The 10 Best Cars of All Time - AxleAddict - A community of car lovers, enthusiasts, and mechanics sharing our auto advice
Updated date:

The 10 Best Cars of All Time

Author:

Mario Buildreps, a graduate engineer, can show you things you haven't seen before.

The Car That Set the Standard

The Volkswagen Beetle sets the standard with an overall score of 95%

The Volkswagen Beetle sets the standard with an overall score of 95%

What Makes a Car Design Special?

There's no need to follow Jeremy Clarkson's criteria for the best cars! He mainly tests fancy sports cars, and is clueless about normal cars.

Since from my youngest years on I've always been a car lover, and I know almost anything there is to know about cars, I made up my own set of rules.

Here is my list of the ten best cars of all time.

Characteristics of a Great Car

According to the definition I use here, a car design is "special" when it scores high on the following six specifications:

  1. It must have an innovative body design.
  2. It must have an innovative technical design.
  3. It must meet all requirements for normal use.
  4. It must look like a 'normal' car, not, for example, some Topgear-like fancy sports car.
  5. It must have exceptional handling characteristics.
  6. It must be reliable and easily maintained.

Only Cars Made After 1938 Can Enter This Contest

Only cars built after 1938 could join the contest I set up. There was one main reason for that: the Volkswagen Beetle. This car set a new standard in the car industry that still reverberates to the present day. Volkswagen sold more than 21.5 million Beetles.

It wouldn't be fair to include the Volkswagen Beetle in this contest, because it is the standard, and would end up at number one. That outcome would be too boring!

So, I selected the ten best cars built after 1938, based on the six features listed above. Here they are, in reverse order, from tenth to first.

The Smart ForTwo from Germany.

The Smart ForTwo from Germany.

10. Smart ForTwo

The Smart ForTwo is an amazing concept. The car is only 8.85 feet long, almost half the size of a Mercedes S-series. Smart proved that a car doesn't have to be large to safely carry two people to its destination.

Besides transporting two adults, it can take a limited amount of luggage, for example, two shopping bags.

The Smart is also available in a cabriolet version.

The Smart is equipped with a little 2-cylinder engine, and is even available in a version with a tiny diesel engine—the smallest diesel engine in a production car in the world. The diesel version runs 72 miles on one gallon of fuel, and the petrol version about 43 miles on 1 gallon.

The safety of a Smart is simply amazing. Check out the video of the crash between a Smart and a fat Mercedes-Benz. This shows what a really smart design can result in.

The Saab 9000 from Sweden.

The Saab 9000 from Sweden.

9. Saab 9000

The Saab 9000 is not exceptional in many categories; it's simply a very good and very versatile car. The car is technically not inventive, except in motor development. The engine management on the Saab 9000 is amazing, even by the standards of today.

Tests at the introduction of the Saab in 2002 revealed something remarkable. When the dirty exhaust gas pipe of a 2-stroke Trabant was connected to the air inlet of the Saab, the Saab was actually able to run on this awesomely dirty air, and even removed the air pollution from the Trabant exhaust gases.

The car is very safe, and technically so reliable that it easily runs 500,000 miles without many troubles.

The Toyota Prius from Japan.

The Toyota Prius from Japan.

8. Toyota Prius

The Toyota Prius was the first mass-produced hybrid car. That was a revolution in 1997.

The Toyota Prius is not as versatile as it might be, because it is not allowed to mount a towbar, and therefore it's impossible to pull even a small trailer.

When the combustion engine is still cold, it will start regardless of whether you need it or not. The first few (cold) minutes of driving are always with the polluting engine running. The engine must be warm to act quickly as a main drive, when the situation requires this.

The car has a fusiform shape to reduce wind friction as much as possible. The Cd coefficient of the Prius is 0.28, and that's one of the lowest values among production cars.

The Citroën 2CV from France.

The Citroën 2CV from France.

7. Citroën 2CV

The Citroën 2CV, also called Deux Chevaux or 'two horses' in French, is one of the most iconic cars of the twentieth century.

The Deux Chevaux is a sort of cabriolet, a typical Mediterranean car, with no unnecessary luxury on board. For example, at temperatures below 23 degrees Fahrenheit, the very reliable and efficient 2-cylinder air-cooled boxer engine isn't able to heat the interior, no, not even the front window. The moist breath of the inhabitants will freeze on the inside of the windows, and leave not a single inch clear for the driver to see through.

