The 10 Most Influential Cars of the 1980s

From prescient supercars to sensible bulletproof sedans.

50 best cars

Making a list of the best cars of all time can be difficult. Designating any such list is a subjective process. So is interpreting the word "best" itself. Is the best car the best-performing track car? Is it the most engaging driver's car? The best car could also be the car that best read the market and foreshadowed where things were heading.

With this best cars list, we're looking for the most influential cars, the cars that mattered. These cars broadened ideas about what a car can mean and shaped what became the modern car market. Supercars and sports coupes deserve their recognition. But so do SUVs and trucks, which are now the default vehicles most people buy.

We restricted this list to cars that entered the market from 1970 onward for ease and modern relevance. Tracing technological developments back more than 50 years can get a bit tenuous, as undoubtedly influential as inventions the Model T's mass production process or the Volvo's three-point safety belt were to the modern automobile's development.

From prescient supercars to sensible bulletproof sedans, here are the ten best cars from the 1980s.

NOTE: We want to hear from you. Feel like we missed anything significant? Leave us a note in the Comments section below!

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The Best: Mercedes-Benz W124 (1985)
mercedes benz w124

The 1980s were a glorious time at Mercedes. They made a handful of cars, and they could afford to pour effort into building the ultimate midsize car, the W124. It was a sedan, a couple, a convertible, a limo and a wagon. It served as the basis for the legends like the AMG Hammer and the Porsche-built 500E. It ran with everything from underpowered four-pots to a 6.0-liter V8. And it was utterly un-killable, almost literally: These cars — especially the diesels — will be on the road until the government comes to take them away.

Original MSRP: $32,190

Toyota FJ60 (1980)
toyota fj60 car

The FJ60 represents the golden age of the Land Cruiser. It still kept the rugged, indestructibility, but it became more family-friendly, with features like legitimate rear seating that had access to heaters. And it hadn't blown up in size yet to the uber-lux Land Crusher it became. How long do FJ60s last? The answer, after 40 years, is that we still haven’t figured that out yet — they’re still going.

Original MSRP: $12,478

Audi Quattro (1983)
audi quattro

Audi spells "quattro all-wheel-drive" with a stylized lowercase, out of deference to the Quattro car that made it and the Audi brand famous. The Quattro’s combination of phenomenal power and all-wheel drive grip revolutionized rallying — and the sports car itself. Pre-Quattro we had the AMC Eagle. Post-Quattro we got cars like the RS-6 Avant.

Original MSRP: $80,000

Chrysler Minivan (1984)
chrysler minivan

Chrysler set out to build a more powerful, safer and more practical version of the VW Bus and ended up revolutionizing the suburban family car and commenced the station wagon’s slow, agonizing death. Seating for 7, a low, flat load floor, and novel features like cupholders — seemingly every kid from the 1980s spent time in the back of one of these, enjoying these features.

Original MSRP: $8,280

Jeep Cherokee XJ (1984)
cherokee xj

The XJ Cherokee made the SUV far more accessible, switching to a unibody architecture, shedding more than 1,000 pounds from the previous generation and providing halfway reasonable on-road driving dynamics. It (and its eventual imitators) paved the way for the SUV to be the modern default family car. And it was a rock-solid design that stayed in production — with slight updates — until 2001.

Original MSRP: $5,100

BMW E30 M3 (1986)
bmw e30

A homologation production special to let BMW race touring cars led to one of the greatest driver’s cars — and perhaps BMW’s best car — ever. A 5-speed manual and a naturally aspirated four-pot that delivered exceptional power for its weight set BMW down its path of producing sensible, work-going sedans that just happen to be able to kick ass.

Original MSRP: $34,495

Porsche 959 (1986)
porsche 959

Porsche’s vision of the future sports car was the 959. The future wasn’t a 6-speed manual geared to let the car pass noise tests. But with a small twin-turbocharged, water-cooled flat-six, all-wheel drive and an adjustable suspension, Porsche saw where the supercar — and the 911 Turbo — ended up going. Also, 3.6 seconds from 0-60 mph in 1986 was just absurd.

Original MSRP: $225,000

Ferrari F40 (1987)
ferrari f40 1987

The F40 was the last Ferrari that Enzo Ferrari commissioned to celebrate 40 years of Ferrari road cars. And it may be the best — and best sounding — of the bunch. The F40 was ferocious by the standards of the time — the first production car to hit 200 mph, allegedly. It also featured renowned quirks like having to lift up the entire front and rear body panels to access the frunk and the engine.

Original MSRP: $400,000

Mazda MX-5 Miata NA (1989)
mazda mx 5 miata na 1989

The first MX-5 Miata proved Mazda’s point — you don’t need to spend a lot or put up with endless pains to have a fun, wantonly impractical sports car. Rear-wheel drive, manual transmission, supreme road feel, just that little bit of comfort to make the suspension tolerable: It’s a simple formula that keeps the car going strong 30-plus years later.

Original MSRP: $13,800

Lexus LS 400 (1989)
lexus ls 400

Toyota came after the luxury sedan-expert Germans with their first Lexus-branded vehicle, the LS400. They did not miss. The LS 400 raised the bar on refinement and quietness. It was more efficient. It beat its rivals on price. And it sacrificed none of its Toyota durability. It’s as cockroach-like as any Camry.

Original MSRP: $35,000

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