Home Cars 20 1990s Cars That Were Way Ahead Of Their Time

20 1990s Cars That Were Way Ahead Of Their Time

Cameron Eittreim December 29, 2021

The 1990s were a pivotal time for the automotive industry, as technology and design were rapidly changing. The way automakers designed cars and trucks was uniformly different than it was just a decade before. The SUV boom was happening, and 1990s cars were becoming more aerodynamic and versatile in terms of styling. GM was experiencing a resurgence and Toyota was reaching new heights in terms of popularity with their 1990s cars. Ford also experimented with new designs during this era, including the oval-shaped Taurus and the SN95 Mustang.

When you look back at many 1990s cars, the automotive advances that came out of this decade were astonishing. Cars were becoming more advanced, fuel-efficient, and closely resembling the vehicles we have today. You might take 1990s cars for granted, but this was an important piece of automotive history. There will never be an automotive era like the 1990s again, and there will never be cars like there were in this decade. We looked back at 20 1990s cars that were far ahead of their time in terms of design and technology.

Photo Credit: GM

20: GM EV1

The EV1 makes it onto our list. Before Tesla and before Toyota was the green car maker, there was the GM EV1. The expensive two-seater spawned a revolution and lots of controversies. When GM decided to return all leases and destroy the remaining EV1 models, there was a public outcry. The car had developed a loyal following of enthusiasts like the Teslas we see today (via Car & Driver).

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The styling of the EV1 was similar to the Saturn line that GM was selling at the time. The GM EV1 was the first practical and mass-produced electric car. It wasn’t too futuristic that drivers would shun it and was comfortable enough to make a daily commute pleasant. From a performance standpoint, the EV1 wouldn’t win as many races as a Tesla can. The cargo space was also very limited, but the rest of the car was way ahead of its time.

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19: Pontiac Firebird

The fourth-generation GM F-Body was the first modern muscle car as we know it. This was the first muscle car that exclusively used a fuel-injected motor as well as a Corvette-derived V8 engine. The later models, introduced in 1998, would continue to use an LS motor that GM has stayed with to this day. The styling was radically different than other 1990s cars on the market at the time (via Cars.com).

Photo Credit: Jay Leno’s Garage

The interior was also a glimpse into the future, with much more expensive design elements incorporated into it. The car still had classic features, such as the removable glass roof panels, but overall it was a brand new design. The Firehawk models are rare and feature some of the most dazzling design elements of any Pontiac ever made. Needless to say, there are very few muscle cars that were as instrumental as the fourth-generation GM F-Body.

Photo Credit: GM

18: Oldsmobile Aurora

There was a time when the Oldsmobile brand was at the forefront of automotive design and innovation. Sadly, the 1990s were the beginning of the end for the brand as we know it. GM was heavily into badge engineering cars at this point. Oldsmobile had no unique cars that they could call their own. But in one final hurrah, GM designed the Aurora, which was intended to be a high-end futuristic car. It was said the plan internally was to branch the Aurora off as its own brand, but this never came to fruition (via Hemmings).

Photo Credit: GM

The Aurora was a beautiful car released at a time when automakers slowly moved away from boxy styling. The powerful Northstar V8 engine could compete with the best Germany had to offer. The interior was decked out with all kinds of new technology, most of which we take for granted these days. Sadly, it wasn’t enough to preserve the brand, and the Aurora was killed off with the rest of the Oldsmobile brand in 2004.

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17: Mitsubishi 3000 GT

In the automotive world, the 3000GT must be the most underappreciated car around. When enthusiasts praise the Toyota Supra and Nissan Z, the 3000 GT is a car that was just as good in every way. The performance could compete with the best that Japan had to offer, and the engineering wasn’t bad either. When you look at the 3000 GT, the outward appearance isn’t as impressive as you’d think (via Jalopnik).

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The 3000 GT had many innovative features, including a twin-turbo engine. The same type of technology that went into the Toyota Supra and the Nissan Z. Enthusiasts have long underrated the 3000 GT, and as such, the price remained low. But the technological advancements of the car and the superior drivetrain all made the 3000 GT great. A Spyder edition of the car is also a rarity and beautiful looking.

Photo Credit: Ford

16: Ford Probe

The Ford Probe was meant to be the replacement for the Mustang. Somewhere in the hierarchy of Ford corporate, the executives thought the appetite for muscle cars was gone. That wasn’t the case, and the Probe never got close to stealing the thunder of the Mustang. That’s not to say the car was horrible, though. There were many advances that the Probe brought to the table at a time when other automakers shy away from sports cars (via Car & Driver).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The 24V edition of the car brought the true performance to a small form factor. The styling of the Probe was also into the future. There wasn’t a lot wrong with the Probe in terms of the design, but it just didn’t catch on with consumers. Few cars were as forward-thinking as the Probe was when it hit the market. Ford had a grand idea of replacing the Mustang, but those plans fell through and the Probe ended up being discontinued.

