The Worst Cars To Come Out Of The 1990s

January 18, 2023

Feeling nostalgic over the greatness of the 1990s is common; the technology was growing by leaps and bounds, the internet was gaining immense popularity, and car manufacturers were putting out pure auto-gold like the Dodge Viper, the McLaren F1, the Ford Ranger, and the Mazda Miata. Unfortunately, not all that glitters is gold. The 90s also gave us these unfortunate monstrosities of automotive masochism.

Ford Taurus

While the Taurus got decent reviews during its first and second generations, the third generation facelift in 1996 caused a lot of people to call bull on Ford’s oval monstrosity. The boxy lines of the first two generations were replaced by obnoxiously bulbous bumps and long trailing curves. The rear window was oval which reduced sight lines, and all four corners were rounded off so low that the entire car looked as if it were melting. Ford tried to reconcile their poor design in the fourth generation by reducing the curvature of the Taurus, but by then the public had resigned this ugly old cow for rendering.

Plymouth Voyager

I somehow doubt that Plymouth put these vans out with the faint scent of stale cigarettes, dog doo and spoiled milk in them, but somehow they all seem to end up with that foul musk. Until their facelift for the ‘96 model year, these beasts had a toothier grin than most of their daily drivers with a big grille that laughed in the face of aesthetics or gas mileage. While they were perfect for hauling materials for tradesmen, these massive beasts somehow found themselves in the driveways of families with more kids than teeth. Replacing the iconic Jalopies and rusted pickups, everyday Clampetts could now stick Granny in the third-row seating rather than on the roof, with room to spare for her chair.

This next vehicle certainly 'aspired' to be something better than it was.

Ford Aspire

This Frankensteinian monster of a car was the product of Ford’s then relationship with Mazda and Kia. Marketed overseas under a variety of names, including the Festiva and the Kia Pride, this auto-egg came under-equipped in pretty much every way. After the upgraded SE models failed to sell in their first year, Ford decided to remove the SE from the lineup and trim the base model as far back as they could - removing the rear wiper and alloy wheels. The tiny 68 horse engine meant you had to turn the air conditioning off to pass, which is why Ford probably thought it safer to make airbags standard and ABS optional - this car could barely get going fast enough to worry about locking the brakes.

Honda CRX

The CRX was an anomaly out of the late 80s and into the 90s, and likely there are a few CRX owners out there scratching their heads at this pick. But alas, the CRX fell flat out of the box. Featuring more glass than the restaurant in the Space Needle, the CRX was tiny and underpowered. Fortunately, Honda engines of the time were made like lego pieces and many drivers opted to swap parts for aftermarket replacements, making these two-seaters popular options for tuners. In the real world, however, the little fastback styled coupe was too small to be practical, unless you were a student doing your grocery shopping one day at a time.

Dodge Shadow/Plymouth Sundance

Riding on the k-car platform, the nearly indistinguishable twins were enigmas. They were crafted from the leftover parts of previous k-cars, which might explain why these two had an identity crisis. They were supposed to be economy cars that didn’t look like economy cars, and they had a hatchback even though they were sedan styled. The low swooping nose was supposed to be sporty, but the added headroom of the high roof ruined the illusion. These cars were chameleons of car classifications. While they both came in sedan and coupe models, they also had optional drop-tops, in case you felt like your bottom-end pseudo-sport-coupe should also be a convertible. Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t try tossing four-wheel drive in them just to see what happened.

Mercury Topaz

The first clause of the Consumer Guide review of the Topaz should say it all: “Frankly, the Topaz has no outstanding features and lacks the refinement and overall polish of import rivals.” This unsalted soda-cracker of a car offered few amenities, an under-performing four-cylinder, and bland styling. To try to add some color to this canvas, Mercury added an optional four-wheel drive system that sold so poorly they removed it in later years. The Topaz ranked as barely mediocre against competitors in pretty much every category; it couldn’t accelerate quickly, it hummed along with effort on the highway, the fuel economy was only so-so, and the interior was as uninteresting as the outside. The Topaz also happened to be the sister car of the Ford Tempo. The twins were replaced in 1995 by the 'world-car' platform sold in North America as the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique.

