This is the car that turned electric power from an oddball curio into a properly desirable object. By now, the Model S’s achievements are basically hard-coded into every car person’s psyche. We know it can out-drag supercars. We know that acceleration can indeed be a painful experience. But the Model S actually deserves the hype.
Sure, it could be built better. And yes, it now has to deal with incredible competition from properly desirable and intensely fantastic electric cars like the Porsche Taycan. But think about what we just said: properly desirable electric cars. Do you think, without Tesla as the vanguard, we’d be using words like that?
2) Toyota 86
It’s all well and good having eleventy million horsepower and more on-board software than an IBM server farm. Wait a minute...no, it isn’t. It’s patently useless. Real fun doesn’t come from a car’s computers doing 400kph+ while you sit in the cockpit and puff out your chest—it comes from holding a Burt Reynolds-approved power slide, with two fistfuls of opposite lock, at about a tenth of that speed.
And that, as we’ve said until even the people listening are blue in the face, is the genius of the 86—real driving thrills at speeds that won’t turn you into a ballistic missile should anything go wrong. And all of this is available at the merest fraction of the cost of the modern breed of sports car.
3) 2013 Ford Fiesta ST (and 2018)
It’s a pretty tall order to be reliably good. More often than not, brilliance—like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours—immediately precedes bitter disappointment (we’re looking at you, Tusk).
But the Fiesta ST won Top Gear’s coveted Car of the Year award in 2013, then backed it up with the new model in 2018. And why wouldn’t it? The ST manages to be small, practical, efficient, affordable, insurable, and comfortable—that is, most everything you could want in the real world—while also being resolutely driver-focused, an expert handler, and a bastion of easy-access, always-on fun.
4) BMW i8
More than anything else, the i8 proved that supercars didn’t have to tear the planet apart just to get around it.
The i8 has pretty much all of the supercar tropes—a mid-engined layout, hundreds of horsepower, and steering so sublime that you wish the satnav had a ‘use only squiggly roads’ setting. But it’s missing that one, central supercar tenet: that speed can only be achieved with a massive V-something, huffing gasoline at a rate of liters per kilometer, not kilometers per liter.
So, for considered—not conspicuous—consumption, the i8 gets our guilt-free nod.
5) Alfa Romeo Giulia QV
You could say we love the QV because we like nothing better than a walk down memory lane in our favorite pair of rose-tinted glasses. Or maybe it’s because Alfa Romeo is our all-time favorite underdog: characterful, fatally flawed, but capable of absolute brilliance. But, in the dulcet phrasing of Australians, nah, stuff that.
It’s because Alfa, seemingly out of nowhere, built a super-sedan that kicked all kinds of derriere. The Giulia QV is a sporting four-door that you’d buy, not because you have a lingering affinity for Alfa, but because it’s every bit as good as an AMG or an M car in the ways that matter every day, and even better in the one thing that really counts in the Top Gear Guide to Living Well: fun.
6) 2017 Honda Civic Type R
Front-wheel-drive: for the poor and feeble, right? Ha.
The 2017 Civic Type R showed that back-road dominance isn’t dictated by which wheels are driven or where the engine sits. Genuinely. Pick the best B-road near your house, and we’ll pretty much guarantee that a Civic Type R will chill the entrails of cars twice its price and 10 times its cachet.
7) Ferrari 458 Speciale
Sometimes, a brief point means more than lyrical waxing. To that end, we leave you with a direct quote from Top Gear’s Stephen Dobie: “It’s the best car I’ve driven, and will probably ever drive.”
8) McLaren P1, LaFerrari, and Porsche 918
If the Tesla Model S finally made electric cars interesting and, dare we say it, cool, the holy trinity was irrefutable proof that hybrids could be properly entertaining. And terrifying, depending on your frame of reference.
