The '90s were an amazing year for cars. All wheel drive became a mainstay, Japanese luxury brands proved their worth, and the sport utility vehicle replaced the station wagon as the car of choice for American families. While most people remember the '90s for grunge, AOL, and The Lion King, car enthusiasts and automotive historians alike point to the decade as a defining era for cars. It was a time when computers and improved technology made cars smarter, sleeker, and more reliable. It was these innovations that helped propel future designs, like navigation systems, wireless phone connectivity, and other features that are now standard in most new cars.
Below are the 10 coolest, and most important, cars of the '90s. From sport cars to off-roaders, from ultra-expensive toys to family rides, these are the cars that made the '90s and helped to welcome the 21st century.
10 Subaru Outback
The car that made Subaru what it is today, the Outback was more than just a simple waggon. It was a light off-roader, one that could tame snow, dirt and loose gravel with ease, while also able to carry a large load in the back. The Outback may not have been the first car to feature AWD, but it was one of the first to offer it in a vehicle that was priced within a range that most could afford. For the first time, drivers didn't need to shell out $50k for the latest Audi Quatro, when they could instead buy the Outback for half of that amount.
9 Dodge Viper
In the world of high-end sports cars, Dodge often found itself out in the cold. That is, until the release of the Viper. Positioned to take on the Corvette and the Ford GT, and perhaps even a few Ferraris, the Viper was one of the best sports cars to come out of the '90s. While it's debatable whether or not it gave its rivals a run for their money, no one can deny that the Viper was a head turner. It became a frequent sight in many racing games of that era, and its image was plastered to the walls of bedrooms everywhere. While its V10 engine may not have had the same power and sophistication as other cars in its class, the Viper became an American icon none-the-less.
8 Lincoln Navigator
Based on the Ford Expedition, the Navigator was one of the first large luxury SUVs to be successful. When it was released in 1998, it became the quintessential luxury SUV, proving that Lincoln wasn't just for grandpas anymore. Large, comfy, and with a commanding street presence, the Navigator perfectly encapsulated America's obsession with giant SUVs, with decadent luxury features that made it more than just a people carrier. Today, the Navigator is constantly placed at the top of almost every 'best of' list for vehicles in its class.
7 Honda NSX
Released in America under Honda's luxury division, Acura, the NSX was one of the company's first attempts at producing a mid-engine sports car. Meant to compete with lower-end Ferraris, the NSX was a game changer for the Japanese automotive industry. It was as sleek and as fast as a European make, but with Honda's innovation that kept it rolling long after its rivals cars started to fail. Plus, its '90s athletics, like pop-up headlamps and sharp edges, will give any child of that decade a wave of nostalgia feels.
6 Mazda MX-5 Miata
While it was first introduced in 1989, the '90s was the decade where Mazda's little roadster came into its own. The '90s belonged to the Miata, whose entire philosophy emphasized fun over power and performance. While the MX-5 is still loved today, its the models that came out in the '90s that have a special place in the hearts of enthusiasts. With the pop up headlamps and a mostly spartan interior, the MX-5 was all about the love of driving, and at such an attractive price, many customers experienced that love for themselves.
5 Hummer H1
Before Hummer became a laughing stock, it was a brand loved by off-road enthusiasts for its flagship model, simply called the Hummer (later referred to as the H1). While it was expensive, and its bulky exterior made it impractical as a daily driver, this civilian variant of the military-style Humvee attracted a cult following in the US. Tough, dependable, and able to tackle any terrain, the H1 was coveted by off-roaders, and used ones are still in high demand today. It's a shame, therefore, that the brand's reputation was tarnished when GM released the neutered H2, a vehicle that some have called one of the worst SUVs ever made.
4 Toyota RAV4
Toyota's first crossover, the RAV4 was meant for light off road capabilities, and was essentially marketed as a Miata that didn't require pavement. When it was first released, the RAV4 had a roof-less option, that added a plastic cover over the rear passenger compartment, allowing it to be removed like in a Jeep Wrangler. While this feature would be dropped by later RAV4 models, it was a feature that many fans dearly miss. Rather than a people carrier, the early RAV4 was made for adventure, and it promised drivers an experience that offered drivers their first glimpse into the world of off-roading.
3 Mercedes-Benz SL 73 AMG
A super rare performance sedan with less than a hundred models produced, the 73 AMG was a special edition of Mercedes's SL Slass that took no prisoners. It packed a 7.3 L V12 engine, it had the muscle to take on some of the fastest super cars of the decade. Another car that first came out in '89, the SL was one of the meanest cars on the road, and the 73 AMG flet like it came straight from the bowels of Hell. To get an idea of just how powerful a car this was, the engine was later used by Pagani for one of its Zonda super cars. Yeah, it was that powerful.
2 Lamborghini Diablo
From a car that came from Hell, to the literal devil himself, the Lamborghini Diablo was one of the most powerful cars ever made at the time of its release. Packed with a 5.7 or 6.0 V12 engine, it was the first Lambo to break 200 mph (322 kph), making it one of the fastest cars in the world during the '90s, and everyone love it. One of the company's most recognizable rides, the Diablo stands out amid other super cars of the time, thanks to its body styling that looks like something pulled right out of a Hot Wheels playset. It was a toy for grownups, and it was every boy's dream back then to own one. It is still seen today as one of the greatest super cars ever made, and one of Lamborghini's finest rides.
1 McLaren F1
This bad mofo was the fastest car ever made for over 13 years. Though few ever dared push the F1 to its top speed of 240 mph (386 kph), its status as a record breaker kept it in the public spotlight long after the last model rolled off the assembly line. Still coveted by every gearhead of all walks of life, it is McLaren's most popular car to date, and helped put the British auto marque in the spotlight. While the F1's record has been broken multiple times in recent years, it is still an important touchstone in automotive history, and the greatest car the '90s produced.