It’s President’s Day so we’re sort of taking the day off, but we wanted to leave you with something fantastic. Something you couldn’t get anywhere else. Something you didn’t know you needed but once you see it you can’t imagine life without it. We’re talking, of course, about a defense of every single car on this almost year-old list from car-coding periodical Motor Trend of what they’re calling “The Worst Cars of the 1990s.” It is, as you’d expect, a list of bangers.
Just to clarify, this is not really a critique of Motor Trend (though click-y slideshows that make you see a bunch of ads is not great). We have many friends there and it’s important to keep at least one car magazine on the West Coast to represent that side of car culture. It just feels like a list hastily put together by an intern because an SEO expert said that Semrush wants more ’90s content. Fine, but someone needs to speak up for the unloved cars and that’s what we do here at The Autopian.
Is every car on this list stellar? Have we driven every car mentioned? Nope to both. Objectively speaking, some of them are mediocre when compared to a NA Miata or a ’90s Camry. What’s curious about this list is most of the cars are actually quite cool. Plus, you’re not less of a car person because you like the Plymouth Breeze and someone else likes a Lancia Delta Integrale.
So, here you go, a defense of each car on the list.
The 1996 Ford Taurus
This is probably the peak of ovoid ’90s Ford, with nary a right angle to be found anywhere on the inside or outside of the car. The crux of MT‘s argument is that people didn’t like the way it looked. It was distinct, but so distinct that you can’t not look at when you see one on the street. It has presence. Plus, in 1996 you could get it as a V8-powered SHO model. Hmm… what could one say about this car? Let’s go back to someone in the mid ’90s and ask them:
The ’96 Taurus SHO is clearly a fully refined and exceptional car-now, apparently remade for a more sophisticated role in a European tradition. From all appearances, it should be a world-class high-performance automobile, one we’re eager test against the best the world has to offer.
Who wrote this praise of the car? Why, Motor Trend of course. I had the V6 model in 1998 and it was a totally fine car. – MH
The 1991 Saturn S-Series
I admit that I was surprised to see Saturn claimed to be “one of the worst car companies.” Saturn pioneered a concept that a number of companies use today. Do you know how you can walk into a CarMax or click on Carvana and buy a car without haggling? Saturn did that first. Sure, no haggling meant that you couldn’t get that sweet deal that you might have gotten elsewhere, but as CNN pointed out in 2006, it also meant that, depending on the Saturn dealer, you could have driven home in a Sky for MSRP while Pontiac dealers marked up the Solstice. In today’s era of nutty markups, I’d take Saturn’s concept.
Back then, it was reported that Saturn’s customers loved the no-haggle concept. That’s not surprising; unless you’re a lawyer, chances are you don’t find negotiating with someone who negotiates for a living to be fun. And it wasn’t just the no-haggle model; buying and owning a Saturn was so good back in the 1990s that the brand consistently rated high in J.D. Power owner and customer sales satisfaction surveys, and at one point it ranked just second in owner satisfaction behind Lexus.
The cars weren’t bad, either. I learned how to drive stick in a 1990s SC1. Back then, just as I do today, I loved how futuristic Saturns looked. Sadly, the S-Series wasn’t what many would describe as thrilling and sure, the S-Series was buzzy and perhaps a little unrefined. But you weren’t buying one of these because you’re looking for a fine sports car. These were supposed to be the American equivalent of the import competition; efficient and cheap to keep going. Taking off those rosy nostalgia shades, even a Japanese economy car from 1991 could be described similarly to how MotorTrend describes the Saturn S-Series. In fact, the publication calls the 1991 Toyota Previa loud, so it wasn’t a complaint limited to Saturn.
Saturn was also GM’s experimental brand, from distributing the then novel GM EV1, its dealership model, and its cars that used a spaceframe construction draped with those plastic panels. Now, more than 30 years later, something I admire about Saturn S-Series cars is how well they take a beating year after year. Sure, Saturns still rot like anything else, but the plastic panels do make for cheap beaters that at least look better on the surface than an old Mazda with rust-deleted rockers and crusty doors.
Sadly, what made Saturn unique didn’t last, and the brand died slowly through a thousand cuts of neglect and rebadging. I’d put that blame on GM, not on Saturn. Perhaps the best example of how good Saturn and those S-Series cars were is the fact that the brand has a strong following today, including a woman who owns 17 of the cars. I have to meet her one day. – MS
The 1995 BMW 318ti
What do you call an E36 with no ass? How about joyful, composed, and friendly. On paper, the 318ti sounds brilliant. Many enthusiasts would kill for a compact rear-wheel-drive hatchback with three pedals and an available limited-slip differential. Sure, the 1.8-liter M42 inline-four may have only put out 138 horsepower, but reasonably long gears made for perfectly acceptable freeway cruising. What’s more, despite the strange blend of E30-esque trailing arms out back and E36 McPherson strut front suspension, handling is excellent.
