Home Cars Underrated American Cars From The 2000s That Might Become Classics
Cars

Underrated American Cars From The 2000s That Might Become Classics

Cameron EittreimDecember 31, 2021

The 2000s weren’t the best of times for American automakers. With an economic recession in 2008 and record-high fuel prices, the American car all but dried up. The domestic automakers were the first businesses in history bailed out by the taxpayers. In this period in the 2000s, all domestic automakers were trying to keep up with the immense popularity and surging momentum of the Japanese automakers. For example, you may remember how popular the Toyota Prius was around 2007-08. Toyota soared to new heights in popularity and Honda was right behind them.

But that’s not to say that the American automakers fell by the wayside as there were some success stories to be had. The revival of the Cadillac brand is one of the biggest success stories of the decade. There was also the birth of the V-Series performance division of Cadillac and the revival of the Chevrolet Camaro. We looked at some of the most underrated American cars of the 2000s. These are cars that you might remember not giving a second look at when they were new.

Photo Credit: Edmunds

20: Dodge Intrepid R/T

Why is the Dodge Intrepid R/T important? Because this was Mopar’s reentry into the NASCAR circuit. Dodge was once again a player in the motorsports world, and the Intrepid was the first car Chrysler used for this newfound debut in the 2000s. The Dodge Intrepid was also an important car for Chrysler in general as it cemented the automaker in the family sedan segment. Although the styling was debatable, the Intrepid was an important car for Dodge and the auto industry as a whole (via Car & Driver).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The introduction of “cab-forward” design was the start of the automotive industry moving away from the boxy designs of the 1980s. Cars were becoming the aerodynamic vehicles that we have today. None of it would have come to fruition without the forward-thinking move from Chrysler that jolted the industry into action. The Intrepid doesn’t get the credit it deserves, and the R/T was a special edition model that brought an attitude to the Dodge lineup.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

19: Dodge SRT-4

When “The Fast & The Furious” movie franchise hit movie theaters, there was a massive, sudden surge in automotive tuner culture and a plethora of automakers jumped on the train. Ford had the Focus SVT and Dodge had the SRT-4, a car based on the Dodge Neon economy car. But what made the SRT-4 a unique proposition was the styling and the turbocharged engine (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The SRT-4 had the kind of performance drivers usually had to pay thousands more to get wrapped up in an economy-priced package, complete with good looks. A standard subwoofer was included in the trunk of the car, and the wild exterior colors only added to the substance. The SRT-4 got its target demographic right from the start.

Photo Credit: Ford

18: Ford Focus SVT

Ford experimented with several budget-priced SVT models in the 1990s, and by the 2000s the formula was right for a new car. The styling of the SVT Focus was aggressive, but not too much to scare buyers away. Ford used the same hot hatch formula Volkswagen had used with the GTI for decades. They had an already proven recipe for success and it worked. The Focus SVT was a hit from the first day (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The Focus SVT was featured in numerous video games, publications, and automotive TV shows. With the relatively inexpensive price tag and the aggressive out-of-the-box performance, the Focus SVT was far better than you’d think. The car set the standard for what would become affordably priced fun to drive cars in that decade.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

17: Chevrolet Monte Carlo Intimidator SS

The Monte Carlo of the 2000s was a completely different car than the classic Monte Carlo of the past. Gone was the V8 engine, and in came a luxurious V6 sedan that was quite large. Sharing its platform with the Chevrolet Impala sedan, this Monte Carlo wasn’t known for being a performance car. The 3600 V6 engine was the standard GM power plant used across the board on various brands (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

But this generation of the Monte Carlo was also the car that GM used in partnership with NASCAR. With that being said, the Monte Carlo was also successful in the NASCAR circuit and GM did a partnership with Dale Earnhardt. The Intimidator SS was a special edition of the car with NASCAR badging, a leather interior, and a supercharged V6 engine. While it wasn’t the most groundbreaking performance car, it was cool, to say the least.

Photo Credit: Edmunds

16: Pontiac GTO

Perhaps the most underrated performance car to ever come out with a Pontiac badge, the final generation of the GTO didn’t last long. Enthusiasts and the automotive press were not impressed with the styling of the GTO. The car was based on a Holden model sold overseas and there wasn’t much done to differentiate the two. But the performance of this car was amazingly fast, with a modern LS series engine under the hood (via The Truth About Cars).

Photo Credit: Edmunds

The final years of the car were pushing 400 horsepower. While those numbers aren’t huge by today’s standards, back then this was a massive amount of horsepower. Because the GTO sold in such poor numbers, you’ll seldom see one on the road. But if you can find one, this is one of the most iconic cars from the early 2000s.

Cadillac CTS-V
Photo Credit: Auto Evolution

15: Cadillac CTS

Although the Escalade SUV is credited with putting Cadillac back on the map, it was the CTS sedan that captivated car shoppers. The sedan was unlike anything else on the market when it was released. Cadillac had finally moved away from its grandma cars of the past and introduced a modern, well-appointed sedan (via Motor 1).

