Home Cars American Cars From The ’90s Drivers Forgot Existed For Good Reason

American Cars From The ’90s Drivers Forgot Existed For Good Reason

Cameron Eittreim January 14, 2022

The ’90s were among the most transformative decades ever in the automotive industry. So many new advances came into the picture as cars and trucks were becoming more fuel-efficient, luxurious, and expensive. However, many duds came out during this decade. Domestic automakers were far too willing to simply badge engineer a car model again and again. This redundancy in the marketplace allowed Japanese automakers to take over a large market share. This was perhaps the worst period for domestic automakers when it came to innovation and design.

Honda and Toyota were both able to capitalize during this decade and Lexus became one of the biggest success stories ever. Ford had a tough time convincing buyers to gravitate toward the redesigned Taurus and GM had a portfolio of lookalike brands. The quality of American-manufactured vehicles diminished dramatically during this decade. There were many great car models released in the ‘90s but there were also a lot of bad ones. We looked back at some American cars that drivers forgot existed for good reasons.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

25: Ford Aspire

Based on a Kia-made design, this bite-sized Ford model was anything but a practical car. It was the butt of many jokes during its tenure and it failed to garner any serious market share. GM had the Geo Metro, which was a popular little car. Ford couldn’t recreate that magic with the Aspire as buyers just didn’t want the cheaply-made car (via The Truth About Cars).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

It’s so bad that even to this day it’s almost impossible to find parts for the Aspire. The car sold poorly and Ford chose not to support the car after it was discontinued. Many of what the Aspire offered was carried over from the previous Ford Festiva model. Buyers weren’t looking for a car that was this stripped down. The price of an Aspire was more expensive than a comparable Geo Metro and you got less for the price.

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24: Mercury Villager

You’ve got to give Ford an A for Effort when it came to the Mercury car brand in the ’90s. The company was doing everything it could to try and drive customers to a Mercury dealership. The problem is that the cars were just rebadged Ford models and most consumers weren’t interested in them. The Villager is a prime example of something that wasn’t appealing on any level. Based on the Nissan Quest minivan, the Villager was a poorly disguised clone (via New Car Test Drive).

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Badge engineering was a big thing at this time, so naturally, it applied to this model. But the Quest was already undersized when you compared it to the massively popular Chrysler vans. Consumers weren’t buying the sales pitch that came along with the Villager. The small size of the van and underpowered design coupled with a higher price tag drove car shoppers the other way.

Photo Credit: GM

23: Chevrolet Lumina APV

The GM “dustbuster” style vans of the ’90s need no introduction. For a short period, these vans could be seen on highways across America. Their styling was controversial but in GM’s eyes were a welcomed change over the Chrysler boxes. Consumers were not so welcoming and the vans were criticized for their extreme styling. The Lumina was fairly comfortable but that didn’t mean enough to save the vehicle overall (via Jalopnik).

Photo Credit: GM

The Lumina APV was an interesting concept and GM was trying to be ahead of the curve. Sadly, the design of minivans hadn’t advanced that much in a short period and the Lumina was hideous to look at. The rest of the GM “dustbuster” style vans that made their way onto showroom floors were, too.

Ford Aerostar
Photo Credit: Ford

22: Ford Aerostar

The rise of the minivan surprised the automotive industry during the ’90s. Chrysler had a hit on their hands with the Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan. Ford was slow to adapt to the minivan concept and instead went with the Aerostar. While the van was a lot smaller than the Econoline, it was still a lot larger than a comparable Caravan. Ford would end up selling a lot of Aerostars with the vast majority going to fleet customers (via The Truth About Cars).

Photo Credit: Ford

The Aerostar was never a massive success for Ford, but the van did sell in respectable numbers. The reliability of the Aerostar was praised, and the interior volume was ideal for a larger family. Before the SUV was the vehicle of choice for a family, the Aerostar was one of the next best options. Unfortunately, most consumers have forgotten about it by now and you’ll seldom see one on the road anymore.

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21: Oldsmobile Bravada Smart-Trac

Nowadays, a luxury SUV is nothing special, but back in the ’90s, it was still a new concept. The Bravada was the first and only SUV to ever wear an Oldsmobile badge. Although it was based on the Chevy Blazer, the driving experience was far more refined. The Bravada was sort of the Escalade long before Cadillac ever got into the SUV game. With all the new crossover SUVs in the marketplace, people tend to forget that GM did it almost three decades ago (via Jalopnik).

