Innovators like Nikolaus Otto and Karl Benz, who invented the internal combustion engine and the first car, respectively, come from Germany. The country continued with engineering brilliance throughout the years, giving us some of the best vehicles ever.
In their long automotive history, the Germans produced countless classics and models that will be remembered forever. Even today, the country is still known for its innovation – a German engineer probably invented most of the things in your car at some point in time. To celebrate their automotive history, we will give you our list of the coolest German cars ever made.
Benz Patent Motorwagen
There is no better model to start this article than the Benz Patent Motorwagen. Why? It’s simple – this is the first passenger car in the world, produced in 1886. If it weren’t for the Motorwagen, we probably would’ve waited a tad longer for motor vehicles to become the norm.
The car was designed and patented by Karl Benz, who later joined forces with Gottlieb Daimler and created Mercedes-Benz. The Patent-Motorwagen had a 1-cylinder four-stroke engine with a capacity of 1.0-liter and less than one horsepower. The vehicle could transport two people and had a steel tubing frame that was very advanced for the time.
The Patent-Motorwagen might have started everything, but it’s the Beetle that popularized cars for the masses. Initially developed in Nazi Germany by Ferdinand Porsche, the Beetle was a car designed for the people. When Volkswagen launched it, it was by far the most affordable car on the market.
The Beetle was simple mechanically, yet supremely reliable. After WWII, the Beetle continued to rise in popularity. Interestingly, at that time, the Beetle was the car of choice for the counter-culture – hippies loved it. Thanks to its popularity, Volkswagen continued to produce the Beetle in Mexico until 2003. The Beetle is one of the best-selling cars of all time, with 21,529,464 models produced overall.
The 356 is the first Porsche ever made and definitely the most significant one. Even at the time, the 356 was unique with its rear-engine layout, which Porsche uses to this day on its 911 models. The small coupe started with a 1.1-liter four-cylinder engine that barely produced 40 horsepower.
Porsche offered more powerful 1.3-liter, 1.5-liter, and 1.6-liter engines later, but even with those additions, the vehicle was never considered very fast. That said, the light-weight body and short wheelbase gave the car agile handling and fun-to-drive character that few cars of that era could achieve. The 356 was available in coupe and speedster body styles and reached a production number of 76,313.
The Mercedes-Benz SSK roadster was one of the most sought-after supercars of its era. When the company launched it in 1928, the SSK was one of the most powerful cars on the road. The straight-six engine had an enormous capacity of 7.1-liters and an additional supercharger for around 300 horsepower and over 500 lb.ft of torque.
The car was designed by Ferdinand Porsche (of course) and went on to win numerous races. That said, Mercedes-Benz produced only 40 samples fo the car, but only five are alive today. If you want to have one of these masterpieces, be prepared to shell out over $7.4 million – that’s the price an SSK from 1929 achieved at a Bonhams auction in Chichester.
Porsche 550 Spyder
When Porsche decided to enter racing with its cars, they knew that the rear-engine configuration of the Beetle and 356 wouldn’t work. To make their racing car more agile, they moved the engine in front of the back axle, creating one of the best-handling cars of the era. That didn’t help save James Dean, though, who tragically died in a crash with his 550 Spyder.
The Porsche 550 Spyder had a 1.5-liter flat-four engine with 108 hp and 4-speed or 5-speed manual transmission, which was very advanced for the time. The car weighed only 1200 lbs (550 kg), which helped with performance. Porsche produced only 90 550s from 1953 to 1956.
Auto Union Type D
The Auto Union Type D not only looks like a bullet – it drives like one. Easily one of the craziest cars ever made, the Type D had a V12 engine up front that achieved over 550 horsepower. In 1938, when this car was introduced, that much power was science fiction.
Only a few drivers could manage to drive the Type D properly. Due to the outstandingly high torque from the engine and narrow tires, the car induced oversteer even at the slightest touch of the gas pedal. According to information from that era, the car could spin its wheels at 100 mph – that’s how bonkers it was. Sadly, only five examples are alive today.
