By on April 10, 2019

Last week, Steph penned a QOTD where he let commenters loose on front-drive American cars made between 1980 and 2010. The ask was to pick a favorite from the wide selection; one you’d buy today as new.

This week we’re going to take the opposite tack and talk about the front-drive car you like the least.

Today, the game will be more limited in scope. Instead of multiple decades, we’ll focus solely on the 1990s. Any car put forth today should be of a model year between 1990 and 1999. No limitation on country of manufacture — they’re all game. From a decade which produced many fine examples of front-drive cars, picking a loser might take a bit of pondering. For your author, the choice was obvious.

Here we are — the gigantic and terrible Chrysler Imperial of 1990. At the turn of the decade, Chrysler decided it needed a new flagship sedan in its lineup, and thus the Imperial nameplate rose from the ashes once again.

Riding on a super-extended K-car platform known as Y, the Imperial was the largest sedan ever sourced from the K. A full-size 203 inches long, the Imperial came stuffed with Mark Cross leather, digital almost everything, an optional car phone on the sun visor, and a hefty price tag. Chrysler intended to compete with other large, front-drive sedans like the Continental, DeVille, and Park Avenue. All those choices were better than the Imperial. The pontoon boat proportions and floaty suspension matched well with the 1978 levels of exterior gingerbread. A relative flop, the Imperial lasted only through 1993. At that point, it was mercifully replaced by the quite superior LHS.

Let’s hear about your least favorite front-drive Nineties ride.

[Images: Murilee Martin/TTAC, Chrysler ]

Recommended

165 Comments on “QOTD: Your Least Favorite Front-drive Nineties Ride?...”


  • avatar
    jack4x

    It’s the New Beetle for me.

    -Ushered in the retro craze which took way too long to go away and led to some real turds.

    -Legendary Mk IV VW “reliability” without the inoffensive styling of the Jetta or Golf.

    -Fit and finish that’s put to shame by a contemporary GM vehicle, which is really saying something.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Yup — without reading all these, anything derived from the Em-Kay-Four VAG platform! I believe that came out in 1999, so saving the worst for last!

      Honorable mention must go to the GM N-bodies introduced in 1992. IIRC, before they had airbags fitted, those first couple years were deathtraps! Speaking of which, the 2nd-generation GM minivans, after the APVs, where the crash-test dummy had to have its legs amputated in order to be removed from the vehicle after an IIHS test!

  • avatar
    SavageATL

    I’ll come to the defense of the Imperial/Fifth Avenue New Yorker. These cars were very, very luxurious inside with lots of buttons and button tufted leather and chrome and plastiwood. They finally got a very nice Chrysler 3.3/3.8 v6 versus the turbo 4 in the earlier New Yorker and the Mitsubishi oil burning 6. This wasn’t targeted to enthusiasts; it was targeted to people like my grandfather, a WWII vet who wanted the Great Valu brand of Cadillac. It was cushier and more luxurious than the average DeVille and with some sharp bargaining could be had fully loaded for around $20K. It looked ostentatious enough and offered plenty of room inside for Granddad and would hit highway speeds easily. Some of the Luxury appointments didn’t extend far below the skin, but this was the kind of car which appealed to people who liked all you can eat buffets; lots of food, lots of choice, lots of variety, who cares if it’s a little mediocre? It was my grandfather’s last car and a very fitting reward for a life well lived.

    To answer the actual question, I’d nominate the Tempaz as a horrible fwd car. At least the restyle made them less ugly than the melted look of the 1984, but they were never Good cars either in terms of dynamics or reliability and they improved, but by 1990 were pretty awful. Honourable mention I think should go to the Allante, the failures of which have been well documented here, and the 1992-1998 GM N Car, the Skylark, Grand Am, and Achieva for taking a decent, coherent, attractive design and uglifying it up with lots of plastic goop and weird lines and making it expensive.

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      Chevy Lumina. Everything wrong with GM in one phoned-in sedan.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      @SavageATL: Your first paragraph is a wonderful defense of these cars. One reason why I enjoy seeing ‘survivors’ of vehicles that are not considered to be ‘classics’. Often much loved by their 1st owners, and quite often loved or very much depended on by some subsequent owners.

      As for the Tempo/Topaz they are viewed much differently in the UK, where the Mondeo, which was their source DNA was/is viewed by many, including Jeremy Clarkson as a ‘big’ car that more than held its own against the German brands. In North America, its major problem is that consumer could purchase a larger Taurus, for not much more. And we tended to (still tend to?) buy by the pound/foot, rather than on ‘engineering’.

      As for the GM ‘N’ platforms, I still have a soft spot for the Malibu of that era (5th generation). The styling has aged better than many cars from that time. With the relatively low revving 3.1 v6 cylinder, its power train was quite sturdy and reliable. An ‘honest’ vehicle, which seems to have stood up quite well based on the number that I still see in regular use.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        @ SavageATL & Arthur Dailey – Good posts. Motorweek has a pretty evenhanded review of this car, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gcutO1T-54.

        There was a girl a year behind me in high school whose parents had the similar New Yorker (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtTUZw46ttQ). I think theirs was the regular New Yorker and not the 5th Avenue, which Wikipedia informs me had a stretched wheelbase (as did the Imperial).

        At any rate, the parents were very successful but not completely assimilated Korean immigrants. I think the New Yorker was their idea of a prosperous American’s car but also struck them as a good value in terms of comfort for the price.

        It may seem odd in retrospect, but these cars had some merits to some of the buyers of the time.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        My error, didn’t have my morning coffee before posting. The Contour/Mystique were based on the Mondeo. But the failure of those models is largely per the explanation provided.

      • 0 avatar

        @Arthur

        You’ve got your source material mixed up on the Tempo/Topaz. Those cars were out long before the Mondeo, and the second generation Tempo cars died in 1994. The Mondeo debuted for 1993.