It’s impossible to refer to one without immediately invoking its peers—each as incredibly expensive, mind-scramblingly complex, and brain-bendingly fast as the others. These three marked the apotheosis of what that hybrid cars could achieve: a blend of engine blocks and battery packs exploited not so much for economy, but tectonic levels of shove. Just don’t ask about running costs.
9) 2015 Porsche Cayman GT4
Track cars make poor road cars. They’re too hard, too focused, too much about going fast at Pflanzgarten, rather than fun on regular roads.
But, as the original Cayman GT4 said, “Hold my Weissbier.” This was a sports car every bit as adept—and, crucially, enjoyable—on the road as on the track.
10) McLaren 675LT
McLarens have never had a problem with speed. Great big daubs of it have accompanied anything with a McLaren badge since the ’60s. The problem, at least for its cars during the tenure of Ron Dennis, had an air of being numerically superior, but about as emotionally charged as a Michael Bay movie.
The 675LT, on the other hand, proved McLarens might actually be made by humans with emotions, rather than Ron-robots. It had the speed required by the McLaren badge (and its buyers), just paired with a bounding, exuberant personality.
11) Lotus Exige V6
Spare a little thought for the brilliant yet overlooked. For every Hendrix, Gilmour, Prince, or Zappa, there’s a litany of truly jaw-dropping guitarists that never seem to break into the household-name club—people like Robert Fripp, Alex Lifeson, or Guthrie Govan.
So it is with the Lotus Exige V6—a car that doesn’t so much attract your attention as grab you around the neck and force you to look. It’s an engrossing, enveloping, and sometimes enervating experience, as raw as a fruitarian’s dinner. Want the edges sanded off, the knife edge dulled a little? Look elsewhere, chum—the Exige might be a welterweight, but it delivers a full-fat experience.
12) Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series
One of Top Gear’s maxims has to do with brute force: If it doesn’t work, you’re just not using enough.
This, we feel, may have been the guiding principle for the SLS Black, an object lesson in the art of excess. Yes, we malign modern sports cars for being too wide, too brutish, too focused on power—and the SLS AMG was certainly wide, brutish, and powerful—but the SLS had an ace in the hole: acres and acres of personality. Oh, and perhaps the best V8 ever built.
13) BMW 1-Series M
Yep, this little oversteering oddball is the coolest M car of the past decade. A passion project, built on a shoestring budget and cobbled together from a parts bin, it’s the sheer ambition and ability of its creators—and the bountiful nature of the BMW M Division parts bin—that catapulted this tail-happy terror straight into the heart of even the most curmudgeonly of car lovers.
Okay, so BMW building a rear-driven, straight-six-powered coupe wasn’t going to break any particular molds, but the sheer brilliance of this genuine pocket rocket made us want to steal that particular mold for ourselves. Or, y’know, buy. That’s always an option.
14) Alpine A110
If you’ve been anywhere near this site in the past two years, you’ll never have been more than 10 clicks away from one of us banging on ad infinitum about how the Alpine A110 proves that light is right, how it’s so much more fun to play with a small, moderately powerful, but perfectly sorted car than any of the new breed of hulking road dominators, how the A110 is the closest approximation we have to the second coming of Christ himself and we’re willing to sacrifice tires in his name.
For reminding us of what’s lost when it’s buried under technology and power, for reacquainting us with the simple pleasure of a lightweight sports car, for using a feather touch to deliver a bloody nose to Porsche—Porsche—the Alpine A110 remains one of our all-time favorites.
15) Porsche Taycan
How the electric revolution so thoroughly wrong-footed the major carmakers still flummoxes us to this day. But Tesla absolutely beat the big boys to the punch, leaving them to relearn everything they thought they knew about what electricity could do—and, crucially, what buyers wanted.
We’ve had big-player electric cars from Jag, Mercedes, and Audi, but the Jag was rushed to market, while Merc and Audi’s electric-car debuts were tepid, blubberous, and instantly forgettable.