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15: Ford Taurus

Few cars were as poorly received in the 1990s as the Ford Taurus. Ford introduced a new futuristic oval-themed design in 1996, but the automotive community rejected the styling. Critics were quick to pan the new design for being too overtly oval. The new design for the car was far too futuristic and much different than anything attempted. Before this extreme redesign, the Ford Taurus was known as a modest family sedan (via Road & Track).

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The sedate styling of the earlier Taurus models had set a standard that the new model blew away. Drivers just couldn’t get over the extreme look of the car, and the sales began to sink. Not to mention that this was one of the least reliable generations of the Taurus. With rampant transmission failures and head gasket failures, the car ended up being a costly investment for Ford that didn’t pay off.

Photo Credit: Edmunds

14: Dodge Intrepid

In the early 1990s, Chrysler was experimenting with a new type of automotive design. Known as “cab-forward design”, the Intrepid was the first in a line of new sedans. These sedans pushed the wheels to the furthest corners of the car, increasing interior volume and creating a new aerodynamic look that was unlike anything else on the market. The Intrepid and its bandmates, the Eagle Vision and Chrysler Concorde, proved to be instrumental in the 1990s resurgence of the Chrysler Corporation (via Car & Driver).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The Intrepid in particular spurred a newfound automotive design language across the spectrum. Other automakers were forced to follow suit, which is how we got to the point where we are today. Now, several 1990s cars had to change from the boxy shapes of the past, and Chrysler was at the forefront. Cab forward design doesn’t get the credit it deserves for changing the automotive landscape.

VW Beetle
Photo Credit: VW

13: Volkswagen New Beetle

Released in 1998, the New Beetle completely revolutionized the retro-themed design language that we see across the industry. The New Beetle was the first modern car with a retro-inspired design. This proved to be one of the most popular brand revisions in automotive history, and the New Beetle stayed on the market for two decades (via Motor Trend).

VW Beetle
Photo Credit: Volkswagen

There were quite a few notable things that the New Beetle had, including a flower holder on the dashboard. The styling of the car was dubbed cute and spawned a revolution with 1990s cars late in the decade. With colorful paint schemes and many unique features, the New Beetle was more popular than ever.

Photo Credit: Chrysler

12: Chrysler PT Cruiser

Teased and released in 1999 as a concept car slated for production, the PT Cruiser changed the definition of a concept car. The production model was about as close to the concept car as you could get. Every inch of the design was different than anything tried before. It was the first modern five-door wagon with a contemporary design that paid tribute to the past (via Consumer Reports).

Photo Credit: Chrysler

Before the PT Cruiser, automakers were trying to erase the past but the PT embraced it. There were clubs founded around this car and its unique looks. There were also special-edition PT Cruiser models that came later on, such as the California Edition. The latter part of the 1990s was home to many unique concept cars, but the PT Cruiser is unique in that it became a reality a few years later.

Photo Credit: GM

11: GM Dustbuster Vans

The minivan segment was created in the mid-1980s by Chrysler and no other automaker could replicate the success. But that doesn’t mean GM didn’t try, and the Dustbuster-themed vans were evidence of this. The Lumina, Trans Sport, and Silhouette were unique-looking vans, to say the least. Dubbed the “Dustbuster” vans by the automotive press, the styling was futuristic and unlike other 1990s cars in this market segment (via Jalopnik).

Photo Credit: GM

The sloped windshield gave the driver an incredible viewing angle from the road. The interior was more spacious than any other van on the market but the styling was difficult for consumers to get over. Nevertheless, these vans posted reasonable sales numbers in a short amount of time and GM stayed at the top of the minivan business for some time.

Photo Credit: GM

10: Oldsmobile Silhouette

Although we just covered the GM Dustbuster vans in the entry above, the Silhouette was the first luxury minivan. The styling was a little more refined than the run-of-the-mill GM vans on the market at the time. Oldsmobile added many unique features to the van, such as tri-zone climate control and heated seats (via The Truth About Cars).

Photo Credit: GM

To this point, the only luxury minivan was the Chrysler Town & Country, and that was nothing more than a rebadged Caravan. The Silhouette showed that GM could still innovate with the Oldsmobile brand, albeit less than before. Unfortunately, the Silhouette was discontinued for the 2004 model year with the rest of the Oldsmobile lineup.

Photo Credit: Jay Leno’s Garage

9: Chevrolet Corvette

The Corvette is one of the most iconic cars on the road. But in 1997, the car completely changed into the modern Corvette that we have today. The styling of the Corvette was completely revised with a modern exterior. Smooth styling and an LS-powered engine transformed how the car looked and felt while making it one of the more transcendent 1990s cars (via Road & Track).

Photo Credit: Jay Leno’s Garage

On the interior, GM revised the Corvette to be more modern and appealing to upmarket consumers. The Corvette went from a boxy looking sports car to something sleek and stylish. The C5 Corvette is such a beautiful car that it still looks modern to this day. Today you can find a C5 Corvette for a reasonable price and drive one of the most advanced sports cars ever built.

