By on May 15, 2019

Image: 1996 Toyota Camry CoupeThe 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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100 Comments on “QOTD: Graceful Nineties Aging From Asia?...”


  • avatar
    jack4x

    This is hardly an original opinion, but I think the FD RX-7 is the best looking car ever from Japan to this day.

    • 0 avatar
      notapreppie

      I can get behind that. A clean, unmolested FD is a beautiful thing.

      That said, I think the NSX makes it a photo finish.

      It’s sort of the pinnacle of two very different style/design philosophies.

      • 0 avatar
        240SX_KAT

        The Nissan 240SX Coupe is the best looking car from the 90’s.
        I bought one new in 91 and have had one as my daily driver ever since,

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        I think you can get an NSX cheaper than an RX-7 nowadays. I would call it a photo finish looks wise as well…they both embody all that was good about the decade’s aesthetics, but were I going to live with one every day, it would be the NSX hands down. They both handle like supercars, but the NSX kicks in mid 90’s Accord reliability for good measure. The FD is, well, a Wankel.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          So in keeping with tradition,

          Drive – RX-7…It really is an unforgettable experience…so long as someone else buys the gas and maintains it.

          Buy NSX – Reliable, Timeless looks

          Burn…well I can’t burn any of these cars of the period…certainly not the Supra or 300ZX. Maybe a ratty 300GT, but even that pains me.

  • avatar
    karonetwentyc

    The Honda Beat. Quirky styling that still looks good today, and great fun to drive. As a complement to that, the Mazda / Autozam AZ-1; it’s difficult to think of any ugly production cars with gullwing doors.

    Oh, and the Kia Elan. I always liked the shape of the original, and it gets bonus points for unusual parentage.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    The 2 nd generation MR2 is still a great looking car today.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    1st choice: Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4 Turbo AWD
    Affordable choice: Nissan 240SX
    Fun choice: Mazda RX-7
    :-)

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I think you can get an unmolested 300ZX for less than a clean 240Z nowadays though. I keep seeing those 3000GT on B.A.T. lately. I wouldn’t mind a non VR-4 as a cheap cruiser.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I’m gonna go with the 1990-1995 Acura Legend Coupe. It had classic linear styling, a premium and spacious interior, and the longitude-FWD drivetrain gave it good proportions. Every time I look at one, I contemplate buying it.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I know I know, it’s the most obvious choice, but I have to go with the Toyota Cavalier.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I’m going to agree with the LS400, it always was an elegant, understated luxury car that still looks good today. Class never ages-out

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I don’t disagree, but it looked really good because it looked like a Mercedes Benz of the period. The SC looked good, and Japanese which is why I give it the nod. Hard to fault either though, especially given modern designs.

  • avatar
    gtem

    This is going to be a tough one, I honestly enjoy just about everything of this era.

    A lesser known (in the States) choice,

    Toyota Corolla Ceres:

    http://www.curbsideclassic.com/automotive-histories/automotive-history-toyota-corolla-ceressprinter-marino-the-sexiest-and-most-limited-availability-corolla/

    I think it’s just very neat that Toyota made a very strong (and successful) effort to take a pedestrian practical compact sedan and turn it into a very sleek/sporty looking vehicle, even if it was more a styling exercise than making something high performance.

  • avatar
    Sanman111

    Z32 300zx. The design blew everyone’s mind when it came out. Technically a 1989 debut, but really a 90s car.

    MkIV supra and the Lexus SC had some graceful lines as well.

    • 0 avatar
      dividebytube

      I was in love with that car when it came out. Now it’s really rare to see one.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      The Z32 300ZX had the best car ad ever (The Barbie/Van Halen ad). Furthermore, if you are feeling retro and want to buy a quintessential 90’s ride, I think it is the best bang for the buck out there. Non turbo, manual trans, extremely low mileage ones pop up on Bring a Trailer and go for sub 10k.

      The Lexus SC is my favorite of the period, but the 300ZX better embodies the decade’s asthetic I think.

  • avatar
    John R

    1st: Lancer Evolution V
    2nd: FD RX-7 Spirit R
    3rd: Mark IV Supra Turbo

  • avatar
    spookiness

    Lexus still holds up. As for an everyman’s car, I consider the 6th gen 97-02 Accord to be the last Accord I liked.

  • avatar
    cbrworm

    Since the LS has already been mentioned and is the obvious winner, I will toss in the first generation GS 300. Those cars still look great to me, better than the later 90s iteration.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    For exterior design/aesthetic, jack4x above is correct; nothing can touch a Series 6 RX7. Look for one in red on google images (1992-1995).

    Check out this 1993: https://bringatrailer.com/listing/1993-rx-7-10/

    No NSX can hold a candle to its clean, exterior lines and perfect balance (the NSX had the cockpit fighter jet, unbalanced thing going on).