The Beetle was a trendy car in the ’50s, but it’s the Karmann-Ghia that demanded attention wherever it arrived. The vehicle is entirely based on a Volkswagen Beetle – it even borrows the RR layout (rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive) and the puny little flat engines.
In other words, the Karmann-Ghia isn’t a performance machine by any stretch of the imagination. However, the bodywork is a real work of art. Volkswagen designed the car in collaboration with Karmann to produce shapes that were deemed impossible at the time. Every Karmann-Ghia is entirely hand-made, which certainly adds value.
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing
The 300 SL Gullwing is easily one of the most beautiful cars ever. The butterfly Gullwing doors are perhaps the best-known feature of the vehicle, paving the way for the modern supercar as we know it. However, like most German cars, the car was known for its technological advancements and achievements.
Apart from the eye-catching doors, the 300 SL Gullwing is known for the first fuel-injected engine in the world. The 3.0-liter straight-six provides 220 horsepower to the rear wheels via a 4-speed manual transmission. That was enough to propel the car to 163 mph – not too shabby for a 1954 car.
The BMW 507 was an answer to the supremely popular Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing. BMW launched the car in 1956 to much fanfare, but only managed to produce 252 units and lose money on every single one. That’s a shame because the 507 is arguably the best-looking BMW of all time – just look at that fluid bodywork!
In the front, the 507 has a 3.2-liter V8 engine that develops 150 horsepower. Today, that’s less than a mid-size sedan, but BMW’s roadster only weighed 2,930 lbs, which made it pretty fast for the time. Well, fast enough for Elvis Presley to buy two 507’s!
Volkswagen Type 2 Microbus
The photo above perfectly describes the Microbus Type 2 as a do-everything type or vehicle. The car started as a cheap and reliable commercial vehicle – it was based on the Beetle (duh). However, its design opened the way for countless modifications, especially the passenger models.
Soon after Volkswagen introduced the car, it became a cultural icon. The hippie movement was partly responsible for that – they found the Microbus useful for camping with friends. The van is so resilient that people still drive it today and live the “hippie” life. The Microbus Type 2 spawned another five generations – you can buy a new one today. However, it’s the first one that still captures the spirit of people around the world.
Today, BMW is known for producing performance-oriented cars that appeal to enthusiasts, but the company started with something entirely different. The Isetta is the strangest car on this list, for sure. First of all, at 7.5 feet long, the Isetta is tiny. Furthermore, the designers couldn’t manage to put doors on the side and put one in the front.
But, why would anyone want such a car? Fuel consumption, of course. The Isetta had a 236 cc two-stroke motorcycle engine that developed 9.5 horsepower and achieved 70 mpg – record-breaking for 1955. That said, it is also very slow as going 0-31 mph takes over 30 seconds!
BMW 2002 Turbo
The BMW 2002 Turbo is a car that predates the modern M3 sedans and coupes. The model is also significant for being BMW’s first turbocharged car, paving the way for the company’s modern forced-induction engines. The 2002 Turbo has a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that develops 170 horsepower and 178 lb-ft. Not bad for a 1973 coupe!
More importantly, the 2002 Turbo was developed to be great in the corners, too. The engine sent the power to the rear wheels via a 4-speed manual transmission and then to a limited-slip differential. The low weight of 2,282 lb (1035 kg) further aided the dynamics of the car, making it one of the best-handling machines of its era.
Ever since Porsche introduced the 911 in 1964, the car has been iconic. The most exciting thing about the vehicle is the “wrong” layout – the engine is behind the rear wheels. However, that alone made the 911 even more desirable for enthusiasts around the world.
The 911 is produced to this day without significant modifications to the layout or design. And despite that, it is still one of the most popular sports cars on the planet today. The model spawned twelve generations, all of which share a flat engine in the back. That said, Porsche produced multiple variations and played with turbo’s and all-wheel-drive throughout the years to make it even faster and better in the corners.
Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman
The picture above perfectly defines the Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman as a car for the VIP. Thanks to the opulent interior, high-tech features, and unrivaled luxury, the German limousine was the vehicle of choice for presidents and kings. When Mercedes-Benz introduced the 600, they marketed it as an ultra-luxury car, and they were not far from the truth.
