The 1990s were a fantastic decade, particularly in the automotive industry. While we now have some of the best-performing cars in the history of automobiles, such as the Chiron and Aventador, the 1990s were a decade of transition — vintage cars from earlier decades began to get more powerful, advanced technologies like fuel injection systems and computerized engine controls were growing faster than ever, and, most importantly, manufacturers were abandoning the old boxy-like designs in favor of more sleek and stylish exteriors.
While several automobiles made headlines in the 1990s for their incredible specifications and features, some have fallen prey to the passage of time and are no longer deserving of notice in today’s fast-paced world. In this article, we’ll look at some of the best automobiles from that era that were much ahead of their time in terms of design and performance — and remember when they were the genuine deal.
The Nissan 300 ZX, often known as the Fairlady Z, was a sports automobile grand tourer that was produced from 1986 until 2000. The car was made in three body types across two generations: a two-door convertible, a two-door coupe, and a four-seater Targa coupe. The X in the name was a carryover from previous generations, indicating the luxury and comfort-oriented amenities. The Z31, the first-generation model of the 300ZX, was the most popular Nissan Z vehicle, selling in great numbers in both the United States and Japan.
The Z32, the second-generation model of the 300ZX, had a fresh design in the lineup as well as a significant spec jump. Nissan created the car to be much faster and more technologically advanced so that it could compete in the sports car segment. For the 1990 model year, the automobile sold about a million units, making it one of the most popular sports cars at the time (via Supercars).
The Z32 had a 3.0L DOHC naturally aspirated engine with variable valve timing that produced 222 bhp at 6,400 RPM and 198 lb-ft of torque. It was designed by Isao Sono and Toshio Yamashita. The turbocharged engine had two intercoolers and a parallel twin-turbo charger configuration, producing 300 horsepower and 283 pound-feet of torque. The car could go from 0-60 mph in five seconds and reach a top speed of 155 mph.
The Mazda Miata, also known as the Eunos Roadster in Japan, was the first generation MX-5 roadster sports vehicle, which debuted at the Chicago Auto Show in 1989. The Mazda MX-5 was greatly inspired by British sports cars from the postwar era and was considered one of the best sports cars at the time. The two-door convertible was constructed entirely of steel, with a lightweight aluminum cover. Initially, the MX-5 was only available with a 5-speed manual transmission and a 1.6-liter DOHC straight-4 engine. The system as a whole could produce 115 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 100 lb-ft of torque. Furthermore, an electronic fuel injection system with an airflow meter and an electronic ignition system was available.
A 1.6L engine specifically tuned for the automatic gearbox that delivered peak torque at lower rpm was available in another MX-5 model with an automatic transmission system. The car has a top speed of 116 mph and can reach 60 mph in 8.6 seconds. In 1993, Mazda released a limited edition MX-5 with only 1,500 units available. The interior of this model was more luxurious, with red leather upholstery and features like power steering, power windows, cruise control, and rear spoilers. The Mazda MX-5 LE was produced in black in all 1,500 units.
Honda S2000 was an open-top sports automobile conceived and manufactured by Japanese auto manufacturer Honda from 1999 to 2009. It was first shown as a concept car at the 1995 Tokyo Motor Show. On April 15, 1999, Honda released the production version of the S2000 to commemorate and honor the company’s 50th anniversary.
The automobile had a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout with a 1.9L DOHC engine with Honda’s VTEC technology. The engine produced 247 horsepower and 161 lb-ft of torque, and it was mated to a 6-speed manual transmission with an electronically controlled rear-slip differential. The engine was designed to be light in weight and positioned directly behind the front axle in order to achieve a 50:50 weight distribution.
The Honda S2000 has an independent double-wishbone suspension system, power steering, and 16-inch Bridgestone Potenza S-02 tyres as standard equipment. A typical feature was an electronically operated vinyl top and a plastic rear window. A hardtop made of aluminum was also available as an option. The Honda S2000 was initially available in four different color schemes: Silver Metallic, Berlina Black, New Formula Red, and Grand Prix White.
The Jaguar XJ220 was a two-door two-seater sports car that was built in collaboration with Tom Walkinshaw Racing, a famous automobile and racing engineering business at the time. It was constructed between 1992 and 1994 by the British luxury automobile giant Jaguar. The XJ220 was based on a V12 all-wheel-drive concept automobile created by Jaguar personnel in their spare time with the goal of producing the next Jaguar Le Mans Racing car. The XJ220’s first prototype was revealed to the public in 1988 at the British International Motor Show.
Following the good public response, the British automaker placed the prototype vehicle into production and scheduled deliveries for 1992. Only 275 automobiles were constructed during the length of the two-year production period. Each was priced at $800,000, making it one of the most expensive sports vehicles of the time.
The overall aluminum framework from the idea version was kept for the final version. The scissor doors were removed, and other significant changes to the car’s exterior were made, including changes to the actual measurements. Sadly, the V12 engine from the concept car was replaced by a 3.5L twin-turbo V6 engine that produced 542 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque in the production model. The automobile could hit 60 mph in under 3.6 seconds if driven flat out. The 5-speed manual transmission efficiently managed all of this power, although the XJ220 was only available in rear-wheel drive.
Mitsubishi Galant VR-4
Mitsubishi Galant VR-4 was Mitsubishi Motors’ top-of-the-line Galant version, built spanning three generations from 1988 to 2004. The four-door car was designed to meet the World Rally Championship’s Group A criteria, but it was eventually overtaken by the Lancer Evolution, the company’s more performance-oriented vehicle.