    I’m torn on the overall “best quality luxury sedan,” but Corey probably has it correct, or so close to correct that arguing for a slightly different variant would be akin to trying to split the finest hair strand ever with the most precise individual hair strand ever.

  • avatar
    DownUnder2014

    I like the E100 Corolla…but I am biased…

    The 1989-94 Maxima is something I like.
    Any 1990s Lexus ES/GS/LS has aged relatively well
    XV10 Camries
    Ford Laser Lynx (issa rebadged Mazda 323)
    JC Mazda Cosmo (the triple-rotor rotary is mad)
    FD RX-7
    NSX
    Mk IV Supra (the fanbase is somewhat crappy)
    EG Civic (I like them)

    So overall:
    Normal Car: E100 Corolla (as I am biased)
    Sports Car: FD RX-7 (due to the interior)
    Luxury: Lexus LS400 (although I like the Century too)

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I love that generation LS400, and when I see a nice one, I want it. The ones I see are either well-maintained original examples (probably driven by the original owners), or hoopties with aftermarket alloys, from BHPH lots.

  • avatar
    gtem

    Saw a mint-green “EG” (92-’95) Civic sedan drive by yesterday and realized how thin they’ve finally gotten on the ground around here, and appreciated how clean the design was. Sedans, coupes, and especially the hatchbacks, all look great, better than the more upright ’96-’00 that followed IMO.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      The trick with that generation Civic is it is almost like buying a Nissan 240. They are thin and when you find one it has spent the last 2 decades being modded as driver after drivers first car.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      The last generation that returned to base elements quickly in any region where more than a few grains of salt were thrown onto the roads in an average winter!

      Still my pick for best Civic up until maybe the current one. First new car was a 1994 Civic EX slushbox sedan in Torino Red Pearl; my new Accord in Radiant Red Metallic will look similar.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    The Isuzu Vehicross, not because it looks good but because it looks like a 2012 SUV back in 1997, it hasnt “aged”, it was ahead of the curb.

    Just give it 4 doors and a turbo 2.0 and you have a modern car right here.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    In no particular order…
    *Infiniti Q45
    *Nissan 300ZX Turbo
    *Mazda 929
    *Mazda Millenia
    *Lexus SC

    And, of course, the Supra and RX7.

    (And, sorry, not a fan of the Lexus LS – great car, but it’s not great looking. Flame away.)

  • avatar
    ravenuer

    I could go with the LS 400, but for personal experience, not much could top my 1996 Maxima. Bought new and when it turned 300k, I found the radiator support was ready to fall out, sold it for 800 bucks or so. In all that time, I found it to be quiet, comfy, fast(for its time) and dead reliable.
    Nissan’s never been the same.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Yep, if you can keep the tinworm away, the ’95-’99 Maximas are absolute tanks, and fun to drive too, even with the automatic.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        My good friend has I believe a 97 with a stick. Good driving car and even though it grew up in Maryland, it has no rust to speak of (paint is shot though).

        But man is that thing a pain to work on. Nothing is easy and that is 10 pounds of motor in a 5 pound engine bay.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          Hmm I didn’t have to do too much in my brief fling with an ’00 SE (dumped it after finding the swiss-cheese core support), but I appreciated the fact that atleast there was access to the rear plugs without pulling the intake manifold, and the timing chain was truly a lifetime unit in terms of longevity (something that can’t be said for a whole slew of modern chain-drive OHC motors).

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            Don’t be so certain on that timing chain. It may have been fine on his, but the tensioner was not.

            If you ever do have to do anything with it step 1 is “remove engine from vehicle”. This isnt trivial on this thing.

            But I do like that car and enjoy offering up my garage in stretches to help him keep it on the road.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            I guess I’ve just not heard of too many ruined VQ30s over skipping/tearing chains from worn tensioners, perhaps even in a very worn/failed state, the chain stays where it needs to. My brother recently tuned up a (southern) 257k ’97 for a coworker, a bit of EGR work and a general freshening and it was ready for many more years of service (but now contending with PA road salt).

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            In fairness, it never failed him…it just made some scary noises. Also he is a bit of an automotive perfectionist so hes not the sort that would just let it ride so you may be correct.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Have to agree re the Acura Legend coupe. I know that most will disagree but I think that the original Infiniti J30, which attempted in many respects to copy the lines of the Jaguar Mark II, has aged well.

  • avatar
    volvo

    Late 2nd Generation LS400 of course. I liked the looks of 3d generation better but that hit the dealers in 2001. I would buy a clean example of the 3d gen in a heartbeat but no one who has one wants to sell.

    Also I am partial to the late 90s Toyota Avalon. My daily driver is one and the build quality is outstanding. Upgraded the entire suspension and with that it is not a bad cruiser.

  • avatar
    BC

    Lexus ES300. The best car toyota made in their best decade.

