, this made the 911 Turbo S a slayer of exotics costing much more.
Porsche 911 (997) GT2
To be honest one could fill this list with a lot of Porsches, so picking only a few is difficult. The 997-generation GT2 was, at the time, the fastest and most powerful road-going 911 model ever. With 390kW from its twin-turbo flat-six, coupled with a six-manual gearbox, it was blisteringly fast, with a 0-100kph time of 3.7 seconds. Oh, and it was rear-wheel drive... so a handful!
Porsche 911 (997) GT3 RS
One of the best drives of my life, the 997-generation 911 GT3 RS is not only a highlight of this decade, but would feature in a fantasy garage comprising cars of all generations. Powered by a high-revving, naturally-aspirated 3.6L flat-6 developing 305kW, the GT3 RS accelerated to 100kph in 4.2 seconds. Best of all, it was a manual. It was, to say the least, very involving.
Porsche Boxster S
One could include the first-generation Boxster in this list, of course, seeing as it was probably historically more significant than its successor, but the 987-generation Boxster was a much better car, bringing drop-top Porsche ownership within reach of a bigger audience, without sacrificing the brand's reputation for quality and excellent performance/dynamics.
Porsche Cayman S
I've included the Cayman S in addition to the Boxster S simply because they both deserve it. In the noughties there simply wasn't a better-balanced sportscar (at the price) than a Cayman S.
Compared with its forebear, the L322-generation Range Rover was a revelation. Developed under BMW ownership, and later further improved by JLR after the change of ownership, it was often described as the "Rolls-Royce" of SUVs. A well-maintained, low-mileage example would definitely be very tempting.
Range Rover Sport
Slotting in between the Land Rover Discovery 3 and period Range Rover models was the first-generation Range Rover Sport. It very quickly became a desirable status symbol, but it's more than just handsome. Sportier to drive on the road than the Discovery on which it was based, it retained some serious off-road ability, too. Mostly makes this list, however, because it still looks so bad-ass.
Renault Clio Sport 2.0 16v
The Renault Clio II was a massively popular budget car in South Africa in the early 2000s, and also the basis for one of the most fun "junior" hot hatches of the era, the Clio Sport 2.0 16v. Power (a significant 124kW) came from a naturally-aspirated 2.0L 16-valve, and a raft of chassis improvements transformed the Clio from city slicker to track-day toy.
Renault Clio Sport R27
To be fair, all of the third-generation Clio Sport models are fun to drive, but due to the rarity of the R27 it gets the nod for inclusion on this list. Only 27 of these Clios were sold in South Africa. Besides the obvious visual differences, it also got the ultra-sporty Cup chassis and revised suspension. With a short-throw six-speed manual gearbox coupled to that excellent naturally aspirated 145kW 2.0L engine, this Clio made every drive an experience.
Renault Clio V6
What a thing! Based on the econo-box Clio II, but not so that you would notice, the Clio V6 recalled the iconic mid-engined 5 Turbo and featured a 3.0L V6 mounted behind the front seats. Early cars had 166kW but the later model (shown above) packed 187kW. Add rear-wheel drive and a six-speed manual 'box to the mix and you've got a recipe for fun.
Renault Megane F1 R26
Perhaps the finest hot hatch of its generation... The ultimate incarnation of the "bustle-butt" Megane II (in South Africa, at least) was the F1 R26. Offered in limited numbers, and with a suspension set-up further finetuned by the folks at RenaultSport, the R26's turbocharged 2.0L engine delivered 169kW and was coupled with a slick 6-speed manual transmission.
Renault Vel Satis
Don't laugh... Admittedly, the Vel Satis missed most of the executive car segment benchmarks by miles, but then remember it was trying to offer something very different. It's quirky looks and near-monospace packaging hid a top-notch interior, while the Nissan-sourced 3.5L V6 delivered smooth, brisk performance. Very different, and very, very rare.
A new Rolls-Royce is always big news and the Phantom, the first Rolls to be launched under BMW ownership, was a crucial car to get right. They nailed it. Powered by a silky-smooth 6.75L V12 engine, the Phantom was both an event to be driven in, or to drive yourself.
This might look like a weird inclusion, and finding a Rover 75 in a condition that's worth buying is a challenge in itself, but this was a very impressive product when it was launched. Developed under the watchful eye of BMW, it was silky smooth in 2.5 V6 form and had the kind of interior that Jaguars of the era were sorely missing. Now... to find a Tourer!
Smart Roadster & Roadster Coupe
What a frustrating little thing this was. Frustrating because so much of it was so right. Compact, lightweight (as low as 790kg) and interesting to look at, the Smart Roadster and Roadster Coupe were supposed to recall the glory days of compact, affordable British sportscars. If only it had a manual transmission instead of the lurching automated manual. Nevertheless, on the odd occasion that I do spot one, I'm interested in having another go in one.