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When it came to a luxury SUV, the original Bravada was firing on all cylinders. The styling was much more refined than the Blazer, the interior was comfortable, and the Vortec V6 was a great motor. Not to mention the Bravada had the durability of the tried-and-true Blazer/Jimmy platform.

Photo Credit: BAT

20: Ford Contour

The Contour was a strange in-between sedan slotted above the Escort and under the Taurus in the Ford lineup throughout the ’90s. The problem was that the Contour wasn’t that much larger than the Escort. However, the price was much higher, which made many consumers go the other way when it came to purchasing one. The Contour shared its platform with a Ford model sold overseas (via Hagerty).

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This helped ensure the Contour had a sportier ride quality but that was about it. The compact dimensions of the car made for a cramped interior. For the price, you could get a car with more room and better driving dynamics. There were a few unique variations of the Contour such as the SVT model, but that was about it.

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19: Ford Escort

There was a time when the Escort was one of the most popular compact cars on the market. Its cheap price tag and practicality of the car made it a hit. But the latter part of the Escort’s life cycle was rather sad. The redesign in the mid-’90s made it a bland shell of its former self. The styling had gone from being attractive to something that you’d miss in the parking lot (via The Truth About Cars).

Ford Escort ZX2
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The Escort of the ’90s was a failed endeavor for Ford to reignite the brand. The car lacked personality, which was bad for consumers and even worse for the brand in general. The ZX2 sports car model didn’t do much to invoke the interest of potential buyers, and the Escort nameplate eventually faded into obscurity.

Photo Credit: Chrysler Corp

18: Plymouth Voyager

It’s easy to forget that Plymouth was once a major part of the Chrysler portfolio. The brand had more importance than the Dodge name in many ways. Plymouth was positioned as the brand that would bring entry-level consumers into a Chrysler showroom. The cars were often more stripped-down than a comparable Dodge model and the heritage of Plymouth made it an attractive brand (via Car Gurus).

Photo Credit: Plymouth

That’s why it was instrumental in launching the minivan into the public eye. The Voyager was one of the most important cars in history. The birth of the minivan movement completely changed the way consumers bought a new car. This change has lasted up into the present era as we gravitate toward crossover vehicles instead of the traditional sedan.

Shelby CSX
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17: Dodge Shadow

The tides have changed at Dodge and now the Challenger is the go-to model in the Dodge portfolio. No longer is the brand trying to attract family car shoppers or the value-oriented consumers it once did. In the ’90s, the Dodge brand was quite diverse with a plethora of different models offered. One breakaway success for the brand was the Shadow, which was an attractive car for the period (via All Par).

Shelby CSX-VNT
Photo Credit: Mecum

The Shadow has all but disappeared from modern roadways, somewhat like how the dinosaurs eventually just vanished. These early model Dodges were easily forgettable and didn’t do much to build a reputation of quality. But back then, if you wanted a cheap, brand-new car, there was a good chance you were driving a Shadow.

Photo Credit: Edmunds

16: Mercury Mystique

Sharing a platform with the Ford Contour wasn’t an easy task given that the car wasn’t that popular. Nevertheless, Ford continued to rebadge various car models in the Mercury lineup and the Mystique was the next one on the list. The car didn’t offer that much more value over the Contour. The price was a bit higher because you paid for the quality of the Mercury name (via Repair Pal).

Photo Credit: Ford

The Mystique was a car that ended up being relegated to rental car fleets. The platform itself offered decent driving characteristics, but the close contrast to the Escort made consumers question the validity of the car. The Mystique is probably one of the most forgotten cars from this era.

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15: Mercury Tracer

It’s interesting to look back and think about how diverse the Mercury lineup was during this time. Even if all the cars were just re-engineered Fords, there were quite a few car models to choose from. The Tracer was slightly more popular than the Mystique, and much of that had to do with the shared Escort design. Consumers were willing to pay a bit extra to have an Escort with some additional luxury features (via Edmunds).

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Step into a Tracer wagon from this era and the quality will pleasantly surprise you. Unfortunately, the Tracer was still easily forgettable, and you’ll seldom see one on the road anymore. Mercury was quick to abandon the nameplate at the turn of the decade. The brand was being positioned to reach a more feminine audience.

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14: Chevrolet Monte Carlo

The Monte Carlo of the ’90s is one of the most confusing cars ever built. You took a tried-and-true sports car platform powered by a V8 engine and turned it into a two-door rental car. What was essentially a Lumina coupe, the Monte Carlo from this era was hardly anything to take home. The power was lackluster at best and styling was about as meek as you could get (via KBB).