    • 0 avatar

      Objectively and subjectively you are incorrect.

      • 0 avatar
        BC

        Come on. Bread and butter toyota product done to near perfection. Boring? Sure. FWD? you betcha. Still attractive? Still sought after? Still reliable? Aichi built? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. I love the LS too, but the ES is the better looking car.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          I’m a big fan of the styling of the 1st gen ES300 (not without bias, I owned one). The twin-projector headlights, the wide rear taillights, the frameless doors, there’s a lot to like.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I think he has an argument for the ’92, personally. Still a darn nice looking car, and it’s a Camry underneath.

        • 0 avatar

          I’m coming around, I need to look at some photos. I’m not convinced it’s better looking than the LS.

          Maybe in two-tone black/grey with gold badges.

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            The Windom’s not bad, but it strikes me as a slightly awkward FWD version of the X90 Mark II:
            http://www.jdmautoimports.com/1993-toyota-mark-ii-grande-25-jzx90.html

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Does the 80 Series Land Cruiser count as a truck? I know my experience was not great, but they are known as pretty good Toyotas of the decade…like surviving the Zombie Apacolypse good.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Mazda MX-6. It’s coupe vs platform mate Ford Probe hatchback styling aged well over the past decade.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Broken record time…Lexus SC300/400. Make mine a manual 300 with the Nakamichi sound system, load the changer up with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains and let me pretend the 90’s never ended. Style wise my favorite, though the car from the period that would be my favorite to drive is the B-13 Sentra SE-R, but I have given up…they are all used up.

    My list of post Fiesta ST lease cars is down to 2 (well 3 if you count keeping it). One is the obnoxious third gen Camaro, but the other is the Lexus SC. I would love to score a 5 speed SC300, but the sleeper choice is a 400 with a 6 speed swap from a 350Z. I know a guy locally with one and it totally transforms the car. His is a drift car though so I’d have to be able to do it so it looked factory.

    Anyway, the cars being bantered around here are “peak car” in my mind. I love this period. EFI meant they were basically modern cars reliability wise, but you still had mechanical throttle linkage and they hadn’t began cheapening the cars down yet.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      “Anyway, the cars being bantered around here are “peak car” in my mind. I love this period. EFI meant they were basically modern cars reliability wise, but you still had mechanical throttle linkage and they hadn’t began cheapening the cars down yet.”

      100% this. I’m staring down a ATF fluid change in my wife’s 2012 Camry and it is making my head hurt. Back in the 90s (and throughout most of the 2000s) Toyotas and the like still had dumb-simple drain and fill procedures on their automatics. I think only Honda has clung onto simple fluid change procedures at this point. The cost-cutting aspect too, there is nothing really “quality” feeling about this 2012 Camry, except maybe the steering wheel. Otherwise everywhere you look it is cheap, and in the case of the paint, not particularly durable either. The cheap plastic trim flanking the lower dash has acquired a bit of tackiness to it after 7 summers of plastic off-gassing and degradation. To the car’s credit, with 85k miles of mostly brutal urban moonscape under its wheels (wife commutes to hospitals downtown), it has held up remarkably well, although I suspect the struts aren’t quite as effective as they once were. Taking it in for an alignment in a few days just for good measure.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        I had an Infiniti QX60 (I think, it was a big Pathfinder looking rig) as a rental for the past 3 weeks. I enjoyed the motor and generally liked how it drove. My coworker had a new Murano (I Think). The problem was that interior wise, they felt/looked the same and neither of them felt like the quality that those 90’s cars you speak of had. The cars of this period like the Lexuses and even the Toyotas and Hondas, properly maintained still look new. I am shocked how many late 80’s/early 90’s Preludes and Accords I see that the seats don’t look like they’ve ever been sat in. They just don’t build them like that anymore. I get the economics…most buyers don’t keep a car 25 years…lord knows I don’t, but those cars when new had a tightness that I haven’t felt in a new car in a couple decades. It was a special time to be a car guy. Not that I hate modern cars, but I don’t think they age as well.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          There was definitely something “special” feeling about getting into those older higher quality cars, to me anyways. Getting into my old ES had that feeling, so does my 4Runner. I could trade in the ’12 Camry on something Korean and not bat an eyelid (or notice a difference). In fact that’s an option I’m considering owing to the Camry’s stupendous resale value: sell Camry private party for about $10k, buy very lightly used Optima for $13k and continue pounding the snot out of a vehicle with fewer pot-holed miles beneath its wheels and struts.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            Yes, Korean resale is right up there with Malaise era Detroit. I’m on my wife’s second Hyundai. They hold up fine (though I keep getting notices about bottom end failure on the 2.4 and warranty extensions…thank God I skipped that new Turbo motor LOL). You have to drive your dollars out of them though and then give what is left to your kid or something. Mechanically they have been good to me though but her 07 felt better built than her 17.