Photo Credit: JDM

8: Honda Del Sol

In a short time, Honda created quite a few fun 1990s cars that defined the decade for the popular automaker. The Civic Si and CRX are two vehicles that come to mind. But the 1990s were a time of innovation, and one of the most innovative cars to come across was the Del Sol (via Motor 1).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The roadster-inspired Civic was nothing short of amazing with its sleek styling and compact stature. An optional targa top made the Del Sol even more unique. Sadly, the car wasn’t practical enough for the average Civic shopper. There was no backseat and the cargo area was limited when most Civic buyers were looking for versatility and value.

Photo Credit: GM

7: Geo Tracker

Prior to the Tracker hitting the market, compact SUVs were never really a thing. But the diminutive SUV showed the world that you didn’t have to suffer from poor road manners and gas mileage. Based on the Suzuki Sidekick, the Geo Tracker was good on gas and relatively good at going off-road. Buyers wanted something that they could take to the beach or to the trail without having to break the bank (via Repair Pal).

Photo Credit: GM

The Tracker did that in spades and is still considered one of the best SUV models for the money. You can find these anywhere, and they are relatively reliable. Unfortunately, the Tracker didn’t make it past the 2004 model year. By the time the world was ready for a compact SUV, Toyota and Honda had innovated the segment.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

6: Honda CR-V

Although the Geo Tracker was the first compact SUV, the Honda CR-V did it right. Honda took all the elements of a great SUV and combined it into an attractive and affordable package. The first generation of the CR-V had refined road manners, a luxurious interior when you got the upmarket model, and a decent amount of versatility (via Car Gurus).

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Honda didn’t rely on gimmicks such as a removable top to sell the CR-V and it worked. The model became one of the best selling Hondas of all-time. With timeless styling and a comfortable interior, you can’t go wrong with a CR-V. Reliability is also the top reason people go for the CR-V on the used market. There is no doubt that the original CR-V was way ahead of its time.

Photo Credit: BMW

5: BMW Z3 Coupe

BMW is a brand that hit its stride in the ’90s. The BMW lineup from that decade is considered one of the best lineups in the history of the company. The Z3 Coupe is one of the most unique looking sports cars that came out. A hatchback design was incorporated with the standard design of the Z3 (via Consumer Reports).

Photo Credit: BMW

A relatively low production run made the Z3 coupe unique. There were no compact luxury sports coupes during this time, and the Z3 was an innovator. BMW was known for pushing the envelope of design around this time. Few cars are as notoriously rare as the Z3 Coupe is from this unique decade.

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4: Porsche 911

The Porsche brand was at a crossroads in the 1990s and the 993 body style was brand-new. From a design standpoint, the 911 was similar to the generations that came before it. But that might be the one thing that made Porsche special around this time. These Porsche models were increasingly modern and still look good to this day (via Car Gurus).

Photo Credit: Edmunds

The 911 is also one of the best performing sports models on the road today. The interior had enough standard luxury features that the 911 was appealing. Even the most discerning Porsche enthusiast could seem themselves driving the 911. This sports car was far ahead of the curve in terms of design and performance.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

3: Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG

The 1990s body style of the Mercedes Benz SL55 is as iconic as it is long in the tooth. This was one of the longest-running body styles for a Mercedes sports car. These cars have peaked in value and are catching good premiums when they go to the auction block. The SL55 had modern luxury features that we are used to seeing, and some that we aren’t (via New Car Test Drive).

Ref 42 2004 Mercedes-Benz SL55 F1 MRP
Photo Credit: Historics Auctioneers

The SL55 had an amazing performance out of the box that could rival even the most expensive sports cars. The interior is still considered high luxury today, and the powered convertible top was a nice touch. When it comes to classic supercars, the Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG is worth considering.

Car - 1998 Toyota Supra
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2: Toyota Supra Turbo

As under-appreciated as it was, the final generation of the Supra Turbo has become an icon. The Toyota Supra Turbo had futuristic styling and a luxurious interior. Many of the cars were shared with the Lexus SC400. The underpinnings were some of the most advanced technical advances that went into a Toyota sports car (via Auto Detective).

1997 Toyota Supra - 1992 Toyota Supra
Photo Credit: Toyota

Unfortunately, when the Supra Turbo hit the market, the segment for sports cars was drying up. Consumers had shifted to sport utility vehicles, and the sports car was no longer popular. Later in the 2000s, though, the Supra Turbo was featured in the drifting scene and became more popular than ever.

Photo Credit: Acura

1: Acura NSX

The Acura brand has never been as popular as Lexus was for Toyota. But there have been quite a few unique Acura models. The NSX is one such model and one of the only super cars to come from Honda. The styling was far more unique than anything else on the market. To this day, the NSX is one of the most beautiful sports cars ever released (via Car Gurus).

Photo Credit: Automobile

The performance of the NSX was at the top of the food chain. Many features that the NSX had are considered standard equipment. But when the NSX was brand new, these features were unique to say the least. The NSX will undoubtedly be one of the most popular 1990s cars ever and was certainly ahead of its time.

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