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The car did have a decent run in the NASCAR circuit and there was even a Z34 edition. But that wasn’t enough to reach the milestones of the Monte Carlo models that came before it. This is by far one of the most forgotten Monte Carlo models around. The car ended up being relegated to rental car fleets and auction yards.

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13: Chevrolet Lumina

If there is one segment that the domestic automakers truly forfeited during the ’90s, it was the family sedan. The designs of family sedans from this era were bland, unimaginative, and lacking the refinement of Japanese car makers. The Lumina is a prime example of this cheap engineering that caused the automakers to lose so much marketshare. GM did nothing to make this car appealing (via Edmunds).

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The Lumina was oversized and underpowered, lacking any sense of refinement. The interior was also quite cheap considering the competition. Right out of the gate, there were reports of reliability issues and cheap design. When it came to selling a reliable family sedan, Chevy missed the mark with the Lumina.

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12: Oldsmobile Achieva

GM positioned the Oldsmobile brand as the innovator in the automotive industry. While this was the case early on, by the ’90s the brand was just a home for rebadged GM models. The Achieva was a lowly compact car that boasted a lot in advertising. But when it came down to the finished product, the fit and finish wasn’t there. Competition was so fierce that buyers went to the other brands and Oldsmobile was left in the dust (via Car Gurus).

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The Achieva was a decent car from a ride quality perspective. The cushioned ride was popular with Oldsmobile loyalists. But for the rest of the consumers who were in the market for a car in this segment, the compact stature of the Achieva left a lot to be desired. The ’90s dated the styling and most people turned their noses up at this car.

Photo Credit: GM

11: Cadillac Catera

A compact Cadillac meant to take on the BMW 3-Series was the plan for the Catera. Unfortunately, the final result was a car that was less than perfect even by ’90s GM standards. The first problem is that the Catera was not a fresh design and was based on a car sold overseas. The styling of the car was nothing close to what Cadillac was selling around this time period either (via Every Auto).

Photo Credit: GM

If anything, the Catera was far too small to be considered a Cadillac, and it tried too hard to appeal to younger buyers. Reliability was questionable even when the car was brand-new, and if you find a used one you’re in for a nightmare. The Catera is considered one of the worst Cadillac models ever.

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10: Chrysler Cirrus

Chrysler sold many different sedans in the 1990s, but the most successful was the Cirrus. The car was well-appointed at the time, had decent styling, and was the most reliable in the company’s lineup. The Cirrus sold in respectable numbers until the Sebring sedan ultimately replaced it. Most automotive enthusiasts have forgotten about the Cirrus by now. These cars didn’t age well in the 2000s and most ended up in scrap yards (via Edmunds).

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That’s not to say the Cirrus was a bad car because it was suitable during that period. But as time went on, the lack of quality in Chrysler products started to show more and more. This wasn’t a car drivers kept for 20 years. Nowadays, you’ll see a Cirrus every now and then, but they are getting rarer.

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9: Pontiac Grand Am

The Pontiac brand had a few notable sedans in the ’90s, all of which were based on other GM models. The thing with the Pontiac brand is that it was always positioned as the performance division of GM. The Grand Am was meant to be an exciting sedan available in a two-door body style as well. Unfortunately, this Grand Am was one of the most forgettable cars ever made out of Detroit (via Edmunds).

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The cheesy body cladding and lack of refinement made the Grand Am the pinnacle of the rental car industry. These cars were never hot sellers for consumers unless you were getting one at a highly discounted rate. The Grand Am would undergo one more redesign before finally being discontinued in the 2000s.

Photo Credit: GM

8: Pontiac Sunfire

For a long time, Pontiac had a compact car that shared its bones with the Chevrolet Cavalier. This car was the Sunfire and for a short period, it managed to be a decent seller for the brand. The convertible version of the car was immensely popular and the sedan sold well, too. The reliability wasn’t the best, and the build quality of the Sunfire was also lacking a bit (via Repair Pal).

Photo Credit: Carfax

Nevertheless, the car was a popular seller for the brand. Nowadays, though, you don’t see many of these things on the road. The Sunfire has since been related to salvage yards around the country. The commonality with other cheap GM cars has made the parts a cheap and easy thing to replace.

Photo Credit: Parts Open

7: Ford Taurus

Who could forget the oval Ford Taurus of the ’90s? What was supposed to be a revolutionary design ended up being something that sent car buyers the other way. The car was made up of nothing but ovals, even the center console was an oval. The performance of the Taurus was lacking at best, even though the SHO edition was available with a V8 engine. There are very few sedans that were as hideous-looking as the Taurus was in this generation (via Cars.com).

