5 Cars That Perfectly Explain the Early 2000s

As far as at least one part of the world is concerned, the early 2000s actually never ended. But the automotive industry has other opinions, of course, as you will get to see from this short crash course of wheeled history.
5 cars of the early 2000s 7 photos
Photo: Honda, VW, Toyota, Cadillac, Pontiac
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Generally, we could punctuate the early 2000s with stuff like the September 11 attacks, which some people still believe were fake or internally orchestrated. Anyway, the period was also characterized by the explosion of reality TV – and today we can thank Kim Kardashian and others like her and her family plus friends for that. Broadly, the style was both bright and brash, with spiked or bleached blonde hair, crop tops, and chunky sneakers going very well. The fanny packs, not so much anymore – thankfully and mercifully.

Still, when people ask what life was like in the early 2000s, it would not be that hard to answer because it was not that different from today. We had fast and powerful (but not also reliable) cars, just like today, cell phones, and the internet. Of course, the cellular networks did not allow streaming, the phones had lots of buttons, and you could not store your music and video libraries on them (for the former you had ‘walkmans,’ for the latter you had DVD players and stacks of DVDs!). Oh, not to mention the appalling internet speeds!

Anyway, one should also remember the lax security at airports all around the world, or the fact that some cars that appeared back then can perfectly explain the period, as well. By the way, they are arranged in no particular order. So, let us get right on top of them, shall we?

Honda S2000 – That crazy open top with a bonkers engine

5 cars of the early 2000s
Photo: Honda
If Mazda’s MX-5 Miata is credited with reviving the love for nimble, affordable, comfy little roadsters, then the Honda S2000 may very well act as the ultimate purists’ roadster case. It was introduced as a 2000 model year with the usual front engine, long hood, and rear-wheel drive with a two-seat layout.

That was traditional for such a sports car. But what was going against the norm was the incredible 2.0-liter four-pot with 247 horsepower, which equates to more than 123 ponies per liter of displacement! It had an astonishing redline, perfect weight distribution, and a stick shift – plus gloriously simple looks, both before and after the mid-life facelift.

Volkswagen Golf R32 – The one that showed the world the DSG lifestyle
5 cars of the early 2000s
Photo: Volkswagen
During the early 2000s, the Volkswagen Golf was already an established name within the compact car household. Then in its fourth iteration, the normal Golf was starting to go after new sets of values compared to the MkI-III series, but Volkswagen was still willing to innovate in quirky directions.

For example, they put into production in 2002 the VW Golf R32, a hatchback sibling of the Audi TT with the same 3.2-liter VR6 engine that sent 238 horsepower to a 4Motion on-demand four-wheel drive system. And did so through something the world had never seen before – the first production-series dual-clutch gearbox, aka the now-iconic DSG. That was hot hatch history in the making!

Toyota Prius Liftback – Not the original, but still so much better and quirkier
5 cars of the early 2000s
Photo: Toyota
Sure, the origin of the eternal hybrid Japanese car dates as far back as 1997 when it was introduced in Japan, and to 2001 when it became known around the world. That was a significant moment in automotive history, of course.

But truth be told, the Prius actually rose to universal fame and acclaim starting with the second generation, when it got a complete redesign and switched the HEV lifestyle from a forgettable four-door sedan design to its trademark five-door liftback style.

Since then, the world has been changed forever, and now Toyota flaunts the same quirky styling in a ‘Hybrid Reborn’ package. To us, though, it’s the same – just with better HEV and PHEV powertrains and a modern sense of styling.

Cadillac CTS-V – That luxury car that could take your kids to the quarter-mile dragstrip

5 cars of the early 2000s
Photo: Cadillac
During the early 2000s, vehicles with a higher ground clearance were usually off-road SUVs and trucks, sports cars were all about speed and cornering, and luxury cars were as comfy and sublime as possible.

But General Motors allowed its Cadillac subsidiary the audacity to combine family-hauling traits with bonkers performance in a premium package. Yes, the CTS series was born, originally dressed up in sedan form (then also as a coupe and five-door station wagon) and the American parts would never be the same after the 2004 introduction of the CTS-V high-performance derivative.

They were so great at hauling the kids to and from the quarter-mile dragstrip that such crazy shenanigans still occur even in 2023…

Pontiac GTO – The swan song from a different continent

5 cars of the early 2000s
Photo: Pontiac
Although Pontiac was phased out almost 13 years ago, even today sometimes I still cannot believe that General Motors took such a poor decision. Just behold the GTO’s swan song, a boring car to look at but such a devil in sheep’s clothes.

Not a wolf, it is the true ‘devil’s work’ of a wonderful sports car. Sure, it was not entirely American, but its fifth generation (actually a rebadged third-gen Holden Monaro) had what it needed to succeed – great cornering skills and a feisty 5.7-liter LS1 or 6.0-liter LS2 V8 heart!
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About the author: Aurel Niculescu
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Aurel has aimed high all his life (literally, at 16 he was flying gliders all by himself) so in 2006 he switched careers and got hired as a writer at his favorite magazine. Since then, his work has been published both by print and online outlets, most recently right here, on autoevolution.
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