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Top 10: German cars

Updated: Jan 31, 2021

Speed and style in some very desirable packages

Germany is seemingly unrivalled in its production of high-end cars, and this reputation is surely well-deserved. There is plenty to be said for the elegance of marques such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen, all of which have produced some real gems over the past century. Here’s a round-up of the ten best…

1. BMW 8-Series (E31 generation)

Photo courtesy of the author

A full-sized grand tourer designed to rival Ferrari, the original 8-Series made a serious splash upon its debut at the 1989 Frankfurt Motor Show.

With that long, sharp front end and impressive wide-body styling, the 8-Series didn’t just look the business: it offered a line up of powerful engines to ensure it wasn’t all show and no go, the cream of the crop being the 5.6-litre V12 850 CSi that threw this 1.8 tonne monster from 0-60 mph in under six seconds.

2. Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG (W220 generation)

Photo: Jagvar, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Sleek, low-slung, and oh-so-very long, the W220 generation S-Class was a breath of fresh air after several years of the boxy, yet imposing W140 that came before it. Launched in 1998, the W220 demonstrated many of the key visual elements that would carry through the Mercedes range in the new millennium: sharp triangular tail lights, Venn diagram-shaped headlights, and a heavyset rear end.

The apex of this generation of S-Class was the incredibly exclusive S65 AMG. Between 2005-06, just 630 units were produced for the entire global market. Its 6.0-litre biturbo V12 engine could produce enough power to propel this 2.2-tonne limo from 0-60 in just four seconds, making it an icon of high-performance luxury.

3. Mercedes-Benz SL (R129 generation)

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From 1989 to 2001, the R129 generation of Mercedes SL was the premium choice for speedy convertibles.

Featured in some of the biggest Hollywood productions of the era, including Death Becomes Her and Liar Liar, the R129 reached a new level of fame in December 1991 thanks to one very special customer: the Princess of Wales. Her burgundy 500 SL became the first non-British vehicle to ever be driven by a member of the royal family, and it raised quite the storm of controversy. Diana’s decision not to buy British was derided as “at best insensitive and at worst deeply unpatriotic,” so she returned the car to Mercedes-Benz in September 1992. It now lives on as a centrepiece of the Galerie der Namen (Gallery of Names) in the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart.

4. BMW 5-Series (E28 generation)

BMW 5 Series (E28). Photo: Jeremy from Sydney, Australia, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The 5-Series has always been BMW’s product to afford all things to all people. Luxurious, roomy and still undoubtedly flash, this car has long been held in high esteem.

Manufactured between 1981 and 1988, the E28 was nimble and sharp-angled. It was also the first generation of 5-Series to receive the ‘M’ enhancement that has since been applied to every future generation of the model – and thereafter became the fastest saloon in the world at time. It is also the rarest four-door ‘M’ car ever, with just 2,241 units produced in its four-year lifespan.

The car’s starring role in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, where a stunning olive-green ‘86 M5 is thrashed around Paris and pursued by baddies on motorbikes, gave it a whole new lease of life with a fresher generation in 2018.

5. BMW 5-Series (E34 generation)

BMW 5 Series (E34). Photo: OSX, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Yes, a two-for-one deal here, but with good reason. The succeeding E34 5-Series manufactured between ’88 and ’96 was a huge leap forward for the model, enjoying its reputation as a modern classic, with the M5 even featuring some highly collectable 5-spoke “throwing star” alloy wheels which really set it apart from anything else on the road.

6. VW Touareg (1st generation)

Photo: Vauxford, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Produced between 2002 and 2007, the first-gen Volkswagen Touareg borrowed many design cues from the marque’s Phaeton luxury saloon, released around the same time.

This unassuming addition to the high-price 4x4 market was a sensible option, with typically bulletproof VW build quality to be found in that plush interior, and a few splashes of chrome on the outside to remind you of its high cost.

It was even used in an especially dangerous car chase in The Bourne Ultimatum, which should more than convince you of this car’s dependable robustness.

7. Audi S8 (D3 generation)

Photo: Anton V., CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Most famous for its appearance as the hero vehicle of the later Transporter films, the second-generation Audi S8 is noteworthy for its distinctly Italian engine. Courtesy of their purchase of Lamborghini in the late ‘90s, Audi decided to fit their enormous luxury saloon with the 5.2-litre V10 also found in the Gallardo supercar.

For its onscreen role in the Transporter franchise, the S8 W12’s impressive 6.0-litre engine ensures the S8 deserved its place as one of the defining getaway vehicles of the silver screen.

8. Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL 6.9

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In many ways the spiritual forerunner of the S65 AMG, this gentleman’s cruise missile kept a powerhouse of an engine under wraps beneath its flat, broad bonnet.

Wide, gracefully proportioned and yet unquestionably authoritative, the 450 SEL stood out among the very best on offer from the US and Europe. With its huge front grille and slatted tail lights, this generation of S-Class is keenly remembered as a style icon of its time.

Despite measuring over 17 feet long, the executive thunderbolt could hit 60 mph in seven seconds and fly to a top speed of 133 mph - which might not seem like much today but was nothing short of revolutionary in 1977.

9. Porsche Carrera (993 generation)

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Considered as the last of the ‘true’ Porsche 911s in terms of design, the 993 generation Carrera is a beauty to behold.

It was also the last of the Carreras to be fitted with an air-cooled variant of the traditional 3.6-litre flat-six engine, which is a must for diehard 911 aficionados.

The interior was also a marked step up in quality from the rather spartan 964 of the 1980s, and this newer generation was fitted with multilink rear suspension that corrected many of the handling “jitters” which had terrorised previous Porsche owners. Timeless design and brilliant day-to-day practicality, the 993 Carrera really was the everyday supercar.

10. Mercedes-Benz SL “Pagoda”

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The W113 generation of the Mercedes SL is best known for its “Pagoda” roof, a high, flat top that gave the car enormous windows and flooded the cabin with light.

A car as well-regarded for its timeless lines as its celebrity owners, stars including John Lennon, Kate Moss and John Travolta have all had their hands on the Pagoda SL’s enormous square-framed steering wheel.

During its eight-year production from 1963-1971, the little 2.3- and 2.8-litre Mercedes was twice as expensive as the range-topping British alternative, the 4.2-litre Jaguar E-Type.

This premium-value sticker price is still a quality of the Pagoda today, with examples in good condition easily capable of punching a £60,000 hole in your pocket – and then skyrocketing to well beyond £130k for fully restored vehicles.

High style comes at a high cost, and the Pagoda sets an impressive benchmark.


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