Not only does this little car do a great job of absorbing mid-corner lumps and bumps, it will happily rotate under trailing throttle or trail braking, a huge benefit for keen drivers. Car And Driver claimed the 1997 model was the second-best handling car in America under $30,000 ahead of the Eagle Talon TSI, Ford SVT Contour, Chevrolet Camaro Z28, and Mazda Miata.
Nearly thirty years later, the 318ti makes a great base for many builds, partly because of its lively handling and partly because its engine bay can accommodate a ton of engine. From M50 inline-sixes from 325is to S52s from Euro-spec M3s to LS engines, there’s space to throw a ton of power at these things and the chassis will take it. Formula Drift legend Chelsea Denofa has an S52-swapped 318ti that he adores, and that’s a man who knows a thing or two about driving hard.
Despite its merely sufficient power output, the BMW 318ti represents an interesting time for small BMWs. One where a front-wheel-drive Mini platform wasn’t even an option, one where driver engagement reigned supreme, and one that set the stage for the incredible M2 CS. This now-classic Bavarian still knows how to dance, and its continued lineage proves its worth. – TH
1991 Toyota Previa
Look at this baby! How could you not love a 1991 Toyota Previa? To be fair, it’s not as fast or as efficient as a Dodge Caravan. Who cares? At one point, you could spec this minivan with all-wheel drive and a five-speed manual. My buddy Phil had access to one of these in high school and we used to blast to his Trip Hop Mixtape on CD while lazily cruising the suburbs and it was awesome. All of the alt-minivans of the ’90s deserve respect, genuinely, but the design and Previa I think stand up to scrutiny even without the hot coral-colored glasses of ’90s nostalgia. – MH
I have pop in to add some more here, because it’s worth remembering: The Previa was a minivan that you could get as a manual, supercharged, mid-engined vehicle with a clever “jackshaft” system to drive the ancillary stuff up front. On paper, the mechanical layout felt more like a supercar, and yet here it was, a big ovoid minivan ready to swallow a whole bunch of people and all their crap. I mean, look at it:
That’s incredible. There’s nothing “worst” about this at all, unless were talking about “the minivans worst at not delighting anyone who loves cars,” in which case, sure, it’s the worst at that. – JT
1996 Suzuki X-90
Every so often, a manufacturer builds a cult classic by taking a good car and transforming it to make no sense at all. On paper, the BMW M6 Gran Coupe is a four-door version of a two-door version of a four-door car. Mad. The Range Rover Evoque Cabriolet is a bizarre open-top version of an otherwise competent crossover. The Toyota Sera is a Paseo with billionaire doors and more glass than The Shard. Objectively, these cars all sound a bit daft, but they’re all enjoyable in their own ways.
The Suzuki X-90 is also a member of this club. It started life as a Suzuki Sidekick, the father of David Tracy’s infamous yet brilliant Chevrolet Tracker. This means that it’s objectively capable off-road, available with proper four-wheel-drive and a manual gearbox for climbing up rocky hills and bounding through streams. However, Suzuki then decided to make it look like a Honda Del Sol viewed through a funhouse mirror, a sport utility vehicle with extra sport and little utility.
Guess what? It works. Despite having 95 horsepower and feeling happiest around the double nickel, this thing can embarrass Jeeps off-road and offer compact t-top motoring in the city. The X-90 the exact same length as a 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage, so you can park it virtually anywhere, and the hard t-tops mean you don’t run the risk of having your soft top cut by thieves like on most other small, open-top 4x4s of the time. Even Motor Trend appeared to like it upon first sample, claiming that “Overall, during our excursion through the Washington countryside and Mount Baker foothills, the X-90 proved to be a fun, competent runabout, both for street and light off-road use.”
The Suzuki X-90 may have made no sense, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t absolutely rule. It’s certainly a weird package, but the roads are so much better off with it on them. It was never destined to be a high-volume product, but Suzuki sold thousands of them in America and storage space aside, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with them as vehicles. – TH
I’m going to pop in again here because I think you need to see an behind-the-scenes look at how just the idea of someone shitting on an X-90 affected us in our Slack channel:
Seriously, how dare they. – JT
1993 Honda Del Sol
For such a small car, Mazda’s MX-5 Miata sure cast a long shadow when it was introduced in 1989. It had essentially no competition, apart from Alfa’s ancient Spider, and left other automakers dumbstruck by the release of pent-up demand for tiny convertibles. Ford was quick to counter with its Australian-built Mercury Capri, ironically half Mazda. The Capri caught flak for being front-wheel-drive, but so did Lotus for their new Elan, so Ford was in good company.
Honda’s Civic Del Sol was likewise driven from the “wrong” end, but so was its predecessor, the celebrated CRX. Instead of a full convertible, Honda went for a targa roof, with a clever roll-down back window and a nicely-designed storage rack for the roof panel. (Here in the US, we didn’t get the Del Sol’s coolest party trick: the TransTop automatic targa roof, with a little robot buddy in the trunk that came up and stowed the roof panel for you.) With the roof off, it was a little flexible, but no worse than a Camaro with T-tops. And unlike a Camaro, the Del Sol was squeak-and rattle-free at 200,000 miles. At least, the one my wife and I owned was.