Cadillac CTS
Photo Credit: Auto Evolution

The formula was an easy one for success and buyers snatched up the CTS left and right. Cadillac was quick to incorporate many standard features in the CTS to make it more appealing. The standard V6 engine was more than adequate to propel the little sedan with authority. The interior was also much higher quality than Cadillac sedans of yesteryear and the CTS has remained in the lineup to this day.

Photo Credit: Edmunds

14: Cadillac CTS-V

Naturally, if the CTS was a hot seller for Cadillac, it only made sense to release a special-edition model. The CTS-V had a Corvette-powered engine and a six-speed manual transmission, unlike any other Cadillac ever made. Needless to say, the CTS-V was a hit with car buyers and introduced an entirely new lineup to Cadillac traditionalists. There was a lot to like about the original CTS-V, and the performance was the main thing (via Road & Track).

Photo Credit: Edmunds

GM hasn’t been shy about sourcing the Corvette power plant into other models, and this happened with the CTS-V. The CTS-V was not only one of the most instrumental cars of the 2000s but also a sales success for GM. The V-Series brand has introduced a whole new segment of buyers into Cadillac showrooms.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

13: Mercury Cougar

The final hurrah for Mercury was the Cougar, a car completely redesigned to appeal to female car buyers. The look was unconventional when it comes to the Cougar line, which had traditionally been V8 powered and rear-wheel drive. The Cougar was designed to look more feminine than before. Which at the time was a revolutionary concept as Ford sought to brand the Mercury division.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The car didn’t sell well in this form but it was one of the more appealing two-doors from the early 2000s. The motor gave the car a decent amount of pep, and the interior was luxurious enough to make the ride comfortable. Given the car shared a platform with the Mustang, it also had some performance car origins.

2008-pontiac-grand-prix-photo-199089-s-original
Photo Credit: GM

12: Pontiac Grand Prix GXP

Perhaps one of the rarest cars from the 2000s is the Grand Prix GXP. In this trim, the seemingly modest Grand Prix came equipped with a V8 motor. This was a first for the Pontiac division and something that hadn’t been done since the 1980s. The car was otherwise unimpressive and sales weren’t the best. But those who truly follow the Pontiac brand knew what a wild ride the GXP was (via Car & Driver).

2004 Pontiac Grand Prix - 2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GXP Sedan
Photo Credit: Car Domain

The rarity of having a V8 engine under the hood in this generation of the Grand Prix was a novelty. There were many benefits to driving a Grand Prix GXP from this generation, as it was one of the few cars that could be legitimately called a sleeper. Overall, drivers’ appetite for the full-size American sedan was on the way out, so the GXP was especially rare.

Photo Credit: GM

11: Chevrolet Cobalt SS Turbo

Another interesting car from the 2000s was the Chevrolet Cobalt SS. When GM decided to retire the long-running Cavalier nameplate, the Cobalt was the successor. The car was better than the Cavalier in just about every way. Perhaps the most notable difference between the two was the addition of an SS model. Building on the appeal of cars like the Neon SRT-4, the Cobalt SS fed drivers’ appetites for cheap performance (via The Truth About Cars).

Photo Credit: GM

If the styling of the Cobalt SS looked familiar, it’s because the car shared its platform with the Saturn Ion. While the latter of those two cars was never very successful, the Cobalt SS did gain a loyal following. The build quality of the car was decent given the limitations of the platform and its price was affordable.

Photo Credit: Dodge

10: Dodge Magnum

Around 2004, Dodge was in transition as the Intrepid was being discontinued and the new Charger sedan wasn’t ready for production. A stop-gap was needed, and that was the Dodge Magnum station wagon. Powered by a Hemi V8, the car gained a loyal following right off the bat. Sales were not as impressive as you’d think because station wagons aren’t and weren’t popular (via The Truth About Cars).

Photo Credit: Dodge

The Magnum never reached the heights of popularity that it could have. That also means the Magnum is a sort of collector’s item and one drivers can enjoy for years to come. The bones of the car are still fairly modern. There’s a great aftermarket community and the styling of the car wasn’t bad in the eyes of several drivers either.

Photo Credit: Chrysler

9: Chrysler 300M

When drivers think of the words Chrysler and 300 together, they automatically think of the ever-popular 300C sedan. But before the 300C hit the market, there was the 300M, a sport sedan that is way underrated for what it was. The platform was notorious for birthing the cab forward automotive design that we have today. The styling of the 300M was attractive at a time when automakers were still working on finding their own way (via Edmunds).

Photo Credit: Chrysler

The special edition model featured a two-tone interior, special appointments, and an upmarket stereo system. Finding a special edition 300M is like finding a needle in a haystack. There aren’t many clean models left. These cars suffered from poor resale value, and were snapped up and resold by dealers.

