By on December 27, 2017

Image: 1993 Porsche 911 CarreraAh the Nineties. Lots of cylinders, reliable new technology, and wide-track styling. But enough about Pontiac and the 3800 V6, because we’re talking today about German cars from the era.

Which German vehicles from the best decade really caught your eye?

For your author, German cars of this decade stood out from a styling standpoint most of all. Refined metal kept the same basic shapes from the 1980s, but with increased attention paid to aerodynamics. Consumers demanded larger vehicles to match their growing bank accounts; most vehicles grew when they were restyled from their 80s form into their 90s one. Time for Exhibit A.

Mercedes-Benz SL (R129) 1990-2002

Image: 1999 Mercedes-Benz SL 73 AMG

Hitting the scene in 1990, the fourth-generation Mercedes SL replaced the R107, which was long in the tooth after a run from 1972 to 1989. Wider, and with a much more modern shape, the R129 is peak SL for me. And the peak of peak SL is the SL 73 AMG. Just 85 were made, and all used a 7.3-liter V12 engine which would go on to power the Pagani Zonda. 525 horsepower lies underneath the still-unassuming body.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class W140 (1991-1998)

Image: 1995 Mercedes-Benz 600SEL

I’ll probably be accused of bias in the comments, but my other 90s German favorite is also a Mercedes. A more controversial restyling than the SL, the W140 S-Class was taller and wider than the world-renowned W126 model that carried the S-Class name since 1979. The W140 was a technological tour de force for the brand, and development costs were estimated at over $1 billion. Commonly known as the last Mercedes model to be “over-engineered,” it was also the first S-Class bestowed with an optional V12. There was an S 73 AMG with the same engine as the SL above, but most V12 models had a 6.0-liter engine producing 389 horsepower — enough to power the large sedan to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds.

My selections were probably a bit obvious, so perhaps the B&B might be able to go a bit more obscure in their selections. What are your picks?

[Images: Mercedes-Benz, Porsche]

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65 Comments on “QOTD: What’s Your Favorite German Car From the 1990s?...”

  • avatar

    E39 BMW M5

    • 0 avatar

      Correct. Comment section closed.

      Pretty much any BMW from that era could occupy second place, from the absolutely money E36 3-series to the too-much-of-a-good-thing 850Csi, with our father’s car, an E34 528i that we spent two summers in driving the length of continental Europe, falling right in the sweet spot.

      ’90s Mercedes were austere barges, Audi was just learning to make great cars by the end of the decade. I know people love their air-cooled 911s, but the first 911 I ever drove was a fried-egg-headline 996 with a decontented interior that made my Bimmer feel like a Rolls.

      Honorable mention for the Mk4 Jetta, the greatest sorority car ever produced.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d go for the 528i or 530i. The M5 got the 540’s steering, which was a truck-like recirculating ball, where the six-cylinder models got the very nice rack-and-pinion from the 3-Series.

      You can always make a 530i faster.

  • avatar

    I’m a sucker for a good sleeper car, so I’ve always loved the early 90s 500E as one of the best of the breed.

  • avatar

    BMW E36 M3 sedan. The Ultimate Driving Machine from back when that meant something, and the closest Teutonic equivalent to my favorite Japanese sedan, the Toyota JZX100 Chaser Tourer-V. RWD, Inline-6 engine, and decently reliable for a BMW (or so I’ve read, haven’t owned one yet). The perfect daily driver for urban bachelor street-racers.


    I’ve thought about getting one but the E36’s I see for cheap here in Japan are pretty beat to shit, and it’s tough enough owning mid/late-90’s Toyotas, let alone anything Made in Germany.

  • avatar

    A clean W140 still has presence 25 years later.

    Most everything else from Europe was too small to take seriously then let alone now.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed, and it had my vote as soon as I saw the headline. In fact, I think the 90’s are the last great hurrah for large cars. I’d take pretty much any of them…W140 Benzes, Lexus LS’s, Buick Park Aves, Crown Vics and Grand Marquis, Roadmasters and Fleetwoods…damn, I miss the 90’s.