Jaguar XJ220

Another 'car of the future,' the XJ220 was intended to be Jaguar’s supercar. Like with so many concept cars, Jaguar made more than a few promises they couldn’t keep. When it was first introduced, the XJ220 had a massive 6.2 liter V12 in it and was supposed to feature four-wheel drive capability. Jaguar took in fifteen hundred deposits of £50,000 - equal to about USD 70,000 before production, but because of budgeting issues, regulation changes by the government and general poor planning, the engineering team dropped the V12 in favor of a twin-turbocharged V6. Also missing from the final production model was the four-wheel drive capability. Because of the changes made between the concept and the release, many buyers opted out, and Jaguar managed to make and sell just 275 XJ220s.

Jaguar isn’t the only manufacturer to fail to live up to promises they made, read on to find out more.

Subaru Alcyone SVX

Subaru owners are so proud of their Impreza WRXs; they will completely rebuild them, dump engine after engine in them to keep them going, then wave at any other passing Subaru like they’re Jeep drivers in the mid-80s. But notice how you never see any SVX's around anymore? There’s a very good reason for that. I applaud Subaru for trying to step out of the box and do something different. The ‘90s were a notoriously uninspired time for the auto industry, and the creators behind the SVX sincerely tried to change the game. Unfortunately, not all creativity is created equal. This futuristic car of bad-ideas-past sported a full panoramic windscreen, featuring windows built into the, umm, windows. The boxy and sharp-angled body didn’t do much to break the mold. While it may have been named for the brightest star in the Pleiades constellation, the SVX was not a brilliant idea.

Mercedes Benz A-Class

Looking to break into the compact market, Mercedes introduced the A-Class in 1997. This mini Merc changed up the German manufacturer’s game. Breaking from luxury and racing roots, the baby-Benz was front wheel drive and woefully underpowered with either a 1.4 or 1.6 liter four banger. The real bad news, however, came when the car rolled during the 'Elk-test' - a test of a vehicles ability to respond to unexpected obstacles on the road. Benz initially denied the claim, then recalled all 2600 units that had been sold. They then suspended production of the vehicle, reworked the suspension and added electronic stability control. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done to the compact’s reputation.

Chevrolet Lumina, Gen 2

It’s hard to imagine that the second generation Lumina came from the same line as the now classic Z34. Becoming the platforms for a later sedan, coupe, and minivan models, the Lumina never quite figured out what it was supposed to be. With featureless, indistinct lines and a rounded body that was as ugly then as they are today, the second generation was a buffet of obvious disappointment. Eventually, the two-door coupe model would be rebranded under the resurrected Monte Carlo name, which we’ll take a look at next.

Chevrolet Monte Carlo

The Monte Carlo has a proud history of being branded as Chevrolet’s 'personal luxury car.' The early models were massive beasts with curvy lines around the flared fenders and beefy V8s. When Chevrolet revived the Monte Carlo nameplate in 1994, for some reason, they decided to put it on the Lumina platform, which resulted in what was little more than an ugly mess. As we saw in the last model, the Lumina was already stretched too thin. The new Monte Carlo lost the curvy bodywork and rear-wheel drive that had marked its predecessors as sporty luxury models. While the 3.1 liter V6 could still churn out 160 horsepower, the LumiCarlo had lost the attitude that the name had built in the preceding two decades.

There’s a price to be paid when a vehicle can’t seem to nail down an identity, as we’ll find out with this next vehicle.

Oldsmobile Achieva

This car pretty well sums up the automotive industry during the mid-90s; it’s bland, boxy, and mediocre at nearly everything. Much like the Topaz, this car is as uninspiring as it is uninspired. Options included a veritable laundry list of inefficient engines to choose from, all of which garnered enough noise complaints from customers that the 1995 four cylinder models had balance shafts installed before GM did an entire engine replacement for the ‘96 and ‘97 models. The suspension systems were hard, and while the vehicle came with an early auto dampening control system, changing between sport and soft modes was essentially ineffectual. Whatever goal Olds set out for with this vehicle, it’s safe to say they didn’t Achieva it.

