It’s nearly 50 years since the first Which? Car test in 1962. To celebrate, we’ve nominated the five most influential cars of our lifetime.
Few topics have caused more heated debate in the Which? Car office than this list. Many names were put forward, from the Tata Nano to the McLaren F1, before we settled on a definitive top five.
This isn’t about the best-selling cars of the past 50 years, although the Mini and Chrysler Voyager would doubtless meet that criteria. Instead, these are the vehicles that have changed the face of motoring, by introducing new body styles and advanced technologies, or opening up fresh market segments.
You probably won’t agree with our list, but that’s fine. After yet more discussion (Audi Quattro? Nissan Leaf? VW Golf GTI?), we’re not sure we do either…
Renault claims its Espace was the first MPV, but the 1984 Plymouth Voyager (also sold as the Dodge Caravan, and from 1996 in the UK as the Chrysler Voyager) beat it to market by a matter of months. Similar in size to a conventional estate car, it had space for up to eight people, depending on specification. A tall roofline, sliding rear door and removable rear seats offered unbeatable versatility.
Chrysler’s ‘minivan’ was initially powered by four-cylinder engines, with V6s and diesels following later. It quickly became one of America’s most popular vehicles, and more than 20 million have since been sold.
Produced 1984-1990 Power 97bhp 0-60mph 17.4secs Fuel economy 28mpg Price when new $9,494 (approx. £5,800)
Mercedes’ flagship saloon deserves its place here because of the numerous safety innovations it has introduced. These include integrated crumple zones (1958), electronic ABS brakes (1978), seatbelt pre-tensioners (1980), driver airbag (1980), passenger airbag (1986), stability control (1995) and brake assist (1997).
There have been eight generations of S-class since 1954, and the W126 version of 1979 was the most popular, selling over 800,000 units. The current model (pictured) was launched in 2005. Engines range from the 258bhp V6 diesel S350 to the fearsome 630bhp V12 S65 AMG. To many, it’s still the definitive luxury car.
Produced 2005-on Power 258bhp (S350 CDI) 0-60mph 7.1secs Fuel economy 41.5mpg Price £60,155
Born in 1959, the Mini remained in production for 41 years. Its innovative front-wheel-drive layout liberated space for four passengers and their luggage within a compact, three-metre-long body. It remains the template for almost every supermini to this day.
But the Mini is more than just A to B transport. It became a symbol of the swinging Sixties, driven by icons like Ringo Starr, Peter Sellers and Marianne Faithfull, while tuned Cooper versions were giant-killers on racing circuits and rally stages. Today, Mini is a successful brand owned by BMW – a testament to the original car’s enduring appeal.
Produced 1959-2000 Power 33bhp 0-60mph 29.7secs Fuel economy 40mpg Price when new £497 (Basic) £537 (De Luxe)
Before 1970, 4x4s were purely working vehicles or tools of war. By contrast, the Range Rover was an all-weather alternative to an executive saloon – the first sports utility vehicle, or SUV. In truth, early Range Rovers were simple and utilitarian – it was only after the five-door version was introduced in 1981 that the RR moved upmarket.
The original Range Rover Classic had permanent four-wheel drive and a thirsty V8 petrol engine (a diesel didn’t arrive until the Mk3 of 2002). Functional yet desirable, it remains the only car to be exhibited at the Louvre in Paris as an example of automotive art.
Produced 1970-1996 Power 135bhp 0-60mph 14.2secs Fuel economy 15mpg Price when new £1,998
The first mass-market hybrid, the Prius was launched in 1997 and is now into its third generation. By using a combination of petrol and electric power, it offers outstanding fuel economy, along with silent, emissions-free motoring around town. The latest 2011 Prius delivers a claimed 72.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 89g/km – impressive figures for a Ford Mondeo-sized car.
Buyers were initially suspicious of the Prius, but hybrid technology is now increasingly mainstream. The Toyota has become an icon of the green car movement and a ubiquitous sight in cities across the world. A plug-in version of the Prius hybrid, which can be recharged from an electric socket and achieves a claimed 108.6mpg, will go on sale in 2012.
Produced 2000-2003 Power 71bhp 0-60mph 13.4secs Fuel economy 57.6mpg Price when new £16,385
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