By on October 23, 2019

Today marks the final entry in our Question of the Day series discussing bad sporty car design from the Nineties. So far we’ve covered America and Europe, and we now finish up with poor sports car designs from Japan.
Our rules today are the same as they have been in previous editions; let’s have a look.

  1. All selections must be model years 1990 to 1999.
  2. Picks must be from a Japanese manufacturer, even if sourced from an import.
  3. Any body style is eligible as long as it’s sporty.

Japanese offerings from the Nineties have become relative design classics in the decades since, so today’s example took a little bit more consideration from yours truly. Perhaps you’ll have an easier time thinking of a bad design, but here’s mine:

It’s the first generation of the Acura CL coupe, introduced for the 1997 model year. It was only the second coupe in the brand’s lineup, succeeding a Legend coupe which failed to catch on.  The Legend’s sales suffered due to its overall cost and front-wheel-drive architecture, burdens not placed upon its direct competition, the Lexus SC 300.

The CL employed four- and six-cylinder engines. Appropriately for the decade, manual or automatic transmissions were on offer. The styling of the first-gen CL is best described as derpy. Awkward shapes combine with a general look that doesn’t really relate to other cars in Acura’s lineup. Given its age and its tendency to experience Honda wheel arch rust, you don’t see many around today. In 2001 the CL was replaced by a superior looking second generation version, to the delight of anybody with eyes.

Let’s hear your selections for bad Nineties styling from Japan.

[Images: Acura]

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81 Comments on “QOTD: Terrible Nineties Sports Car Design From Japan?...”

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    I’ve always had a special hatred in my heart for the Toyota Paseo. I’ve always called them the blasé-o. I’m just not sure what they added to the line-up, honestly.

    The Corolla Twin-cam was such a great looking little coupe. Why did they need this?

    Also, your wording on point number 2 is wrong.

    • 0 avatar

      The Paseo was Tercel-based. It sold to college students, if I remember correctly. It wasn’t a bad car. Unexciting, but not bad.

      • 0 avatar

        Paseos actually are fun to drive, so I wouldn’t event criticize them as unexciting. Small size and low center of gravity mean they were much better handlers than the vast majority of cars on the market either in the ’90s or today. My family had one as a result of a “buy the history” purchase – an acquaintance with borderline OCD had to sell his then two-year-old ’93 because he was starting grad school in NYC. Definitely Peak Toyota in terms of assembly quality and reliability. We had it for 13 years, and everyone in the family liked it. Yes, they would’ve benefited from a hopped-up engine; straight-line performance was not in keeping with the sporty styling or the handling.

    • 0 avatar

      A law school friend of mine had a Paseo. She hated it but she was too cheap to buy a new car and, like a good Toyota, it refused to die. She finally caved and junked it when she had a kid two years later.

    • 0 avatar

      The Paseo convertible was popular in Southern California and it seemed like many were bought by parents for their high-school and college age daughters.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree on the Paseo. I also think the Isuzu Impulse and Nissan NX were really odd looking sporty cars from that era.

  • avatar

    Funny, while neither looks especially great, i feel the exact opposite about the first and second gen cl coupes.

    I don’t have a specific example for myself. For not being a big fan of Japanese cars, it’s interesting that i don’t really mind much of the nineties sporty models.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Subaru SVX, hands down, end of story.

    • 0 avatar

      It was odd.

    • 0 avatar

      If the SVX had more performance – ie it couldn’t hold a candle to the 300ZX TT or the Supra – I could have forgiven some of the oddness.

      • 0 avatar
        Thomas Kreutzer

        I’m not quite convinced that the SVX is in the same league. I think it was intended to be, but I just don’t think it measures up.

        It’s funny to me that many people these days think of cars like the twin-turbo 300Z, the RX-7, the 3000GT and the Supra as “normal everyday cars” when back in the day they were really high-end cars that average people didn’t buy. I know I might have loved to have any one of them but there was no way I could have afforded it.

