20 cars that changed the world
BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
Advertisement feature
eBay's Guide to Thrifty Motoring
Read it all here
Thursday 30th March

Here are 20 cars that changed the world

From Beetle to Defender to Veyron, these cars shaped our automotive landscape

  1. Land Rover Defender

    For going anywhere

    No matter where it goes, the Defender feels at home. On a farm, in the jungle, or outside a country pile. It is - or rather, was - as advanced as a wellington boot, which is exactly what you'd wear while driving it.

    Advertisement - Page continues below
  2. Audi R10 TDI

    For bringing diesel power to racing

    When a top Audi exec first heard the R10 he thought something was terribly wrong. In fact its diesel engine was so quiet, the sound he heard was actually the tyres slapping the road. Since its 2006 debut and up until Porsche returned to La Sarthe, only diesels have won Le Mans.

  3. Toyota Prius

    For starting the hybrid thing

    Technically the Honda Insight came first, but it never caught on like the Prius did. From the moment Cameron Diaz - or was it DiCaprio? - was papped in one, it became the most fashionable way to save the world. Even though it actually won't.

    Advertisement - Page continues below
  4. Little Tykes Cozy Coupe

    For being everyone's first wheels

    You might think the world's best-selling car is some bland Toyota or a hillbilly pickup truck. But nope, it's actually the Cozy Coupe - the plastic contraption that gave a billion kids their first fix of driving, and most likely their very first crash.

  5. Thrust SSC

    For going faster than sound

    It might look a bit shonky compared to its successor, Bloodhound, but in 1997 it travelled at 763mph, becoming the first car to break the sound barrier. It's held the record ever since, which tells you just how incredible that number actually was.

  6. VW Beetle

    For being Europe's Model T

    It put millions of ordinary citizens on the road, and inspired the rear-engine layout of Porsche's later 911.

  7. Bugatti Veyron

    For being the Concorde of cars

    Was a 253mph road car really necessary? Of course not. You could ask similar questions of the moon landings, or of the Taj Mahal. But this wasn't about meeting a practical demand - it was about mankind showing off to the universe. And it worked.

    Advertisement - Page continues below
  8. Nissan Qashqai

    For inventing crossovers

    There was a much simpler time when a saloon was a saloon and a hatchback a hatchback. Then the Qashqai came along and suddenly everything borrowed a bit of everything else, and the global carscape changed forever. Probably for the better.

  9. Audi Quattro

    For bringing 4WD to rallying

    Before this thing came along, rally cars had been joyously swinging their arses around every corner until the rear wheels found enough grip to push onwards. Arses still swayed when four-wheel-drive arrived, just at much higher speeds...

    Advertisement - Page continues below
  10. Toyota Hilux

    For being indestructible

    Car manufacturers spend millions of pounds making sure their cars don't fall apart or break down. But all they really need is to take a good look at a Hilux, which is the toughest vehicle this side of a Chieftain.

  11. Tesla Model S

    For making electric cars good

    Before the Model S arrived you'd have to fill your battery-powered car with fresh electricity every three miles or so. What the world needed was a plug-in machine that could do a proper journey of, say, 250 miles or more. The S is that thing.

  12. Google Streetview Cars

    For mapping Planet Earth

    They've covered more than five million miles and collected over 20 petabytes of imagery. They've revolutionised route planning and helped us find some of the best roads in the world. And yet traditionalists say you can't beat a map. Nonsense.

  13. Jeep Cherokee

    For being the first proper SUV

    The SUV had existed as a loose concept since the Thirties - then there was the Ford Bronco - but the 1984 Cherokee was the first to really nail the recipe of off-road toughness, pooch-in-the-back practicality plus an important dose of leathery poshness.

  14. Austin Mini

    For being tiny and good

    Small cars were nothing new when the Mini came out, but none were as cleverly designed - think transversely mounted engine and front-wheel-drive for max cabin space - and none had the little Brit's charisma. And it won the Monte Carlo Rally...

  15. G-Wiz

    Because we must learn from our mistakes...

    While the Mini demonstrated all that was good about small cars, the G-Wiz did precisely the opposite. Ugly, poorly made and badly designed.

  16. Ford Mustang

    For bringing power to the people

    It bought style and performance to the people. In the first six months it became the fastest-selling car in history, and by 18 months over a million had been built. That was in 1964... and now, it's in the UK in right-hand-drive. Good.

  17. Lunar Rover

    For driving on the Moon

    It changed the world by leaving it on a rocket. Some 250,000 miles later it landed on the Moon aboard the Lunar Module - on three separate missions - and began exploring the surface, helping astronauts cover more miles and collect more rocks.

  18. Cooper T43

    For shaping modern F1

    When the T43 finished the 1958 Argentine GP - with Stirling Moss in charge - it became the first ever mid-engined car to win an F1 race. It might have had the physical presence of a housefly, but it was the inspiration for the cars we have today.

  19. Ford GT40

    For beating Ferrari with muscle

    After Enzo blocked a deal for Ford to buy Ferrari, Henry Ford II ordered his racing division to build a car that could destroy the Italians at Le Mans. In 1966 he got his wish, when three GT40s crossed the line in flying formation... in first, second and third.

  20. 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen

    For getting us off our horses

    It was little more than a carriage with three wheels and tiller. But it had an engine - a single-cylinder petrol - and its maker, Karl Benz, went on to run a fairly successful car company. If it weren't for his invention we wouldn't be making this list at all.

More from Top Gear

See more on Pioneers

Promoted Content

Subscribe to the Top Gear Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, you agree to receive news, promotions and offers by email from Top Gear and BBC Studios. Your information will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

BBC TopGear

Try BBC Top Gear Magazine

Get your first 5 issues for £5