Strangely enough, while shopping for the Del Sol, we happened upon a Miata with just as many miles on it. My wife liked the Honda, I preferred the Mazda, so we did the only logical thing: We bought both. How did they compare? They didn’t, and that’s the point. The Miata was sharper, it’s true, but the Del Sol with its 125 horsepower VTEC engine was quicker, and got better mileage. And the Honda was practically a Town Car on the highway compared to the Miata, even with the roof off and the rear window down. Its only Achilles heel was the drainage system for the rear window; the drains clogged up from time to time and you could hear water sloshing around in the trough behind the seats. Disconcerting, but easy enough to clean out.
1991 Mercury Capri
It’s no Miata, sure, but it has that one magical feature that makes anything more fun on a nice day: the top goes down. It was available with a turbocharger and a stick. It can also be found dirt-cheap used, which you know appeals to me. Is it brilliant? Maybe not. Is it fun? That’s up to you. You can complain about it not being as “good” as a Miata, or you can put the top down, turn the stereo up, and go for a drive. – MT
Dodge Ram Van
I mean, c’mon:
1995 Chevrolet Cavalier
I can’t argue with many of Motor Trend’s criticisms of the 1995 Chevrolet Cavalier. The 2.2-liter pushrod four-cylinder engine felt like it was running on gravel rather than gasoline, the cabriolet had the structural integrity of wet newspaper, and a bicycle running into the side of a Cavalier could prove fatal to the car’s driver due to an abysmal side crash structure. I’ll even give Motor Trend more fuel for the fire by writing that the interior was a bleak, greyscale interpretation of accountants’ contempt for working Americans. In 1995, the Cavalier constantly reminded you of your $7.25 an hour wage, your meager pension, or the fact that your upper-middle-class buy American parents were too stuck in their ways to help get you into a Honda Civic.
However, as years of rust belt ownership rolled on, a funny thing started to happen: Civics started disappearing but Cavaliers were still everywhere. Flip to page 13 in the 1995 Chevrolet Cavalier brochure and you’ll notice a little line buried deep within the body copy that says “All Cavalier body panels except the roof are constructed of rust-resistant two-sided galvanized steel.” It seems that GM’s home base in Michigan was good for something after all.
What’s more, the 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine featured a timing chain, long-life platinum spark plugs, and the ability to run badly longer than many engines will run at all. It all adds up to a car that could be kept on the road for decades without much in the way of upkeep. Change the oil, slap on the cheapest set of Autozone brakes every so often, make sure the tires aren’t bald, and you’re good to go. Even the rear dampers were designed to last 100,000 miles, so whether you bought a Cavalier brand new, certified pre-owned, or for $500 off Craigslist, you could have a car that would always take you to work and back no matter how little money you had for maintenance.
The 1995 Chevrolet Cavalier wasn’t a great car when it was new, but it remained a car long after many competitors simply decomposed. It was a true peoples’ car, sold new for cheap and imbued with everlasting qualities. No matter when you bought one or how little you paid, it represented freedom on four wheels, which made it the absolute essence of the car. Mediocre cars can do great things, so long as you can put a few gallons in the tank and make enough memories to last a lifetime. They’ll get you out of your hometown, get you to work, or help you get back on your feet. Put some respect on the 1995 Chevrolet Cavalier’s name because if you’re down on your luck, it just might do everything you need it to until life deals you a better hand of cards. – TH
1996 Nissan 200SX SE-R
The early ’90s SE-R is one of the best sleeper cars of all time and the replacement 1996 SE-R is, clearly, not. Most significantly, the car’s independent rear suspension was stupidly binned for a twist-beam rear. Maybe this is blasphemous, but the car looks a lot better and still keeps the SR20DE inline-four that every Nissan fan goes crazy for. One of these sold on BringATrailer a couple of years ago and this comment stood out to me:
I had one of these in college, brand new 96 in Black over black and it was an absolute gem of a car. Till this day (I’m now in my mid 40s) it was one of the easiest cars to drive long distance, and the motor made such a great noise. Not as fast in a straight line as I’d wanted, but I had the ECU, S1 Cams and Cold Air Intake and headers on mine and it was PLENTY fun and way quicker than I was a driver. These are getting extremely hard to find and I’ve always wanted to get another one.