The 6.3-liter V8 engine was super-smooth and quiet, delivering 300 horsepower. The air suspension (later replaced with a hydraulic one) was super-smooth over bumps while the interior was enormous. Furthermore, the 600 has a hydraulic system that borrows 50 horsepower from the engine to power the windows, seats, sunroof, boot lid, and the doors. Thanks to that, every single item operated quietly and quickly, which is still better than most modern luxury cars.
The story of the Opel GT is pretty interesting. The company tried to copy the success of the Corvette into a smaller and lighter body. The GT was not as powerful – the 1.9-liter engine only developed 102 horsepower. However, the GT wasn’t about outright power – it was about giving the driver a big smile. And it succeeded in doing that – the chassis was very agile.
The best thing about the GT, though, is the design. The car looks cool to this day – the fluid lines and low roof give it a decidedly sporty appearance. The headlights are perhaps the most exciting feature – instead of a pop-up design, they rotate to reveal themselves.
Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk1
In 1975, Volkswagen gave us the first fun-to-drive hatchback, the Golf GTI Mk1. The significant thing about the GTI is that it combines a front-wheel-drive layout with a powerful engine, which was new at the time. Also, the sporty version remained as practical as the standard one, which gave it family credentials.
The first GTI was equipped with a 1.6-liter naturally-aspirated engine with 108 horsepower and weighed only 1,786 lb (810 kg). Thanks to the low weight, the 0-62 time was only 9.2 seconds – excellent for the era. Later, Volkswagen upgraded the engine to 1.8-liters and 110 horsepower. The Golf GTI Mk1 spawned another six generations of the model, all very popular with buyers, especially in Europe.
The Scirocco is a car that shares many of the parts with the Golf Mk1. However, Volkswagen gave the car a more sporty design to replace the Karmann-Ghia. Scirocco borrowed most of the engine from the Golf as well, which means that it wasn’t particularly fast.
However, the Scirocco wasn’t about speed – it was about style. The body was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, who is one of the best car designers of all time. The body was also lower and wider than the Golf, which gave the Scirocco a sportier appearance. Volkswagen followed this recipe with the second- and -third-gen Scirocco’s, both of which are equally as popular as the first-gen model.
What the Golf GTI Mk1 is for Volkswagen, the Quattro is for Audi. It launched Audi as a brand that can compete with BMW and Mercedes-Benz in terms of performance. And it certainly succeeded. Thanks to the Quattro all-wheel-drive system, the angry-looking coupe destroyed its competition on every rally course, especially in the notorious Group B racing.
The road version of the Audi Quattro was as famous as the rally-racing one. In the front, the car had an inline-5 engine with a turbocharger. The first 2.1-liter version had 200 horsepower, but later models had a 2.2-liter engine with 220 horsepower. All models came with a standard Quattro all-wheel-drive system that ensured excellent stability throughout the corners.
Volkswagen Golf R
For people that the Golf GTI is not fast enough for, Volkswagen has the Golf R. Today, this is the most powerful version of the popular hatchback. It uses the same 2.0-liter turbocharged engine as the GTI but tuned to 300 horsepower. The Golf R also has a Haldex 4MOTION four-wheel-drive system to cope with all the power and give the driver sure-footed handling.
The performance numbers of the Golf R are ludicrous, to say the least. The sprint to 62 mph takes only 4.9 seconds with the F1-like DSG gearbox, while the top speed is limited to 155 mph. Only ten years ago, that was supercar territory!
The Audi RS3 is closely related to the Golf R – it sits on the same platform. However, being a premium company, Audi massaged the car to extract even more performance from it. The result is decidedly bonkers. The 2.5-liter TFSI engine develops neck-crashing 394 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque, more than some supercars.
Like every Audi performance model, the RS3 comes with a standard Quattro all-wheel-drive system for better traction. The result of that combination is absolutely astonishing – the RS3 takes only 3.9 seconds to reach 60 mph! And all of that comes packaged in a practical and roomy family hatchback. Wow!