Photo Credit: Chrysler

8: Chrysler PT Cruiser

For a short period, you would find these things everywhere. The iconic car was originally planned to revive Plymouth, but when Plymouth was shelved in 2001, the PT was released as a Chrysler. The styling was meant to invoke a retro theme coupled with modern versatility. The car wasn’t a spectacular feat in engineering but it was decent (via Consumer Reports).

Photo Credit: Chrysler

The unique design of the PT Cruiser allowed enthusiasts to customize theirs with ease. All of a sudden, there were dozens of PT Cruiser clubs popping up around the country. The car has an appeal that has lasted to this day. Between the iconic styling and the cheap price tag, you can’t go wrong with a PT Cruiser.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

7: Chevrolet SSR

For years there was talk of an El Camino revival, but unfortunately there was never enough market for that to happen. Nevertheless, GM brought back a nod to the El Camino, which featured much more power and styling. The SSR was a retro themed halo car released to much fanfare in 2003. The styling of the SSR is unlike anything else on the road, and has maintained that unique position to this day (via The Truth About Cars).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

With Corvette power under the hood, the SSR was anything but lightweight. It packed a punch on the track and was unique enough that enthusiasts snatched them up. The sales were never amazing, but the SSR lasted a long time. The high sticker price and limited versatility of the truck bed meant this was more of a show car than anything.

Photo Credit: GM

6: Chevrolet HHR

The HHR was a hot-rod inspired wagon that came a bit too late in the game. The styling was similar to the PT Cruiser but GM released the car far too deep into the trend. The HHR wasn’t popular because the basis for the car was lackluster at best. But the HHR did have some unique features such as being the only wagon on the market released as a panel van (via Car Fax).

Photo Credit: GM

The HHR did have a relatively successful run with delivery services, and the gas-efficient design made for a great addition to their fleets. There was also a limited edition HHR SS and an HHR SS panel van, both of which are rare and were some of the last retro-themed wagons to hit the market.

Photo Credit: GM

5: Saturn Ion Redline

The Saturn line was one of the most instrumental product lines for GM in the 1990s. But in the 2000s, the brand had become nothing more than a base for GM brands. The Ion Redline had a turbocharged engine and a unique third door for access into the backseat. The styling of the car was very street racer-themed with a large wing on the back (via Road & Track).

Photo Credit: GM

Sales of the Redline were initially hot, but cooled down as more competition came onto the market. Since Saturn was never thought of as a performance brand, the Redline was a bit of a departure. Nevertheless, the car was still instrumental in bringing another fun compact into the marketplace.

Photo Credit: Ford

4: Ford Flex

The Flex was another interesting car that made its way onto the market. With a wagon-like design, the Flex could seat seven passengers with ease. This was one of the first crossover vehicles to hit the market. The styling was unlike anything else seen in recent years. The Flex had a unique look, which was one of the primary selling features for the car (via Car & Driver).

Photo Credit: Ford

The interior was also much more luxurious than the Ford models that came before it. Domestic automakers had to start investing more in interior quality. The Flex did this in spades with a much more refined interior than before. Sales of the Flex seemed decent for the first couple years but started to fade shortly after.

Photo Credit: General Motors

3: Buick Rendezvous

Crossover SUVs are the norm nowadays, but back in 2003 this was a new concept. It was Buick that brought a popular crossover SUV into the mainstream. The Rendezvous was released to much fanfare, much of which was due to the marketing of Tiger Woods. The Rendezvous was popular and offered decent features for the price (via Repair Pal).

Photo Credit: General Motors

Perhaps the most notable thing was the car-like ride quality and luxury that was all throughout the car. Buick engineers did a great job of differentiating the Rendezvous from the rest of the cars in the Buick lineup. You can still find one of these for a great price and the quality was top-notch.

Photo Credit: GM

2: Pontiac Aztek

The Aztek was probably one of the biggest failures in automotive history. The SUV was heavily advertised during the hit TV show ‘Survivor,’ but the end result wasn’t decent sales numbers. Consumers praised the SUV for its unique features such as a built-in drink cooler and removable camper. But the styling and body cladding was too much for most people to get over (via Car & Driver).

Photo Credit: GM

The car has experienced a resurgence in popularity, as this type of crossover is popular these days. But Pontiac did all these innovations almost twenty years ago, making the Aztek a historic piece of automotive history. Had the Aztek been released today, it could have been tremendously popular.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

1: Chevrolet Aveo

The Aveo was the replacement for the Chevy Metro in the brands lineup, and it was released to heavy advertising. Based on the Daewoo Kalos, the car was notoriously cheap when it first hit the market. But as time went on, the model was refined and more features were added to increase sales.

Photo Credit: GM

The Aveo was the first American made compact car to introduce a higher level of quality. The 5-door hatchback was increasingly popular and sold in high numbers, so much so that GM discontinued the sedan toward the end of its life cycle. A mid-cycle refresh made the car even more attractive to look at.

Advertisement
Please wait 5 sec.