Subaru Forester Prodrive
Who remembers this one? Only 50 of the special-edition Foresters (locally developed and based on the XT) were offered and the test unit back in the day certainly left a lasting impression. Riding 50mm lower and packing "around" 185kW, it was a fantastic gravel-road annihilator.
Subaru Impreza WRX STi "bug eye"
Funny how time changes perceptions. When the "bug-eye" Impreza was launched, the hate was just about universal, but these days there's growing appreciation for the quirky-looking and blisteringly fast Impreza STI.
Subaru Impreza WRX STi
Like the "bug-eye", the hatchback Impreza had a frosty reception when it was introduced, but now, in the age of the Mercedes-AMG A45 AMG, BMW M135i xDrive and VW Golf R, it seems like the Impreza WRX STI hatchback was ahead of its time! If you can find a good one (good luck), this is well worth a closer look.
The third-generation MR2 was a very different car to the model it replaced. The focus shifted back towards simplicity and light weight. With a target weight set at below 1000kg, this MR2 didn't need much power to deliver swift performance. Its revvy, mid-mounted 103kW 1.8L engine was more than sufficient to serve up a fun (and affordable) driving experience.
Toyota RunX RSi
Finding an unmolested RunX RSi is going to be a problem, but if you can, this iconic Toyota is not only a sure bet for driving thrills, but also future collectability. This car is all about its engine - the 1.8L engine delivers 141kW at a dizzy 7 800rpm, and did so with a noticeable kick after 6 000rpm. Wringing this little car's neck was a road testing highlight.
Toyota Yaris TS
By dropping a 98kW 1.8L engine into the lightweight body of a three-door Yaris, Toyota finally had a zesty, compact performance car again. It was a fun drive even though suspension changes were minimal compared with the mainstream models. The big problem at the time, however, was steep pricing.
TVR was at the height of its powers in the noughties, with the British press in particular rating the marque's quirky sportscars highly. The Tuscan also benefited from some Hollywood exposure (it featured in the John Travolta/Halle Berry film Swordfish in 2001). Combining wild looks with the marque's self-developed Speed 6 engine (in various engine sizes), the Tuscan was an exhilarating drive.
Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet
The retro craze of the late '90s and early '00s gave us cars such wildly different in appeal as the Chrysler PT Cruiser and BMW Z8 (sadly not in SA), but at the time few grabbed the headlines in as dominant a fashion as the reborn Beetle. There will come a time when we look back at the "millennium" Volksie more fondly than we do now, but if you're going to back a retro Beetle why not go all the way and get the Cabriolet?
Volkswagen Citi R-Line
It's hard to imagine now, but you could still buy the Golf Mk1 in South Africa in 2009! One of the last models launched was the so-called R-Line. Think of it as a Citi Golf R, or a reborn Mk1 GTI (or later CTI). It featured a 90kW 1.8kW engine and the red striping usually reserved for a GTI...
Volkswagen Golf V R32
South Africa missed out on the Golf IV R32, but happily we got sharper-handling successor. Powered by a charismatic 3.2L V6 engine developing 184kW and featuring 4Motion all-wheel drive, the then-new SuperGolf was offered in limited numbers. Highly desirable, these days.
Volkswagen Golf VI GTI
Though it was the Golf V (mk5) that signaled a return to dynamism for the hallowed GTI badge, the later Golf VI added a layer of refinement and sophistication that further heightened the appeal. It's certainly aged well...
Unfortunately the Scirocco R arrived on the market too late to be included on this list, but even so the "mainstream" 2.0 TSI DSG derivative is an attractive (and cheap) sporty coupe from the noughties. Essentially a sexy three-door version of the impressive Golf V GTI, the Scirocco was good to drive and interesting to look at.
Volkswagen Touareg R50
Very few of these limited-edition Touaregs made it to South Africa, and at one stage Giniel de Villiers (then a VW Dakar driver) used to drive one. Striking to look at and with 850Nm of torque on tap from its V10 turbodiesel engine, the Touareg R50 is a rare thing - a collectible SUV.
Yes, there was a time when traditionally-conservative Swedish brand Volvo thought it could challenge the likes of the BMW M3 and Audi S4. The neatly styled S60 R packed a turbocharged inline 5-cylinder engine that developed 220kW. Equipped with a manual transmission, it could sprint to 100kph in 5.8 seconds. The all-wheel drive S60 R lacked the handling finesse of its German rivals, but rarity and charm make it an interesting (and affordable) modern classic these days.
Another forgotten coupe from the early noughties. I was tempted by the second-generation C70, of course, but there's something very elegant about the first-generation C70 Coupe. Penned by Peter Horbury and entering manufacture in 1996, the C70 was a break from Volvo's traditionally boxy design language of the '90s.