Mercedes-AMG A45 S
If you thought that the RS3 is crazy, you’re in for a treat. Mercedes’s take on the hot hatch has a newly developed 4MATIC+ all-wheel-drive system that can control torque on each wheel in the back. More importantly, though, the 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four produces 416 horsepower!
According to Mercedes-Benz, the 0-60 mph time is lower than 3.9 seconds, and we have no reason not to believe them. We are also big fans of the interior, which looks hi-tech and luxurious at the same time. The overall aesthetic of the car is also very pleasing to our eyes, even though it certainly looks menacing.
Even though the company is known for its performance, BMW produced only one supercar to date. The M1 was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, like every successful sports car of the era. Interestingly, it was Lamborghini that was supposed to build the car as a homologation special, but they opted out.
The BMW M1 is a mid-engined supercar, a first for the company. The motor was an inline-6 with a capacity of 3.5-liters and 273 horsepower. The car was especially successful in motorsport, and it even spawned its own series. Sadly, BMW only built 399 road-going examples of the M1, and today it’s as rare as it gets.
In many minds and hearts, the Porsche 959 is the best supercar in history. The reason is very straightforward – unlike its competitors, the 959 isn’t built only to be driven on the track. Many examples were used for off-road purposes, such as driving on the Dakar rally. The car even had a special “Gelande” off-road gear for better traction!
The on-road performance was on-point, too. The 2.85-liter twin-turbocharged flat-six engine develops 450 horsepower, enough to propel the car to 60 mph in only 3.6 seconds and a top speed of 197 mph, which was outstanding for the era and exceptional today. Unlike many supercars of that time, the 959 was also equipped with an all-wheel-drive system for excellent road-holding ability.
BMW 3.0 CSL E9
The BMW E9 was a sleek grand-touring coupe that predated the modern 6 Series. Like many good-looking cars from the era, the vehicle was designed entirely by Karmann. More importantly, though, the E9 also had the performance to match the sexy design, especially the 3.0 CSL model.
At the time, BMW was no stranger in building homologation specials in order to win races. The 3.0 CSL was just that – a racing car for the road. Compared to the standard E9, the CSL had a much more aggressive body that increased downforce and made it look like the batmobile. The engine was also pretty unique – the inline-6 had a 3.2-liter capacity and 203 horsepower.
BMW M3 E30
One cannot talk about sports coupes without mentioning the first BMW M3. Unveiled to the world in 1987, the E30 M3 was an immediate success. The simple yet muscular design still catches attention, but it’s the handling and rev-happy engine that really set this car apart.
Thanks to the rear-wheel-drive configuration, excellent weight distribution, and light body, the E30 M3 was a joy to drive in the corners. The engine wasn’t a slouch either. The naturally-aspirated unit only had four cylinders, but BMW still managed to extract 200 horsepower from a 2.0-liter capacity. Later models had 215 horsepower, while the Sport Evolution version got an upgraded 2.5-liter engine with 235 horsepower.
Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 and 2.5-16Cosworth
The Mercedes 190E 2.3-16 was the direct answer to BMW’s E30 M3. Mercedes was first to the party with such a car, and it developed it together with Cosworth to compete in rallying. Later, both the 190E 2.3-16 and BMW M3 raced together in the DTM championship.
The road-going version of the racing car had a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine with 185 horsepower, enough for 0-60 time of around 8 seconds. Later, Mercedes upgraded the engine to 2.5-liter capacity, increasing the power to 204 horsepower or 224 horsepower with an AMG Power Pack. The 190E also had the lowest drag coefficient in its category at the time (0.32), and it was equipped with a limited-slip differential for better handling.
BMW M5 E34
The BMW M5 E34 is one of the first cars that offered luxury and real driving fun in one package. Like its smaller brother the M3, the M5 E34 was based on the 5-Series, but with many upgraded components, including a more aggressive design and an upgraded interior.