Leave it to Porsche to get this one right. While it were relearning it own business—as was everyone—it learned that high voltage was the way forward. Higher, in fact, than anyone else on the market. So the Taycan runs an 800V system, allowing for faster charging, more regen under braking, and thinner, lighter wiring (because more volts means fewer amps).
This is just one example of where Porsche’s boffins went over the electric-car playbook and decided that it could be better. Now, imagine a whole car’s worth of that, and you’ll see why it’s our 2019 Car of the Year and one of the best of the decade.
16) Bugatti Chiron 300
The Chiron’s job was hard. Yeah, we know—you’re hardly going to shed bitter tears for a 1,500hp slice of unobtanium. But think about it: The Veyron won hearts and minds because it was something so new, so different, so...flipping fast. And the Chiron? Well, it was certainly every bit as fast. And sure, it actually handled in a way that the Veyron could never manage. Whoopdee-sodding-do, right?
But that’s not all the new boy had up its sleeve—Bugatti quietly revised, reshaped, and retuned the Chiron so it could deliver its party piece: 300mph (483kph). While hypercar manufacturers talked about it, argued over it, and boasted that they could do it, Bugatti just went and did it.
Well, we say ‘just.’ It took Bugatti, Dallara, Michelin, a private oval bank and the outsize talent of Top Gear hero Andy Wallace to creep past the magic mark and up to 304.77mph (490.48kph)—cementing Bugatti’s place as the premier in the pantheon of performance.
17) Ariel Nomad
Notice a bit of a trend here? Just being fast won’t cut it. True greatness comes from thinking differently, from ingenuity, idiosyncrasy, passion, and dedication. And it helps if the finished product is as fun as a jumping castle full of husky puppies.
Enter the Nomad: a tube-frame off-roader that’s ready for the end of days, and just as ready to help you laugh your way through every day until then.
18) Volkswagen Up
“Oh, look, Top Gear’s favorite cars of the decade all cost as much as a semi-detached house and travel at speeds reserved for commercial airliners,” you’ve probably thought by this point.
Well, consider this a little bit of balance: The Volkswagen Up is one of the best cars of the past decade. It’s a wonderfully-thought-out little car, a modern reflection of the original big-space-in-small-dimensions masterclass that is the original Mini. It manages to be smaller than a Fiat Panda, but it has a bigger cargo space. You also stand a chance of walking away from a crash in the Up; less so in the Panda.
It’s the right size for cities, it’s cheap but well made, and it can even fit drivers up to 6’4” tall. We know. We’ve tried.
Yes, VW named it the ‘Up!’, including a grammatically infuriating and entirely useless exclamation mark, but that’s roughly the only black mark against this otherwise perfect city car.
19) Porsche 911 GT3 Touring
When the 911R became little more than an income spinner for cynical speculators, we wept.
Because the 911R was everything we wanted from a modern Porsche—a lightweight body, barely containing the rasping fury of Porsche’s naturally aspirated 4.0-liter flat-six. Combine that with demure exterior styling and a six-speed manual—no PDK gearboxes here, thanks—and it’s a recipe for greatness.
Porsche clearly agreed, and so set about creating the very best 911 since...well, we were still in school uniform, at the very least. The GT3 Touring was everything the 911R was, just less frenetic and less expensive. And, hopefully, enough to give those cynical speculators a few sleepless nights with their “£500,000” 911R.
Figures don’t tell the whole story. But figures like 1,479hp, 1,984Nm, and 400kph+ definitely give you the broad strokes of what the Regera is about.
From there, it just gets weirder. Case in point? The Regera doesn’t have a gearbox. It also runs an 800V electrical system (hmmm...wonder where Porsche got the idea for the Taycan?), but does without a limited-slip diff. Electric power alone is responsible for 700hp, or roughly a Tesla Model S’s worth.
If all of this sounds like the recipe for a catastrophic accident, you’re not alone. And yet Christian von Koenigsegg’s team has resolved these unique, disparate, and downright bonkers elements to create perhaps the rarest-groove supercar we can think of. And one of the best.
NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.