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The best and worst cars of the 1990s


The 1990s were the decade when motor manufacturers embraced sophistication. Journalist Rob Griffin sorts the wheat from the chaff.

1990s cars

Back in the 1990s the word super was a firm favourite. On the catwalks of Paris and Milan it was used to describe models such as Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington, who would be paid a small fortune by corporate giants to attend events.

And in the world of motoring it was attached to the new breed of high-performance cars that were all the rage.

The best cars of the 90s

McLaren F1

 1990s cars

This was the supreme king of supercars. Bubbling over with innovation, including a central driving position, this remarkable machine was born out of McLaren’s decision to channel the engineering excellence from Formula 1 motorsport into a road-going car. Initially unveiled in 1992.

The first production car emerged at the back end of 1993 with a price tag to match its eye-watering performance – a cool £540,000. Those that could afford it, however, were in for a treat as it became the fastest production car in the world, hitting 240.1mph in March 1998 – a record it held for more than a decade.

Nissan Skyline

 1990s cars

The undisputed king of the boy racer machines, Nissan’s Skyline has the power and looks to match its handling. In short it’s a stunning piece of engineering.

Even if they’ve never driven one, petrol heads will be familiar with the Skyline if they’re fans of the smash hit Fast and Furious films. Unsurprisingly, the car is now hugely popular on the drag-racing and track-day circuits.

Mazda MX-5

 1990s cars

Although it made its official debut at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show, the beautiful MX-5 really shot to prominence during the 1990s. 

The inspiration for this lightweight, two-seat roadster came from American journalist Bob Hall – and twenty five years later the design is still going strong.

There have been plenty of incarnations of the MX-5 over the years but, to be honest, a cheap early one is just as much fun as a recent arrival off the production line.

The worst cars of the 90s

Mercedes A-Class

1990s cars 

Really? A Mercedes in a rundown of worst cars? Surely there’s some mistake. Nope: the Mercedes A-Class deserves its place in this list. As well as suffering from quality issues – due in large part by metal and bulk being removed to make this compact city car – it got off to something of an inauspicious start.

Footage of the little car rolling during the so-called elk test – a procedure designed to see how well a vehicle can evade a suddenly appearing obstacle in its path – gave it an instant image problem. Sadly, it was one from which it never truly recovered.

Vauxhall Vectra (1995)

 1990s cars

Hopes were high when the Vectra arrived in the mid-1990s as a replacement for the hugely popular Cavalier. Sadly for Vauxhall, however, it failed to live up to expectations. Jeremy Clarkson giving it an absolute roasting in his review, which further depressed the initially lacklustre reaction from the market.

A "box on wheels" and "like road testing a microwave oven" were two of the more positive conclusions he drew.

Suzuki X-90

 1990s cars

It’s no surprise that Top Gear magazine voted the bizarre looking X-90 as one of the 13 worst cars of the last 20 years.

Aside from the fact it looked totally ridiculous – think shopping trolley with the edges sanded down – no-one really had any idea where it was supposed to fit in the market. It neither had the practicality required of an SUV, nor the agility of a sportier number.

In fact, the only positive thing you can say is that it was in production for a very short while before Suzuki came to its senses.


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