The 2000's & 2010's were just better, weren't they?
Take a quick dive with me over the past 20 years of automotive history and read about why I think this was a truly golden era of cars.
Cars in the 2000's and 2010's were just a bit crazy weren't they really? I remember at the time thinking that there were some incredible things being produced by manufacturers, despite being fairly young myself. However looking back, you realise just how lucky we were back then.
This is of course the period where a BMW M5 came with a V10, Mercedes were making saloon cars with 6.2L naturally aspirated V8's and the 991 GT3 RS was released with a flat six engine producing 475hp and revving to 9,000rpm. That's a specific output of 125hp per litre, with no help from any method of forced induction.
In this article I want to pick out a few highlights from what I see as a true golden age of automotive history, and sadly one we are unlikely to see again in this form. Scroll down to the poll at the bottom to tell me what your choice would be!
The E46 BMW M3 - Image: BMW Press
So, the year 2000 rolls around and the E46 BMW M3 hits the road. Housing what I see as one of the best road car engines of all time, the S54 - otherwise described as a naturally aspirated 3.2L inline 6 revving to 8,000rpm and producing 343hp along with 269lb-ft of torque. I remember in years gone by thinking 269lb-ft of torque was, well, a bit on the low side. But of course that's not what this engine is about - it's about how the power is delivered. Featuring independent throttle bodies, double VANOS and an insane 11.5:1 compression ratio, the S54 is as close as you can get to a motorsport engine in a road car. Paired with a 6 speed manual gearbox and rear wheel drive, this had to be one of the best driving experiences around at the time. Yes, the SMG that many cars were optioned with wasn't the most charming of gearboxes, but my god does it give the car some character. There's a very good reason why E46 M3's are appreciating at a faster and faster rate, for simply people are beginning to realise we will never see an M3 like the E46, ever again.
The E61 BMW M5 Touring - Image: BMW Press
BMW weren't done with the E46 though, as 2004 came along, things just got even crazier. The E60/E61 BMW M5 may well be one of the best creations Munich has given us in recent times. Featuring the glorious 5.0 S85 naturally aspirated V10, producing 507hp and 384lb-ft of torque you will probably see how similar the characteristics of this engine are to that of the S54. With 10 independent throttle bodies, a compression ratio of 12.0:1 and a quasi dry sump, once again you now have a German luxury car with an engine that wouldn't be out of place competing at Spa. Unfortunately, if you were outside of the US, the E6X generation M5 only came with the SMG. Although improved on earlier versions of BMW's "sequential manual gearbox", it still maybe took away from that experience a bit. From everything I've heard though, the thump of the hydraulic actuators slamming the transmission into the next gearset at the 8,250rpm redline is hardly an underwhelming experience. These cars to me represent BMW M at their finest. Of course they stuck at it right through to the mid 2010's with the E90/E92 M3 as well as various revisions of the 2 aforementioned cars throughout the noughties. What a crazy, but downright glorious period it was.
The S85 5.0L V10 Engine - Image: BMW Press
It's certainly fair to say BMW weren't the only marque doing some crazy things back in the early 2000's. If I were to say "M156" would that ring any bells? Of course I'm referring to the 6.2L naturally aspirated V8 that featured in the W204 generation, C63 AMG. Released in 2008, it produced a frankly preposterous 457hp and 443lb-ft of torque sent direct to the rear wheels - this was in it's lowest state of tune too. Later revisions brought power figures as high as 517hp with 457lb-ft of torque. A truly outstanding piece of engineering that revved to the thick end of 7,000rpm. Mated with AMG's MCT, or "multi-clutch technology" transmission, it started to pave the way towards the much sharper and more responsive automatic transmissions we are used to seeing in road cars nowadays. In place of a traditional torque converter was a multi-plate wet clutch, which really helped to improve the shift times over a standard auto box. Even writing this now, I can still recall that classic sound of a W204 C63 upshifting. I was fairly young when these cars were released, but hearing their mighty V8's over the years has made this a car I've always lusted to own. Maybe now is the time do it.