Suzuki X-90

This early entry to the crossover-SUV market came out a decade and a half before its time. This two-seater sported a T-top removable roof and four-wheel drive. While it wasn’t about to win any awards for top speed, its ninety-five horses pumped from a 1.6-liter inline-six was more than enough to get it up and over most obstacles when off-road. It’s odd styling, short wheelbase, and limited passenger and cargo room made this vehicle as impractical as it is unconventional. Cutting the difference between a two-door sports coupe and SUV proved to be a task the Japanese automaker wasn’t up for. The result was a vehicle that couldn’t compete on-road and lacked the roominess of a dedicated off-roader.

Skoda Felicia

The Czech carmaker released this mess on wheels to markets in 1995. Featuring less than a hundred horsepower, this strange little car went nowhere fast. While it came in five different body styles ranging from a hatchback to a pickup and everything in between, the Felicia managed to do nothing particularly well. Surprisingly okay reviews and consumers’ faith in Skoda’s purchase by Volkswagen kept these cars in production until 2001. Underpowered and unattractive, all I can say is “Bye Felicia!”

Pontiac Grand Am

Oh Pontiac, how we miss you, sort of. While Pontiac gave us some excellent vehicles, the Grand Am is not one of them. If equipped with the little four-banger, the Grand Am had a habit of getting loud and rough when the tach pushed past three thousand. The outside was sporty and sleeker than many of the Pontiac’s rivals, but it still suffered from the boxiness and hard lines of the era. The interior managed to be both busy and bland; it was filled with more plastic than a dollar store toy aisle unless buyers opted for the SE model. The most common complaint with the Grand Am was noise, however. Both road and engine noise, especially at higher RPMs, were deafening and severely impacted the quality of the drive.

Fiat Punto

The Punto was one of those cars that will remain an anomaly in automotive history. Winning European Car of the Year in 1995, this little hatchback suffered a severe lack of substance and style. The bland interior and equally dull exterior belied one of several under-one-hundred horsepower engines - unless buyers sprung for the GT version. The interior looked like a showcase for a molded plastics company, and the dash had a habit of coming loose in crash tests, contributing to the vehicle’s unsatisfactory safety rating. This is one car I’d like to punto-ver a fence. Luckily, over the last two decades, Fiat has managed to find its footing and produce stylish, safe vehicles. But every company trips up while they find their groove, just like our next model coming up.

Land Rover Discovery II

The Discovery II was the result Land Rover’s late 90s overhaul of their entry-level SUV. While Range Rover has a reputation for premium off-roaders, they also have a legacy of broken parts and breakdowns, a legacy the Discovery II helped maintain. This disappointment of a vehicle brags of a Rotoflex joint - the part that connects the drive shaft to the rear axle - that broke so often owners often carried a spare in the vehicle. On top of the quickly worn parts, the gas mileage of the Disco II (as the Rover community has dubbed it) was just 12.7 miles to the gallon, so if the cost of repairs didn’t break the bank, the regular gas stops would. Fortunately, for all the mechanical failings of the Disco II, the body styling was as stylish as Disco Stu... unlike our next entrant.

Fiat Multipla

At the turn of the millennium, we hoped that car manufacturers would lead us into the future. Fiat sincerely tried to with the Multipla, also known as the Type 186. This vehicle hit the marketplace in 1999 and instantly turned heads. The iconic styling has made many lists and continues to be widely talked about as one of the strangest creations to come out of any factory. It looked like Fiat had crafted the upper and lower portions independently of each other,then tried to slap them together. By all accounts, this is an excellent vehicle with lots of room and comfort, but the design is so objectively ugly that we understand why it was on display at the Museum of Modern Art.