The horizontal strip that you see just beneath the front window is for fresh air ventilation.

The body parts are put together by screw connections. Replacing mudguards or doors is simply done by disconnecting a few screws. Even an empty battery is no problem; you can crank the engine with a lever.

The 2CV is an extraordinarily light car, weighing not more than 1250 lb. This light weight has also a disadvantage. With very strong side wind the Deux Chevaux simply slides off the road!

The road-holding capacities of the 2CV are one of the worst ever produced in the car industry. It is nevertheless a car that makes its passengers happy by its unbeaten simplicity and reliability. Simplicity triumphs.

The BMW 524 TD from Germany.

The BMW 524 TD from Germany.

6. BMW 524TD

With this 6-cylindre, 115 hp turbo diesel engine, BMW escaped in 1984 the stereotype of the slow, smoky diesel car. This BMW was the first diesel car able to keep up on the unlimited-speed freeway lanes of Germany. BMW set a new standard for diesel engines for centuries to come, and is in fact today still dominant with superb engines, both diesel and petrol.

With a top speed of about 110 mph, this car, even by today's standards, is certainly no loser. The road-holding capacities of this car are extremely good, which wasn't seen before in a diesel engine car. In fact, this car still beats most modern cars on pure driving performance.

This BMW has exceptional road-holding ability, thanks to its rear-wheel drive, and almost perfect 50/50 weight balance between front and rear wheels. It's a superb driving machine.

The Volvo 244 DL from Sweden

The Volvo 244 DL from Sweden

5. Volvo 244 DL

Volvo excels in building safe and reliable cars. Volvo is the inventor of the 3-point safety belt, the most important safety breakthrough in automotive history. The 3-point safety belt was first introduced in the Volvo 100 series in 1959.

One of the best Volvos ever built is the Volvo 244 DL, an evolutionarily developed car that sprang from the Volvo-100 series. The first Volvo 244 DL was produced in 1974. These cars are still in use everywhere around the world.

The Volvo was no highflyer in either body design nor technical design, but the car is beautiful in its solid simplicity.

This car is solid, uses simple techniques, and is very safe even by today's standards, although lacking typical safety features like airbags. The car is easy to maintain and utterly reliable. These Volvos can easily make a few million miles without many technical problems, and that is still an unbeaten record in the car industry.

This car is the ideal son-in-law!

The Citroën DS from France.

The Citroën DS from France.

4. Citroën DS

The Citroën DS is an exceptional car in almost any aspect.

The design is extremely aerodynamic, more or less like a droplet.

The suspension is equipped with a hydropneumatic system, which made the car exceptionally comfortable, like sitting on a floating carpet.

Manageability is one of the weaker aspects of this beautiful car, although it was certainly good for that time. The large weight on the front axis in relation to weight on the rear axis, in combination with front wheel traction, caused the car to have a tendency to shift over its front wheels in fast lanes. On the other hand, the car is very forgiving, so the driver can easily keep the car on track by releasing the gas pedal.

The designers were not experienced engineers. They were free thinkers and designers, which gave them an advantage over conventional engineers. Almost every detail on this car is exceptional and non-standard, from the directional headlamps (in later models) to the single-spoke steering wheel.

The car scores high on my list mainly due to its still-unmatched aesthetic and technical design. For French standards this car is quite reliable, despite some troubles with the complicated suspension system from time to time.

The Subaru Outback from Japan

The Subaru Outback from Japan

3. Subaru Outback

The Subaru Outback is often considered an ordinary car, but it is not. It is awesomely good in almost any important technical aspect of a car. That this car isn't always the winner in contests is a result of juries who have no real knowledge of cars.

What are really the most important aspects of a car when you're underway? Reliability, usability under all conditions, and acceptable running costs. And that's boring for most car shows.

Why is the Subaru my third best choice? Because this car is simply capable of taking you anywhere you want, while its road-holding qualities are stunningly good, thanks to the permanent four-wheel drive. This car looks like a family car, but it has the cornering characteristics of a sports car. Subaru sticks to its own reliable boxer engines, that come in petrol and diesel versions. These engines run blissfully smooth with their typical drumming noise.