        EDIT: U fixed

      • 0 avatar
        WallMeerkat

        The Tempo was almost similar in thought to the 1980s European Ford Sierra (sports model brought to the US as Merkur XR4Ti), albeit a new FWD platform whereas the Sierra used a revised Cortina RWD platform.

        The Contour from what I can gather was too small and pricey for US tastes, whereas the original Mondeo was goldilocks right sized for European tastes.

        It wouldn’t be until the outgoing Fusion that the Mondeo would be a world car again, albeit a little big for European tastes, and coming at a time when everyone is buying CUV/SUVs.

      • 0 avatar
        HotPotato

        Ah, someone already caught it — yep, it was the Contour/Mystique that was related to the Mondeo.

        Back when they were new, I rented a Contour with the 125 hp Zetec four and said “my God that’s a great handling chassis, just needs more power.” So I went to my dealer and drove one with the 170 hp Duratec V6 (fun fact: originally a Porsche project) and 5-speed and said “still a great chassis, still needs more power.” So I drove the 195 hp SVT with the PDQtec V6 and said “still a great chassis, still needs more power.”

        Wish I’d bought one. They truly were a delight to drive. And that new-car payment — terrifying to a guy in his 20s — would have been smarter than the parade of used cars that crossed my driveway instead, inevitably bringing huge repair bills or ending with the phrase “shoot…well, I guess that means I’m the last owner.” Suck it, Dave Ramsey.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      It isn’t virtueless, but ‘Imperial’ was a pretty proud name to put on a “Great Value brand” vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        I don’t disagree with that either. Imperial had long been a conundrum for Chrysler, though. You could make a good argument that the unique-platform Imperials of ’57-’66 were better than the contemporary Cadillacs and Lincolns, but I don’t think prestige necessarily mirrored that.

        Here’s a fun video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3W8IsQN7AM. The automatic headlights and flip-up covers still work on this ’72.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          The argument could be made that in the 1950’s the Imperial had more prestige than a Lincoln and offered Cadillac stern competition.

          For example the 1952 Imperial Parade Cars, 2 of which are still in use:
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrysler_Imperial_Parade_Phaeton

          Or the 1939/1040 custom Parade Imperials:
          http://www.curbsideclassic.com/automotive-histories/automotive-history-the-chrysler-imperial-parade-phaetons-the-royal-treatment/

          • 0 avatar
            Featherston

            As always, I defer to Arthur’s and the Old Man’s opinions. :-)

            I love that the New York and Los Angeles cars are still in service.

            Leno’s shtick wears thin with me, but he does present some interesting cars: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MIlgnvblM8

    • 0 avatar
      Blackcloud_9

      I agree with your defense of the Imperial. I only ever saw these cars in pictures – never got a chance to drive/ride in one. But what I saw I thought was visually stunning. Being a geek, I thought the digital everything dash was really cool. My friend had a Chrysler Laser with a digital dash and quickly found out how horribly unreliable they were – but that was beside the point.
      One thing that always bothered me a bit was the proportions of the car. Back then, I had no clue what chassis architecture was and didn’t realize that just about everything that Chrysler Corp. produced was a K-car variant. Because of the limitations of the chassis, the car’s width wasn’t proportional to its extra-stretched length. So it always struck me a bit odd. But I thought the front end design was just epic and I’m a sucker for hide-away headlights.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I’d spare the Tempo just because there at the end you could get the v6 with a stick. Yes, it was the Vulcan and no it wasn’t especially fast, but it wasn’t slow for the era either. If you got the GLS you could at least pretend you were in that Taurus SHO you couldnt afford.

      • 0 avatar
        Russycle

        Re the Tempo, it had a very nice interior for what it was. Not fancy, but nicely designed and laid out. We were test driving cars and going from a GM parts-bin interior to the Tempo was a very stark contrast. ‘course, GM did set the bar very low….

        • 0 avatar
          dtremit

          @Russycle — I think you’re right, and for the context of this article, it doesn’t seem fair to really consider the Tempo/Topaz a ’90s vehicle, as it wasn’t ever updated in the ’90s.

          The original Tempo interior was ahead of most of its class in ’84, and the redesigned interior was actually pretty impressive for ’88. By ’94 it was dated, of course.

          The pace of industry-wide improvement in fit, finish, and quality in those years was pretty phenomenal, something we forget today.

      • 0 avatar
        SaulTigh

        My sister had the Vulcan V6, 3sp auto combo and it had a bit of scoot to it. Felt faster than my comparable Taurus with the same engine and a 4spd auto. That Tempo also had nice looking wheels.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Was the Grand Am really expensive? I found the invoice for Mom’s second GA, a 2005. She paid like 5 grand below sticker, which was a pretty big wack. And she’s not a negotiator. Might have been different in the 90s though.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        My wife got more of an absolute dollar discount on her 2005 Vibe from the dealer than her 2016 Terrain and naturally the Terrain was quite a bit more expensive.

  • avatar
    EquipmentJunkie

    So many good candidates for today’s list. However, I’ll throw out one that raised my hackles every time I saw one…the Honda del Sol.

    • 0 avatar
      EquipmentJunkie

      I forgot to mention why I hated the del Sol. To me, the del Sol seemed so pointless. Why would you buy it? Not really fun. Not really a convertible. Not really practical. Not very sporty. Not really attractive.

      • 0 avatar
        salmonmigration

        Out of all the crappy cars made in the 90’s you focus in on the targa top Honda Civic?

        • 0 avatar
          EquipmentJunkie

          I began by saying that there were so many to choose from…

          I had a special place of hate for the del Sol. Initially, it had promise but under closer examination there was little redeeming value.

          • 0 avatar

            I saw a Del Sol on my travels yesterday across half the nation, and I was reminded how much I like it to this day.

            It was very clean, but the man at the wheel looked like he might have a criminal record.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          The Del Sol’s biggest knock was that it replaced the CRX. It is just about impossible to replace a car that had the enthusiast following of the CRX and have it be a hit.