The real gem was under the front bonnet, though. The naturally aspirated 3.5-liter inline-6 developed 311 horsepower at 6,900 rpm, enough for a 0-60 time of 6.3 seconds. BMW even upgraded the model later with a 3.8-liter engine with 335 horsepower that cut the time to 5.9 seconds. Of course, the M5 E34 came with a 5-speed or 6-speed manual transmission, a feature that sadly becomes obsolete today, especially in large sports sedans.
Audi RS2 Avant
The Audi RS2 is arguably the craziest wagon to ever come out. When the company introduced it in 1994, there wasn’t anything like this car. Obviously, it had a Quattro all-wheel-drive system for better traction, but it was also stupendously powerful for the era.
The turbocharged 2.2-liter five-cylinder engine in the RS2 develops 311 horsepower, a very high number, even by today’s standards. Helped by the excellent Quattro traction, the engine could accelerate this family wagon to 62 mph in only 4.8 seconds, faster than many supercars of the era. The RS2 was so quick that Audi limited the top speed at 163 mph. Finally, the 6-speed manual transmission was the only gearbox of choice, which adds to the overall appeal of the car.
Audi RS4 Avant
Audi took everything they learned with the RS2 and cranked it up to eleven in the RS4 Avant. Like its predecessor, the RS4 has the legendary Quattro all-wheel-drive for better traction. The car also has a spacious and well-appointed cabin and a big boot. In other words, a supercar for the enthusiast daddy (or mommy).
The latest incarnation of the RS4 has a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 engine with 444 horsepower and an eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox. And while we aren’t happy that Audi doesn’t offer a manual transmission anymore, we can’t complain about the 0-60 time of only 4.1 seconds.
Audi RS6 Avant
The RS6 Avant is the largest fast wagon in Audi’s lineup, and easily the most powerful. As expected, it borrows the Quattro system for better traction and drivability but adds a hybrid powerplant to the mix. Well, sort of. A 48-volt electrical system aids the twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 in the latest generation, which certifies it as a mild-hybrid.
Unlike other hybrid cars, the car can’t drive on electricity alone, except when it coasts on the highway. Not that you should worry too much – the combined output of the system is 591 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque. The performance numbers are bonkers, too as 0-60 takes only 3.6 seconds, and the wagon won’t stop until it reaches 189 mph.
BMW Z8 Roadster
The BMW Z8 is the spiritual successor to the 507. That is obvious by the looks, which have retro-derived cues paired with BMW’s styling from that era. The Z8 is also one of the highest-performing roadsters of its era – it had a naturally-aspirated 4.9-liter V8 engine with 395 horsepower.
That was enough to propel the car to 60 mph in only 4.2 seconds according to tests from Motor Trend. Handling and stability were also outstanding – Car and Driver said that the Z8 Roadster was better than a Ferrari 360 Modena in almost every measurable way. James Bond was able to check those claims in the movie “The World is not Enough.”
The Audi TT is a sports car that’s more down to earth than other models from Audi, but still enjoyable in its own right. Standard models drive only the front wheels, but you can also get the Quattro all-wheel-drive system for better traction with more powerful engines.
Every generation of the TT is available in coupe and roadster form, and a selection of four-cylinder and five-cylinder turbocharged engines. The most powerful TT-RS Coupe has a 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder, enough to propel the car to 60 mph in only 3.6 seconds. Did we say the “TT” was down to earth? Obviously, that doesn’t apply for every version of the car.
Porsche Carrera GT
The Porsche Carrera GT is the successor of the 959 as the flagship model for the company. However, now Porsche opted for a more track-focused chassis, a Targa configuration, and a naturally-aspirated engine. The Carrera GT also drives only the rear wheels, which makes it more agile and more fun to drive.
The 5.7-liter V10 masterpiece in this car is arguably one of the best-sounding engines in history. It also develops 603 horsepower, which is a significant number for a naturally-aspirated unit and enough for a 3.5-second 0-60 time. This is one of the last hypercars with a 6-speed manual transmission, which further added to the fun-to-drive factor and desirability.
In the ’80s and ’90s, Audi had a lot of success with the Quattro all-wheel-drive. However, every sporty model they introduced was based on an already existing passenger-car chassis. That was enough to capture the attention of enthusiasts, but not of every person on the planet.
