Driving Torque

Articles, reviews and opinions about cars and all things automotive

Best Cars of the 90s

Don’t Look Back In Anger

After 30 years of the Escort, Ford decided their small family hatch was due for retirement and announced the arrival of the all new Focus model. It’s innovative looks made an instant impact but the most impressive feature was revealed when it was driven. In a market brimming with dull, dutiful workhorses, Ford gave us a car that brought the fun back into the school run. Responsive steering and a sharp chassis meant that mum or dad could rediscover the joy of driving without spending the kid’s inheritance on an impractical sports car.

Whilst Lewis Hamilton was still in short trousers and Senna was king, Renault provided the highly successful Williams Formula One team with their engines. Although the Clio Williams was tuned and engineered solely by Renaultsport, cleverly placing a Williams badge on it meant that the average man in the street could feel that he owned a little slice of Formula One for himself. With distinctive gold alloys and a 0-60 time of 7.3s, this was a far cry from Nicole and Papa’s ponderous runabout, regarded by many as being the greatest small hot hatch ever. It would remain merely a dream for most of the Max Power generation however as only 500 of the original were produced and far fewer remain today.

On paper, basing a sports coupe on a Vauxhall Vectra seems like a recipe for disaster. It seemed likely that to prove successful, this car was going to have to offer an unparalleled driving experience. It didn’t. Underpowered and with front wheel drive it drove like a Vectra. Hailed as the most aerodynamic mass production car ever and blessed with stunning good lucks, it nevertheless found many owners. Competition such as Ford’s great hope the Probe was soon seen off and performance to match the looks was granted in later models with 4wd and larger engines becoming available. Rumours of a new model surfaced in 2009 with initial images harking back to the 90’s legend.

Although clothed in Mk5 Escort body panels, the Escort Cosworth took it’s chassis and transmission from the outgoing Sierra Sapphire which meant lengthening the Escort body to fit. Ford were required to sell 2500 units in order to qualify for entry into the WRC where the Cosworth proved hugely successful until it’s ultimate replacement by the Focus. Road going versions were instantly recognisable by their ‘Whale tail’ spoilers which were reminiscent of the legendary 3dr Sierra Cosworth from the 80’s.

When the idea for the F1 was initially conceived, the brief given to the engineering and design teams was to create the ‘Ultimate Road Car’. This dream was ultimately realised when the F1 was crowned the worlds fastest production car, achieving a top speed of 231 mph, even today it remains the worlds fastest naturally aspirated production car. The F1 had many original features including a centre mounted driving seat for a Formula One style driving position, this also meant it could carry one more excited passenger than a conventional supercar. Another iconic feature was the engine bay which was lined with 25g of gold as it provided excellent heat insulation. Only 106 were built and this exclusivity means a price tag of around £1.5m on the rare occasion one is put up for sale.

  • Lotus Carlton (1990)

Although renowned for their small, lightweight sports cars, Lotus decided to break away from the norm is 1990 and transform the Vauxhall Carlton into a 180mph super saloon. Achieving this performance in a 1.7t executive saloon, designed to comfortably eat up motorway miles was going to take some rather hefty tweaks in the engine department. Twin turbo chargers mounted to a 3.6l engine was deemed sufficient, resulting in a 0-60 time of 5.2s. This might not seem extraordinary by today’s standards but when you consider the Porsche 911 of the day took 5.5s to reach 60 and the Ferrari 348 took 5.7s, it’s actually very impressive.

Now in it’s twentieth year, the original MX-5 took all the best features from 1960’s British sports cars and removed all the worst. The result was a simple, lightweight rear wheel drive roadster with bulletproof reliability and lashings of fun. A perfect 50:50 weight distribution meant the MX-5 was more than competent in the corners, inspiring confidence with predictable handling. This little roadster was a huge reminder that driver satisfaction didn’t necessarily require either vast horsepower or a giant price tag.

With sales of the Sierra dwindling due to it’s increasingly outdated platform, Ford plunged $6bn into the design and research of it’s replacement. Derived from the Latin for ‘world’, the Mondeo was so named as it was intended to provide one version which could be marketed globally, thus replacing many ageing Ford models. Although originally dubbed the ‘Mundano’ by the motoring press due to it’s bland styling, the Mondeo proved to be a huge success thanks to class leading ride and handling qualities coupled with safety features usually found in more high end cars. Justifying it’s high development costs was never going to be easy but having built some truly awful cars in the early 90’s, the Mondeo went a long way to restoring Ford’s reputation.

Until the release of the Impreza Turbo, the highlight of the Subaru brand was that it read ‘U R A BUS’ in your rear view mirror. Once loved solely by farmers, Subaru’s dowdy image was instantly cast aside when a certain Mr McRae became a household name in his Impreza rally car. Road going versions of this 4wd turbo charged nutter’s car offered almost limitless grip and Porsche beating performance for a fraction of the cost. For those who were put off by the high running and insurance costs, the Impreza experience was accurately replicated in the hugely popular driving game ‘Gran Turismo’.

Arguably the last genuinely pretty car Ferrari have produced, the F355 (the F was later dropped, leaving just 355) followed a succession of other prancing ponies which possibly weren’t fit to wear the badge. This then came as a timely reminder of what the folks from Maranello were capable of if they put their minds to it. The F355 used the gloriously vocal V8 engine but was the first Ferrari to have 5 valves per cylinder, a fact they were so proud of it is represented by the second 5 in the model name. Over eleven thousand F355’s were manufactured until production ended in 1999 when it was replaced by the 360.

One thought on “Best Cars of the 90s

  1. Pingback: Suzuki Swift DDiS SZ4 – Driven and Reviewed | Driving Torque

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