          • 0 avatar

            Was it pitched as a CRX replacement?

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            I don’t remember if Honda marketed as such, but it was the 2 seater Civic so it was going to be compared regardless. I do remember it being billed as Honda’s Miata though by some magazines at the time. That was also a tall order.

            On it’s own, I think it is really good, it was just lunked in with some really beloved cars for comparison sake. Great time to be alive though when a car like the Del Sol was greeted with a “meh”…really shows how good the market for that type stuff was.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            I think the reason Honda replaced the CRX with the del Sol was related to the issue of the young enthusiasts that drove them losing the ability to insure them. I was in two wrecks in black CRX Sis one week in 1989, although only one of them involved inversion.

            The del Sol was meant to appeal to older folks that wanted to relive their roadster days or achieve their roadster ambitions. The Miata made compromise cars like the Capri and del Sol look like half-measures, but they probably made sense in their planning stages.

      • 0 avatar
        ttacgreg

        I think Honda was influenced by the Miata’s success.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Well, the Del Sol was ugly, but at least it was a solid driver.

      • 0 avatar
        theflyersfan

        The “Reply” button is missing from Corey’s posting…
        Yes. I know two people who bought a del Sol the second they hit the Honda lots because they thought they were buying a targa CRX. And boy were they disappointed. It gained a bit of weight, not much more power (until the VTEC engine was installed a couple of years later), and it just wasn’t as much fun, even though you can take the top off. Plus the styling just looked a little too “bubbly” for the market.

        • 0 avatar

          I was just thinking about how they were advertised (which I remember), and none of the ads were sporty. I recall the one about the beach towel, where the woman sits on it and then it becomes the Del Sol. That was my favorite.

          Was that the dealers who claimed CRX successor?

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            I think it was less Honda trying to position it there and more the car Mags and enthusiasts of the day.

            That and there were so many good sporty compacts available back then.

          • 0 avatar
            theflyersfan

            I think it was the auto press – the magazines in particular. They saw Honda, 2-seats, light, high revving engines and still thought CRX. Plus, remember the Japanese market one had that electric targa top? So there was a technical aspect as well.
            In the end, it was just a different car sold to different people in a different market. The CRX was really dead.
            We all wanted a new CRX Si…sigh… A friend of mine in college had one. Still miss that car.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            The May 1993 Car and Driver has a comparison in which the Del Sol finished second to the Miata (but ahead of the Mercury Capri, which they noted handled well and would “walk away” from all of the rest but was ugly) and the Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce of all things.

            The knock on the Del Sol? Trying to be too many things to too many people. It was noted as the best “car” of the bunch which I think was where Honda was aiming.

            It makes me miss the era all the more that a car like the Del Sol would not only be built, but marketed as a regular car…i mean we are talking a fun to drive 2 seater. It makes me really miss the Honda of that era. That Honda gave us the Prelude, VTEC, the original NSX and this car.

            They did fix the “lack of sport” complaints as time went on though.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            I have a positive association with the Del Sol but that has more to do with the young lady in my college years who owned one.

            She couldn’t have been more naturally endowed and still walked upright.

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            Thinking back, it was a Honda WTF moment before they started coming fast and furious (so to speak). It had all the good Civic bits, but the packaging was a little strange, especially compared to the outgoing CR-X.

  • avatar
    TheDutchGun

    Buick Skyhawk

  • avatar
    BunkerMan

    Pontiac Grand Am. I knew three different people that had one. Each had a different generation of that car.

    Yeah, they sold a metric ton of them, but that doesn’t mean they were good.

    One left us stranded in another city with no warning, causing my wife to drive an hour to come and pick us up.

    One had random electrical issues (at two years old) that caused the signal lights to flash and the wipers to come on when you would least expect it.

    All three were garage queens. Not as in “put on display”, but as in “at the mechanic constantly”.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I could be swayed to the quad-4 Grand Am. Even looking back to the era when they were new people complained about them as being thrashy and needing headgaskets as often as oil changes. Add to that Pontiac was at “Peak Plastic” at this time and they were really bad.

      The HO ones at least put down solid power numbers though. In 1992-94 you could get 180 HP in an era when Mustangs and Camaros with twice the cylinders and displacement were hovering around 200 HP. Of course they had to be running to get that.

    • 0 avatar
      JREwing

      Oh yeah, Grand Ams were gigantic pieces of ****. So were its sister platform cars, but they didn’t scream cheap quite as loudly or proudly.

  • avatar
    jh26036

    Where do I even start?

    Ford Taurus/Sable
    Chevy Monte Carlo
    Anything Saturn after the first batch of plastic cars which I did like

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Too me, the 88-95 Taurus SHO was near the top of cars I wanted back then. Then I saw the next gen was going to still have a screaming Yamaha motor, but this time a V8!!!! Then it landed with a giant automatic only, ugly and could be outrun by the Duratec V6 thud. I have been throwing out the top and obscurely speced cars as arguements against the inclusion of cars like the Tempo and the Contour in the “worst of the decade” discussion, but in this case, I think the SHO alone earns the 96+ Taurus a spot on the list.

  • avatar
    SavageATL

    @ Arthur, thank you! I think the Imperial succeeded very well for its target audience, who loved it. Vast improvement in size and luxury appointments over the K car New Yorker forebear.

    The Tempaz was not related to the Mondeo in any way, but a stretched version of the Escort platform which debuted here in 1981. The Contour got high marks for handling but was small in the back seat and expensive. It wasn’t a bad car, but there wasn’t much of a market for it and it turned out to have reliability problems.

    Those Malibus of that generation had all the blandness of a Camry with none of the reliability. They became the preferred conveyances of people whose houses are on wheels.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      My error, didn’t have my morning coffee before posting. The Contour/Mystique were based on the Mondeo. But the failure of those models is largely per the explanation provided.