      • 0 avatar

        All midsizes of today are larger than “W140 Benzes, Lexus LS’s, Buick Park Aves, Crown Vics and Grand Marquis, Roadmasters and Fleetwoods…”. You are confused

        • 0 avatar

          Pretty sure I’m not. While there certainly are some relatively spacious mid-sizers out there these days (my parent’s 2013 Honda Accord comes to mind), everything I listed was a large car with plenty of room despite most of them having to package a drive shaft and rear differentials. The W140 Benz has a 120 inch wheelbase. The Roadmaster, riding on a 116 inch wheelbase is the kind of spacious you have to buy a crew cab pickup in order to get today. Then there’s width…the true measure of “spread out and ride” ability…the W140 Benz was 74 inches wide. The Roadmaster? A colossal 78 inches. The ninth-generation Accord? 109 inch wheelbase, 73 inches wide.

    • 0 avatar

      I never understood it until I drove one in 1996. My whole perception of the W140 changed immediately. It has been on my car bucket list ever since. A few years later I had a chance to drive the next generation and it felt inferior in every possible way.

  • avatar

    What, no love for the M3 of the same time period?

    I want mine in Mugello Yellow…

  • avatar

    E38 7-series. Absolutely timeless design. Unmistakably a BMW, but not brash like its sucessor. A clean one still commands respect.

  • avatar

    Lotec C1000. There can be only one.

  • avatar

    Only available for one year in the 1990s, but the MK4 Jetta and Golf.

    These were really nice looking and different when they were introduced.

    Almost bought a 2000 model brand new as my first new car, but had the jitters about buying a VW. Test drove a 1.8T with the manual and I wanted it so bad.

    Turned out my instinct was 100% correct as these MK4s were some of the worst VWs ever made.

    18 years, 6 brand new cars and a few used cars later, I still want a VW, still haven’t been able to pull the trigger.

    • 0 avatar
      The Comedian

      I had two of them, both bought new, both with serious problems.

      Had a 1999.5 New Jetta TDI with the 5-spd. Mexico’s finest, I bought it before it had developed the sorority reputation. Pro – 50mpg regardless of speed. Con- Needed a new engine at 60k miles. (That year had a 10/100 powertrain warranty and it needed it!) Ebayed it to a woman with veggie car plans.

      Before the Jetta became a nightmare also picked up a Brazil-made 2003 GTI 1.8T Tiptronic for the wife. Dumped it 5 years later when everything started failing. Every. Thing.

      Still have the 2008 Volvo C30 we replaced the GTI with, am planning on ebaying it out in the spring. Bought its replacement this week, a 2018 A3 e-tron, my first VWAG car in 10 years.

      I hope that they really have improved quality.

  • avatar

    Mercedes-Benz 500E, the Porsche-built ones built between 1990-1995. I had the privilege of riding in one many years ago. They’re pretty rare and I would love to own one.

    In a distant 2nd place is the BMW 7-series, the E38 body style. They’re mechanically and electrically terrible to own, but the slab-sided Teutonic style is pretty awesome.

    • 0 avatar
      The Comedian

      I test drove a used one, I think a ’94 in 2007/8.

      I remember thinking “It is better to not meet one’s heroes.” I don’t remember the car’s history, but I remember that is was very tired.

  • avatar

    If I’ve got to choose a German car, S-class Benz is likely my answer if the date range is anywhere from 1972 to present.

    8 cyl or greater naturally.

  • avatar

    E36 M3

    I owned one, my late wife (before we were married) also had one. Both four doors, both automatics (she didn’t drive manuals).

    Despite the automatic, I adored that car. Makes me wonder what a manual version is like.

  • avatar

    Mercedes E320 coupe or convertible.

  • avatar

    W124 Mercedes Benz, the first car I ever got behind the wheel of on the streets.

    Mom thought it would be funny to be the first one to try to give me driving lessons. That was an interesting five minutes before she was so stressed out by the whole concept.

    I ended up doing the driving to and from school with mom as passenger. One day at a stop sign, I was creeping forward and she said “just go”.

    I stomped on it and peeled out for the first time. Good times!

    • 0 avatar
      The Comedian

      This is a great choice. True, it started in the 80’s, but by the 1994 this may well be the pinnacle of automotive development.

      I owned a W124 260 for a few years in the 1990’s and it was impeccable.

      Best analogy I remember hearing about the W124 was that had more in common with owning a light aircraft than most cars. It was designed to be maintained & repaired and it was worth doing so.

      Legend has it that the W124 was the last Mercedes vehicle design controlled by engineers instead of accountants.

  • avatar

    Porsche 993, the last and best of the air-cooled Porsches. The time to buy one was fifteen years ago. They are too expensive now.

    Second place goes to any BMW from that time period. They are just old used cars which means they are still affordable. The hard part is finding a good one.

