Top: Hummer H1, photo courtesy CarPhotoGallery.com; bottom: Lexus LS 400, photo courtesy CarAutoPortal.com. Click image to enlarge
The Hummer H1, or just ‘Hummer’ in the 1990s, was the first real ‘excessive’ sport utility vehicle to be sold. During the height of the SUV craze, the Hummer was the poster child for wretched excess and manliness (or compensation for lack thereof). No one needed an essentially combat-ready truck to pick up some milk and drop the kids off at soccer practice, but many still wanted them. The H1 paved the way for a class of excessive monster SUVs like the Escalade, Navigator, QX56, and G55 AMG—though this last one had its own similarly military utilitarian roots well before the craze spread.
Lexus LS 400
In 1990 Toyota released a new division named ‘Lexus’ with the sole intent of taking on the luxury heavyweights from Europe like Audi, BMW, and Mercedes. Their first model to wear Lexus badging was the LS 400, which may have been the most over-engineered car ever produced. Just as the NSX brought reliability to supercars, the LS 400 showed that supremely luxurious cars could cost a lot less than German manufacturers were offering at the time. Ironically, Hyundai has attempted this same trick with its Genesis Sedan, trying to match the Lexus LS on quality and content while undercutting it on price.
Top: McLaren F1, photo courtesy Mobil-Kadal.Blogspot.ca; bottom: Mazda RX-7, photo courtesy AutoInfoz.com. Click image to enlarge
Although it wasn’t officially on sale in Canada, everyone knew, lusted for, and respected the McLaren F1. The F1 Road Car basically held every production car performance record known to man when it came out in 1994. A supercar amongst supercars, the F1 was the car every enthusiast wished they could get their hands on. Until the more recent introduction of the Bugatti Veyron, no car had ever created so much buzz, or been as highly regarded as a performance tour-de-force. The three-seat abreast configuration was just plain cool, as well.
Mazda and rotaries have gone hand in hand for decades. However, the pinnacle of this relationship seems to have been the 1993 RX-7 FD (787B Race Car excluded). With a gorgeous, brand new body, this car was capable of outrunning several higher-powered sports cars thanks to its perfect 50/50 weight distribution and twin-turbo rotary engine. To this day many consider this to be one of the best handling cars ever made (and one of the least reliable). This car officially has a cult status.
Top: Mazda MX5 Miata, photo courtesy Mazda Canada; middle: Toyota Supra, photo courtesy AutoSeekAndSell.com; bottom: Volkswagen New Beetle, photo courtesy VW Canada. Click image to enlarge
Mazda MX-5 Miata
First introduced in 1989 in Japan, the Mazda Miata really took off throughout the 1990s. The secret to the Miata’s success was combining modern reliability with classic British roadster principles. The simple, lightweight roadster may not have been the quickest car out there, but there was hardly a vehicle available in 1990 that could give you a more thrilling drive. Now entering its 24th model year, the Miata has become the bestselling roadster of all time by sticking to the core principle of driving fun at a reasonable price.
To many, the 1993-2002 (1996 in Canada) Toyota Supra is the ultimate Japanese sports car. With a timeless shape and a bulletproof motor, Toyota Supras can still be seen at racetracks and car meets to this day. Easily tunable, the Supra could be taken from impressive to deadly in no time. In stock form, there were few vehicles in any price range that could outperform the Supra Turbo. The Supra Turbo’s giant rear wing may have been ahead of its time as the late 90s and early 2000s would see an epidemic of oversized wings on everything from Honda Civics to Geo Metros to Dodge Caravans.
Volkswagen New Beetle
Although it shared virtually nothing with its predecessor except for its shape, the 1998 ‘New Beetle’ was a hit based on nostalgia. The first of the ‘retro remakes’ in North America, the New Beetle proved people were interested in new cars packed with new technology sporting a classic shape. The New Beetle opened the door for a flood of retro remakes like the Mini Cooper, Ford Thunderbird, 2005+ Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Dodge Challenger, to name a few.