      As for the Malibu, it has demonstrated quite good long term reliability. The one problem being a tendency to rust just below the gas cap. A decent greenhouse, and as mentioned, styling that has aged fairly ‘gracefully’. Room for 4 in comfort for longish trips and 5 for shorter ones. A decent sized trunk. And ‘good’ standard equipment (for that era).

      Too bad that GM didn’t offer that generation with a 3 pedal option. At that size/weight and with the 3.1 v6 it might have made it a more ‘exciting’ vehicle.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    So, so many to choose from, but any of the Chrysler “K” cars that were stretched to oblivion to make what Chrysler tried to pawn off as full sized luxury sedans (New Yorker, Imperial etc.) gets my vote. They were just so insulting, almost worse then the Cimarron

    I will add that those Chryslers had really sumptuous interiors, I guess trying to make up for the rest of the car

    • 0 avatar

      It’s interesting that the Imperial stood alone on its length, two full inches longer than the more modern-ish New Yorker.

      Also the Imperial had that janky rear air suspension which you can’t get any more.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Chevy Citation.
    My 1981 edition has been the most unreliable vehicle I have ever owned.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      We’re in the 90s today.

    • 0 avatar
      JREwing

      The Corsica was not an awesome car, but it’s not quite as terrible as some of GM’s other offerings. Once they ditched the horrible 3-speed auto, updated the interior and gave it airbags, it was a halfway decent ride.

      That said, the first transmission in mine went under at about 120,000 miles, and the torque converter lockup solenoids kept dying. The brakes were good for maybe 30,000 miles, MAYBE. Mine had 13″ tires, which was an utter joke behind the V6 even hobbled by the 3-speeds poor gearing. Great for smoky burnouts though!

  • avatar
    ajla

    My family owned a 90s Ford Windstar which was of extremely low quality, stranding us several times and costing thousands in repairs. It permanently soured my parents on Ford products. So that gets my pick.

    • 0 avatar
      Wodehouse

      Ugh! I remember the facelifted 1998 model that had the (unintentional?) scary face!

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      These started off terrible and managed to get worse over the years…and I am a Ford guy.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I had an uncle with an early build Windstar (with all the problems you’d expect) and he swore off Fords until buying a Flex a few years ago.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          One of the worst vehicles to come out of Ford, some were so bad that Ford was giving free replacements to people who qualified for the rust-through junkers. Hard to believe this came on the heals of the Aerostar, one of Ford’s best. I still see Aerostars driving around, never see Windstars

    • 0 avatar
      JREwing

      That may be our winner. For all of the effluence GM and Chrysler cranked out during this era, few things match the Windstar. Not that Chrysler didn’t try with the UltraDrive automatic though…

    • 0 avatar
      tsoden

      I still remember Ford’s lame attempt at patching the need for driver side sliding door by instead making the drivers door longer…hoping that would be good enough.

  • avatar
    salmonmigration

    Dodge Stratus / Plymouth Breeze / Chrysler Cirrus. The K-cars came out of Chrysler’s trial by fire in the 1980’s so they are excusable. Chrysler’s follow up is not.

    GAZ ended up buying the tooling in 2008 and built them under license to sell to laid-off Russian fishermen in the midst of the financial crisis. Perhaps the only appropriate use for this platform.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “I drive a Dodge Stratus!!”

      Seriously, I really liked my 95 Stratus. It was fitted with a wonderful Mitsubishi 2.5L V6. A friend is still driving a 4-cylinder version, which is nearly miraculous.

      • 0 avatar
        HotPotato

        Yeah, the early Strati with the Mitsubishi V6 were not bad. Vaultlike, which is not normally a word I associate with Chrysler products. Low-slung. Wide track. Gutsy.

        The next gen (which may not have even been called the same thing? not sure) was swoopier, softer sprung, shorter on headroom, and seemed to sacrifice some low-end torque for top-end power (always a mistake with American sedan buyers, who equate a hard initial shove with power — sorry, Mazda, this is why your cars don’t sell.) But my gawd it was bargain priced.

        My experience with both came from our fleet cars. We had both strati of Strati, Foci, fleet-special Tauri, first-year Prii, and final-year Oldsmobile Cutlasses…

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      I liked my stick shift ’97 Stratus. They were actually somewhat competitive for a quick minute. They weren’t that bad.

    • 0 avatar
      BunkerMan

      I had a 97 Cirrus with the 2.5 V6 and loved it. Its only downfall was that the body rusted out prematurely. I had a newer facelifted one as a rental one time and it just wasn’t as good. I think the beancounters got hold of it.

      • 0 avatar
        cimarron typeR

        I went to grad school with someone who had 2.5 v6 Cirrus. Pretty cool looking in my opinion. Around 2001 when the WRX was finally coming stateside his plan was to trade in the Cirrus for one of the 1st Rex’s to hit the metro. Unfortunately his plan went awry when his motor seized within a month of taking delivery of his dream car.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      I think the “cloud cars” were very good for their time! They had some quality issues, I would say, but overall, they were good. Surprisingly nice to drive for the price, and very roomy for their size. Pretty good fuel mileage, decent power with the upper 2 engine choices. Not all that hard to fix when they broke. I would say they roughly fit into the same class as the Ford Contour, but somehow, they seemed more comfortable there.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        The 4 cyl seemed to have the best survival rate. (Of the Cloud Cars)

        My wife’s uncle had one that back in 2012 anyway was still puttering around.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Plymouth Prowler. Kill it with fire.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Anything with less than a V6.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      The Prelude’s ‘less than a V6’ was making about 50% more power than some 1990 V6s by the end of the decade. I’ve driven some Northstar-powered cars where you can take your hands off the wheel and steer left or right by getting on or off the throttle. Sometimes less is more.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Some of the sweetest 4 cylinders ever are from that era. The Civic SI and Integra powerplants that would rev to the moon as well as the Nissan SR20DE come to mind.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Honda and Nissan made some good 4-cylinders, but I still say their V6s were better.

        Would that many people really have cried if the Prelude came with a C or J series engine?

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          I don’t know…I thought when they put the v6 in the Accord for the first time they had to re engineer the car to the point of using different fenders and front end components just to get it in there. Those Preludes may have come out somewhat different had that been the case so I may have cried. To me all of the Preludes build in the 90’s are the high water mark for Honda (the third Gen that started the decade is my favorite style wise). The Prelude, along with the Lexus SC3/400 are probably my top 2 favorite cars of the decade.

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            Correct.. the ‘94 and ‘95 Accord V6s had a different front clip and longer front fenders.

            This was peak Honda, peak Toyota was the 1992-1995 Camry.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        My Mom had a Civic EX automatic sedan, which was simply a sedan body with an automatic, and an Si engine up front! Loved to rev, and rev, and rev, and…!

    • 0 avatar
      MoparRocker74

      Huh? A light nimble car with tight handling and a gutsy 4 cyl (turbo or n/a) is where fwd hits the sweet spot. Fwd is more efficient having less rotational mass vs rwd so that’s the way to make the most of a 4 cyl. By the time you’re up to a V6 or worse yet a V8 you’re already past the practical limits of fwd offering any real advantage IMHO. The weight bias is all out of whack, torque steer is a huge issue (maybe fun in a rowdy hatchback but out of character for a sedan or minivan) and transverse V6s absolutely SUUUUUUCCCK to work on.

      Rule of thumb: if it’s enough car to need more than a 4cyl then it should probably be RWD in the first place.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        It is very possible to build a front-wheel drive vehicle using more than 4-cylinders which doesn’t torque steer and/or doesn’t use a transverse engine.

        The two big theoretical advantages of FWD are better interior volume for a given footprint and better grip in most low-traction situations compared to RWD. With today’s giant beltlines/pillars/consoles and the ubiquity of AWD most of that advantage is gone.

        • 0 avatar
          Featherston

          +1, ajla – You’ve hit the nail on the head. I think up-engined FWDers skew “bad in theory but can be OK in practice.” But as you point out, current tastes and design trends have eroded FWD’s packaging advantages. Front seat room gets eaten up by a console and the should-be-flat rear floor gives way to a driveshaft.

          I’d love to see a true six-passenger sedan with a Unitized Power Package-type drivetrain, pick-up-style front bench, and a flat floor. It woudn’t sell, though.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            “I’d love to see a true six-passenger sedan with a Unitized Power Package-type drivetrain, pick-up-style front bench, and a flat floor. It wouldn’t sell, though.”

            I think you are right, it wouldn’t sell but that would have been a hell of a way for the Impala name to go out!

  • avatar
    ptschett

    I think a case can be made for Contour/Mystique. Ford spent something like 6x what Chrysler did on Cirrus/Stratus and arguably came up with a worse car.

    Personally: Mitsubishi Galant. More because I knew an owner of that car who was a terrible person, than because of the car.

    • 0 avatar

      version dependant- The autobox was prone to failure so stick four or six was preferable. If you got a stick version they lasted decently (for a Ford) and were much more drivable than, say a Tempo, being based on a euro market car. My six/manual was a cheep and cheerful BMW

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Naa… Again, they missed the mark as mainstream transportation appliances, primarily due to the cramped rear seat, but the existence of the SVT models I believe saves them from being at the bottom of the heap. Plus they are at least regarded as good driving cars that Ford sold quite a few of in Europe (As the Mondeo).

      But they were out of step with the US market for sure.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      The Chrysler Cloud cars had an infinitely better chassis and seats, but the Contour’s engines were better. They were actually decent cars for Fords, let down only by Ford’s quality and too many Tempo buyers being a bunch of broke credit criminals who didn’t understand why cars should be any better and couldn’t afford to upgrade anyway.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        I’d drive an SVT Contour today. I am scouring for one of those “in the know” cars from the 90’s (This car, an SHO, B13 SE-R, or something like that that hasn’t been driven into the ground) for when my Fiesta ST’s lease is up. It is a tough search so I’ll probably just end up building an obnoxious Third Gen Camaro (LS swap, chassis bracing, and an all period correct obnoxiously overpowered stereo with the finest selection of Hair Metal cassettes onboard! They are all used up too, but seem to be easier to bring back than the other cars with unobtanium interior bits.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          Around 2002 there was a guy on the private forum of AtlasF1 soliciting help committing insurance fraud to get rid of his Contour SVT. He was sick of the operating costs and inconveniences and couldn’t find a buyer for anything resembling blue book. A few years later, I saw a guy on another forum talking about how great his SVT was. I brought up the dude looking to stage a theft or crash and it turned out to be the same guy. That’s why Ford is still a thing.

    • 0 avatar
      HotPotato

      I will fight you, LOL. The Contour/Mystique were fantastic drivers, but I admit they were too small to compete in the US market against midsizers and too expensive to compete against compacts.

      I remember the top of the line Galant absolutely spanking other domestic and import sedans in Car & Driver testing. My sister wanted a Saab 900 Turbo but did a double-take at the price and ended up in a Galant. Felt pretty high-tech at the time.

  • avatar
    scott25

    Can’t believe no one has said the original CR-V, RAV4 and Lexus RX, solely because of the paradigm shift they represented and the situation they’ve left us in currently. Not that they were terrible cars by themselves, though.

    • 0 avatar
      jh26036

      What you talking about Willis? The facelifted first gen Lexus RX300 is still one of the best looking luxury CUVs today. I’ve been trying to find a cream puff one from the left coast to bring back to Boston!