The Galant VR-4 was equipped with a 2.0L 16 valve DOHC petrol engine and an all-wheel-drive system. The road-specific trim produced a strong 195 horsepower and could attain a top speed of 130 mph. The car took 7.3 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph and 15.3 seconds to complete a quarter-mile distance. Surprisingly, the car had a four-wheel speed-sensitive steering wheel with power assist, which could spin the back wheels in the same direction and angle as the front wheels at speeds more than 30 mph.
With slight improvements, a liftback variant of the Mitsubishi Galant VR-4 was eventually built. The automobile, dubbed the ZR-4, had a center differential all-wheel-drive system, four-wheel steering, four-wheel ABS, and an independent suspension system. Back in the day, combining all of these technologies onto a single vehicle was quite a feat (via Car Throttle).
Honda Civic Del Sol
The Honda Civic Del Sol was a two-seater Targa top sports car made in the 1990s by the Japanese carmaker Honda (via Motor Trend). The car was the replacement for the popular Honda CRX and was based on the Honda Civic platform. The Civic Del Sol, which made its debut in Japan and the United Kingdom in 1992, wasn’t precisely a convertible car. Instead of a retractable soft top that could be packed in the trunk, the automobile had a removable hardtop, giving it the feel of a convertible car. The Civic Del Sol was hailed as one of the most fashionable and inexpensive sports cars of its era.
The car was initially available in two versions: the entry-level model S and the higher-end model SI. The S model featured a 1.5L SOHC inline-4 engine with a robust output of 106 horsepower and steel wheels with 13-inch tyres. The more modern SI model came with a 1.6-liter SOHC inline-4 engine and Honda’s innovative VTEC technology, which upped the overall system output to 125 horsepower. The SI model came standard with 14-inch wheels, electric windows, cruise control, and an optional rear spoiler for improved appearance and aerodynamic efficiency.
While the Civic Del Sol was originally built on the Honda Civic platform, Honda designated a model series for the car in 1995, which became the Honda Del Sol. However, the car’s appearance and characteristics remained almost unchanged.
The Acura Vigor, also known as the Honda Vigor, was a mid-size sedan made by Honda from 1989 to 1995. The Acura Vigor, which competed with the Lexus ES300 at the time, was primarily based on the Honda Accord, both in terms of appearance and specifications and when viewed from the sides, it truly looked like an Accord.
The all-new 2.5L G series 5 cylinder engine was totally made of aluminum in the third-generation Acura Vigor. The car produced an impressive 176 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque, resulting in an excellent performance. The car’s excellent weight distribution was one of the key reasons for its incredible power output. Even better, the engine was longitudinally positioned, despite the fact that only the front wheels received power. The gearbox was located just behind the engine, with an indent towards the driver’s side, and was available in both a 5-speed manual and a 4-speed automatic configuration. This helped the car’s performance by ensuring optimal weight distribution.
Aside from the engine specs, the Acura Vigor’s interior was also highly competitive. The automobile had a self-balancing radio system, as well as an in-dash cassette player and an exterior CD player (which was a big deal back in the 1990s). The car’s modernity was secured with automatic gate locks and power windows, and the leather-wrapped upholstery completed the deal, making the interior look both attractive and comfy.
The McLaren F1 was a high-performance sports automobile designed by British automaker McLaren in Surrey, England, from 1992 to 1998. Only 106 McLaren F1s left the factory during its entire production run, making it a very difficult car to come by today. The McLaren F1 had a lot of unusual design aspects on the exterior of the car back in the 1990s, which made it look much more futuristic and track-oriented. It was far lighter and sleeker than any other sports car at the time.
The McLaren F1 could fit three passengers within the cabin, including the driver, unlike other high-performance cars. The seating arrangement was unusual in that the driver’s seat was in the middle of the front row, with the remaining two passenger seats at the back. This was supposed to be done to provide the driver with a better field of vision. The McLaren F1 had a V12 engine called the S70/Z that was purchased straight from BMW. The V12 engine developed a whopping 618 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. The naturally aspirated engine could accelerate from zero to sixty miles per hour in 3.2 seconds, making it one of the fastest naturally aspirated automobiles of the period.
The Honda NSX, also known as the Acura NSX, was a two-seater mid-engine coupe car built by Honda in the 1990s. The car was based on Honda’s Honda Pininfarina Experimental (HPX) concept car, which had a 3.0-liter V6 engine. Honda was dead set on creating a sports car with a power output that rivaled that of Ferrari’s V8 engines. The name was changed to NSX, which stood for New Sportscar Experimental, as the Japanese manufacturer began development on the production version of the car (via Honda).
Honda’s chief executives Shigeru Uehara and Masahito Nakano collaborated on the first-generation Acura NSX. The car’s design was influenced by the legendary F-16 fighter plane, hence the exterior was designed to be aerodynamically efficient. The car’s engine was a 3.0L V6 powerplant constructed entirely of aluminum and linked to Honda’s famed Variable Timing and Electronic (VTEC) system.
The automobile was initially available with a 5-speed manual transmission system until 1999 when Honda introduced the F-Matic sporty shift 4-speed automatic gearbox. The Honda NSX was first shown to the public in 1989 at the Chicago Auto Show, and it was offered as a coupe or a Targa top. The NSX range received a performance boost in 1997, with a brand-new 3.2L V6 engine.