Inflatable furniture, portable CD players, the Spice Girls – all things that came to define the 1990s. For a decade that wasn’t anywhere near as flamboyant as its 1980s predecessor, it certainly had its own flavour. Car culture in the 1990s was interesting with Japanese marques mounting a real assault in Europe and supercar makers frequently humbled by tough economic times. Something that remained the same was our roads being made up of a rich tapestry of vehicles.
It wasn’t easy narrowing down this list, but here are the top 10 cars of the 1990s.
When Dodge wanted a 1990s equivalent of the much loved Shelby Cobra of old, this was the end result. The Dodge Viper carries the philosophy of being a simple car fitted with a huge engine. When officially launched in 1992, it wielded an 8.0-litre V10 engine created with the help of Lamborghini. It soon got a reputation for being a bit of a widowmaker thanks to over 400bhp and no driver aids at all.
A second generation Viper joined the party in 1996 and offered a popular coupe model dubbed GTS. This car was a slightly more refined creature than its rough and ready forefather.
The Mazda RX-7 was introduced back in 1978 to showcase Mazda’s Wankel rotary engine – stop laughing. This sports car evolved over the decades until its final third generation that came to fruition in 1992. Typically understated like all Japanese cars of the era, the sleek RX-7 was powered by a twin-turbocharged 1.3-litre rotary engine.
This lightweight sports car possessed agile handling characteristics and a motor capable of revving into the stratosphere. There were no less than 11 variants of this RX-7 over its 10-year lifespan, but the most collectable is the 276bhp manual Spirit R.
Group B rallying had gone away, but the 1990s were a golden era for WRC. There’s no more iconic rally-bred beast than the Subaru 22B, a two-door Impreza that was so much more than a special edition car. Built to celebrate the Japanese marque’s 40th anniversary in 1998, the 22B is an icon today.
A larger EJ22 engine was fitted, new turbo, forged pistons and reinforced prop shaft to cope with the power hike granted a 0-60mph run of 5.3 seconds. All 399 rarified examples sold within 48 hours, with rally legend Colin McRae even having to pay full price for his.
How do you top a car as incredible as the Ferrari F40? Some say it has never been done, but the F50 certainly had its crack of the whip. This super made use of a 12-cylinder engine that was derived from a Formula 1 car. A manual six-speed transmission and 512bhp made it quite the ride.
Unfairly underrated due to following a genuine automotive icon, the F50 is today becoming the highly appreciated performance machine it should have been back in the 1990s.
The S1 Lotus Elise set the world of sports cars ablaze in 1996 when it arrived. The British marque was back with vengeance and championing its founder’s methodology of ‘adding lightness.’ Its Rover K-Series engine might have only been good for 118bhp, but this car weighed less than 800kg.
Famed for its incredible handling, the Lotus Elise lived on until 2021 through several generations. The S1 is where it all started.
It might not have AMG in its name, but this race car with numberplates was the responsibility of Mercedes-Benz’s ‘go faster’ division. The CLK GTR is very clearly a racing car with its extreme aerodynamic bodywork, but endurance racing rules of the time required Merc to build 25 road cars.
The road cars feature a trimmed cabin and a few luxuries such as air conditioning, but this was still a fire-breathing V12 motorsport machine by all accounts. A Roadster model was also built, but they were more of a formality than anything else.
The iconic Lamborghini Countach’s life had come to an end, and new Lambo owners Chrysler wanted a fresh flagship for the 1990s. Enter the Diablo, a more modern Lamborghini that gladly retained a boisterous nature. Initially powered by a 5.7-litre V12 engine, this grew over time to 6-litres.
The distinctive wedge shape produced many special editions and higher performance variants, most notably the race-inspired GT. Better than just making cars styled like a racer, Lamborghini actually entered the Diablo into various motorsport events.
The Jaguar XJ220 had a long and difficult birth due to its ambitious V12 all-wheel drive plans being adapted to difficult financial times. Initially, Jaguar had over 1,000 people declaring an interest in the car, but a ‘downgrade' to a twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 and many delays lead to cancelled orders.
The uninitiated might see the XJ220 as something of a failure, but in truth, this machine is an incredible supercar. A 0-60mph sprint lasts just 3.6 seconds and F1 driver Martin Brundle took the car to a top speed of 217mph with the rev limiter removed. It was briefly the world’s fastest road production car.
There have been many impressive giant-killing Skylines over the nameplate’s history, but the R34 was the machine that announced to the world that Nissan wasn’t afraid to publicly shame supercars at a fraction of the price. A 2.6-litre twin-turbo engine and all-wheel drive would rocket this car from 0-62mph in just 4.7 seconds – a time that still rivals high-performance machines today.
Packed full of technology, the Skyline GT–R’s computing power showed everything from G-forces to lap times on a 5.8-inch display. Not bad for 1999.
Predictable? Probably, but how can the mighty McLaren F1 not crown this list? The Gordon Murray-designed supercar was built to be the greatest driving experience money could buy. A central driving position, naturally aspirated V12 engine and a lightweight construction defined this great car. Its 240mph top speed was apparently just a byproduct of its engineering.
This car held the record of fastest road production car for over seven years after clocking over 240mph in 1998. It remains the fastest naturally aspirated automobile in the world. Oh, and did we forget to mention it outright won the Le Mans 24 hours?