Buy/Drive/Burn: Sporty Liftbacks Hailing From 1994

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Today’s edition of Buy/Drive/Burn was inspired by our previous Question of the Day on hatchback crapwagons.

In the North American vehicle timeline, the fading days of the Personal Luxury Coupe (PLC) saw the rise of a different kind of two-door for the masses. Gone was the upright formal vinyl roof, opera lamps, and trunk. En vogue was a sporty fastback profile and a strut-supported liftgate. Attainable and economic sporty driving is the name of the game, and our front-drive trio was right in the heat of things in 1994.

Honda Prelude VTEC

By 1994, the Prelude was halfway through its fourth generation, which debuted for the 1992 model year. Beginning in 1993, the top trim was the VTEC (our selected trim today). With the the 2.2-liter H22A1 engine, the Prelude VTEC delivered 187 horsepower to the front wheels via a five-speed manual. An update for 1994 added translucent needles to the Prelude’s gauges, as well as a standard leather interior. American consumers did without heated mirrors or seats, while Canadian customers had both those options. The final, fifth-generation Prelude debuted in 1997, where it would continue until the 2001 model year.

Ford Probe GT

The shortest overall entry in today’s trio in terms of generations and model years, the Probe existed from only 1988 through 1997. Born of a partnership (later ownership) between Mazda and Ford, the Probe was based on Mazda’s MX-6 coupe and built alongside it at Ford’s Flat Rock, Michigan plant. The second-generation Probe debuted for the 1993 model year, wearing a larger and lighter body than its predecessor. GT trims came standard with a 2.5-liter Mazda V6 that sent 164 horsepower through a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. Dual airbags were standard in 1994, and the dashboard was completely redesigned to accommodate said new feature. Probe’s replacement came in 1999, in the form of the Mercury Cougar. Sad!

Toyota Celica GT Liftback

Toyota’s Celica was brand new for the 1994 model year, with softer, rounder styling (and no more pop-up headlamps). Notchback (trunk) or liftback body styles were available. The top-spec GT in liftback guise had an optional Sports Package to bring the Celica as close as possible to the dearly departed GT-S trim (this option was marketed as GT-S in Canada, anyway). GT Celicas were propelled via the same 2.2-liter I-4 you’d also find in a Camry, which made 135 horsepower (I’d always assumed many more Celica horses). Absent from North America was the All-Trac all-wheel-drive Celica of the prior generation, which everyone agrees was the coolest and most interesting. Celica would live on through one final generation, meeting its expiration date in export markets in 2005. It lived through 2006 in Japan, as its 36-year legacy came to an end.

Feeling wistful for front-drive, sporty liftbacks yet? Which of these goes home with you?

[Images: Ford, Honda, Toyota]

H/t to Chris Tonn for helping me flesh out the three competitors today. He’s the reason you’re not stuck with a 240SX and a Volkswagen Corrado.

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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2 of 73 comments
  • Road_pizza Road_pizza on May 25, 2018

    Own the Probe (had a '90 4 cylinder with a stick, loved it), drive the Cel-ee-ka (love the way those "Project Binky" guys pronounce it :D ), burn the Prelude because that gen was a letdown.

  • Gearhead77 Gearhead77 on May 29, 2018

    My folks picked up a 93 Celica GT (which still meant 135hp) with an automatic around 2000 with only 35k on it. The engine/transmission was a let down, but the chassis was a lot of fun. The All-Trac Turbo cars must have been a blast. It was a well-done car in true 90's Toyota fashion and had it been a stick, it would have been better. Still slow, but better. But, I didn't care for the styling refresh and compared to the other two here, it's kind of a let down. So, burn the Toyota. Drive the Probe. This car was everywhere in my youth in all guises. But the GT with the V6 and 5 speed, which I was able to experience briefly in a 95 Contour, was the one to want. These cars had a presence on the road unmatched by the other two here. I never experienced one personally, but the want was there. It wasn't the long-term car the other two are, but that's why you lease it. Buy the Honda. The styling is bland in the Honda way, as is the interior. It wouldn't get you noticed like the Probe, but it's a bit more than the Toyota, plus it's better performing. Like all 90's Honda's, you better like road and suspension noise, because it's gonna be there. But for the long term buy, it's going to be the Prelude.

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