The 1990s were weird, weren’t they? They were shackled by the trappings of the 80s, minus some of the excess and frippery. Nevertheless, the promise of new technological frontiers and the looming 2000s was prominent. Never has a decade began as the last ended, and ended as the next began, quite as much as the 1990s.
The proto-digital age produced some epic cars, though. As the 2020s loom, we decided to pick a few of the coolest cars from the 90s that we’d buy if we could.
1990 Lotus Carlton
The regular Vauxhall Carlton was never cool. But add twin-turbochargers to the 3.0-litre straight-six engine, creating a total of 377hp and 419lb ft of torque, and it gained instant credibility. Work by Lotus created this all-conquering super saloon, with a top speed in excess of 176mph.
Additional cool comes from the fact that the Lotus Carlton was mentioned in a House of Commons debate – so concerned were MPs about a 170mph saloon being let loose on British roads. Get a clean one if you can.
1990 Lamborghini Diablo
Arguably the most flamboyant Lamborghini built, before Audi ownership forced the Sant’Agata firm to be a little more sensible. Longer, wider and lower than the Countach it replaced, the Diablo was also the first Lamborghini to achieve a top speed in excess of 200mph.
Starting with a 485hp 5.7-litre V12, then ending the decade with a 575hp 6.0-litre unit, the Diablo remained an iconic supercar throughout the 1990s. The Diablo is sure to follow the climb the Countach took value-wise.
1992 Ferrari 456 GT
Compare the 456 GT to the car that replaced it, the somewhat awkward 612 Scaglietti, and its inclusion here should make perfect sense. Pininfarina created a truly beautiful 2+2 grand tourer, featuring a 436hp 5.5-litre V12 engine and a luxurious leather-lined interior.
It was also the last Ferrari to be designed with pop-up headlights, which is almost reason alone for appearing on this list. You could get into one of the few true modern Ferrari beauties for under £100,000.
1992 Ford Escort RS Cosworth
As the almost untouchable dream for any Max Power reader during the 1990s, the Escort RS Cosworth blended rally homologation necessity with road-going excess. The fact that the performance from the 227hp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine is hardly astounding by modern standards is irrelevant.
It might only just dip below six seconds to 60mph, but that giant whale-tail rear spoiler makes it far cooler than a new Golf R. Based on current auction values, Ford enthusiasts seem to think so, too. It’s a certifiable over-appreciated (if that’s possible?) modern classic.
1993 Renault Clio Williams
Another Formula 1 connection, and one of greatest hot hatches ever built. Being painted Sports Blue, wearing gold Speedline alloys, and featuring the name of the then-dominant F1 constructor was a strong start for the Clio Williams. Adding a 145hp 2.0-litre engine to a lightweight supermini only helped matters, as did the wonderfully balanced handling and engaging steering.
Today, the original 3,800 limited-edition cars are the most sought-after, but even the later second and third phase cars are still highly desirable. They’re still just about attainable but they’re on the way up.
1993 Toyota Supra Turbo
Try to ignore the fact that many A80 Supras have been butchered to create Fast & Furious replicas. Focus instead on this being a Japanese sports car with the genuine potential to worry Porsche 911 owners. Yes, there were naturally-aspirated versions, but the twin-turbocharged model is the one everyone loves.
With 320hp, it could hit 60mph in less than five seconds, and a potential 155mph top speed – this was a seriously quick car. It along with other Japanese performance models is becoming a cult classic.
1994 Aston Martin DB7
Ian Callum has designed many attractive cars since the DB7, but it’s hard to beat the faultless lines and curves of his 1994 creation while working for TWR. Born from an abandoned Jaguar project, the DB7 inherited its underpinnings from the ancient XJS. But it didn’t matter how old the platform was when the car looked this beautiful.
The later V12-powered Vantage versions were even better, adding more power and performance.
1994 Audi RS2 Avant
An estate car faster than a McLaren F1? Yes, if we’re measuring them on a 0-30mph sprint. The McLaren took 1.8 seconds, while the Audi wagon needed just 1.5 seconds. After that point, not even the 311hp and 302lb ft of torque from the five-cylinder turbo engine, combined with a Quattro drivetrain, could compete with the F1.
When new, the RS2 Avant was the fastest estate car in the world, having been developed in partnership with Porsche. Hence the Porsche Cup 17-inch alloy wheels, Porsche Brembo brakes and Porsche-inspired front bumper design. Peak coolness comes when the RS2 Avant is painted in Nogaro Blue.
1996 Peugeot 106 GTi
For those growing up with 1990s modified car culture, the Peugeot 106 GTi was an achievable dream. A 118hp 1.6-litre engine, combined with low weight, made for enthusiastic performance and the added bonus/risk of lift-off oversteer when cornering.
We could have included the mechanically-identical Citroen Saxo VTS, but the 106 GTi somehow exuded slightly more class when parked outside a McDonald’s drive-thru.
1996 Audi S8
As I write, we’re a week or so into our one-month stint with the Ronin star, we’re certifiably in love. Understated looks, Teutonic build quality and a 4.2-litre V8 with 335hp are a sweet mix and were seemingly perfect for an aggressive car chase.
It’s certainly been enough so far to have us searching the classifieds, and we’ve got three weeks left with it yet!