  • avatar
    Stanley Steamer

    I’m torn between the E38 BMW and the Porsche 928 GTS. I know, designed in the 70’s but the 92-95 928 had enough design updates to qualify it as a 90’s car. I always had a thing for great grand tourers and the 928 was the greatest, and the 92-95 GTS was the greatest of the greatest, so that’s my pick.

  • avatar

    500E. A Mercedes built by Porsche, and very, very special before the “AMG” was put on every third MB imported to the US.

    928, despite its’ reputation to the Porsche faithful.

    I drove a 993-it’s a go kart for grownups, but the NSX was better.

  • avatar

    Well, the only one that I actually bought was a 2000 Audi TT (built in 1999), so I guess that has to be my answer. I did test drive a couple of ’90’s BMW M3s prior to buying the TT, and they were definitely faster, but they did not have the design sophistication of the Audi, especially in the interior. Also the M3s did not have AWD, useful to me in the winter as this was my daily driver. Having had a Supra Turbo previously, the winter limitations of RWD were evident.

  • avatar

    – W124 E Class… i dont know why, but I really like the look

    – R129 SL as mentioned

    – Z3 M Coupe

    – W210 E55… i may actually have to buy one

    • 0 avatar

      The sportier styling and setup of the W210 E55 AMG is quite appealing. I think it combines the best of both worlds; sport and comfort.

      I have a ‘97 E420 W210 and while it is a quick car, it’s quick in a leisurely way, not a fast way. The E55 AMG would be an absolute monster.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree with the whole list but if I had to pick one: BMW M Coupe. It was BMW’s engineers’ side project and did not sell well, but it remains one of the most fun cars I’ve ever driven.

  • avatar

    I do like the big body S-Class and 7-Series from the era. I almost bought an S, but it broke down on the test drive and weirded me out about buying a used German luxo barge.

    The VW Golf has always been a favorite of mine, so far as VWs go. They really started coming together, style wise, with the second and third gens.

    But, ultimately, the 1990s German car I would actually buy is a BMW 318Ti. Yes, the hatchback.

    I’ll wait for the laughter to die down.

    Still waiting.

    Still waiting.

    C’mon guys…

    That’s an example of what I’d like, perhaps one with the California roof option, too.

    If I found a base model, I’d paint the steel wheels silver, keep it stock and have a RWD Civic DX LOL. But, a built one is what I’d love. Sure, I could go with a Z3 coupe if I wanted a fast Bimmer hatch, but the Ti is such a clean design, not over the top like the Z3 coupe. I’m sure I’d be happy with either, but the Ti is the most likely one to find my name on the title.

  • avatar

    Iconic MB W140.

  • avatar

    My favorite German car from the what? 1990s? Ha ha ha, that’s a good one – there ain’t no such thing!

  • avatar

    e34 M5 – straight six M1 motor – nothing sounds better.

  • avatar

    Had an Audi Quattro Station Wagon, Turbo, the works. Love/hate. Great driver car but lived in the shop way too much.

  • avatar

    Corrado G60. I had a number of Scrioccos but I never found the right G60 to buy. I still love the way they look.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a G60 that I bought new. After adding H&R springs and Bilstein Sports it became one of the sharpest driving cars I’ve driven. It was relatively anemic even by early 90s standards but the steering and handling were superb. I nearly traded it on ’93 SLC but despite the SLC’s refinement and far better engine, it did not feel as connected as my G60. Kept it until late 1996 and put well over 120K expensive miles on it. Still miss it.

  • avatar

    Pretty much any of them for me, I’m not that fussy. Would love to have my ’92 Jetta GLI 16V back. Would look nice in the garage next to my ’17 GTI.

  • avatar

    993 Porsche

    They really were head and shoulders above the junky 996, and it has zero to do with the introduction of a water cooled engine.

  • avatar

    E39 M5 for me. Really the pinnacle of the ‘M’ brand where style, power and build quality came together.

    Second prize goes to the 993 Turbo, because LOOK AT IT!

    I’m lucky enough to own an E36 M3 from 1994. Being in Australia, we got the exotic European engine and it sure is a honey. Now is the time to buy if you want one. Parts are still cheap and readily available, there’s huge after-market support for them and they are very easy cars to work on.

    Clean examples are on the rise as many of these were raced, or purchased by a young buck without the financial means to carry out routine maintenance.

