QOTD: Graceful Nineties Aging From Asia?

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
qotd graceful nineties aging from asia

The past couple of Wednesday editions of Question of the Day have been full-on Nineties design in their subject matter. First, we considered American marques, before moving on last week to the European set. This week we’ll do it once more, talking about Asian car designs from the Nineties that still hold up today.

Break out your soap bar memories.

Today, we cover cars from Japan, Korea, and any other obscure Asian nations which manufactured cars in the Nineties. They’re smooth, refined, and often worth more now than the European and American cars with which they competed.

Today’s rules are three in number, just as before:

  1. All selections must be model years 1990 to 1999.
  2. Picks must be from an Asian manufacturer, even if sourced from an import (eg. Honda Crossroad).
  3. Any body style is eligible except for trucks.

My selection this week hails from Japan, though it’s perhaps not the pick you’d expect:

It’s a second-generation Lexus LS 400; more specifically, the revised 1998 model year version. The first-generation LS 400 knocked the socks off its European and American competition when it debuted for the 1990 model year. It offered extensive refinement, luxury, and build quality at the lower prices Americans enjoyed so much (even at the expense of brand prestige). Before we go further, watch excellent reviewer Chris Goffey discuss the LS 400 on old old Top Gear.

By the time the LS established itself on the market, Toyota was hard at work on a successor. In 1995, a brand new LS arrived at dealers. Though it boasted a longer wheelbase and more refinement than its predecessor, styling was similar to the first generation. There was also a strong front end corporate resemblance to the downmarket Avalon that arrived at Toyota dealers at the same time. Meh.

That was rectified for 1998, when Lexus introduced the revised version you see above. The transmission had five gears, there was more power under hood (290 horses), and said horses had variable valve timing. Most importantly, the exterior underwent an update. A new front end, wheels, and mirrors brought the LS in line with customer expectations for the upcoming new century. That’s why the ’98 LS 400 is my graceful aging selection. The changes were subtle compared to the ’95 version, but enough to make it look considerably more modern to your author’s eyes.

Now’s your opportunity to tell me I’m wrong about the LS (and to proffer your own selections).

[Images: Lexus, Toyota]

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  • Guy922 Guy922 on Mar 05, 2020

    I know I am a tad late to this but I would have to say even though they have so much age on them now, The 4th and 5th Generation Accords still look about as good as they did years ago when new. A younger kid at work bought a very clean White 1995 EX sedan recently. I complemented him on how amazing it looked and told him he should keep it that way lol. Even at 25 years old, there is just something so very appealing about those cars, especially when you come across a cream puff example. I think the 3rd Gen Camry still looks decent as well, although I could do without the aging plastic panel on the facelift 95-96 trunk lids that usually are now always missing at least one of the five letters that spell out "C A M R Y". The Gen 4 Camry to my eyes is a bit of a deciever in its old age. They look good from afar, but the paint quality wasn't as great as gen 3 (My personal experience, I owned both in succession) and they usually peel pretty badly, the cheap front bumpers usually are battered to hell and usually have a dent in the cheap, hollow rear bumper. Still decent cars, but I remember the stark difference I could feel and had to get used to when going from an early gen 3 to a 99 Camry V6 XLE. The thing I remember being kinda disappointed with the first 3 years of gen 4 was that even on XLE models (Top of the line in 97-99), they eliminated the push button HVAC controls that had been on Gen 3 XLE models. I remember thinking it was sort of tacky to be so top of the line with manual rotary controls, but I eventually got over it. The A/C was amazing in that car though. The doors felt a little more hollow and I thought that the XLE should have also had the pneumatic props on the hood as opposed to the basic prop rod that was included. The liberal use of hard plastics on lower interior parts also clued me into why some referred to this as the "Rubbermaid Camry". Gen 4 was a strange compromise of luxury with some of the cheapest basic stuff they could muster. Still a decent car, but in some ways you could spot the corners that were cut with Camry. When I later went to an Avalon, I got some of those Toyota feelings of old back.

  • Guy922 Guy922 on Mar 05, 2020

    I'm also partial to early, well-kept examples of SC 300's/400's. To me just a classic, timeless coupe that looks as sharp to me as it did circa 1992/93/94.

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