A quick, five-speed coupe cannot be one of the worst cars of the ’90s! – MH
1990 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Convertible
I grew up in a family that definitely preferred Ford products, leaving me with a slight bias against GM products. The Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Convertible, though, was undeniably cool to the seven-year old version of me. Today? They still look absolutely cool. The long W-body droptop featured the sweet basket handle, pop-up headlights, and crisp styling. These cars also came with some weird options, including the first-ever Heads-Up Display in a car, which looks like this:
Technology! – MH
1990 Yugo Cabrio
Is there anything lazier than throwing a Yugo on one of these lists? I mean, I get these are just some crap generated for SEO content or whatever dark web alchemy farts these things into being, but still, come on. The truth is the Yugo just wasn’t that bad. Not great, sure, but what the hell do you expect from something that was literally the cheapest car you could buy in America? You could plop down about four grand and get your ass everywhere you needed to go. The design was extremely rational and effectively no different from any number of other small FWD hatchbacks being sold all over the world.
Yes, it was from a country most people didn’t associate with cars, and the quality control wasn’t great, but, let’s be honest here – was a Chevette or a Hyundai Pony dazzling anyone with stellar quality? Hell no.
And for this entry here, the Cabrio, the MT blurb states it was “America’s cheapest convertible ($8,990!)” That would be about $20,577 today, still pretty damn cheap. To compare, a convertible very similar looking and in basic layout and design, the Golf/Rabbit-based Volkswagen Cabriolet, would have cost you about $15,500 in 1990, or about $35,500 today. The Yugo Cabrio was about half the price, and didn’t need the clunky roll bar and had rear windows that rolled down all the way, unlike the VW, and that alone should keep it off this stupid list. Seriously, I had one of those Rabbit convertibles, and the rear windows not rolling all the way down never stopped being annoying.
Was it more dangerous if you rolled it? Probably! So don’t roll it, dummy! It’s half the cost! You’re going to have just about as much fun in the thing, even if it’s slower or whatever, but who cares? Were you going to buy a VW Cabrio to win races? No, you weren’t. You wanted to drive around with no roof and enjoy life, and a nice new Yugo Cabrio would let you do just that. So stop being a jerk. – JT
1998 Daewoo Lanos, Nubira, and Leganza
Sure, Daewoo’s sales tactics may have been borderline criminal and the implosion of the Daewoo chaebol was one of the biggest scandals in South Korea, but Daewoo’s cars also helped give us this scene right here. Long after all the lawsuits were settled, “You just got killed by a Daewoo Lanos, motherfucker” still remains one of the most quotable automotive lines in 21st century cinema. Think about how often you’d say it if you owned one. That alone should be a good enough reason to keep one around. -TH
1990 General Motors “Dustbuster” Minivans
So, what’s the matter with these, again? They look too cool? They look too much like a spaceship? You can’t handle having a minivan that looks like a spaceship? And somehow that’s the van’s problem? No. No no no. Look, these may not have been everyone’s cup of Earl Grey, hot, but there’s no reason for them to be on any “worst” lists. They were spacious and useful and, importantly, non-boring.
They got more potent engines over time, and yeah, it’s a long dash, but you know all cars have their quirks. I’m not going to give a company shit for attempting to make a minivan something a bit more interesting. Nope. Grow up. – JT
1992 AM General H-1
You know what? I actually agree with the vast majority of Motor Trend’s writeup. This section in particular is hard to fault:
Despite being as wide as the Panama Canal, the H1 offered next to no passenger space, primarily because its hapless occupants had to share the cabin with the engine.
That engine was GM’s utterly wretched 6.2-liter naturally aspirated diesel, which made up for its stupendous lack of power with an overexuberance of noise—though to be fair, it fought an exuberant battle trying to out-shout the H1’s moaning driveline and roaring tires. AM General tried to address the noise problem by fitting a gas engine, Chevy’s venerable 5.7-liter V-8, which only succeeded in making the painfully slow H1 even slower
But the reality is that automotive greatness is not rational. Some of the most legendary machines in history have been noisy, impractical rattletraps. Just think about vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler, Dodge Viper, older Honda Civic Type R, most Kei cars — these are cars that people drive and say “Yeah, this thing has issues, but I just don’t give a damn. Because my god does it have soul!”
That’s very much the case for the H1. It’s unlike anything else on the road, with its wide stance, absurd ground clearance, humongous 37-inch tires, simply-stamped body panels, and just menacing overall profile. The interior is definitely tight given the machine’s size, and overall, I don’t think the packaging is great, but it makes for a memorable driving experience, especially off-road.
Speaking of, it’s not just “soul” that gives the aforementioned “rough around the edges” machines value, it’s their ability to dominate at a very specific task. The loud and harsh Viper is a track monster, Kei cars are efficient and cheap and easy to maneuver, the Type R handles way better than it should at a reasonable price — you get the idea. The Hummer H1 aligns with the Jeep Wrangler (particularly the older ones) in that, sure, it’s a bit of a nightmare to daily drive, but it’s unbelievably good in the dirt. It’s a damn supercar, in a way.
