Nostalgia never ceases to be a dominant emotion in any enthusiast driver’s everyday life. There is the fondness for the make and model of your first car, then your first real-brand new car. Memories are forever tied to that specific make and model of vehicle, the color, the upholstery and the passengers it carried.
For those of us who were driving in the 90s, the cars were all much improved and impressive relative to their predecessors. Car manufacturers focused on sleek design and aerodynamics, putting down the straight edge and the T-square, at the same time where technology began to advance dramatically, leading to breakthroughs in performance. The 90s are a decade that marked the advent of a new kind of motor vehicle, and some of the best any driver has driven. Below are 30 of the best cars of the ‘90s.
BMW E39 M5
The E39 M5 saw an increase in power with a 4.9L V8 engine. It was produced in greater numbers than the previous generations of this German model. Unlike its predecessors, the M5 was manufactured on the same assembly line as the regular 5-series lineup, in Dingolfing, Germany. The E39 M5 is considered by many to have the cleanest 5-Series body style ever designed.
The Honda NSX was a 2-seated, mid-engine sports car, carrying the look of 1991 with every mile it crossed. The origins of the car date back to before the 90s, however, with the “HP-X” concept, which best intention was to meet or exceed the performance of the Ferrari.
Aston Martin DB7
The Aston Martin DB7 was a grand tourer, manufactured by Aston Martin starting in September 1994. With a 5.9L V12 engine, it was available as a coupe or convertible.
The third generation E38 was manufactured beginning in 1994. This was the first 7-series to be available with a diesel engine as well as the first to have the option of a five-speed automatic transmission. Brining technology to the forefront, BMW made this the first European car to offer an integrated satellite navigation screen, a highlight on the E38 7 Series.
The successor to Ferrari’s F40, the sleek and extravagant F50 cost about $500k when it became available in 1995. The Ferrari F50 was a mid-engined range-topping sports car with two doors, two seats and a removable hardtop. It had a 4.7L V12 engine.
The Ferrari F355 (Type F129) was a sports car built beginning in May 1994. This Ferrari was notable for having the door handles hidden under the intake duct.
The design of the X300 was directly affected by the Ford Motor Company’s ownership of Jaguar. The X300, introduced in 1994, was stylistically unique but mechanically similar to the XJ40 that it replaced.
BMW M Coupe
The M Coupe, manufactured starting in 1998 was a high-performance vehicle exported from Germany. The M Coupe was acclaimed for its nerdy chic style and it appealed to only a select audience of drivers.
The Plymouth Prowler was a retro-styled car released first in 1997 and then again from 1999-2002. Chrysler offered this model as a single generation in a front-engine, rear-drive, rear-transmission configuration, only reaching an overall vehicle production of 11,700.
Porsche 911 GT3
The Porsche 911 GT3 was a high-performance version of the Porsche 911 sports car, primarily driven for racing. The “GT3” nameplate was first coined in 1999 as part of the first generation of the Porsche 996 model lineup. Because this car was designed for racing use first, it was lacking numerous features such as AC, rear seats and rear speakers. However, if a driver purchased this car for road use instead, Porsche typically added many of those standard features as low or no-cost add-ons.
BMW E36 M3
The E36 is a car that will forever remain in the 90s. Manufactured from 1992-1999, it was the first M3 powered by a straight-six inline engine. Depending on the year it was purchased, this car came with a 2990 cc, 3152 cc or 3201 cc engine.
The Saab 900 was a compact luxury car produced by Saab from 1978 until 1998, in two generations. The first generation (1978 to 1993) is known as the “classic”; the generation from 1994 to 1998 is known as the “new generation.” The Saab 900 made dozens of achievements lists and won awards in the 90s for being one of the best sports cars available.
The XJ220 was a two-seated luxury sports car manufactured by Jaguar from 1992 until 1994. This car was designed in collaboration with the automotive race engineering organization Tom Walkinshaw Racing. The top speed of the XJ220 was 217.1 mph, remarkable considering its massive size.
The Diablo was a high-performance mid-engined sports car exported from Italy between 1990 and 2001. It was the first Lamborghini to reach a top speed in excess of 200 miles per hour. After the end of its production, it was replaced by the LP640.
Lotus Esprit V8
The Esprit V8 at first glance could pass for a car from the previous decade. The wedge-shaped design had an ‘80s feel to it. Yet, in 1996 this two door coupe with its V8 engine still hit the road, refusing to evolve its design. Still, it managed to exceed 175 mph.