The W204 Mercedes C63 AMG - Image: Pistonheads.com
Around the same time, we saw another piece of extraordinary engineering. This time it was in the form of the SL65 AMG of the R230 generation. Again this was actually launched in 2008, but was a totally different car to the C63, yet the ideology was the same. Stuff an enormously powerful engine into a luxury car, because why not? The M275 engine was a 6.0L twin-turbo V12 unit that pushed out 612hp and 737lb-ft of torque. Yes, you read that right, 737lb-ft. Remember though, this was the 2000's which means why would anyone put an AWD system in place to handle the power? Well, put simply, it wouldn't be fun would it. So yes, we have a mind boggling amount of torque all being thrown at the rear axle of a beautiful 2 seater GT, with a hard top roof that will drop down if you so wish. The Mercedes V12 always sounded particularly good to me. The way it growled at low RPM's literally made it intimidating to anyone within a 1/4 mile of the thing.
The R230 Mercedes SL65 AMG - Image: Carscoops.com
Ok so you might see a theme here, that's because I am a bit of a German "fan-boy" myself. So it's therefore only right we look at some Porsche's of the same era too. But I'm not going to jump to GT products just yet. I actually wanted to send some praise in the direction of a particular 911 I feel is starting to get the recognition it has always deserved - the 996. That's right, I said it. Ok ok, it may not be the best looking 911 of all time, and it even pre-dates the time period I set out above, but that's how important I think this car is now. It has always been the unloved 911, not least because it was the first water cooled version, but also down to it's looks. Personally I've never found the 996 to be a bad looking car, especially when you start looking at the C4S and the Turbo. However I actually think this is now one of the best value Porsche's you can buy. There's a ton of 996's in decent condition below £25,000 or probably even $25,000 if you're in the US. And for that you can grab yourself a beautiful 3.4L or 3.6L flat six engine with adequate power levels, rear wheel drive and a nice manual gearbox. The 996 had a few revisions in the 2000's and ultimately this is a great driver's car that I can only see appreciating more and more as the years go on.
The 996 Porsche 911 - Image: roadandtrack.com
We all know Porsche's GT products are and always have been special. There were so many in the 2000's and 2010's, it is almost too difficult to mention them all. From the 996 GT3, to the V10 powered Carrera GT, to the 997.2 GT3 RS 4.0 to the Cayman GT4. The list just goes on and on, as you might expect with such a driver focussed brand. Some of the standouts for me though are the cars fresher in my memory. These being the 981 Cayman GT4 and original 991 GT3. The 981 GT4 of course was Porsche's first "proper" GT-revised Cayman. Interestingly, the 3.8L flat six was borrowed from the 991 Carrera S and so wasn't an "all out" GT engine in the usual sense. It made 385hp and 310lb-ft of torque which are modest figures. But at 1,340kg, the GT4 was nice and light, so even with it's questionably long gear ratios, it still get's up and goes at a strong pace. That engine though, for me atleast, has to be one of the best sounding flat six engines from Porsche. I've never heard an engine as vocal as that.
The 981 Porsche Cayman GT4 - Image: Autocar.co.uk
Jumping back a couple of years to 2013, the 991 911 GT3 was released. From everything I've heard and seen over the years, the 991 GT3 is purportedly quite a jump up in terms of capability over the preceeding GT3's. But of course, it's main standout feature was that new flat six motor. In the original "standard" GT3 it was a 3.8L unit that made 475hp and 325lb-ft of torque. Thanks to forged pistons and titanium connecting rods, amongst other factors, these engines were able to rev to 9,000rpm. Truly astonishing when you think about all the things that need to be able to happen within an engine, even every second, for it to rotate and reciprocate at such frequencies. Above 8,000rpm you get that beautiful metallic sound, which I understand is actually the gas exchange within the cylinders as the engine expels hot exhaust gases and draws in fresh cold air. To have an engine like this in a road car really gives you a sense of how cutting edge this technology was, and actually still is. Attached to the superbly refined PDK transmission, the whole setup was everything Porsche should be. Capable, rewarding and refined. As time went on there were some very nice revisions to the line up too. Every GT3 eventually came with the 4.0L unit with power bumped up to 500hp. The 991.2 even brought a manual gearbox too, what a joy. I'm actually incredibly pleased to see the new 992 GT3 effectively retains the same engine - very much looking forward to hearing what that car is like.
The 991 Porsche 911 GT3 - Image: Press.Porsche.com
So that's it, a little dive back across the past 20 years or so to remind you of how good this period was for the automotive space. I'm not trying to throw shade over the modern automotive era here, but I think it's important to celebrate some of the all-time greats. Now as I have mentioned, I am rather into the German stuff myself, but I know there have been some great cars from other manufacturers in the same period too. Do drop a comment below on any standouts for you!
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