Unless you were Elvis Presley or Jack Nicholson in the making, the 70s and 80s weren't the great decades for most other people when it came to luxury cars. Almost all designs were painfully boxy, others were poorly proportioned, and general performance was terrible, to say the least. Nothing was fast, apart from a few notable models from Lamborghini, Ferrari, and a couple other automotive companies.
However, things changed drastically in the 90s. Designers put down the T-square and the straight edge, and started using curves again. Soon technology caught up with emissions requirements, allowing for incredible performance that had never been seen before.
To that end, we present the top 10 luxury cars of the 1990s.
1. Audi A8
Audi wasn’t really involved in the production of luxury sedans until it introduced the A8 in 1997, which came with an all-aluminum body and the revolutionary ASF space-frame. The A8 helped Audi make their entry as a tough contender against Mercedes Benz and BMW. The car also contributed to the Audi’s drive for breaking the barriers of road car technology. In keeping with the company’s philosophy, the A8 was designed as an all while drive (AWD) car when all the other rivals only drove the rear wheels.
Since the car came with additional mechanical bits that provided extra weight, the chassis was built from Aluminum as opposed to the incredibly heavy stiff steel version. Unfortunately, despite the car’s technological breakthroughs, the model depreciates faster because of high repair costs. For instance, in 2001, the A8 was sold for just $9,000.
2. Bentley Arnage
Bentley Arnage was a big luxury sedan manufactured by Bentley Motors between 1998 and 2009, and featured completely new designs for the automotive company since 1980. The bonnet was fairly old school, featuring the same 6.75-liter V8 engine that could be traced back to the 50s. The Arnage is about 1.9m wide, over 5.4m long, and weighs about 2.5 metric tons. For a short period, it was the fastest and most powerful 4-door sedan in the market. Sadly, the model was discontinued in 2008. Pricing when new started from $200,000.
3. BMW 7-Series
The 1994-2001 BMW 7 Series e38 will be remembered for years to come and has been immortalized in many TV shows and films. A significant car for BMW, the e38’s bodywork is where things get particularly interesting. The bodyshell is the star feature. BMW utilized production methods and techniques designed for the i8 and i3 to shave 40kg from the chassis, which includes several pieces of carbon fiber for additional strength, stiffness, lightness. The resultant car was some 130 kg lighter, with a base price of $62,000-$66,000.
4. Cadillac Escalade
When the Cadillac Escalade was introduced, it had a huge resemblance to the 1999 model GMC Yukon Denali. However, it was redesigned in 2002 to make it look more like the signature “art & science” design theme of the Cadillac Company. The car also had a similar 5.7 L V8 engine at 255hp, which was relatively underpowered compared to the 300hp in Ford’s counterpart Lincoln Navigator. The 1999 Escalade achieves 15 mpg on the highway and 11 mpg in the city. The interior included leather seats, with the overall price of the car going for 60 grand.
5. Infiniti J30
Also known as Nissan Leopard J Ferie, the Infiniti J30 was a rear wheel luxury sedan that was noticeably small in appearance. However, the car featured unique styling that was not seen in the populous executive car class. Today, the car design can be compared to a 4-door coupe. To establish that the Infiniti J30 was a luxury car, most of the interior was designed by Italy’s Poltrona Frau, who had also work on the bigger Q45.
6. Peugeot 405
The French automotive was already shaky during the late 80s, with the confidently dense Peugeot 405 succeeding the dying 505 workhorse. The quandary is, while the 405 was definitely a global smash hit for Peugeot, the sedan’s sales never really took hold in the United States despite positive reviews and the availability of the sports-like Mi16 model, which could achieve 160hp from its powerful 2-liter turbo engine. As a result, Peugeot exited the U.S market in ’91 and sold some examples as ’92 models. In 1996, the company introduced 406 sedan models to previous dealers to test the mucky waters for a possible comeback, but the demos were not impressive. The 405 is still being produced today, but not in France.
7. Porsche 968
Porsche was experiencing turbulence in the late 80s, and the 964 model was only a development of the 1960s 911. On the other hand, the 928 simply adhered to Lamborghini Countach’s philosophy of tacking on more panels to make the car look newer. The company had to liven things up, and fast. This led to the introduction of the all new Porsche 968. To some extent, the car was just an advancement of the 944, but most people, particularly its owners, consider the Porsche 968 the finest car Porsche has ever made.
8. Toyota Camry
To date, Toyota Camry remains the best-selling car in the United States market, and one of the top five selling cars overall. This is simply because it is extremely reliable, with several 80s and 90s models still noticeable on the road. Toyota Camry was first introduced in the United States in 1983, and almost each model produced since then has sufficient representation in the streets and highways.
9. 1991 Mercedes-Benz 500E
The 1991 500E was manufactured in close association with Porsche. In fact, all 500 E cars were handcrafted by Porsche, being moved to and fro between the company’s plant in Germany and Mercedes’ plant. It took a full eighteen days to complete every model, and the cars came fully equipped with a 5-liter V8 engine, an integrated cellular phone, and a deal installed CD changer.
10. 1990 Lexus LS400
Most legendary 90s vehicles achieved their status from character, original design, and unique ideas, or simply due to the joy they brought to their owners. With the 1990 Lexus LS 400, this was not the case. When the first Lexus, known as LS 400, was launched in 1989, it was obviously not the most original model in the industry. Not only did it closely resemble Mercedes W126 S class, it had a similar naming system as Mercedes.
The question begs, is it possible for a coldly efficient, pragmatic, and mostly derivative vehicle to make it into the top 10 luxury cars of the 90s? Well, to recap, the LS400 was a product of Toyota’s decision to extend their business up-market. Japan and the United States had previously signed the Voluntary Restraint Agreement, which limited the total Japanese vehicles that could be imported into the country. As such, it was wise to charge more for every car and make more profit. The Lexus LS400 may have been a rather loss pioneer at $35,000 for a car that rarely made it into dealerships, but it created the way for significantly profitable showroom companions and successors such as the RX300 and ES300.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker