By on March 20, 2019

1992 Camry WagonFor the past couple of weeks, Wednesday’s QOTD posts have asked a simple question: What was the most overpriced non-luxury vehicle of a given period of time? The first inquiry dealt only with 2019 vehicles, and last week we covered the 2000s — where I picked on the overpriced, retro Ford Thunderbird. Many of you thought I was wrong (I wasn’t). Today, we’ll head back to the decade we all like to discuss — the one that’s popular right now with youths.

It is, of course, the 1990s. I’m already wearing my blazer and shoulder pads.

I mentioned last time how the 2000s was a time when a Golden Age of cars faded away. The Nineties represented a high point in safety, design, quality, and manufacturers trying to make good cars. Could we say the same here in The Current Year? I’m not so sure. In any event, the increase in quality corresponded to an increase in asking price for a lot of vehicles when compared to their late-Eighties offerings just a few years prior. Interest rates were as heavy as the denim jackets of the day. I’ve got a particularly overpriced ride in mind.

Look at it — it’s beautiful. Subaru introduced the big and sleek SVX coupe as a successor to the departed and angular XT model. Aiming to be a bit more mainstream than its departed older brother, the SVX had a lot going for it; maybe too much. Being a big coupe, the SVX was designed as flagship of the Subaru brand. Subaru hired heavy hitter Giugiaro to pen the shape at his ItalDesign studio, and the resulting concept debuted at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show. Its most notable feature was a unique window-within-window design on the doors.

The 1992 production version kept the window weirdness, looking very different from other Subaru offerings at the time (or since). Under hood, the company shoehorned its 3.3-liter H6 engine, the largest power plant produced to date. Without a manual transmission to handle all the power, Subaru stuck in a four-speed automatic from the Legacy. And there’s where things started to go wrong.

Being a Subaru, heavy all-wheel drive was mandatory (it became optional in 1994). Without it, the SVX was a front-drive “sporty” vehicle much like Mitsubishi’s 3000GT. The drivetrain and additional weight threw cold water on sporting pretensions, as well as the interest of the Subaru loyalists — who all wanted a manual transmission and all-wheel drive. And by the way, the earlier transmissions weren’t reliable, and tended to chew themselves to pieces. While Subaru intended to chase the Nissan 300ZX and 3000GT with its offering, it was slower than everything else in the class. 60 miles per hour arrived in a glacial 7.3 seconds. All this lack of performance came at a big ask — $24,445 for the most basic 1992 model; roughly $44,000 adjusted for inflation.

The big, heavy, soft coupe was aimed above what even the most loyal Subaru buyer was willing to pay. As a result, the SVX sold poorly, finding just over 24,000 buyers globally. Production ended in 1996. See ya, SVX.

What other vehicles from the Nineties were priced above their station?

[Images: Toyota, Subaru]

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54 Comments on “QOTD: Most Overpriced Non-luxury Vehicle of the 1990s?...”


  • avatar
    Detroit-X

    All the used or unsold 1988 and earlier Cadillac Cimmarons. Park one of these in your driveway, and, oh-boy, your neighbors really know you __________.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Shoulder pads in the 1990s? Nah, I might still have some grunge flannel buried in the back of a closet somewhere…

    Non-luxury makes this one a challenge. I’d have to say what happened to the prices of the 300ZX Twin Turbo and the Supra at their end of their run helped do them in. According to the Inflation Calculator, when the last of the 300ZX TTs were being sold for around $45,000, that’s almost $73,000 today! It was an excellent car, but not $73,000 good!

    I recall the big price jump with the 1996 Taurus with Ford wanting to move it upmarket with the redesign…and then it fell flat on its face, more than half went to rental fleets, and the Camry took over as the sales king. It took Ford a few years to fix that mistake, but the damage was done.

    • 0 avatar
      jack4x

      I think the Supra and 300ZX are the correct answers to this one.

      • 0 avatar
        SilverCoupe

        I looked at a 1991 Supra Turbo, with a price tag of $30,000. I walked across the street and bought a virtually identical 1989 Supra Turbo with about 20,000 miles on it for $18,000.

        I had initially considered a Subaru SVX, but the lack of a manual crossed it off my list.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      The price inflation on the Japanese cars in the mid-to-late 1990s was unfortunate. It was mostly due to currency exchange rates, so there wasn’t much the Japanese automakers could do about it.

