When people talk about vintage cars, the first ones that come to mind may be vintage SUVs, classic cars from the ‘50s and ‘60s, or, of course, glorious rides from the ‘80s. But unless you happen to have near-limitless funds to purchase exclusive vintage collector cars that are beyond the reach of average working humans, you might just have to dabble in ones that elicit rich nostalgia from a more recent decade. Namely, the 2000s, which typically gets far less love in cool cars conversations, but was still a time for notable vehicles.
None of these cars had adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, 12-inch infotainment screens, or hidden tailpipes — and they were all the better for it. What they lack compared to modern vehicles they more than made up for in style. There were plenty of high-dollar sports cars, but the below nine rides from the 2000s have a certain type of cool that could only be achieved in the years they were built.
Jaguar XJR (2007-2010)
Back when Jaguar sedans looked right, the XJR was the best of them. Sure, it carried a hefty price tag at about $72,000, but it was worth every penny, reliability issues be damned. Not only was it classically curvaceous, but it had a supercharged V8 engine good for 370 horsepower to the rear wheels. It also had beefed up Computer Active Technology Suspension (“C.A.T.S.”!), fat Pirelli tires, and trim-exclusive sport seats. It may have seemed like a standard XJ6 sedan were it not for the mesh grille, special wheels, and the glorious whine and growl of the engine. Time to bring it back with a modernized version of this sporty classic.
Honda S2000 (1999-2009)
Honda did something crazy in the early 2000s and built a bona fide roadster that could run with the best. It was simple, lightweight (sub-2,800 pounds), handsome, and a hoot to drive thanks to its 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine good for 240 horsepower. Moreover, it revved to a nutty 8,900-rpm redline. You had to wring out the motor to get the most out of it, but once it got going, the precise “snikt-snikt” of the shifter, the chassis tuning, and the balance were an enthusiast’s dream come true.
BMW E46 M3 (2000-2006)
Many consider this BMW to be one of the last great analog M cars made, and the sales figures prove it. BMW sold 85,000 of them during its life, more than any M3 model in history. The 3.2-liter naturally-aspirated inline-six engine was silky and downright glorious, but owners were better served when it was mated to the manual transmission versus the problematic SMG (Sequential Manual Gearbox). The M3 wasn’t just quick and maneuverable, it was quite possibly the most beautiful M3 ever made with its flared quarter panels, fender grilles, and those optional and near-perfect Evolution wheels. See one on the road today, and you know what it is to covet.
Audi TT Coupe and Roadster (1998-2006)
What happens when you dig 70 years into the automotive past for your newest sports car baby? The Audi TT. The first-gen TT was like nothing else on the road. The rounded, minimalist Bauhaus styling of the TT was totally radical. Aimed at young buyers who wanted something sophisticated and sporty, the TT was a modern 2+2 coupe and roadster that was inspired by the Auto Union racers from the 1930s. The coupe had a sleek roofline that blended into the tail (modified to include a spoiler after initial models flipped over at high speeds), and the roadster had beautiful hoop-style roll bars behind the seats. The 3.2-liter, 250-hp V6 engine moved the little car with alacrity, and the six-speed manual transmission routing power to all four wheels made it a hoot all year long. After the first-gen car, the TT never looked this good again.
Pontiac G8 GXP (2008-2009)
The G8 GXP came at a time when the muscle car needed to be redefined. Sure, the G8 was an Americanized Holden Commodore from Australia, but it was the right move to make as GM needed a rear-wheel drive dose of V8 power in its stable. It was the modern V8, manual transmission muscle car drivers wanted. Its styling was muted because of the modern shape, but the twin hood scoops and big nostril grilles gave it a dose of menace. Most importantly, however, was the G8 GXPs booming 6.2-liter V8 good for 402 hp and 402 lb-ft of torque mated to a six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual transmission. The G8 GXP could launch from 0-60 mph in a mere 4.5 seconds — very quick even by modern standards.The cabin also took Pontiac to new levels with premium materials, aluminum pedals, and a flat-bottom race-style steering wheel. Too bad it died when Pontiac was nixed by GM.
Mazda Mazdaspeed3 (2007-2013)
Nobody thought Mazda would build a hot hatch out of its humble and affordable Mazda 3, but the swoopy design language translated well to something more ferocious. So what if Mazda gave the Mazdaspeed3 the mouth of a pissed-off guppy? The 263 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque from the turbocharged four-cylinder were positively nuts, and there was so much power to the front wheels that the torque steer would initially freak you out and then settle for one of the best driving experiences for the money. The car was nimble, the steering was sublime, and it could go up against cars costing twice as much. It’s a hot hatch we miss and one Mazda should bring back before it builds another crossover.
Dodge Magnum SRT-8 (2006-2008)
This muscle wagon plucks the heartstrings of car lovers in so many ways. First off, it brought angry wagon style right when wagons were already unpopular. Second, it shoved a 425-horsepower V8 under the hood to make it one of the best unexpectedly powerful rides at the time (if it wasn’t painted red, that is). Third, you could haul a family of five and a cargo hold full of luggage or groceries and then move them at alarming speeds. Finally, the Magnum SRT8 turned the V8 muscle car into an everyday practical (but not fuel-miserly) family car that could roast sports cars.
Saab 9-3 Viggen (1999-2002)
It was perhaps the last great Saab ever made before GM bludgeoned the living hell out of the brand with something altogether awful: a vanilla sedan with a traditional trunk. The 9-3 from that year could be had in a hatchback that so properly held onto Saab’s iconic raked hatchback look with styling that couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. The Viggen was the top performance trim, so named after Saab’s legendary jet fighter. It upped the horsepower to 230 and the torque to 258 lb-ft from the turbo four. This is how the Swedes did excess, and it was just about perfect.
Isuzu VehiCROSS (1999-2001)
If ever there was a mainstream production vehicle that looked like it belonged on the surface of the moon, it was the VehiCROSS. Rugged, curvy, and so downright bizarre that it was cool, the VehiCROSS was meant to look like nothing else on (or off) the road. Sure, it was wildly impractical with its snug cabin and crappy visibility, but those were small prices to pay to have a vehicle this radically styled. The teardrop headlights, massive matte black wheel arches, fanged grille, and what looked like a giant Hostess Ding Dong under the side-swinging tailgate (the spare tire) made everyone turn their heads. It was also fun to drive and eminently capable off-road thanks to its Baja-ready suspension. Too bad 2001 was its final year after a very short run.