This car doesn't get stuck in the snow, and it easily deals with a muddy road. This car doesn't look bad either. Just a decent family car. You could hassle over little things like cup holders or other nonsense stuff, but that is really unimportant.

With this car you might even forget that you have a car, because it's trouble-free. Subaru learned its lessons in the World Rally Cup (WRC).

What more to about this car? I'm not swallowed by emotions when I look at it, and that's a damn good quality in a car. Choosing a car should be rational, and not emotional like Clarkson and such people make it. In the end, your wallet is rational too.

The NSU RO80 from Germany

The NSU RO80 from Germany

2. NSU RO80: An Amazingly Good German Concept

The NSU RO80 is an extraordinary car in all aspects. This car is a stunning beauty, both aesthetic and technical.

The designers deviated from all standards by creating a car that was many decades ahead of its time. The car still appears modern after nearly five decades!

The car also has extraordinary good road-holding. The fuel consumption is fairly high, however, which is the only real minus of this car.

The engine is constructed according to a totally deviating principle: that of Felix Wankel. A normal engine has pistons. The Wankel engine has triangle-shaped rotors that run smooth and almost without vibrations. In its early years, it had one major problem: the rotor seals wore out too quickly.

This problem was solved in later models, but the bad reputation was already set, and the production was shut down in 1977.

The myth around the bad Wankel engine still hangs over this car, though engineers resolved the reality long ago. The engine is now very reliable, and the car is easy to maintain in general.

If you're in the position to purchase a good one for a fair price, don't hesitate one moment. This car is even for today's standards one of the best cars ever built.

The Tesla Model 3 is one of the best cars ever made. This car is revolutionary, and it outperforms every other car on many aspects. Especially when we compare price and specs.

The Tesla Model 3 is one of the best cars ever made. This car is revolutionary, and it outperforms every other car on many aspects. Especially when we compare price and specs.

1. Tesla Model 3 Performance AWD: Why the Tesla Model 3 Is the Best

Why is this my number one?

Since the stone age, man has been struggling to harness fire. A conventional car with a combustion engine is nothing else than an advanced way to control fire. Even the smoothest-running German engines are still resting on these primitive roots. Tesla has changed the automaker game entirely. In no time, the traditional alpha car brands like Mercedes, BMW, and Audi were overtaken in many aspects.

There is no way back. The future is all electric. And Tesla is years ahead of all the others. Why the Tesla Model 3? Because it is unbeatable in all aspects: usability, handling, innovativeness, daily use, acceleration, maximum speed, autopilot. The list of pros just goes on and on. In crash tests Tesla has surpassed all other carmakers in safety.

You can even mount a towbar on this car. The maximum towing weight is a little more than 1,000 kg.

If you are thinking of buying a new car in the price range of this Tesla Model 3, between $40,000 to $60,000, this car should be on your list as the one and only favorite. Buying something else instead of a Tesla is one of the dumbest things you can do.

Tesla has even thought of the infrastructure for supercharging your Tesla. The Germans, and the rest, will have to innovate very hard and very rapidly to reduce the gap with Tesla. The future is Tesla.

The Fiat Multipla from Italy.

The Fiat Multipla from Italy.

Out of the Running: Why Is the Fiat Multipla Not in the Top 10?

Because the Fiat Multipla scores just 62% in the contest, it dropped out.

The concept is not innovative enough given the current state of technology, and the car has a very low normality rating given the fully irrational shape.

Although the Multipla is commonly accepted as one of the ugliest cars ever built, ugliness played no role in this contest.

The Porsche 911 from Germany.

The Porsche 911 from Germany.

Also Out of the Running: Why Is the Porsche 911 Not on This List?

The Porsche 911 drives very well of course, but this car is not good enough on all fronts. It is too expensive and not innovative enough. The sports car concept relies too much on primitive egotistical ideas.

A 911 has a very low normality rating, since it is still meant to be a head-turner. It is also very impractical. The technology and design are not very innovative and rely on an old concept. The usability is also very low: you cannot pull a trailer, you don't have room for much luggage, and the car is expensive in use. Thus the Porsche 911 scores just 60%.

The Tesla S is a much better car than the Porsche 911, and also better than its direct competitor, the Porsche Panamera.