        I think there was a second tier though and that’s where the SVX falls in my mind. That tier had cars like the Prelude, maybe the Acura Legend, the GT Mustang, the Iroc, maybe even the Probe GT, etc that were really built to be performance/sports cars rather than the hotted up compacts and economy cars that I and most of the people I knew drove.

        The best part of the SVX was its oddness, honestly, and it was a pretty cool car. Certainly a cut above the even weirder XT.

    • 0 avatar
      Stanley Steamer

      No, it was a great design. An original design and very comfortable grand tourer.

  • avatar

    I was disappointed by the underwhelming Nissan 300ZX design. I guess because I was anticipating another long sleek dart-like body. This is my issue, not Nissan’s – they made the 240SX for me, and it was plenty nice.

  • avatar

    I’m a big Lexus guy but I always felt the 2nd gen GS was a lot more awkward than gen 1…..

  • avatar

    WHERE DECADE=’90s’
    AND MODEL_TYPE LIKE ‘%sport%’

    Error report –
    ORA-01403: no data found

    Cause: There are no terrible Japanese sports cars in the 90s.

    Action: Accept Japan Inc’s perfection in the decade and terminate processing for the SELECT statement.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I’m going to pick on the first- (1993-1997) and second-gen (1998-2001) Nissan Altima, also called the Bluebird the JDM. They both looked anonymous and dumpy.

    The third-generation (2002-2006) Altima, though it isn’t within the purview of this question, was a vast improvement in every way, was arguably the best Altima to date, and took the market by surprise.

    • 0 avatar
      Thomas Kreutzer

      Not sure it classifies as a “sporty car” but God I hated that ’93 to ’97 version of the Altima. It was such a weird looking sedan. They were highly regarded, though, and they sold them in droves.

      In total agreement on the third generation Altima as well. Those were and are fine looking cars.

    • 0 avatar

      They aren’t really sports cars.

      The 2002-06 Altima, while a big success for Nissan, have some of the cheapest interiors I’ve ever witnessed. It’s basically right there with the Dodge Caliber and similar era H/K products.

      In my opinion, they are nowhere as a nice as the first gen Altimas. The first gen brought affordable luxury to the compact class and saddled it with a base “powerful” 150hp motor.

      • 0 avatar

        This is bonkers. I owned a 2004 Altima and the interior held up beautifully for 10 years. It wasn’t styled great, but the quality was more than acceptable. Furthermore, Hyundai/Kia products of the 2000s almost uniformly had better interior quality than their competition. The Sonata, for example. Comparing those cars to garbage like the Caliber should be grounds for having your posting privileges removed.

        • 0 avatar

          I agree on the assessment that Hyundai had some surprisingly decent stuff in the early-mid 2000s, the “formal” styled Sonata in particular had a cushy well put together interior, and perhaps most impressively, exterior fit/finish that beat out even the Japanese (if Bob Lutz’s Car Guys vs Bean Counters is to be believed).

          I uniformly detest that mid 2000s era of Nissan though. Got tied up with the French and most everything went down the toilet in terms of design and what remained of quality. Albeit all Nissans from the 90s into this mid 2000s era are epic rust buckets.

        • 0 avatar

          the “emergency” interior update the Caliber got in 2010 made it a lot better. not class-leading, but not out of the realm of reason.

          now, the 2007-2009 Caliber? nothing else was that bad.

          edit: well, the Dacia Duster was close, but we don’t typically see those here.

    • 0 avatar

      “was a vast improvement in every way”

      Except for being absolutely cost-cut to death and having a unique (for the 2000s) propensity to rot out floor boards.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    Toyota MR2 Spyder misses the cut by 1 MY, and you said Japanese, not Asian, taking out the 1st gen Tiburon. I give up.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    The first generation Acura CL only offered a manual with the 2.2 four. The automatic was standard on the optional 3.0 V6.
    I kind of liked the styling particularly the tapered rear but give me a Legend coupe anytime.