  • avatar
    jh26036

    mid-90s Mazda Millenia price range $25-33k (compare to Audi A4 at @ $26k)

    • 0 avatar
      Mike Beranek

      Ah, but that car was originally intended for the aborted luxury brand Amati. It had a number of very high-quality touches like the interior and a lot of very expensive paint. They spent serious money on that thing. I would venture that the Millenia was a luxury car hiding in a plain Mazda showroom.

      • 0 avatar
        87 Morgan

        The Millenia was IMHO a luxury car. They were very nice to drive and I always thought visually appealing.

      • 0 avatar
        tonycd

        Yes to Mike. I disagree with all the Japanese answers here. I clearly remember a Cadillac commercial from that era when they boasted that the Cimarron (a $5,000 Cavalier dolled up with leather and chrome and priced at $12,000) was cheaper than a Supra. “A Cadillac for the price of a Toyota!” There was a Supra in my family. One look at it outside and inside, and you instantly knew why it cost more than a Cimarron.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      “mid-90s Mazda Millenia price range $25-33k (compare to Audi A4 at @ $26k)”

      In your example, I think the A4 might be the overpriced one. Both cars were FWD near luxury vehicles. The base Millennia came with a more powerful V6 versus the base Audi’s weaker I4. The Millenia had more room and a more open feeling interior. And some might say better styling as well.

  • avatar
    salmonmigration

    Ford Ranger Splash. $20,000 for a crew cab ranger with a flareside bed. What else could you buy for $20,000 in 1994? A crew cab Ram 2500 with 4WD costed about the same. A Mustang GT costed $17,500. A high trim Wrangler costed $14,600.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      You mean a SuperCab (extended cab)? Crew Cab Rangers weren’t sold in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      ptschett

      My recollection is that the Ram was regular-cab only for 1994. First year of the new body with the dropped fenders.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Yeah that’s insane money! Wow adding 4X4 to the ’94 Ranger was $5,000?? How can that be? That’s $8,500 Today. Was that to offset rebates, fleets, cheapskates and other Ranger losses?

      It’s $4,000 to add 4wd to the 2019 Ranger, and even that’s a little crazy ($3,500 currently to add 4X4 to the F-150, and maybe just $2,700 after full rebates).

      msn.com/en-us/autos/ford/ranger/1995/specs/sd-AAbMtaw

      The only “crew cabs” in ’94 were fullsize GM and Ford, 3/4 tons and up.

  • avatar
    vvk

    SVX is one of the most unique and interesting cars ever. My favorite when swapped with a nice manual gearbox.

    Most overpriced? Hondas and Toyotas are always overpriced for what they are, used and new. New because their dealers are arrogant pricks. Used because their owners think they are made of pure gold. I once bought an Accord to flip. It was such a bag of nuts and bolts. Drove like an ox cart. I had the most amazing experience talking to prospective buyers. Totally unique bunch of folks. Crazy unique. Instead of being concerned about condition or service history like people buying other makes usually are, they did not want to hear any of that. “It’s a Honda, what could possibly go wrong?” Yeah, it was in absolutely terrible, neglected condition. Who cares? The most common question these people worried about? “Does it have a sunroof?” What a bunch of lunatics.

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      Oddly, your experience selling your Honda was very similar to the two Accords that I had and sold. Neither though was a bucket of bolts though. I did not produce any documentation for either buyer regarding the condition of the car and work that I had done, no one seemed to care.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I once had a TV show moment when I was in a shop speaking of one of my old banged up Accords, “Hondas are great” “My Hondas been reliable” “Hondas are the best car ever”, its like they’re all mind controlled.

      My two “golden era” Accords were some of the worst rust buckets I ever owned, good handling, cheap metal. They were certainly overpriced back in the day considering what few standard options they had.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    As much as I like them, it’s the Toyota Previa. The thing is, quality-wise, they were built to Lexus LS400 standards, and owners routinely drive them 300,000 or more miles. They’ve developed a cult following. I owned three of them, and I’d still like to find a last year model (’97) in decent shape.

    The Sienna is definitely a step down from the Previa.

