Many people have different opinions on the Golden Age of the automobile. Some will claim the ’50s, when cars were the size of aircraft carriers, had fins like a megaladon and enough chrome to make rappers blush. Other seem to think it was the ’60s and ’70s when muscle cars reigned supreme. However, one can make an argument that we’re living in the golden age of cars right now.
At the moment, we have hot hatchbacks that get over 30mpg, cost under $25,000 and are faster than the muscle cars of the ’60s, all while being able to seat five comfortable and still have room for luggage, such as the VW GTI. We also have electric cars with carbon fiber monocoques for less than fifty grand, like the BMW i3. In the ’60s, the average Ferrari could do 0-60 mph in around eight seconds. Now they’re in the low threes and the LaFerrari is in the high twos. Cars are also much safer now, and more reliable with more creature comforts.
But it’s the technology that’s changing in cars, at the moment, that makes this such a pivotal and important time in automotive history. Cars are becoming more technologically advanced than we could have ever dreamed of before, and it’s happening at an alarming rate. It was just a couple of years ago that the Toyota Prius was the future with its hybrid technology, now the Prius is yesterday’s news.
But which cars are making the biggest impacts, which are the cars that push the automobile forward the most? Let’s take a look at the five most innovative automobiles currently on sale.
5. Toyota Prius
I know I said it was yesterday’s news and it actually hurts mean, both mentally and physically, to put a Prius on any list that’s positive, but even I can’t deny how good of a showcase for hybrid technology it is. With multiple options to choose from, which include the mini Prius C, the van-like Prius V and the Prius Plug-In, the Prius is the poster child for hybrid tech. Us enthusiasts hate it because it has the charisma and driving enjoyment of a Sunbeam Toaster. But to the rest of the world, the Prius is a beacon of polar bear-saving light. It can regularly get over 50 mpg, will never die and starts at $25,000, so it’s affordable to the masses. While not a techno-fest, the Prius usually sets the bar for hybrid efficiency.
4. Chevy Volt
Despite the harsh words I’ve said about the Volt in the past, it is quite a good little plug-in hybrid. It’s also one of the most affordable and offers fantastic mileage. Volt’s can easily get 40 mpg when the gas engine kicks in to recharge the batteries. That’s on top of the 38 mile range of pure electricity alone. That’s not bad for a plug-in that starts at $35,000 before incentives. The Volt, admittedly, is starting to show its age, but it’s still one of the better plug-in hybrids out there. The Vauxhall version, the Ampera, even one European Car Of The Year in 2012. So the Volt is a good car, just maybe a bit dull.
3. BMW i3
The distance between 4th and 3rd place is vast. Very vast. The i3 is in a different league altogether than cars like the Volt and Prius. Given that it doesn’t cost all that much more than the Volt makes it even better. The i3 is a technological masterpiece. With it’s extensive use of CFRP and composites, the i3 is able to go further, last longer and go faster, all while being far more fun to drive, than almost any other hybrid or EV. The i3 packs an 80 mile range of pure electric power (the gasoline range extender option adds another 60-80 miles) and the ability to hit 60 mph from a standstill in 7.8 seconds. It’s simply staggering to drive. It’s one-pedal driving is truly something to experience. But what impresses the most is how the car feels. It manages to give you familiar sensations as well as new ones. It feels like the future, yet utterly accessible. The i3 is not only one of the most innovative cars on sale, but of all time.
2. Tesla Model S
While the i3 is a bit more interesting, because of its genius lightweight construction, the Model S’ blend of next-gen technology and current-gen feel is quite an achievement. The Model S is able to be such an impressive technological achievement, yet have the feel, convenience and range of a normal luxury car. It also has a further range than any other EV, and it’s faster. The Model S has a range between 208 and 265 miles, depending on which battery you get, and can rocket to 60 mph in under 6 seconds (3.2 for the dual motor). That’s supercar fast. It’s still very heavy (4,647 lbs) and that needs to change in the future, but as it stands it’s one of the few cars leading the charge towards a new future.
1. BMW i8
The BMW i8 is simply a masterpiece and there’s no two ways about it. Using the same CFRP construction as the i3, the i8 weighs only 3,394 lbs. That’s over 1,000 lbs less than the Model S. That’s the equivalent of putting a BMW motorcycle and its driver in the trunk of the i8. Not only is it light, but it’s fast. The i8 can nail 60 mph from a standstill in 3.6 seconds, 100 mph in 9.0 and do a standing quarter mile in 12.1, or faster than a BMW M4. It also gets a combined 76 mpg.
The i8 is able to do that thanks to the mid-mounted, 1.5 liter, turbocharged three-cylinder engine, mated to an electric motor which sends 228 hp to the rear wheels. It also utilizes a front-mounted electric motor which powers the front wheels with 129 hp. These two powertrains are not connected and there are no driveshafts connecting the axles to make it all-wheel drive. The i8’s many computers figure it all out on its own. It’s that sheer magnitude of technology that makes the i8 the most innovative car on sale and quite possibly the most incredible one too.