Each era is defined by the cars that existed in that timeframe and each era has produced incredible machines for the ages, some of which are revered to this day. The 1950s saw classics such as the Jaguar E-Type hit the streets. The 1960s and 70s saw the emergence of muscle cars emerge, such as the Mustang, as the craze gripped the United States. And the 1990s were defined by an eclectic mix of machinery from all manner of companies from all around the world.
It is perhaps quite easy to overlook the 1990s as one of the greatest eras for cars but truth be told, it was great. A multitude of great machines emerged, most notably from Japan, to complement some great cars that we had already seen from the 1980s. Why the 1990s are overlooked is a bit of a mystery given the variety of machinery on offer but that, perhaps, makes it even a bit more special.
And what is certainly special is how some of these cars can quite simply outlast any form of modern equivalent to this very day. Stunning beasts such as the Honda NSX or Volkswagen Corrado can simply outshine anything that the 21st century can throw at them. And what we have here is a list of some of the 1990s greatest hits and how these machines can last for a lifetime.
20 Honda S2000
When you think of sports cars and convertibles from Japan, most people immediately turn to the Mazda MX-5. But what is often forgotten is the little gem that is the Honda S2000. Undeniably more stylish and a better performer, the S2000 has gained something of a cult following and an almost mythical status around it—perhaps partly down to no longer being in production, which ended in the 2000s, and perhaps partly due to simply not that many being made in comparison. The S2000 is a fantastic reminder of how good the 1990s were for car manufacturing and in some ways, was almost the definitive era of small sports cars.
19 1994 Mercedes Benz W140
We all know how good Mercedes-Benz's cars are. They produce some of the best cars in the world and the W140 was no exception, even if at first glance it looks like an absolute monster of a car. This wasn’t how it would stay, as later models were toned down slightly and made that little bit sleeker, but it remained an incredibly popular car with the public as well as the rich and famous. 50 Cent himself bought one when he was emerging as a rapper. The car was incredibly reliable and brutish, and perhaps defined the very best in precision engineering from Germany.
18 McLaren F1
It was once the fastest production car in the world. Its seat was in the middle to make you feel like a Formula One driver. And it was designed by a man who had brought much championship success to the McLaren Formula 1 team. Low weight. A 627-hp BMW engine. A 240 mph top speed. The ultimate supercar. Gordon Murray’s McLaren F1 is in the same league as the Aston Martin DB5 and Jaguar E-Type, no question about that. It was a dream car. "Who cares how much it cost? Just build the best supercar ever" was the Ron Dennis and McLaren ethos. And they did. Even now, people still regard the F1 as the ultimate supercar. A modern Bugatti may be faster but in terms of status, it doesn’t even come close.
17 Lotus Carlton
It's funny that no one really seems to talk about the Lotus Carlton. Why that is isn’t quite easy to pinpoint because the Carlton was actually something of a 1990s hero. A fast car with a top speed of around 176 mph, the Carlton was a family saloon given the Lotus tuning treatment and was one serious piece of a great machine that actually proved a hit with criminals because its speed let it outrun most police vehicles. One of these in good condition could fetch around £70,000 in the UK today, which is a staggering amount. Even from the rear, though, this car is an absolute looker of a thing.
16 Bugatti EB110
In Season Two of The Grand Tour on Amazon Prime, Jeremy Clarkson drove two amazing supercars from the 1990s. One of them was this, the Bugatti EB110. A godlike car from a bygone era, it boasted a top speed of 216 mph—which for a car from the 1990s is simply staggering—and it could also log an insane 0-60 time of 3.2 seconds. You would be hard-pressed to find many cars with those sort of figures in this day and age. Clarkson preferred the second of the two cars, which we will come onto later, but there is something quite mesmerizing about the Bugatti, even if its looks may be a bit subjective.