Your Opinion

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Why is Tesla not in the vote for the best cars of all time?

Answer: Tesla model 3 might be on the list very soon.

© 2015 Buildreps

Comments

Susan Zitzler on May 16, 2020:

It appears all they really good cars cost a lot of money and they are for the only rich. Funny thing about a lot of those cars except for the smarttwo car (which looks kind of like my Chevy Spark 2016) most of those other European cars are really ugly. In the USA they make cars appealing to the eye at least but in Europe they don't make them that way at all they're really ugly has super high priced crazy.

Jace on April 04, 2020:

What is wrong with You Morons

Luka on November 11, 2019:

mclaren f1 is the greatest car ever made

Buildreps (author) from Europe on November 04, 2019:

A great platform that is comparable with the Volvo 244.

Jovan on November 04, 2019:

What are your thoughts on the Mercedes W123 platform?

Lou on September 26, 2018:

The 2012 Model S represents the single greatest leap forward in automotive design, perhaps even in the greatest leap forward for any single new product. That was the moment 100+ years of automotive industry was turned on it's head. And - most astonishingly - most of the world is still sort of unaware of it to this day. But that realization is coming now, like a tsunami.

Rudransh on July 13, 2018:

Very nice

Buildreps on September 24, 2016:

I wrote: " Building an electrical car, like the Tesla S, for let's say $100,000 is not an art, that's for a meaningless elite. But building an electrical car for the mass, for every day life, for less than $25,000 is a marvel."

Jacques on September 23, 2016:

Tesla anyone?

Buildreps (author) from Europe on March 06, 2016:

Thanks for dropping by and the comment on this Hub, Chris! We are all a chauvinists when it comes to cars. :)

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on March 06, 2016:

If I made my own list, I'd put one American vehicle on it and this one would be at the top. The Jeep Cherokee Sport/XJ is a remarkable vehicle. It was the forerunner of the modern SUV, but was always considered to be a station wagon. I'm not familiar with many of the cars on your list, but they are all impressive. I like your six specifications, especially that it has to be a normal car with an innovative, technical design. Good job on this hub.

Buildreps (author) from Europe on August 11, 2015:

Thanks for reading and commenting, ChitrangadaSharan! I hope your husband and sons appreciate this list, although it has still subjective despite sides, despite the objective efforts.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on August 11, 2015:

That's an interesting list and I enjoyed going through.

My husband and two sons are crazy and quite well informed about cars and do not miss any exhibitions about them. Passing this on!

Thanks for sharing this informative and interesting hub. Voted up!

Buildreps (author) from Europe on August 06, 2015:

Thanks for reading and commenting, Bobby! The Prius is always a good choice. It's great seeing you around on Hubpages :)

Robert Morgan from Hutchinson Island, FL - Myrtle Beach, SC - Gilbert AZ on August 06, 2015:

Another really good hub. I love cars and this was fun to read. I voted for the Prius like the other 38% of the readers did. Best you. Bobby

Buildreps (author) from Europe on July 30, 2015:

Thanks for reading and commenting, Suraj Punjabi. Of course you may know this:) There is actually a kind of Mercedes in the list, the Smart. I doubted a lot whether or not to include a Mercedes (the real ones), but they simply didn't matched the BMW. The BMW was more ahead of its time and more sophisticated in the technical details than the Mercedes. None of the Mercedesses actually made it in the top 10. In my opinion: solid and sophisticated, but too conservative.

suraj punjabi from jakarta on July 30, 2015:

Nice article. I love cars. May I know why Mercedez-Benz did not enter the list? Aren't they in the similar price range of a bmw?

Buildreps (author) from Europe on July 23, 2015:

Thanks for reading and your contribution, Ann. I fully agree with your view :) Cheers!

Ann Carr from SW England on July 23, 2015:

I've had a Smart car; fun to drive but only for one! For me, the Outback is the best because that's what we have at the moment and it's the best car I've ever driven. Second comes the Forester.

The original Porsche 911 was wonderful and the G-force something else! I find the more modern ones are not so pretty.

The 2CV is an icon, along with the Mini (the original, not the huge new one!) and the Beetle was amazing, though unstable!

Great list!

Ann

Buildreps (author) from Europe on July 16, 2015:

Thanks for the great comment, Nell! I had to laugh about it :) The Beetle is simply unbeatable. The modern version of the Beetle doesn't come close to its forefather, and that might be even an impossible task.