Maserati 3200 GT
The 3200 GT’s appearance is itself a throwback to the GT of the 60s, except this model came in 1998, with a 3.2 L V8 engine and the driver’s choice of a manual or automatic transmission.
One of the most iconic Japanese cars of the 90s, the 1.3 L R2 engine on the Mazda RX-7 helped it make Car and Driver magazine’s Ten Best list five times in this decade. The third generation of the RX-7 was by far the most technology advanced and soundly engineered. The sequential twin turbocharged system helped raise its rank as a race car as well.
The first generation Lotus Elise was made from 1997 to 2001. It was named after the granddaughter of Romano Artioli, Lotus’s chairperson at the time. The Lotus Elise was a two-seat, rear-wheel drive, mid-engined roadster with a hand-finished fiberglass body. It was capable of speeds up to 150 mph.
Nissan Skyline R33
The R33 Skyline was introduced to the world in August 1993. Heavier than the R32, it was available in coupe and sedan body types.
This is a car everybody remembers seeing on the road throughout the 90s. The Aurora was designed in an effort to recover the diminishing popularity of Oldsmobile. The Aurora was a mid-sized luxury sports sedan manufactured 1995 to 2003. It had the same Cadillac-derived G platform as the two-door Buick Riviera and was powered by a 32-valve 4L V8 replacing the Oldsmobile Toronado coupe as well as the Oldsmobile 98.
Porsche introduced the Boxster in 1996, and it aided the car manufacturer in the profits it managed to recover. The first-generation Boxster (the 986) was introduced in late 1996; it was powered by a 2.5L flat six-cylinder engine. The design was heavily influenced by the 1992 Boxster Concept.
The Toyota Supra is a car that makes almost every list of ‘greatest enthusiast’s car.’ Produced from 1978 on, this icon of the late 80s and early 90s developed its own cult following in the auto enthusiast world, with many salivating, but few buying from showrooms in the late 90s.
Mercedes added to its lineup of sporty convertibles in 1993 with the V8-powered 500SL. The base model had a 228 hp, 3.0L inline 6 engine. The R129 model was the first convertible roadster to offer the automatic rollbar deployment in the event of rollover. The Mercedes 500SL was a luxury car we saw in music videos and TV shows in the 90s, with lawyers and doctors behind the wheel.
Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1
From 1990-1995 the Corvette ZR-1 was the fast and furious choice of top tier vehicles. The 5.7L V8 engine was for speed racers in their time, capable of making it from 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds, and still then exceeding 180 mph. This car set seven world records at a test track in Fort Stockton, Texas on March 1, 1990.
First shown at the 1995 Frankfurt Auto Show, the TT made it to production in 1998. The options of 1.8-litre I4 20v turbo or 3.2 L VR6 engines made it a top competitor in the realms of the best cars of this decade, even if it was a late comer.
Dodge Viper GTS
The first generation of models could complete the 1/4 mile in 12.9 seconds. The Viper continued production until 2010, however, it was the models remembered from 1992-1999 that conjure nostalgia for that decade.
With its first generation engine, the Hummer H1 could truly go anywhere, but not quickly. Making it from 0-60 mph took 20 or more seconds. It had a 6+L V8 engine and automatic transmission and appealed to anybody desiring an oversized, expensive off-road ready warrior of a vehicle.
The second-generation Lexus LS was introduced in November 1994. The Lexus LS400 showed that luxury was not just available from Italy or Germany. This was a reliable, sleek and safe car. The LS400 had a 4.0L V8 engine, reaching 250 hp and garnering the respect it deserved among the best cars of the 90s.
The McLaren F1 was engineered with a degree of precision and attention to detail that had never been seen before. In 1998, the XP5 prototype set the record for the world’s fastest production car, reaching 240.1 mph. It had a 6.1 L BMW S70/2 V12 engine, manual transmission and futuristic design. It was the luxurious answer to the 90s’ Formula 1 perfection question, owned by celebrities and sultans alike.
Ford Mustang SVT Cobra
The Ford SVT Mustang Cobra was a pony car built between 1993 and 2004. It is the only true Ford on this list. This year had a 5.8 L Windsor V8 engine, 5-speed manual transmission and more fuel capacity than its predecessors did. For whatever year a Ford Mustang Cobra hit the road, it was a four-wheeled, American-made, fire engine red symbol of the 90s.