For a vehicle to be that good at one thing pretty much disqualifies it from the list. It’s a purpose-built off-road beast. That’s what it was built for, and that’s what it does, beautifully. Sure, if you daily drive it, it’s not going to be great, but that’s like putting Lebron James on a “worst athletes of the decade” list because he can’t bowl. -DT
1995 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
1993 Volkswagen Eurovan
All this minivan-bashing on this list is just embarrassing. The Volkswagen Eurovan does not deserve to be on a “worst” list. The Eurovan was big deal, remember: this was Volkswagen’s first attempt to make a van without using the proven rear-engine/rear-drive formula that had served them so well for decades, so there was pushback. But VW handled the moving-all-the-oily-bits-to-the-other-end switch with the same rationality that made them do it the other way all the way back in 1950: it just made sense.
The basic idea was the same: put a big useful box on wheels and make it go, and that’s what the Eurovan was, and it was damn good at it. It was an honest approach, driven by practicality. And, unlike previous VW Transporters, this generation was not slow! You could have a Eurovan with the narrow-angle, single-head VR6 engine, making over 200 hp, pretty damn good for a van in the mid 1990s.
Plus, it was pretty much the only minivan you could buy a full-featured camper conversion of, right from the dealer, as was VW tradition, complete with pop-top and sink and everything:
A camper you could easily commute to work in! A van that was crazy spacious and could hold a ton of people or stuff! It looked pretty decent! It wasn’t slow! It doesn’t deserve to be on this list! – JT
1994 Ford Aspire
As the youth around here, I’m declaring the Ford Aspire ironically cool. In the era of MGK recycling Warped Tour tropes and Gen Z largely borrowing nostalgia for the ’90s, this non-threatening glass house hatchback is button-cute enough to be a fashion accessory without conjuring up all the Simpsons jokes and neckbeardy images of Geo Metros. Are Metros great cars? Yes, but they have popular culture baggage. The Ford Aspire itself was jettisoned from the minds of the general public around the time LMFAO and Mitt Romney got into an airport altercation, so the jokes about how it aspires to be a real car are now taken with the same level of seriousness as people saying that nobody wants to work anymore. The result is a fairly rare car that’s as adorable as any of the Moomins and gets solid fuel economy. That sounds alright to me.
In the context of 1994, the Aspire also sounds alright. Standard dual airbags, available anti-lock brakes, a surprisingly attractive steering wheel, and dirt-cheap cost of entry made this thing a real contender against base-model Toyota Tercels that didn’t even offer a fifth gear in their manual gearboxes. Interestingly enough, a major threat to the Ford Aspire species was Mythbusters, as several of these trim little hatchbacks were unceremoniously destroyed for television. Bugger. -TH
1995 Honda Odyssey
Now, I’ll admit that the Odyssey wouldn’t be my first or even second choice for 1990s vans; those would be a Honda Acty Street and a supercharged Previa, respectively. MotorTrend is also correct that the Odyssey got destroyed by Chrysler’s vans in sales. But is it really a worst car?
The Odyssey was different take on the minivan formula, giving buyers a vehicle that could be filled with six people, but still drove like an Accord. MotorTrend‘s own review praised the Odyssey’s carlike handling and fuel economy, while still boasting the ability to carry more people than an Accord:
Along with an Accord engine came a sedanlike ride, made possible by the sophisticated four-wheel double-wishbone suspension. This space-efficient design incorporates upper and lower control arms, coil springs, shock absorbers, and anti-roll bars to produce a comfortable ride with responsive handling. The Odyssey squirmed through our 600-foot slalom at 61.4 mph, stacking up well against the Chevrolet Venture (61.0 mph) and Dodge Caravan (62.0 mph). A strong showing was also made around the 200-foot skidpad, where the Odyssey managed 0.74 g of lateral acceleration.
Instrumented measurements aside, 98.7 percent of survey respondents felt the Odyssey’s handling was above average, no doubt influenced by the positive steering feel and relatively compact dimensions. Numerous owners expressed similar sentiments; as an Illinois woman wrote, “I like the fact that it’s a minivan that definitely drives like a car.”
And despite the van being a slow seller, those who bought one loved it, from MotorTrend‘s review:
Honda’s engineers were guided by the design goal of creating a vehicle with the versatility and capacity of a minivan and the comfort and performance of a car. This seemingly opposing goal was met with admirable success; an astounding 97.4 percent of surveyed owners reported that they would recommend the Odyssey to others, and an impressive 98.3 percent claimed they would purchase another Honda, making the Odyssey the most highly recommended long-term vehicle by owners in the past year.
With the power of hindsight, we know that American minivan buyers were willing to sacrifice some driving dynamics for more space, thus making the first-generation Odyssey a niche vehicle.
But does falling into a niche make you among the worst? No! More choice is always better. – MS
1994 Saab 900
While some may argue that the NG 900 was the beginning of the end for Saab, it’s proof that even under the iron fist of GM’s accountants, Saab just couldn’t stop being Saab. While the bean counters gave the Swedish subsidiary the GM2900 platform, Saab changed the wheelbase, used its own four-cylinder engines with its own engine management, installed its own instrument cluster, altered the crash structure to its own specifications, and changed so much else that the NG 900 is only an Opel Vectra in theory.