  • avatar
    gtem

    Fully loaded 1994 Mazda MPV 4wd, $31k in 1994 dollars: $53k today.

    • 0 avatar

      Now THAT is too much money. Far more than even the Previa.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        The Japanese were forced to start jacking MSRPs sky high after they agreed to stop devaluing their yen, and eventually cutting a ton of cost out of their cars (with predictable results). So mid 90s Japanese = pricey but excellent quality.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Ding ding ding!

    • 0 avatar
      jh26036

      Damn, holy crap. Never knew they were that $$$. This kid I went to high school with, his parents had a fully loaded one too. Asians of course.

      I was not so privileged, my dad drove a 1990 Plymouth Voyager in SWB.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        We bought our first MPV used, a first year base model ’89 (rwd with the rare base 2.6L 12 valve SOHC motor) from a neighbor down the street in 1996, for $5000 with 90k miles. My brother still has it now, rusty but trusty with 250k miles on it. We bought a second one, an off lease final year ’98 in maximum Allsport 4×4 ES trim with leather and towing package in 2001 right before the 9/11 attacks. I’m very fond of them.

  • avatar
    ajla

    ’96-’99 Taurus SHO. Started at $26K and went up to over $30K. Had performance that could not match its prior-gen or the cheaper supercharged W-bodies and its engine came with a fatal reliability flaw. Pretty much killed the idea of a performance Taurus for a decade.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    As much as I like the final-generation (1995-1999) Buick Riviera, its opening MSRP of $28,195–that’s for the base, N/A V6, not the Supercharged—amounts to approximately $46,760. That’s a lot of dosh for a FWD car with a great design, but that was hamstrung by cheap materials and indifferent build quality.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      Agree, Kyree. The fact GM wouldn’t let them put a V8 in a car asking that kind of money – just to avoid stepping on Oldsmobile’s toes, never mind Cadillac’s – shows what kind of chumps GM took its customers for.

    • 0 avatar
      dividebytube

      My fairly-rich uncle had a Buick Riveria, a car that my dad called “constipated”. Said uncle eventually traded it on a Olds Aurora with the 4.0L V8. A car that he liked so much that he convinced my dad to buy one.

      My driving time behind the said Aurora – it was, well okay. Actually reminded me – in that GM way – of my winter beater ’91 Park Avenue. The 4.0L engine was not as exciting to drive as the Caddy larger version of the Northstar though. And the FWD just felt – odd – to me coming from years of my dad’s B-body based (?) Oldsmobile 88s and 98s.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    I bought a new one of those Toyota wagons you picture here, even in that color. In the intervening years, I owned many cars including Porsches, Audis, Subarus, etc. But that Toyota was the most beautifully crafted of them all. It was fast (V6), smooth riding, quiet and extremely spacious. I was young so I eventually wanted something sexier. The next car was a Porsche 356 rust bucket with battery in the front well eventually falling down onto the road and being held in only by the cables still attached. So much for sexy.

  • avatar
    DEVILLE88

    All Mercedes(except S series) as they are taxi cabs everywhere else. All BMW’S(except for 7 series)see above.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      This, their costs were so gross in the 80’s that people would import gray market cars until MB and BMW raised a fuss with the government. After that their cars dipped in quality for a bit thanks to Lexus, yet they were still pricey in the states.

      Only thing is, I dunno if your vote counts since both of those brands are technically luxury.

  • avatar
    ptschett

    Dodge Stealth / Mitsubishi 3000GT.
    Honorable mention: Chevrolet Corvette ZR1.
    Per my copy of Consumer Guide’s “1995 Cars” the Stealth R/T Turbo retailed at $37,905 when you could get arguably better bang for the buck with a $21,000 Trans Am.
    That Stealth retailed actually a little higher than a base Corvette; adding ZR1 to the Corvette was another $31,258 just for that package. Adding the ZR1 package to a base Corvette cost more than buying both a base Corvette and an Impala SS.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    My votes still on Saabs, the basic 900 was $28k in 90’s money which is a lot of money for what was essentially just a European economy car, thats several grand above the arguably better Camry.

    Then theres the Volvo 850 turbo which sold for darn near $37k, I cant think of a single part of that car that warrants that kind of money. I doubt that inflation was an issue either.


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