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I know it overlaps from the late 80’s through the 90’s but the Taurus based 88-94 Lincoln Continental was lacking. Sure the platform was solid but the 3.8 Vulcan was anemic, it could have been better if they used a 24v duratec or 3.2 SHO motor. Many of the ones you still see sag due to bad air bags. The 95-02 with the 4.6 Intech was a much better vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I remember working at a L/M dealer back in the 90’s and being shocked the first time I realized this car was a Taurus, and not a Cougar underneath upon seeing that sideways 3.8. Yes, for what they were charging it should have gotten some derivitaive of the SHO or Supercharged 3.8 from the T-Bird. A V8 would have been preferred, but I am not sure the mod motor would have fit and Ford FWD transmissions back then were not exactly the stoutest units.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      The 3.8 pushrod 12V was the Essex. The 3.0 pushrod 12V was the Vulcan.

  • avatar
    Wodehouse

    The Ford Aspire (AssOnFire). Nothing aspirational about that lump.
    The Mercury Capri is a close second. That Mazda based convertible should have been something cool, but, that other really great, new Mazda convertible was the one that got it right.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      The thing about that Capri was, that in XR-2 trim it would completely walk away from a Miata. The post 94 refreshed cars with a stick were fun drivers if you looked at them more as sporty front drivers (which it was based on) than a Miata competetior. a 2 door Mazda based convertible was bound to draw those comparisons however.

      • 0 avatar
        HotPotato

        Man, I was so excited to drive a Capri XR-2 due to that blistering straight-line acceleration I’d read about. Having recently driven an Miata and loved it, I thought “the Capri is still on a Mazda chassis, just front-drive…this is gonna rock!”

        It was horrible. Bouncy, sloppy, and bad at getting the power to the ground. Nope, nope, nope.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Agree on the Aspire the Festiva which was a cheap penalty box (still a thing in this era) but was boxy and somewhat likable to the “need 4 wheels and nothing else” buyer back then. The Aspire got rid of any of the “charm” or sonality and replaced it with cheap.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      My college roommate (this was circa-2011) had a Mercury Capri with a leaky roof. That thing was just awful. I liken it to a Buick Reatta with none of the build quality.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Yes, the build quality was lacking, I still thought they were fun to drive. I worked at an L/M dealer back when they were being sold new and the XR2 with the Mazda 1.6 Turbo was legitimately quick for the period. Still I wouldn’t want one long term. Whenever we had one in for service even though they were only a few years old back then, the tops all looked like they had shrunk on the frame and the dash layout, especially on the pre facelift cars was horrible. It’s like they let the Crown Vic stylists doo a “Sporty” car dash without any regard for ergonomics.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I had a convertible Capri as a rental in Hawaii for a few weeks. Other than the drop top, it was pretty meh. I suppose a turbo and stick would improve it.

  • avatar
    smartascii

    I once drove a Geo Metro convertible with the 3-speed automatic. It made every car I’ve driven before or since feel like a Swiss watch by comparison.

    • 0 avatar
      theflyersfan

      Funny you mention that – I’m on I-71 early yesterday morning, cruising between 70-75 mph, and out of the foggy mist appears an early 90’s Geo Metro. Still running. And the amazing thing? At least the exterior looked like it was still in mint or near-mint condition! I thought all of the Metros finally went to the great scrap heap in the sky, but my jaw dropped when I saw this garage kept Metro humming along at 70+ mph, hamsters under the hood breaking a sweat keeping up, and still driving.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Dear lord when I first joined the Navy (1995) I rode in the back (I don’t think it actually had a seat…I just sort of crammed in the space behind the seats IIRC) of one of these from San Diego to LA to see the Braves and Dodgers play on an A-School weekend. I am amazed I am here to tell the story.

      We had to take the Metro because my roommate’s Audi 5000 was broken which reminds me, if the 5000 was still being built in the 90’s it should be on this list. His was older though.

    • 0 avatar
      JREwing

      The early ’90s Metros had their charms, but you really had to practice self-loathing to take one with the automatic. The 5-speed was the one to get.

      There was little redeeming value with the later models. Heavier, slower, and thirstier – there’s a reason they stopped making them.

  • avatar
    MoparRocker74

    Im gonna go with the Avenger/Sebring coupes. It’s not that these cars were ‘bad’ in and of themselves. It’s what they could/should have been, and more or less already were in the form of the Eclipse/Talon.

    The Avenger/Sebring were decent enough as softcore personal luxury coupes are concerned but PLCs were LONG dead or dying by the time these cars came out. By this time, the future of sporty 2-doors eas established as either turbocharged pocket rockets (Eclipse /Talon) or more traditional rwd based ‘all in’ performance cars like the Mustang, GM F bodies, Supra etc. There just wasn’t much reason to choose one of those DSMs since they excelled nowhere. If a fwd V6 automatic car was performance car enough, why not just go with a midsized sedan? If not, there were plenty of other coupes offering focused performance. Ma Mopar had no answer to the contemporary pony cars, completely ceding the affordable speed customers to GM and Ford. The Neon was an import fighter.

    The most frustrating thing is knowing that the LHS platform was designed around eventually offering rwd variants and possibly AWD. Chrysler was flush with cash and could have easily fielded a LH based rwd Avenger to take on the Mustang and Camaro/Firebird. The powerplants were there: Magnum 360 was competitive with Ford/GM V8s and the 4.7 was on the way. Even the 3.5 V6 put up pretty good numbers for the time although that would have been a better choice for the Sebring, paired with AWD for a more sophisticated counterpart to the Dodge’s traditional V8 approach.

    Of course the success of the LX cars trumps my theoretical alternative timeline but it would have been nice to have real Mopar muscle in the ‘90s instead of 2 generations of flaccid half baked cars with no real purpose.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s weird to sit in one of those coupes and be faced with a bunch of Mitsubishi components coated with bad ruched leather and horrible wood.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Indeed. From what I hear, Chrysler was developing a third-generation of LH cars that would support RWD and AWD (since the platform was longitude-engined). But Daimler came in and told them to scrap that, then made them develop a platform that could use a lot of existing Mercedes-Benz components…like partial floorpans, suspension, and transmissions. And that’s how we got the LX platform.