What’s more, it drove well. This is a car that will keep up nicely with modern traffic, track dead ahead on gravel roads, and lean towards gentle understeer when you overstep the limits of adhesion. What’s more, the steering is rather quick for the era, especially if you’re used to German luxury cars and their built-in sneeze factor. The 1994 Saab 900 may have been born from troubled circumstances, but it was still a proper Saab. -TH
1997 Cadillac Catera
The Cadillac Catera was, basically, an Opel for this market. It’s an odd-duck that doesn’t fit with any of the Cadillacs that came before it or any of the Cadillacs that came after it. The marketing, though, the marketing was great.
First, you get:
It’s the Caddy that zigs!
Second, you get the most insidious product placement of the ’90s with the TV show “Chicago Hope” creating a character named: Dr. Lisa Catera. Get it? LEASE-A-CATERA. This is a real thing I’m not making up. – MH
1997 Acura CL
With a beltline as trim as its American owners’ wasn’t, the CL was—and is—a perfect runabout for a regional sale manager with a File-o-Fax full of dreams and a backseat filled with regrets. There isn’t a late-20th century Honda that wasn’t at least inoffensive to drive at worst, and most were downright lively. The CL was even available with a 5-speed transmission, as long as you were willing to somehow slum with one of the famously inefficient and unexciting 4-cylinders Honda made in the ’90s. Hey wait… (Okay, the 2.3 in the CL wasn’t one of the all-time Honda greats, but still.) – JJ
1996 Plymouth Breeze
The great thing about this one is that I don’t really have to defend it – the legend, John Davis (of Motorweek fame) describes in no uncertain terms in the video above that the Breeze is actually a fine automobile.
And how the heck could it not be? It’s basically a Dodge Stratus – which was in a family of revolutionary vehicles for Chrysler, with its fully independent suspension (double wishbone up front, multilink in the rear) and most importantly its space-efficient “cab-forward” design – but stripped down. After all, Plymouth had by the mid 1990s become Chrysler’s budget brand.
Motor Trend maligns the manual windows and locks, as well as the basic 2.0-liter inline-four and lack of aluminum wheel options. But John Davis drove a completely bare-bones model (base price under $15,000) in the video above, and that model paired that transverse-mounted inline-four to a five-speed stickshift with a sweet accordion-style shifter.
Fully independent multilink suspension, a five-speed, a roomy interior, and a low base price? This thing sounds decent until you look at the fuel economy, at which point the Breeze sounds more than decent:
33 MPG highway!
The 1996 Plymouth Breeze just seems like good, basic transportation. Who could hate that? -DT
1992 Jaguar XJ-220
I must be stupid because I’m baffled at how the XJ220 can be on this list. It’s so wrong in its wrongtitude the author must have gotten out of bed with the sole purpose of being deliberately the wrongest person on the internet this week, and that, my friends, takes some fucking doing. First of all, the XJ220 retailed for £470k in 1992, not £270k as stated. Second of all, just look at it. Look at it and then go for a cold shower. The big cat wasn’t a tarted up 911 like the 959, or stripped out widow maker like the F40. It might not have come with the promised V12 and four0wheel drive, but that’s because the original concept was an after hours, off the books lash up to investigate the possibility of a Group B Le Mans attempt.
Jaguar found themselves buried under blank checks for a production version, so the actual car was developed by Tom Walkinshaw Racing with a V6 engine distantly related to the Cosworth DFV. You weren’t exactly being shortchanged in the engineering pedigree department. No wonder it went like all bloody hell, with Andy Wallace wringing one out to 213 mph making it the fastest production car in the world at the time. They only managed to sell 281 out of a proposed run of 350 cars because just as it was launched the world fell into a massive recession. You know what else was a total business failure around the same time? The McLaren F1, which didn’t sell in it’s intended numbers either, and I don’t see any automotive hot-take chucklefuck putting that on any worst car lists. – AC
All photos Manufacturer unless otherwise noted
My dad had the Omega (Opel version of the Catera), our first plush car, the diesel engine we had was boring, slow and not always reliable but the interior was very fine and I always loved the design on the front. The Audi A6 1.9TDI we got after that was better on all fronts but I loved the quirky, folksy luxurio-barge feel of the Omega too. Selling it as a Cadillac though is quite a mistake I think, coming from a line of Opels for the small entrepreneurs or bigger farmers.
Having written garbage listicles for a Brand-X car website a few years ago, let me tell you that putting one together is its own personal hell. The authors deserve not our scorn but our pity.
Are you seriously suggesting the second generation, dumpy SE-R looks better than the clean, three box with an air dam and slight wedge rake first generation. I read the words three times to.make sure I was reading right. Looks are generally subjective, but this particular point you are trying to make is simply wrong.
Word. A very depressing design compared to the brilliant B13; “dumpy” is exactly the word. I do have good memories of racing a hot girl from my job who had an aqua SE-R in my Peugeot 505 Turbo S.