Nell Rose from England on July 16, 2015:

I love the way you put the Beetle at the top, my favourite car of all time! If I could afford a car, which I can't at the moment, or should I say ever, I walk everywhere.....lol! I love the beetle, in fact I used to work for volkswagen! great list and my partner is peering over my shoulder as we speak! lol!

Buildreps (author) from Europe on July 16, 2015:

That's very true, Yoleen. It's indeed a great car. According to the German research institute TÜV, this Toyota Camry is among one of the most reliable cars. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Yoleen Lucas from Big Island of Hawaii on July 16, 2015:

The best car I ever owned was a 1995 Toyota Camry. It rarely had issues during the 9 years I owned it. It had 115,000 miles when I bought it, and I drove it up to 355,000 miles! Get this - the air conditioning still worked!

Buildreps (author) from Europe on July 16, 2015:

Thanks for reading and commenting, peachpurple. It's not unusual that you've never seen them in your whole life, although from the top 3 the Subaru is the most common one today. The NSU is nowadays a rare oldtimer, only for the real enthusiasts.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on July 16, 2015:

These are unique cars, i don't think i had seen this in my whole life

Buildreps (author) from Europe on July 13, 2015:

In this list the Beetle is actually at position 0, but was excluded from the contest because it IS the standard. The Beetle scores 95%, and the RO80 92%. So, if the Beetle wasn't excluded form the contest it would be the winner :)

The cooling system is awesome indeed, but the 2CV has also the same kind of engine, a boxer engine, with air cooling, pushrods and very edurable. The 2CV has only has 2 cylinders, where the Beetle has 4 cylinders.

The 2CV was also in the 'Sahara' edition. It has 2 engines, one in front and one in the back and has 4WD!

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on July 13, 2015:

I've not seen a list like this that doesn't have the Beetle somewhere in the top 3. It's funny how terminology varies. In my part of the world we call them Bugs as much as we call them Beetles.

There still aren't many cars can compare with the Beetle. From its cooling system to its efficiency to its ability to do well in about any weather condition to its reasonable price tag.

Buildreps (author) from Europe on July 13, 2015:

Thanks for reading and commenting, Larry. I didn't know the Beetle was also called the Bug :)

It's indeed too bad it was initiated by Hitler. The Beetle on the other hand is among so many other things that originated from the technological superior Germans.

The history showed clearly that superiority doesn't mean you're the winner, maybe because this superiority often goes hand in hand with insanity.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on July 12, 2015:

On a lot of levels the Bug is one of the most innovative cars to be produced. To bad it was originally commissioned by Hitler.

Buildreps (author) from Europe on July 12, 2015:

Thanks for reading and commenting, Thomas! I putted indeed tons of effort in this list. I'm happy you noticed :)

To be honest there are also to my taste a few cars I don't really like, like the Prius, the BMW. But I tried to make the list as objective as possible, while I know that objectiveness is quite a struggle when it comes to cars.

I'm looking forward to your list of iconic or beautiful cars!

Thomas Swan from New Zealand on July 12, 2015:

I like the top 3, but not much else. I see you've put a lot of thought into it though, and know more than I do about cars, so I'm not going to disagree. I'd like to see a top 10 beautiful cars, or iconic cars. I'm tempted to do that myself. I think the Porsche 911 would probably make it then.

Buildreps (author) from Europe on July 12, 2015:

Of course, quicksand! In your imagination everything is possible :) Thanks for visiting and commenting.

Buildreps (author) from Europe on July 12, 2015:

You know lots about other things, Bill :) This list was also fun to make. Thanks for dropping by, my friend.

quicksand on July 11, 2015:

Can I have a VolksWagon Beetle just for display purposes, and a Toyota Prius for daily transportation please? Many thanks! :)

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 11, 2015:

Lists like this are always fun. I've never even heard of the NSU. Shows you how much I don't know. :)

Buildreps (author) from Europe on July 11, 2015:

Thanks for dropping by, PaigSr! The TR3 is a nice car too :) Great choice.

PaigSr from State of Confusion on July 11, 2015:

From this page I would go with the VW Bug. Personal choice would be a TR3.

Related Articles