      • 0 avatar
        MoparRocker74

        Exactly, KSW. The first Charger concept was LH based and used the 4.7. That, with a non-mordoor body is close to what I had in mind. It’s a shame the 4.7 was never used in a rwd manual coupe. Closest thing would have been a 2wd single cab Dakota. When I sold cars we had some clubcab 4×4 Daks with the 4.7 and manual. Pretty damn quick little trucks even if not the most nimble variants.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Toyota Paseo. Take the fine as an appliance Tercel with it’s cheap but charming and you know it will last forever (though I havent seen one in a decade now) and release it as sporty in the era of Civics and Sentras (and he NX1600/2000 and Mazda MX3 if you wanted smaller) that were, in the correct trim, sporty enough to define a genre for a generation. The Tercel was pretending to be something it was not and it showed.

    Yes, you could get worse cars with respect to reliability, etc for sure…but in the era of “peak Toyota” this thing was phoned in.

    • 0 avatar

      I still love the Paseo. It’s cheap and cheerful.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        I feel like the Tercel 2 door was cheap and cheerful and the Paseo just tried too hard and seperating it from the Tercel put it against better cars.

        • 0 avatar

          I went to check the pricing, to see how much the upcharge was for the Paseo.

          Tercel: $12,600-13,100
          Paseo: $13,248-17,600

          So fair point there. If they were just $1,000 difference in price and it stopped there, I’d disagree with your take.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            I didn’t know they were that much on the high end…One could get a Mazda MX3 with that little 1.8 V6 that would rev to 7 grand.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Art: I am on university/college campuses in the GTA nearly every day and the variety of vehicles in the student parking areas is bewildering.

      Plenty of exotics, Bentleys, Aston-Martins, Lambos, Maseratis as well run of the mill luxury like Range Rover, high end Audis, BMW, Mercs.

      But then there are also the stereotypical ‘student cars’. And not a day goes by that I don’t see at least one Tercel. And this is in Southern Ontario where the authorities dump salt on the roads like they have an ownership stake in the body shops.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        I remember them as solid cars, and I live in the South…but I haven’t seen one in years which is wierd…I don’t doubt they were built to last. My friend had one back in the day and it embarassed my Saturn quality wise, but I still see gen 1 Saturn’s and even the occasional Quad-4 Grand Am which I feel, from a reliability perspective has got to be one of the worst of the decade.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I’d forgotten about the Paseo. Good candidate.

  • avatar
    SavageATL

    The Sebring/Avenger was designed for the midsize coupe market, and there were a lot of fwd coupes at that time. Cavalier/sunfire, Saturn, Grand Am, Grand Prix/Monte Carlo, Accord, Solara, Cougar, Thunderbird, Escort ZX/2 Acura CL, Eldorado, Riviera- – – The FWD coupe was not a dead market yet. FWD coupes were seen as more stylish than their four door sedan counterparts, and nice for young professionals or, in their hier forms, for the empty nester. An Eclipse/Talon was too boy racer and hard edged, and these coupe buyers wanted a back seat for occasional passengers. My brother bought a Grand Prix new in 2000 at 19 and was the perfect target for these cars.

    Sure, Chrysler could have done the Challenger earlier, but that’s a very different market than these cars were aimed at.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      The Thunderbird and Cougar (excepting the Mondeo/Contour based 99 model Cougar that was a Probe replacement) rode on the MN-12 chassis that was actually fairly sophisticated for the era with it’s independent rear end.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Right. The MN-12 cars were also RWD, and so don’t count.

        MN-12 was an excellent platform, but went way over budget. They were even considering AWD, and had consulted Porsche on the subject. I believe there are one or two AWD early-MN-12 Thunderbird prototypes in existence. You can definitely tell that Ford was aiming for the E24 6 Series with the Thunderbird’s overall design.

        The final Thunderbird rode on the DEW platform with the Jaguar S-Type and Lincoln LS; that platform was finally retired in 2016 when the Jaguar XF was redesigned.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          I am a fan of that platform…though in the later Thunderbirds and Cougars I feel like they tried to recoup the cost by making the interior cheap. But yes, the early ones definitely have a 6 series feel and the whole v6 only with the 3.8 SC being the top option certainly reenforce this. I would love an early car with the latr Mark VIII powertrain, or even an early Mark VIII that was well sorted and maintained.

          • 0 avatar
            MRF 95 T-Bird

            My 95 Thunderbird LX with the 4.6 is a great ride and quite reliable. My one complaint is the Jacque Nassar bean counter era cheap plastics in the interior. The occasional creak and groan from a couple of areas can be fixed with double sided tape.

          • 0 avatar
            ptschett

            I was happy with the interior in my ’96 Thunderbird – but now that I think about it, I drove 70’s cars before it; it shared my garage with a 2005 Dakota; and what kicked it out was a 2010 Challenger… It was a good car despite the 4.6L being enough to overwhelm the transmission’s clutches.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            My biggest gripe with the MN12 Ford was that it looked just ‘okay’ while the prior Fox body T-bird was dead f*cking sexy. It isn’t as bad on the Cougar or Mark, but I still prefer the Fox versions for those as well.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            @ajla, Yes! The 87-88 Turbo Coupe and XR-7 remain on my want list to this day! The 85-86 Turbo Coupes are a very close second. The pre 87 Cougars look a bit off to me though but those 87-88s with the V8 and Turbine wheels are drop dead sexy for sure!

    • 0 avatar
      MoparRocker74

      Had it been only Chrysler doing the soft core coupe, that’d have been fine. In every case you mentioned, the soft fwd coupe had something more hardcore somewhere in the lineup. If not a rwd with a bigger engine, at least something fwd with more chops—an acceptable approach for the imports but for Detroit that’s leaving a BIG pile of money on the table. And as the past 10 years have shown, the market for softer coupes is better served by base or altogether different versions of cars that can be full on performance. The Challenger lineup, Nissan 370Z and Infinity G sedans/coupes etc. a more efficient approach than a bloated lineup with redundancy or leaving some ground untouched.