Photo Credit: Ford

Ford missed the mark with the strange looking design, and it’s still made fun of today. You still see these from time to time. The lack of sales when it was new made the Taurus a notable used car. Many of these models still have low mileage, interestingly enough, and the fleet market was a major avenue for this Taurus generation.

Photo Credit: Ford

6: Ford Probe

The Probe is a car with more than just a controversial name. At first it was built to replace the Mustang. Unfortunately, after being on the market for some time, Ford realized the Probe wasn’t going to replace the historic Mustang. The Mustang had a loyal and devoted following and those fans weren’t going to gravitate toward the Probe. Nevertheless, Ford would continue to develop the Probe into the ’90s (via Car Gurus).

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A consumer shift in interest in the ’90s meant the car was going to be discontinued. The Probe is a sports car that you won’t see often on the roadways. The rarity of the car has made it an interesting collector’s item. The later models had modern styling and the 24V edition of the car was fun to drive.

Photo Credit: GM

5: Saturn S-Series

The Saturn brand was set to revolutionize the way we bought a new car. GM designed the Saturn models from the ground up, with unique technology and platforms that differed from the rest of the brand. The S-Series was the two-door model, and it had some unique features that still haven’t been matched today. The unique three-door design made the car different from other coupes on the market (via Car Survey).

Photo Credit: GM

The reliability of the car and the large dealership network made it a hit with consumers. The dent resistant body was also a major Saturn selling point. Unfortunately, the car has become a forgotten relic of the past. Saturn was phased out in the 2000s and nowadays you’ll seldom see one of these on the road.

Photo Credit: GM

4: Oldsmobile Aurora

Few cars have been as catastrophic a failure as the Aurora. The car was released to a lot of fanfare as the car of the future. GM designed this car from the ground up to be unique, so much so that the Aurora name was its own car brand. Unfortunately, the Aurora lost its steam fairly early as the future of Oldsmobile as a brand was in doubt. From a design perspective, the Aurora could compete with the best of them (via Edmunds).

Photo Credit: GM

The Aurora could have been a success but GM cut the marketing off early on. The dealership network wasn’t equipped to sell a high quality car like this one. All the parts in the Aurora were unique to the model, a new concept for GM. The car had a redesign in 2001 but that was about it for the nameplate.

Chevy Beretta
Photo Credit: GM

3: Chevrolet Beretta

As Ford did with the Probe, GM was looking to replace the Camaro with a more cost-effective sports car. The answer was the Chevrolet Beretta, a compact car that shared its platform with the Corsica sedan. The Beretta’s base model offered reasonable performance for the price. But it wasn’t enough to replace a historic brand name like the Camaro and GM discovered this early on (via Edmunds).

Photo Credit: Rich Niewiroski Jr.

You don’t see a Beretta on the road too often anymore and that’s because most of the examples rusted away. The build quality of GM vehicles around this period was not the best and the Beretta was evidence of that. Still, the car was a unique part of ’90s culture at GM, and even though it was forgotten, it still had some potential.

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2: Dodge Daytona

One of the most forgotten sports cars of the time, the Daytona was Dodge’s answer to the Camaro and the Mustang. The car didn’t offer V8 power, which was one of the major drawbacks. The styling was also lackluster, although it got some improvement as time went on. Dodge was knocked for doing a lot of rebadging during the ’90s but the Daytona was a seemingly unique design (via Car Gurus).

Photo Credit: Dodge

The car also had a comfortable interior with a decent amount of luxury for the price. Consumers could get the Daytona with many unique features. The IROC model was released at the end of the car’s life cycle. GM gave up the naming rights and drivers could get an IROC Daytona instead of an IROC Camaro.

Photo Credit: Autowp.ru

1: Dodge Ram Charger

The Ford Bronco is one of the most recognizable and well known two-door SUV models in the world. But the Ram Charger was also available around the same time well into the 1990s. Although the design of the SUV was quite dated, the Ram Charger is still an iconic Dodge model. It didn’t have a removable top like the Bronco and the styling was tired by the time the Bronco was revised in the 1990s (via Car Gurus).

Photo Credit: Autowp.ru

But what the Ram Charger lacked in refinement, it gained with off-road durability. Unfortunately, most drivers have forgotten that this car existed. Dodge released the Durango later in the 1990s and the Ram Charger nameplate hasn’t been revived. Dodge was an innovator in the truck market, but the Ram Charger was the last real SUV for the brand.

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