What they needed was a halo supercar. What Audi probably didn’t know is that this supercar would become one of the most successful in history. The mid-engined Quattro R8 is one of the best-known supercars today and also one of the most desirable. It doesn’t heart that every R8 has a naturally-aspirated V8 or V10 motor, which is pretty rare these days.
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is a spiritual successor to the 300 SL Gullwing. Like its predecessor, it features Gullwing-style doors that open like butterfly wings. The configuration is similar as well. The engine is positioned behind the front axle for better weight distribution, and the power is sent to the rear wheels.
The SLS AMG is equipped with a 6.2-liter naturally-aspirated V8 that develops 563 horsepower in its standard form and up to 622 horsepower in the Black Series. Interestingly, Mercedes-Benz introduced an electric-only version with four synchronous electric motors for a combined output of 741 horsepower. Sadly, though, that car never entered production.
The BMW i8 was the first plug-in hybrid sports car by BMW, introduced in 2014. This is only the second mid-engine vehicle in BMW’s history, the other being the M1. However, unlike the spiritual predecessor, the i8 is mostly driven by electricity.
More precisely, the i8 has a 1.5-liter three-cylinder turbocharged engine with 228 horsepower and an additional electric motor with 129 horsepower. Together, the two motors can propel the car to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, which is pretty fast for an eco-friendly vehicle. The i8 can also travel up to 15 miles on electricity alone and achieve over 100 mph with a fully charged battery.
Porsche 918 Spyder
When it comes to technology and engineering, the 918 Spyder is a spiritual successor to the 959. Right now, this is one of the most impressive hypercars in the world, and easily the quickest. The 918 Spyder can accelerate from 0-60 mph in only 2.4 seconds, which makes it the fastest-accelerating production car in the world.
Porsche achieved the crazy acceleration with a hi-tech hybrid system that warrants a bit of explaining. The internal combustion motor is a naturally-aspirated 4.6-liter V8 unit with 599 horsepower, driving the rear wheels in conjunction with a 154 horsepower electric motor. The front wheels are driven by two additional electric motors that develop 286 horsepower. The combined output of the system is 875 horsepower. The 918 is no slouch in the corners, either, thanks to the complicated yet effective all-wheel-drive system.
The AMG GT is the newest supercar from Mercedes-Benz that takes cues from the 300 SL Gullwing. In our eyes, this coupe looks even better than the SLS – the long bonnet is especially striking. More importantly, though, Mercedes’s engineers showed that their ability to create a front-engine supercar that drives like a mid-engine one.
Every model in the lineup is equipped with a 4.0-liter bi-turbo V8 engine that develops up to 577 horsepower in the most potent “R” version. Paired with the advanced 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, the AMG GT R can accelerate to 62 mph in only 3.6 seconds. Performance on the track is even more impressive – the AMG GT is one of the best-handling cars of the modern era.
Porsche Taycan Turbo S
Porsche’s first foray into the electric-car territory set new standards in the automotive industry. Today, this is the most capable electric vehicle in the world. Porsche promises that the Turbo S model can accelerate to 60 mph in only 2.6 seconds, but do it repeatedly, unlike some of its rivals.
The Taycan Turbo comes with two electric engines at each axle for a combined output of 761 horsepower. More importantly, Porsche employed an advanced cooling system on the batteries. Thanks to that, the cells can always generate maximum electricity, lap after lap. Depending on the version, the Taycan has a WLTP range of 207 to 288 miles – not bad for an electric supercar.
Germans aren’t known for their off-roaders, but they still managed to build an iconic one. The Mercedes-Benz G-Class started as a utilitarian vehicle made specifically for off-road driving. However, throughout the years, the company started to bring the G-Class upmarket and in line with other vehicles from their lineup.
Interestingly, the first two generations of the car used the same architecture, spanning from 1979 to 2018. Mercedes-Benz made some revisions in that time, especially in 1990, but the platform was still the same. In 2019, the company introduced a new G-Class, which retained the styling of its predecessors, but lays on a completely new platform.