This decade was an exciting time for car enthusiasts. Suddenly fuel economy wasn’t an afterthought, and new models promised to be fast, stylish, and affordable.
The Toyota Prius was the first hybrid to really gain traction in America, attracting buyers who prioritized environmental responsibility. A well-maintained Prius is still a sight to behold. Keep reading to see the most popular cars in the early 2000s.
The New Beetle
The New Beetle entered the 2000s riding a wave of automotive nostalgia that also carried the Plymouth Prowler and Chevy PT Cruiser. But just like low-rise jeans and Livestrong bracelets, it quickly went out of style. The New Beetle was fun to drive, but its cuteness and uninspiring performance made it less than desirable in a market where buyers value the zoom of a Mazda3, the smart handling of a Honda Civic Si, or the homeboy attitude of a Chevrolet Malibu SS.
The Beetle did a good job of keeping its brand alive with its countless special editions, but even that wasn’t enough to keep it popular. The RSi is an example: a limited production version with a 224 HP 3.2L VR6 engine, four-speed automatic transmission, VW’s 4motion system, Remus twin-pipe exhaust, and 18×9 OZ Superturismo wheels designed to replicate those on the original Beetle.
The Toyota Prius became the car of choice for eco-conscious drivers, and its popularity grew as the world began to realize that climate change wasn’t just a phenomenon that could be ignored. Compared to traditional vehicles, the Prius has very little maintenance and lasts longer on the road than most cars. The Volkswagen TDI and other diesel models have also helped boost the company’s image in a segment that used to be filled with gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks. Now diesels are seen as efficient, clean, and economical.
The Mazda 6
In an era of bland family sedans, the Mazda 6 was a refreshing alternative. Offering a sleek and evocative design and engaging handling, it quickly won over buyers and went on to top sales in both the United States and Canada. Its meager powertrain lineup might be disappointing on paper, but the Mazda is capable of surprising performance and boasts a more expensive-feeling cabin than its peers.
This year, Mazda tweaked the exterior a bit with a new winged grille that nods to the company’s heritage while resculpting the nose to give it a more muscular look. It’s also succeeded in bringing its interior quality into the premium territory, with the Signature trim blending rich suede-like materials and beautiful Sen wood to create an environment that outdistances rivals even on the low-end.
The current generation of Mazdas is also a pleasure to drive, with quick, precise steering and a supple ride that can handle rough road surfaces without losing composure. The latest version of its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine has been boosted to 182 horsepower and is mated to either a six-speed manual or an automatic transmission that provides crisp, snappy shifts in Sport mode.
Despite its modest power output, the Mazda has the potential to surprise on the performance front, thanks to its lightweight chassis and tight-handling dynamics. It’s the kind of car that could easily go head-to-head with a Honda Accord or a Hyundai Sonata.
The Chrysler 300C
Chrysler’s flagship sedan was a huge hit for the company, and it helped revive interest in big American sedans. The car looked great and offered old-school freeway cruiser driving, available Hemi power, and large dimensions. It also had a well-tailored interior and an easy-to-use infotainment system. Chrysler’s Uconnect 8.4 touchscreen is one of the best on the market.
The 300C isn’t the best-handling vehicle in the world, but it is capable and smooth on the highway. It also offers a variety of options to tailor it to your needs, including rear-wheel drive and a powerful V8 engine. The car’s sizeable cabin is roomy and comfortable, making it a good choice for family use. It also gets excellent fuel economy from its V6 and Hemi engines and offers a long warranty coverage plan.
It can be difficult to find used models of the Chrysler 300C, but it’s worth looking for one. It was a true hit when it debuted, and while it didn’t stay as popular as some of the other vehicles on this list, it still has a strong following. While the 300C’s styling isn’t to everyone’s taste, it was bold and daring for a mainstream automaker and is hard to ignore. The car looks like a junior Bentley and has the sort of presence that could make outside-lane dawdlers run for cover. The 6.4-liter Hemi V8 is also a joy to drive, and it can sling the car from zero to 60 mph in about four seconds.
The Nissan 350Z
The Nissan 350Z is a classic sports car that offered a lot of bang for your buck when it came to performance. Its powerful V-6 engine could rocket it to 60 mph in just over six seconds and was durable enough that it found its way into factory racing teams. Those who took their 350Zs to the track found that they were well-balanced and enjoyable cars on the road and in the corners.
The 350Z was a popular choice for a wide range of buyers, from young families to seasoned drivers. Its mix of angles and curves gave it a look that was all its own, while the power from the V-6 made it a true performance bargain. It blew rivals like the Mazda RX-8 and Porsche Cayman S out of the water, even though it didn’t have quite the nimble handling of those two models.
The 350Z was replaced by the 370Z for the 2009 model year, but it has left behind a legacy of great performance and design that continues to please owners today. The 350Z is also popular with tuners, with the NISMO version offering an extra boost in horsepower and a wider torque band. These modified models have even been adapted for use in NASA’s Spec Z class, which aims to showcase the car’s capabilities in a close-competition and cost-contained environment. The 350Z is a car that continues to delight enthusiasts as it celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
The Toyota Prius
During this time, efficiency was near and dear to the hearts of many car enthusiasts. However, that didn’t mean drivers needed to give up a certain mechanical performance they loved. With 196 horsepower and a 0-60 time of 7.2 seconds, the new Toyota Prius is more than just an efficient commuter vehicle.
In the early ’00s, this reliable Toyota was holding the Accord and Taurus at bay as America’s best-selling car. It’s a no-nonsense economy sedan that provides decent to spirited performance and always looks fresh-faced (Honda promptly redesigns it every five years).
The 2023 Prius has undergone a dramatic makeover that takes it from the “ugly car” ranks to a sleek and cohesive look. This hybrid offers more than 50 mpg on the highway, so you can leave the gas pump behind for longer road trips. Plus, you can take advantage of a variety of cool features like Qi wireless charging, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa, a head-up display, and more.
The Cadillac Escalade
One of the earliest SUVs to make waves, Cadillac’s Escalade is a big, bold SUV with plenty of style and a commanding presence on the road. It features luxury leather seating surfaces and an intuitive infotainment system that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. In addition, the Escalade offers advanced technology like a wireless device charging pad, and it is equipped with a safety suite that includes a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines and front pedestrian braking.
The Escalade’s powerful 6.0-liter V8 pairs with two 60-kilowatt electric motors to provide up to 332 hp and 367 lb.-ft of torque. This combination is delivered through a unique hybrid transmission that uses three different planetary gear sets, and it can take 8.2 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph. In addition to its power train, the Cadillac Escalade is also a highly capable off-roader.
The Escalade’s interior is a welcome departure from most modern vehicles’ plastic-y, hard-to-clean plastic. It features real wood accents and leather seating surfaces. Its cabin is also very quiet and comfortable, and it has plenty of cargo space. There are even multiple seating options and trim levels to suit a variety of needs. Top-of-the-line Escalades include a panoramic sunroof, power-adjustable pedals, and a heated steering wheel. In addition, some of the latest models offer advanced driver assistance features like a lane keep assist and a hands-free Super Cruise system that allows the driver to operate the vehicle hands-free in highway traffic.