  • avatar

    1995 BMW E36 M3 Lightweight. Best car I was ever in.

  • avatar

    I think everyone here has taken all of the good answers… except for one: the D2 Audi A8. This was the peak of Subtle Audi, and may be the best combination of comfort and understatement ever made by the Germans.

    The very best version of it, the 40V S8, didn’t quite make it into the 1990s, but a 32V S8 is just fine.

    • 0 avatar
      Tele Vision

      An old friend went from a used A4 wagon to a new A6 sedan to an S8 in less than two years – all for some of the price of the wagon. Unfortunately the S8 was an electrical nightmare and hellishly-expensive to repair. He should have kept the A6. And the wagon.

  • avatar

    W210 Mercedes E-Class. Fell in love with them the moment I saw them. Bought one shortly after and years later I inherited the rare E420 from grandpa who passed away. Now I own two W210s and am living the dream!

  • avatar

    [response to dal20402’s Audi post above] Good call. I had a ’91 200 turbo quattro, and IMO that body (shared with the V8) with some subtle and tasteful revisions (wheels/tires and just a bit lowered) was about the best looking big sedan ever made.

  • avatar

    W140 or E39. I would say W124, but I consider that a solidly ’80s car, as its first model year was 1985 in Europe. The E36 was a fantastic car to drive, but the quality just wasn’t there when compared to the E30.

  • avatar

    Alpina B12-5.7.

  • avatar

    Can’t say was a fan of the 911 during the 1990s – either too bland or too derpy looking (the recent 911s are so much better looking).

    The 1990s was the pinnacle of BMW design (clean, but sharp/aggressive lines).

    The E32 and E38 7 Series just had a presence and looked like proper flagships.

    Was also the high watermark period for the 5 Series.

    Unfortunately, BMW designers have not been able to recapture that magic.

  • avatar

    I’m utterly surprised by how this thread almost completely talked around it, but that yellow 993 at the top is a thing of utter beauty.

  • avatar

    Given my BILs experience with his ’94 E400 I’d steer clear of mid 90s German cars. His lifters were perpetually clogging but worse were the electrical problems. This was (according to him) a time when German manufacturers were required to make a certain percentage of cars from recycled material, in this case the wiring insulation which deteriorated badly in 10 years. Not good.

  • avatar

    Wow, this question will def get the replies rolling…

    This one was my dream car, and certainly not the typical young guy’s new car. I proudly achieved owning one at 31yo, still have the window sticker stored away somewhere. If I recall, it was list around $52K in ’95 money

    The 1995 E34 540i

    Mine was Orient Blue Metallic w/ Parchment Leather and all that gorgeous, dark real wood. Built like a tank, still can hear the sound made when those doors were closed. Strong, silent power, Classic German style… a true timeless beauty.

    I didn’t experience Nikasil issue, but recall the cats went out and were replaced. There was also a brake problem, can’t recall either ABS or caliper. And get this from back then, the huge console ‘showcase’ piece of wood cracked… they ordered several pieces, the BMW Tech couldn’t get a satisfactory color/grain match, so they approved replacing every piece of wood in that car.

    I still have the cassette tapes put away that were left in the car each time I picked up the 540 from service. The Technician introduced himself and explained everything he was addressing & how he resolved issues on my BMW.

    Never had anything like this Technician tape again on any car, even my 2nd BMW, a 5-speed 328i. Maybe someone knows, was this short-lived or exclusive to 5 or 7 Series Owners?

    To this day, dozens of cars owned/driven, the way it looked and the way it drove… that 540i is the one car I just can’t stop thinking about and still regret ever letting it go. God I wish I still owned it now.

    Strong 2nd Place Entry>

    E39 540i (the follow-up model) A looker & a driver…but friends had frequent repair issues.

  • avatar

    I’d take a 1996 E36 M3 Coupé, preferably in Arctic Silver over black.

    Oh wait, I’ve already got one! Bought new in June 96, still mine and staying that way.

  • avatar

    The BMW 850 for me, but, Honourable Mention to both the Corrado VR6 and the Calibra AWD that was my trusty wingman for a short time in 1997.

  • avatar

    The only really good things to come out of Europe in the 90’s were cars that were originally designed on the 80’s and then improved upon until most of their 70’s parts/design-features/interiors were gone. It was a horrible decade for cars in general, but a necessary one.
    With one small exception in Audi, because unlike everyone else they already had the expertize in bland boring cars, so they felt more ‘right’ doing it. (same goes for several Japanese cars)

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