15 1991 Subaru SVX
Subaru has perhaps gained a reputation for making some of the craziest and mind-bending rally cars that you have ever seen, and with good reason. Their STIs are amazing cars. But the SVX isn’t one of their rally successes. A sports coupe with lustful performance and incredible comfort, it’s 230-hp flat-six engine was perhaps not going to hit so many speed records. But it was a capable machine, assisted by four-wheel steering and four-wheel drive, plus stunning good looks that really do scream out 1990s style. Maybe it won’t be quite as well remembered as an Impreza WRX but heck, it may just be better looking.
14 Lexus LS400
The Notorious B.I.G. loved his Lexus, which he would always refer to in his tunes. Whether it was a marketing ploy or not, it worked. The LS400 sold in droves in the mid-1990s and became a bit of a hit, even if it perhaps wasn’t the best-looking car on the market. Fast forward to the present day and they are sadly not as loved as they perhaps should be, which makes you wonder if one day they may just vanish from existence all together for that very reason. They aren’t quite to my taste, I must admit, but you can’t deny how good the LS400 actually was.
13 Jaguar XJS Convertible
There is something very, very cool about a ‘Jaaaaaaag’. For those that don’t get that reference, go online and search for ‘Top Gear Jaaaaag’ or something along those lines. You’ll find it. The XJS failed to rekindle some of the magic that was left behind from the truly awesome E-Type and went through its production life as a bit of an unloved icon and lumbered with an image it didn’t deserve. But nowadays, it is an extremely cool car. Its sleek lines and attractive looks make it a hit with classic Jaguar fans, and even though it isn’t as reliable as perhaps even an E-Type, you can’t really go wrong with an XJS Convertible.
12 Nissan Skyline GT-R
When people hear the words ‘Skyline GT-R’ their eyes light up and you can see the excitement building within them. The R32 and R34 are perhaps the most iconic members of the Skyline family, the R34 being a part of the "PlayStation generation" with its crazy onboard analysis systems. Even today, the current GT-R features dashboard graphics designed by the same team that did the HUD and displays for the Gran Turismo game. Its 2.6-liter RB26DETT engine, amazing styling, and performance helped ensure its place in history. It is up there with the NSX. With the R34, the original GT-R's evolution was complete.
11 Mazda RX-7
Few cars hold such beauty as the wonderful Mazda RX-7. Even in 2019, this car still looks incredibly fast and beautiful—even when standing still—and it is a testament to the designers at Mazda that the car looks this good. But it’s not just about looks; its twin rotor, 1.3-liter engine was undoubtedly the belle of the ball. Its beautiful soundtrack and driving feel made this a unique machine despite its poor fuel mileage. It won multiple plaudits and was hailed as a true driver's car, something that is the ultimate compliment to any car that we see. And it was all done in the good-old 90s!
10 Acura Integra Type R DC2
This is a true performance machine. The Integra Type R DC2 (from Honda or Acura, depending on where you are in the world) boasted some of the best handling ever seen on any front-wheel-drive car, ever. With a VTEC-assisted, 8,500-RPM redline, the DC2 was another real drivers car that was in the same league as the wonderful RX-7 and one of the greatest front-wheel-drive cars ever made. Not only that, but Honda did a wonderful job in the styling department to make the car as sleek as possible. Anything from this era and made by Honda usually ended up looking gorgeous. And the Integra Type R was no exception. Nothing else really comes close to it in 2019.
9 Honda Accord
The Honda Accords of the 1990s were some of the best that were developed, being elegant, reliable, stylish, and very tough. The station wagon version has been a part of my family since the early 1990s. Honda has always been one of the best car manufacturers there is, if not the very best, and the Accord has remained a staple of their range. It is still in production to this day with more up-to-date looks and it is a credit to the company that the car is very much still a best-selling vehicle even in 2019.
8 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Who else likes a hot hatch? I certainly do, and perhaps the greatest hot hatch of them all is the Volkswagen Golf GTI. Still in production to this day, it has perhaps lost some of the allure that it once had. The 1990s editions were perhaps not quite as cool as the Mk1 variants from years previous but they still retained quirky styling and a huge amount of the fun factor, which is what made them so popular in the first place. And there is something quite cool about the ‘Golf GTI’ name, which you can perhaps not quite say about several other hot hatchbacks of either the 1990s or today.
7 Ferrari 550 Maranello
Ferrari is probably the most famous car company in the world. The Maranello institution has become revered globally for some of the most beautiful and exciting road cars in the world, as well as some of the best racing pedigree. The 550 Maranello certainly lives up to that expectation. It’s glorious front-engine V12 and gated manual transmission make it stand out amongst the crowd, mostly for being the last Ferrari with the V12 to come with that type of transmission. Oh, and the soundtrack that the V12 engine produced was one of the most amazing that you have ever heard. And just look at it. What a gorgeous machine the 550 was.
6 Jaguar XJ220
Along with the Bugatti EB110, another car appeared from the 1990s on The Grand Tour's homage to 1990s supercars. The XJ220 was one of them. It may not have had a V12, as was originally intended, but it remains one of the most mesmerizing cars that Jaguar has ever built. It is quite possible that it is the best performance car that the company has ever produced. Not only does it look good and feature a twin-turbocharger setup, but it also has pop-up headlights. How cool is that? If that doesn’t scream 1990s supercar, then what does? Quite simply, nothing. The XJ220 is a legendary machine.
5 GMC Syclone
It is, perhaps, odd to see that a pickup truck has made this list. But make no mistake, the GMC Syclone is a bit of an unsung hero when it comes to the world of pickup trucks and, certainly, when it comes to cars from the 1990s. The Syclone actually wasn’t that useful as a truck, perhaps being a bit too small, but it looked fantastic. And it could actually beat a Ferrari to 60 mph at the time. Yes, you heard that right. It beat a Ferrari to 60 mph. Surely, if that doesn’t grant a car legendary status then quite frankly, I don’t know what does.
4 Lamborghini Diablo
One of Lamborghini’s most well-loved cars of all time is perhaps the Countach. Despite the fact it was quite impractical, it was a beloved car and still is to this day. To replace it, Lamborghini came up with an even more stunning sports car, the Diablo. And amazingly, they pulled off a great successor. Its incredible and exotic looks certainly make it stand out amongst the majority of the crowd, and who didn’t have one of these on their walls in the 1990s? At the end of the day, that is what a Lamborghini was for: to be the ultimate poster model, and they sure were that.
3 Volkswagen Corado G60
For whatever reason, no one seems to talk much about the VW Corado. And that’s unusual, because not only does it look absolutely epic, but it drove amazing as well. It was one of the most surefooted and fun handling machines money could buy at the time and has become something of a rarity in the 21st century, for whatever reason. Finding one of these in 2019 in anything close to mint condition is incredibly difficult and it is easy to pick up one that has been in an accident. But make no mistake, a good one of these is very good, indeed.
2 Acura NSX
Built and designed to give Ferrari performance without breaking the bank, the NSX is one of the greatest cars to come out of Japan. No wait, it is THE greatest car to come out of Japan and one of the best cars to have been built of all time. Tested by Ayrton Senna and built with the utmost care and precision, the NSX—with its VTEC and 276-hp V6—could reach over 190 mph. That’s nearly 200 mph with less than 300 horsepower! It shows you what an excellent performer this was, so much so that Honda produced a new version in 2016, with hybrid power developed from its Formula One project.
1 Mazda MX-5
The Mazda MX-5 is a true classic, the original tiny roadster and one of the finest machines to come out of Japan to date. It is little surprise that it is still in production to this very day. Now, it could be argued that today, the MX-5 is quite a dull car and doesn’t produce the excitement a lot of other cars that Japan produces, like the current Nissan GT-R. But the original MX5 was a gamechanger and is still sold in huge numbers worldwide and looked the part, as well. Models from the 1990s are still going strong today and are perhaps a fair bit more elegant than their modern counterparts.
Sources: Classic and Sports Car, Wikipedia, AutoCar, Hemmings, Bring a Trailer