If you’d have said to any self-respecting petrolhead 15 years ago that Porsche – purveyor of rear-engined sports cars for purists – would be making a high-riding, 4WD SUV that can actually handle an off-road course (but definitely not a river) they’d have slapped you across the face and said: not in a million years. But here it is, Porsche’s most popular model with 580,000 Cayennes sold since its launch in 2002.
15 years ago, cars were comparatively simple and easy to recognise. Now, car makers strive to re-write the rule book with new niches and seemingly ‘off-brand’ vehicles. Here are 10 cars that nobody could have guessed would exist today…
1. Tesla Model S
Back in 2000, the closest thing we had to a useable electric vehicle was the Toyota Rav4 EV, a car that had a top speed of 78mph and a range of 95 miles in perfect conditions. Nowadays, the Tesla Model S reigns supreme with tech fans, superstars and wealthy families. It’s useable, practical, good looking, seats up to seven people and has a maximum range of 285 miles.
If power’s your thing, then Tesla’s herculean 691hp Model S P85D could be right up your street; it’s faster than a Ferrari and will even keep pace with an Aventador!
2. Porsche Cayenne
3. BMW 2-series Active Tourer
There are four strikingly obvious things that would have seemed BMW sacrilege to anyone from the early noughties. First, there’s the 2-series Active Tourer’s soft C-segment design which does well to blend in with the other petrol and diesel-powered road furniture. Then, there’s the car’s name – 2-series? You’ve got to be kidding me. Active Tourer? Since when was touring not active?
The two biggest impossibilities with this car, however, are the fact that the 218i engine is actually a three-cylinder, 1.5-litre unit and that the 2-series Active Tourer is a front-wheel drive.
4. Land Rover Defender
The Land Rover Defender (previously known as the Ninety, One Ten and 127 before the introduction of the Discovery required the blunt-faced 4×4 to be given a propername) has been in service since 1983. Developed from the original 1948 Land Rover Series, very little has changed. The design is the same – more or less – as is the model’s go-anywhere ethos, no matter how many pollutants are emitted from the old diesel engines.
In an age of EVs, hypercars and quadracycles, then, it’s amazing that UK Government didn’t ban this rugged brute years ago.
5. Seat Leon Cupra 280
Who’d have thought 15 years ago that a FWD hatchback would be able to handle 276bhp – with thanks to a trick limited-slip differential – through the front wheels? Who’d also have believed that a Seat Leon with exactly that amount of power wouldlap the Nurburgring in under eight minutes?
6. Mini Countryman
Between 1959 and 2000, the humble Mini was a small and economical car that was easy to drive and instantly recognisable. When BMW bought Mini, things changed. The Mini (One) grew in size and popularity and quickly became the go-to car for fashion-conscious buyers who appreciated the BMW connection.
Nobody, in their wildest dreams, could have thought that the Mini line-up would eventually include the Countryman, a high-riding SUV with optional AWD and elephantine characteristics. But here it is anyway.
7. Renault Twizy
While everyone knew that electric vehicles were coming, nobody could have guessed that they’d look anything like this. The radical Renault Twizy is a complete anomaly nowadays; it’s narrow, seats only two people and doesn’t even come with doors as standard. Had you shown this design to a 15-year-old me in 2000, I’d have laughed and told you to keep taking the pills.
The Twizy is actually classed as a quadricycle and is Britain’s most affordable EV. It’s got a top speed of 50mph and a range of 35 miles in real-world driving.
8. BMW i8
This list wouldn’t be complete without the i8. Forgetting the fact that BMW’s new sports car has a penchant for gobbling 911s (look at the rear-end), the model perfectly epitomises what we’ll see a lot more of in years to come.
Not only is it powered by electric motors (these drive the front wheels), it also spins its rear wheels thanks to a small 1.5-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine. The passenger compartment is made of carbonfibre, and it’s capable of up to 134mpg and emits only 49g/km CO2. That’s not bad for a stunning car that will also hit 62mph from standing in just 4.4 seconds.
9. Ferrari FF
While it would be easy to mention hypercars like the LaFerrari, McLaren P1 et al, we already knew that they would come eventually (although the hybrid aspect of both would have been a surprise to most).
What we couldn’t have guessed at, was that Ferrari would also offer a four-seater, shooting-brake grand tourer with four-wheel drive and a front-mounted 651bhp V12. This is the first time that the prancing horse has made such a production car (there was an AWD Ferrari concept in 1987 called the 408 Integrale, of which only two were made), and is Ferrari’s most versatile model, capable of driving on snow when required or simply doing what a Ferrari does best: going fast.
Thanks to that 6.2-litre V12 engine, the FF is good for 62mph in 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 208mph.
10. BAC Mono
Founded in 2009 by brothers Neill and Ian Briggs in Cheshire, Britain, Briggs Automotive Company (BAC) has seen rapid and well-deserved success with its race car for the road, the Mono.
The concept is a simple one: build one car with ‘purity of design, innovative engineering, zero compromise and ultra-high performance.’ The Mono (named after its central seating position) is powered by a 2.3-litre, four-cylinder Cosworth engine with 280bhp and 206lb ft torque and has been an instant hit with the motoring press, racing drivers and owners.
The reason for the Mono’s place in this list isn’t because of the car itself, rather the fact that a British-born small car maker like BAC has risen from nothing into a brand that everyone who’s worth his or her weight in salt knows. We regularly see start-up companies hit the headlines with bold claims of power, performance and dynamics, but 99 times out of 100, they’re never heard of again.