AutoZine 20
20 Best Cars in 1997-2017

20 of the best cars listed in alphabetical orders.

1. Alfa Romeo 147 (2001)

Beautiful and good to drive, the 147 was the best Alfa Romeo seen in decades. Stiff suspension returned taut handling. Twin-cam twin-spark engines revvy and delicious to listen. GTA's V6 even marvellous. It didn't take luck to win ECOTY.

2. BMW M3 E46 (2001)

The E46 was the M3 preceding the OTT V8 model. It represented the best tradition of BMW's high-revving straight-six. The looks, the performance, the handling (thanks to active differential) and practicality are all beyond criticisms. Great value for money, too.

3. BMW 5-Series F10 (2010)

While E39 is still the best ever 5-Series, its grandson F10 dominated the executive car world in its time. Handsome, high-quality, spacious, comfortable, fast and good to steer, it had virtually no weakness. No wonder it became the best selling 5-Series ever.

4. Ferrari 458 (2009)

Not all Ferraris are perfect, but the 458, including Spider and especially the Speciale, definitely is. It brings back sexy lines from the 308/328-era. Its 9000rpm V8 lifted performance to supercar level. The chassis is absorbent yet tightly controlled. The Speciale's Side Slip Control makes ordinary drivers sideway heros. Mechanical and digital systems gel so well in this car.

5. Ford Fiesta / ST (2008)

While rivals were putting safety and refinement to higher priorities, this generation's Ford Fiesta still tried its best to please keen drivers. Sharp steering and an interactive chassis balance made it far more fun to drive than its rivals. It looked handsome, too. Later cars came with excellent 1.0 Ecoboost engine.

6. Ford Focus (1998)

The original Ford Focus was renowned for many innovative features, such as the New Edge design that made it sharp yet spacious, and control-blade independent rear suspension, which gave it class-leading handling and ride. It topped our rating chart for many years.

7. Ford Mondeo (2007)

Another sharp-handling Ford during the period was Mondeo Mk3. It was huge but looked as sharp as a coupe. Nothing this size in the front-wheel-drive family car segment could match its driver appeal. Performance was somewhat handicapped by its weight, but the range-topper got Volvo's 5-cylinder turbo, with plenty of punch and aural appeal.

8. Mazda RX-8 (2003)

The only and the last car running Wankel engine was also a great one. RX-8 offered 4-people accommodation through its special suicide doors. The car with backbone chassis was light and perfectly balanced. The compact rotary engine sat low and spun smoothly to 9000rpm. There was not a lot of torque, but the RX-8 was more about agility and feel, like a 4-seat MX-5.

9. Mercedes SL-class (2001)

The R230 was handsome and sophisticated, thanks to a retractable metal roof, active body control suspension and countless of electronic safety features. SL55 AMG had power and straight line performance to threaten Ferrari Maranello.

10. Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VII / VIII (2001)

The Evo received a new generation Lancer body in 2001, guaranteeing higher rigidity. Evo VII also got a revolutionary active center differential and Active Yaw Control - the forerunner of torque vectoring. Therefore its handling was greatly improved. This was the world's fastest A-to-B car of its time. More entertaining to drive than the rivalling Subaru Impreza, too.

11. Nissan GT-R (2007)

The GT-R, now no longer Skyline, stunned Porsche with its unrivalling real-world performance. It was a heavy car, but it also got plenty of gears to shine, such as a powerful twin-turbo V6, a rear-mounted twin-clutch gearbox and an active 4-wheel drive system. It looked head-turning, too. It proved that Japan is still capable to build the best performance cars in the world.

12. Pagani Zonda (1999)

In my opinion, the definitive supercar in the period was not Bugatti, Koenigsegg or Ferrari, but a car handcrafted by a small Italian firm, Pagani Zonda. It looked stunning and sounded even more so thanks to the tuned AMG V12. The carbon-fiber intensive chassis and body delivered great handling and ride without resorting to complicated systems. The interior was a work of art.

13. Peugeot 406 Coupe (1997)

Born in the same year as AutoZine, Peugeot 406 Coupe was clearly the most beautiful coupe of its time. It was also the last shine of Pininfarina. The underpinning 406 chassis was as good as you could get from an affordable family sedan, with good steering, control and ride comfort. Not overly sporty, but the car was a tempting alternative to family sedans, especially when it afforded surprising rear seat accommodation.

14. Porsche 981 Boxster/Cayman (2012)

All Porsches are good, but I would prefer the 981 to the earlier 986/987 because of its better performance and build quality, and its naturally aspirated six-cylinder boxer was definitely more desirable than today's turbocharged four on 718. 981 was a perfect match of driving thrills and day-to-day usability.

15. Porsche 997 / GT3 / RS (2004)

Likewise, the 997 generation is preferable to the 996 (poor build quality and not so refined design), the electric-steering 991 and the turbocharged 991.2. It was easily the purist's choice. GT3 and GT3 RS were the preference of keen drivers, but even a base Carrera manual would bring you immense fun in everyday driving.

16. Porsche Carrera GT (2004)

The Carrera GT was the peak of the analogue era before electronics and hybrid power polluting the 918 Spyder. Everything was designed to work best in the laws of physics - the chassis consisted of carbon-fiber tub and engine bracket, the all-double wishbone suspensions involved no variable damping, the race-derived V10 sat extremely low in the chassis and drove a fabulous manual gearbox. It wasn't so fast in the straight line by today's standards, but the perfect match of chassis and power and feel made it a masterpiece.

17. Renault Clio RS (2000)

Clio RS was the pocket rocket of the period. A car so small powered by a relatively large 2-liter 16V engine, good for 172 or 182hp. 0-60 mph just over 6 seconds was amazing on its days. Today's hot hatches could be neither as light nor as responsive, blame to the switch to turbocharging.

18. Renault Megane RS (2009)

Renaultsport made another great hot hatch in the late 2000. This time the larger Megane RS. Based on the radically styled Megane Coupe, it had a style to turn heads. But most important, its chassis was greatly enhanced with PerfoHub strut front suspensions and LSD, and the handling was tuned to a perfect balance between cornering grip and adjustable rear end. It was not the most powerful car in its class, but the great handling was good enough to earn a Nurburgring lap record.

19. Volkswagen Golf Mk5 / GTi / R32 (2003)

After the boring Golf IV, Volkswagen finally delivered a great Golf again. The Mk5 was not only prettier and built with higher quality, but it had some very good TSI engines and finally multi-link rear axle replacing torsion-beam. Its driving dynamics was much improved. GTi became fast and desirable again, whereas range-topping R32 felt premium.

20. Volkswagen Golf Mk7 / R (2012)

Golf VII introduced the lighter MQB platform thus it is also the most efficient Golf. Fortunately, the car still manages to improve performance, handling, comfort and virtually everything. It is once again the best family hatch in the world.

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