I owned a Yugo Cabrio. It was one of my Holy Grail cars, due to the limited production (82 seems to be the accepted number these days but nobody knows for sure). And let me tell you, it ABSOLUTELY needed a basket handle. Close the doors and the quarter panels moved. Go for a drive and you learn what “cowl shake” means. It was scarier than my Datsun 710 that I hacked the roof off of out of boredom. You could feel the front and rear wheels working with the goal of twisting the floorpan into a Twizzler. This in spite of longitudinal floor reinforcements.
Also, all the other 1990 Yugos had EFI, but the Cabrio still had a carb. If you put the top down, there was no (and I mean NO) cargo space. Precious little with it up, and that was inaccessible.
The (powered) convertible top ate side windows when going down, because the windows got jammed and the hydraulics didn’t care.
I loved it due to its rarity, but didn’t feel bad about selling it on when the time came. Sometimes your Holy Grail just sucks.
I have never considered Motor Trend more than an advertorial since I started reading car magazines in the early 70s. Car & Driver routinely trash talked them back in the day. This listicle seems to have involved a dart board since I see genuinely good cars, one or two actually bad cars and a lot that were well reviewed at the time but were either unpopular or subsequently maligned.
The Oval Taurus was a functionally good car but the styling was unpopular. The Saturn S series was a competitive car in the 90s, especially the twin cam versions. On the other hand the 90s VW Eurovan with the 5 cylinder was almost as underpowered as the Vanagon, and the early oughts VR6 models grenaded transaxles. The same criticism applies to the Honda Odyssey, excellent design and road manners until kaboom. A list of crap 90s cars needs to include the Kia Sephia, the Ford Tempo and everything Ssangyong ever made.
My mom had a Ford Tempo, notwithstanding the fact that I helped her pick it out (she didn’t need refinement and driving dynamics, just a cheap new car, and had to be American), I can confirm it should be on the list. Everytime I stepped out of my contemporary Nissan or Honda to drive it, it struck me how crude and course it was.
Motor Trend is the worst. I swear, there were like fifteen issues in a row back in the 1990s that had a Mustang and a Camaro on the cover. Every issue was exactly like the previous one.
They also hung on to using cubic inches long after that unit became obsolete, even in royalist USA.
Hyundai Scoupe? I would take a Tempo over an Escort or Fiesta of the day. too, but yeah maybe all of the should also be on the list.
Civic Del Sol. Around 2000 I bought one for my daughter. She wrecked it three times in one year. While it was getting repaired the third time I overheard her talking to a friend on the phone. She wished I would quit fixing it because she never wanted to see the ugly sob again. Poor girl. I sold that car so fast. Ever feel your heart literally break?
Chevy Lumina APV van. I had a friend whose hobby was overbuilding model cars. Every model he built was like a jewel. Once while admiring his work I saw a piece of white plastic pipe with a slant cut on one end that was mounted on four wheels. I asked him what the hell it was and he said, “I’m glad you asked. That’s a Lumina PVC.” Got me.
I hope your daughter had to drive a Cavalier after purposely wrecking a Del Sol.
The Suzuki X90 was a good idea that ended up with laughably wrong proportions and a goofy front end. A neighbor of mine had one. As much as I like Suzuki and root for the underdog, that X90 should not have been approved without a complete makeover. The Del Sol is what the X90 should have been.
The Daewoos, the Cadillac Catera and the AM General Hummer definitely belong on this list. The Catera was loaded with design flaws and had to be deeply discounted to get them off of the lot. The few that were sold disappeared off of the roads pretty quickly.
The first generation Honda Odyssey was an Accord with a tall roof, for the most part. If I could find one with a manual, it would be very, very tempting. (Did they ever come with manual transmissions?)
After the 86 VW Cabriolet was T-Boned by a total POS who got tired of waiting at a stop sign, did not have license, did not have insurance, and it was not his car, I found a Del Sol in NJ for my daughters 16th. Flew out with the family, enjoyed NYC and drove back with said daughter to Wisconsin. We averaged 75mph while on the toll way, about 40mpg on the trip and had a great time. She also crashed it often, and blew the engine. She loved it. After putting a rebuilt engine and spending a very lot of money on literally a new tub from the A pillars back, I have been driving it with a S eating grin for 3 years now. I call it my reformed Karmann Ghia, (my 1st car $200 dollar rust machine). She is now 32 and with her husband wants it back. So off it goes…
You and your daughter have above average intelligence. That is such a happy car.
Ahhh, those Previa vans with captains chairs and dual sunroofs were a great space to spend time in. What a greenhouse. Hardly a blind spot to be found. I still see them for sale, running and driving, usually with about 300k on the odo. Great vans.
Nope. Owned a Pontiac Trans Sport SE, with 3.8 V6 & 4 speed automatic trans. Ours was bulletproof for 170k miles. Traded it for a Plymouth Caravan (POS…)
Bought a 1997 Honda Odyssey – still have it, with 213k miles. Well built. Durable.