      FWIW, I was the target market when these came out being in my early-mid 20’s. They were all but invisible to me as I was heavily into Jeep Wranglers and Dodge trucks. I appreciated muscle cars but these were NOT that. I later came to own a ‘02 Sebring coupe (V6/5spd) as a daily beater/manual transmission fix to compliment my Rumble Bee. As a $2400 used car it served its purpose but if a lowslung red 2 door with manual and the most available engine comes off as way too sensible and not enough fun…that’s a fail in my book.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Beretta. They where everywhere you looked, and I’m sure (hope) 100% of them were crushed.

    If I can nominate an era pop song that gladly was never played again; “Catch Me I’m Falling”.

  • avatar
    formula m

    1990 Ford escort and the Hyundai Excel from 90-95.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I’d nominate the Hyundai Tiburon. I don’t know if it was good or bad long term, but Hyundai had yet to come into their own so a sporty 2 door was never going to be great. Also, sometime in the mid 90’s I test drove a new one and to this day, it remains the only vehicle I have ever had break on a test drive, new or otherwise…and that includes a string of sub 300 dollar Fiats and Alfa Romeos. The clutch linkage broke and stranded me and a salesman which made for awkward conversation in which he pointed out that many of their used cars were not Hyundais.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Too bad it is FWD only…the 996 911 deserves a place of honor among bad 90’s cars

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    but the 996 was considered a sales success, while not designed to be a track car,they’re fun daily drivers, Farrah gives a good review on One Take. I kinda like the look. It’s the last small looking 911. 997 ushered in the bigger look and they’ve continued to grow in dimension

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Tempo V6. I rented one and had to open the hood to verify it was an actual V6 in there and not a four, incredibly underpowered and just all around junk.

  • avatar
    STS_Endeavour

    The Tercel. This girl who liked my brother had one. It was a penalty box in every fashion of the word. Then one day, she left her coffee on the roof and it spilled, she turned around to see what the noise was and drove into a tree. What did she replace it with? Another Tercel. Bleh.

    The Windstar. Take an under-powered V6 manufactured from nightmares, and stick it in lumpy mass with all the agility of Jabba the Hutt. The company I worked for at the time rented some some after their Aerostar fleet lease expired. The new Windstars made me miss the old Aerostars.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Yugo! Sold until 1992 in the USA.

    What prize do I win?

    Weren’t those junk Daewoos sold in the 90s too? Leganza and Nubira?

    Otherwise it is funny how some of the cars just don’t stick in my mind anymore. I was young in the early 90s and by the time I was driving in the 90s, we just didn’t pay much attention to the “junk” of the time. Which to us meant pretty much anything that wasn’t Honda, Toyota, or Mazda. Maybe we’d put Nissan in there too.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Man, what is up with the sign-in and edit functions on this site the last month or so?

    Was trying to add to my last comment….

    I also seem to recall the DSM Eclipse was an epic piece of garbage. Or maybe it was only the turbo cars. I knew a couple people that had them cuz they were cheap and “fast” for the time, and they looked pretty cool for us high school/college age kids. But man were they piles of trash when it came to reliability. Something was constantly broken.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    The Toyota Tercel was my least favorite car at the time. Incredibly light and fragile bits assembled with incredible care and precision. I did’t get it. Seemed to me like sculpting Michelangelo’s David out of dog poop.

    Anything Daewoo.

    Anything Hyundai, at least in the early 1990s.

    Any early Quad 4 car.

    Base Cavalier. But they could redeem themselves in sport trim. I dug the early Z24(6?) with the V6, square-in-a-circle wheels, and Coke-bottle skirts. The later Cavalier Z24 with the 16-valve engine was more adult-looking and reasonably priced, but IIRC carelessly assembled and a bit floppy.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Definitely the stretched to the limit K/Y New Yorker and Imperial. They looked like something that GM might have rejected 5-6 years earlier and were looking by this point quite outdated with their boxy square vinyl roof encrusted opera lamp shapes. The interiors were lavish but these cars were too narrow. Then there was the horrid Ultra Drive trans axles that were being replaced at a feverish pace across every Chrysler dealership in the nation. The one sort of bright spot was the 3.3 and 3.8 Chrysler designed V6’s. But by this point Cadillac had there much improved and more powerful 200 Hp 4.9 V8 out and Ford of course had the 4.6 Mod motor.

    Honorable mentions going to the Hyundai Excel/ Kia Sephia and the any of the crap Daewoo products being sold. My folks, who were retired by this point went to work part time for Enterprise rental and said these were the worst cars in their fleets and were always having to go to the dealer for repair work. Mom also mentioned how the carpeting or flooring felt like someone glued hair fibers on a piece of cardboard and was really difficult to clean on some of the Mitsubishi’s and Kias at the time. True cheap crap.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • gtem: True. I’m talking about the more plebian FWD ones though. That’s another point, if you want AWD the...
  • Steve203: “Maybe this is a better alternative than a new mid-sized Dodge pickup?” Thing is, the typical...
  • dtremit: @Russycle — I think you’re right, and for the context of this article, it doesn’t seem...
  • Menar Fromarz: Indeed, my 2014 GLK Bluetec gets me 35-38 MPG average, so what was the point of this all in a small...
  • Steve203: So, what sort of third world grade piece of poo would they trot out? An Indian built Mahindra with a blue...

New Car Research

Staff

  • Contributors

  • Timothy Cain, Canada
  • Matthew Guy, Canada
  • Ronnie Schreiber, United States
  • Bozi Tatarevic, United States
  • Chris Tonn, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States
  • Mark Baruth, United States
  • Moderators

  • Adam Tonge, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States