Search Cars for Sale

Let’s Check in on Some Automotive Segment Pioneers

Some vehicles are the very first in their segment, while others are the real pioneers that define — or at least popularize — that very same segment years later. Most passenger vehicle segments, like the truck, sedan, wagon and sports car, have been around forever. Others are relatively new in the annals of automotive history. So let’s check in on some of the pioneers of a few major car categories and see where they’re at from a price and condition standpoint right here on Autotrader!


It’s hard to believe, but the Toyota RAV4 has been in production for 24 years! Next year, it’ll be old enough to rent itself. The fifth generation of the venerable crossover pioneer, whose name means “Recreational Activity Vehicle: 4-Wheel Drive,” was just unveiled this past March at the New York International Auto Show. Back when it was launched in its home market of Japan, it was one of the first major production vehicles that looked like an SUV but shared most of its parts with a car. In this case, the Corolla and the JDM Carina. It came equipped like most other SUVs of the era, with available AWD in both 2- and 4-door layouts, but the RAV had more of a focus on economy than the rest. You got a straight 4-cylinder and FWD standard, and, naturally, you could get it with a manual transmission. Just like pretty much zero crossovers from the current era.

Did you know that the RAV4 was also one of the first all electric plug-in EVs available on the market as well? Between 1997 and 2003, Toyota offered the RAV4 EV for fleet sales in California. It featured a 120-mile range, which pretty good for 20 years ago, and it’s not bad today! There was a 2.0 EV version that Toyota developed alongside Tesla for the 3rd generation RAV4, you can still find them here on Autotrader for an average price of around $16,000.

The original RAV4 is as inexpensive as you would think. You can pick up a 1996, the oldest model I could find on Autotrader, for as little as $1,754. I love how regal this 352,641 mile RAV looks sitting on the dealership turntable. Pioneer indeed!

Luxury SUV

While some think that the Oldsmobile Bravada pioneered the luxury SUV category, I personally credit the Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Sure, there were various Land Rover and Range Rover models that have existed long before 1997, when the M started production. They never sold in incredibly significant numbers to really popularize the segment here in the United States. Over the last 15 years, the M-Class — now the “GLE” — has sold over 30,000 units per year here in the States (with a few 25K+ exception years). In comparison, during the same 15-year period, only the LR4 and the Range Rover Sport have cracked 20,000 sold. My point is that the M-Class wasn’t the first, but it was the most significant. I just bought one of it’s newer, larger cousins, the GL.

The W163 M-Class, first sold in 1998, can be found today via Autotrader anywhere from $2,000–$6,000 depending on condition and mileage. Most are in the 6-digit mileage range, with some having as many as 250,000+ miles. Here’s a 1998 Mercedes-Benz ML 320 with just 61,000 miles for $5,245.

Plug-In Electric

Today, plug-in electric cars are thick on the ground. It’s impossible to traverse any populated area without seeing one, and the electric charging infrastructure is continuing to develop to support them. First available back in 1996, the General Motors EV1 was the first “mass-produced” (that’s in quotes, because they only built 1,117 of them) plug-in electric car from a major manufacturer. It was a fascinating attempt, and a seminal part of electric car history. This category also sports a crossover of sorts, pun very much intended. The aforementioned RAV4 EV was also a plug-in electric pioneer in this category, available just a year after the EV1 and clearly built around a much more practical platform.

In my opinion, the two most important all-electric cars are the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model S. Launched back in December 2010, the Leaf packaged an all-electric drivetrain in what is, for the most part, a contemporary looking car. It was affordable, too — the current Leaf will set you back less than $30,000 starting, and even less with the $7,500 government tax credit.

Looking back at the oldest Leafs on Autotrader, a 2011 model year will cost you between $5,000 and $12,000. A side-benefit of buying a used electric car, they all have relatively low mileage! Perhaps a factor of range anxiety, I’m not sure, but every Leaf listed for sale is under 100,000 miles. This resplendent 2011 Leaf SV has only 28,719 miles, and is being offered for $7,500.

Model S

It’s impossible to talk about all-electric cars without talking about the Tesla Model S. While the Leaf has sold over 250,000 times worldwide, Nissan only sold 11,230 here in the States last year. In contrast, Tesla sells around 30,000 Model S cars per year, making it much more likely to spot on your commute. While some dude just bought the cheapest Model S in the country for $33,500, most sell in the $60,000 range on average. There are currently 663 Model S options for sale here on Autotrader with a high price of $147,000, a low of $35,500 and an average of $64,437.

Personally, I like this 2013 85 Performance for sale in Massachusetts for $45,000 with just over 66,000 miles.


So there you have it, some real live automotive pioneers. They may not have been the first, but in my mind, they were the best. And if you want to experience some of them yourself, they make for some great used car bargains here on Autotrader. Let me know which categories I missed, I’m happy to use your ideas to make more money … I mean, produce more great content for you all!

Sign up for Autotrader newsletters

The best cars and best deals delivered to your inbox

Email Address 

Where You Can Buy

Loading dealers...


  1. What do you think launched the subcompact crossover craze? There’s the Subaru cross trek, the Mini Countryman/bmw X1, Nissan Juke, and even the Buick Encore as very popular when it was released

    • Just logistics of getting settled from moving across country, expect to see all the quirks and features you can handle within the next week!

  2. I would argue that the Jeep Grand Cherokee (Limited models) or even the Grand Wagoneer were more significant to the luxury SUV market here in the US than the ML.

    • Perhaps, but I just traded a 2015 Grand Cherokee for the aforementioned Mercedes GL.  My wife certainly saw the Benz as a far superior luxo SUV.  I would say that since the latest and greatest WK2 JGCs aren’t quite up to the luxury SUV task compared to the European options, I’m not sure I would buy that the early models were either. 

      Doug’s Trackhawk review was pretty telling, as was mine for that matter.  For $100K you get a ridiculously good drivetrain, but the interior isn’t totally up to the task.

      The ML was one of the first SUVs from a clearly luxury automaker, which is why I chose it.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles

Best New Cars for 2022

Here is our list of the best new cars for 2022 (presented in alphabetical order by manufacturer).

2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid: First Look

The 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid jumps to the head of the hybrid class.

Best Car Deals: December 2022

This month's best new car deals include several attractive offers for qualified shoppers.

Search By Style

More Articles Like This