    • 0 avatar
      SilverCoupe

      I will second (or third or fourth) the Lexus SC300/400. I loved the look of that car, but could not locate an SC300 with a manual when it came time to replace my Supra Turbo, in those pre-internet days. (The SC400 was not available with a manual).

      For the record, I liked the look of the ’91 Mark III Supra Turbo (in white) more than the Mark IV that followed, but I know I am in the minority with that opinion.

      Props to the 300ZX also, as mentioned by many above, though I found the interior a bit too minimalistic.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        You aren’t alone on preferring the Mk III to the Mk IV. I’ll raise you though and say the Mk II was my favorite…so much 80’s goodness.

        If you want to be in a real minority, claim the Mk V as your favorite.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Art, perfect coincidence, but there was a stunningly well preserved SC300 in forest green and gold badges in the Lowes parking lot this morning. The car is obviously well cared for: fresh Toyo tires and overall condition inside and out confirmed this. Oh my, Lexus/Toyota don’t make them like this anymore, neither in terms of quality of paint and interior, nor in terms of subdued but gorgeous styling. I snapped a few photos, wish we could share images in the comments!

  • avatar
    onyxtape

    It’s hardly everybody’s cup of tea, but I have a soft spot for the Infiniti J30.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      The beauty of the J30 is that not a single manufacturer would roll the dice on something that distinctive nowadays. It was one of the last mainstream cars that was instantly recognizable, for better or worse. I liked them, but the decade was so full of great looking cars it wouldn’t likely break my top 10.

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    Pretty much anything Japanese from that era has aged well. Except for maybe the jellybean Mazdas.

    1990-1993 Accord still looks sharp and modern even today. Same for the 1994-1997 successor.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Agreed…Low hoodlines and minimalist/no grills are timeless.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Same here! 4th-Gen Accord is still my benchmark! The next two generations started the cost-cutting; first thing I noticed in my Dad’s 1994 Accord was the thinner mats and carpeting versus his 1991!

      Other faves of mine would include the aforementioned Lexus LS, first two generations, the 1992-1996 Camry (and the Lexus ES from those same bones — overbuilt instead of built-to-a-standard), the 5th-Gen Civic (peak Civic for that time period, as the next generation had some obvious cutting to it, though it still had the DWB up-front), and the Corollas from, say, 1993-5.

  • avatar
    vvk

    1994-95 Acura Legend GS is my favorite. Design wise.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      I knew I’d forget something! 2nd-Gen Integra FTW, as well.

    • 0 avatar
      ShoogyBee

      The Legend GS in British racing green with tan leather and walnut trim on the center console. Seriously good looking car, whether in sedan or coupe form, as long as it didn’t have the horrid gold badges that were popular in those days.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    2nd generation Acura Legend
    5th generation Honda Accord sedan
    Honda Preludes
    2nd generation Mazda MX6 and Ford Probe
    Mazda Miatas
    2nd generation Nissan 240SX
    4th generation Toyota Supra – looks better now than it did then

    I see a lot of love for the RX7. IIRC, there was a story going around that Ed McMahon took delivery of one of the first FDs and then promptly wanted out, having set a drink on it that left a ring shaped dent in the thin sheet-metal. There was one stored in the crowded garage of a condo I lived in that seemed to have more than its fair share of divots. I was glad when my friend came back for it without suggesting that it had any new dents on my watch.

  • avatar
    TheDutchGun

    Integra GSR / Type-R, late 90s version
    2-door civic 96-00, specifically SI, 99-00 SIR in Canada.

    That civic has aged better than any other generation, appearance wise and the B16 & B18 motors were both excellent for the time.

    Finding an unmodified example would be a tall task, however.

  • avatar
    macmcmacmac

    I worked the lot at a Toyota dealer way back in 92, and the two cars I still remember most fondly were a light blue V6 Maxima and a jet black Celica Turbo All-Trac. Just classy.

    I remember the LS400 mostly for the grinding starter which resulted when I couldn’t hear the motor idling and tried to start it while it was running.

    The 300ZX twin turbo was always my favourite. Kinda funny now to think they needed 3 litres and two turbos to make an awesome 300hp!

  • avatar
    jeoff

    I had a 91 MR2 that I would like to have back, but the RX7 was a real beauty. I don’t know if anything built since looks as nice.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    This. One reason that they aren’t sought after is that most of them seem to have been driven into the ground.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    The 1990s Asian vehicle with which I have the most experience would be 1995 Honda Accord. Not sure if the 1993 Escort counts with its strong links to the Protegé.

  • avatar
    Tokyo Rider

    Consider this an input from The Truth About Bikes.

    The 1992 Honda NR750 is still a very contemporary design that draws states and admiration. 27 years old and still turns heads at any stoplight or especially bike meet


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