My college roommate had a Del Sol. Had some pickup, t-top, pretty fun ride for college despite the lack of utility. Bulletproof reliable like mid-90’s Hondas should be.
Cavalier (and the Sunfire) was the official car of my high school parking lot. They were POS’s from the perspective of an automotive journalist but they could sure take a beating from a 16-year old guy being stupid.
And I did think that 90’s Cutlass was pretty cool with those tiny headlights. Probably gave the edge to the Grand Prix overall, but I wouldn’t have cried over a Cutlass Supreme.
Someone needs to add “automotive hot-take chucklefuck” to their bio, stat.
Half of authors on The Old Site now.
Wait, are the 90s cool now?
So many items I want to defend on this list, but I will say that my Saturn SL2 was an amazing car. It was a 5 speed, 124HP kayak-carrying, raft-toting, 6’2″ person-sleeping adventure machine that got 35MPG, carved corners in the mountains all over TN, NC and GA, and saw more forest service road action (off-road?) than most SUVs ever will.
Sometimes I feel these lists are planned to spark outrage, and thus generate more clicks as the “wrong” takes are shared. I will agree, when I finally rode in an H1 in the 2000s, I was amazed at how tiny the interior was, and how great it was in the dirt. (Can’t believe no obligatory The Rock scene footage linked…)
had a 96 Taurus as a rental for a couple weeks as a new immigrant. That car was aspirational for me.. all that power, comfort, and cold AC.. never did get to afford one, still have a soft spot for the old Taurus though.
I’m going to put in a plug for the 95 Cavalier. I drove a brand new 95 Cavalier for about a month while my 94 Sentra (the XE model, not the SE-R) was being repaired after being T-boned. For a 23 year old who just needed good transportation, I really enjoyed that Cavalier. It also felt a bit more substantial than the Sentra did, which given that I was a pretty inexperienced driver (I didn’t get my license until I was 22) was really nice. Also, the air conditioning worked much better than the AC in my Nissan did. I was actually kind of sad to give it back when my Sentra was fixed.
That Cavalier pictured is a Z24. And for as many times as you mentioned the 2.2 the z24 had a DOHC 2.4L that had 70ftlbs MORE TQ then the coveted vtec Civic motors. Used to smoke those old civic boys and their VtEc stickers.
Seriously the SAAB? maybe the 9-3 next generation but the 90’s 900 was a great car.
Saturn absolutely did not deserve what happened to it. I have owned 2 SLs. Cheap, easy, reliable, dent free. I remember when my dad was shopping for his first Saturn in ’97 the dealership had a door display set up in the showroom with a baseball bat and you could go to town on it to show how durable they are.
To be pedantic, the 200SX pictured is not an SE-R. The wheels show it to be either an SE or a GXE, with a GA16DE motor, with something like 106hp/116tq (maybe have those backwards), not the 140hp/132tq SR20DE.
I want a Gambler 500-worthy Catera so bad that it’s unreal. I’d call it the Nopel. There’d be some kind of terrible attempt at a “Manta, Manta”-inspired livery. A foxtail on the antenna would be mandatory. I’m crushed that they’re all still in decent shape when they come up somehow. Give me the Caddy that zigs, folks. I will zig it into the wilderness for inappropriate shenanigans.
I once came across an old Catera in a parking lot that had somehow lost most of its badging. Part of my brain was saying “Corsica,” but the rest of the gray cells were saying “No!” Took the longest time to figure out what it actually was.
Love you all <3
This is kind of a weird list, for sure. I don’t think most of the cars here belong on a worst cars list. Particularly the Saturn…come on. Even the Aspire, which I doubt has too many fans, was a cheap and cheerful runabout that, while slow as all hell, was surprisingly reliable transportation.
I have driven every damn one of those vehicles, except the XJ-220. What’s more, I drove shiny, fresh examples, all checked out and spiffed-up to ensure they would look and act their best when driven by crusty Automotive Journalists.
With the exception of two or three — the Eurovan, which was bog-slow, the Yugo and the execrable Capri — they were all reasonably acceptable given their prices and purposes. I didn’t love them all (the truncated BMW and V8 Taurus SHO came close), none were so awful as to deserve becoming “the worst” clickbait.
But then, I look back at the list of cars that MT chose as “Car(s) of the Year” and smile….
1997 was such a doozy that it became a running joke in Lemons circles. The Chevy Malibu! Perhaps the most solidly “well, that is a car that exists” pick they could’ve made off the Hertz rental lot.
I agree this list is mostly stupid.
The only entries I agree with are the AM General H1, the Yugo and the Daewoos.
I can’t believe how many call outs were made to the Mazda MX-5 Miata through our this article, but the fact that the X-90 straight up uses NA Miata mirrors is completely omitted. It’s one of my favourite trivial facts and everyone should be aware of that.