  • avatar

    I always thought the Mitsubishi FTO was an awkward car.

  • avatar

    I really thought the hideous Celica generation started in 1999, but double checked and it was 2000.

    I guess the bug eyed 90s one wasn’t much better.

  • avatar

    This is a tough one. Prelude was pretty solid through the decade. Civic SI 92-00 were fantastic, ditto for integra. Impreza was well designed back then as well.

    Svx above is a good one for sure.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I never really liked the looks of the 4th gen Honda Prelude. It certainly wasn’t ugly but I far preferred the 3rd and 5th generations (5th gen except for the awkward headlights).

    I didn’t like the first gen CL either. Especially since it was supposedly the successor of the Legend – one of the best designed FWD cars of all time.

  • avatar

    Corey asks for one, I give you two, because I believe in exceeding expectations:

    1) Honda Del Sol
    2) Mazda MX-3

    The CL’s a Ferrari Dino compared to those two horrid little eyesores.

    Bonus: here’s a Youtube video review of a Del Sol from an African-American guy calling himself…wait for it …Duckworth…

    Humble, indeed.

  • avatar

    I always liked the original CL, it looked like a concept car and still looks like nothing else on the road. The second gen one just was fat and generic can you see even less of those around today. Obviously the Legend was superior to both though and has aged MUCH better.

    I’ve never been sure if I’ve liked it or not but that weird Mazda 323/Protege 3 door (Wikipedia says it’s the 323c) was always a true oddball to me. It didn’t have the charm of the MX-3 or its JDM Lantis/323F sibling, and it was just weird and a rarity from day one. I think I have seen two on the road in the 20+ years it’s been around. I’m not even sure if it was a Canadian exclusive or if it was sold in US as well.

  • avatar

    Also, Mitsuoka Le Seyde/Dore is the one true correct answer.

  • avatar

    These looked good at the time, but haven’t aged particularly well.

    I will echo a few other commenters and express my dislike for most of the coupes in the class beneath this one. Paseo, MX-3, NX2000. The latter two were decent to drive (and the MX-3 V6 was a little buzz bomb), but with their tall rounded rear ends they all looked like a former Sir Mix-A-Lot model after ten years of hamburgers and TV.

  • avatar

    Is it technically true to say Geo Storm? That car was an underpowered, ugly, poorly-made Isuzu piece of junk.

    • 0 avatar

      It would be technically true to say 2nd generation Isuzu Impulse which was the same car (and so much uglier than the ahead-of-its-time style of the 1982-83 original)

  • avatar

    I believe the Accord was the best selling car in the universe at the time. Acura could have badge swapped Accords and sat back and cashed the checks, but instead they had to beat it with the ugly stick first. Then they doomed themselves with decades of “beak styling”.

  • avatar

    Hm, so many to choose from. Problem is that theres only a few that are terribly ugly. Theres a ton that are terribly dull though.

    Does the Acura Vigor and its tiny pointless grille count? How about the Lexus GS? Either generation, what few times that I see one I suddenly remember that they existed at one point. Stances and drift ambitions come standard.

    Coupes? Theres the Sentra SE-R or the M30, both look like something I could build with a few legos. The Sentra in particular has a strange silhouette owing to its small size. The sporty Pulsars look cool though, if very VW.

    I cant vote for the VehiCROSS, as ugly as it was (and pretentiously sporty), it was different. And it influenced car styling for another few decades, its just that no one will admit it.

    My vote goes to the R32 Skyline, a sports car with the face of a Cavalier that now commands north of $40k on the used market. Yes I played Grand Turismo as a kid, no I did not soup up a Skyline, thusly I had to use cheats.

    • 0 avatar
      Thomas Kreutzer

      So get this. I actually saw a vehiCROSS in the wild and on the street yesterday! I was totally blown away. It was simply raining cats and dogs and this thing was in great shape. I had no idea why it would be out in that sloppy weather.

      I think the R32 Skyline is the one to have, by the way. Well, out of the new-ish ones anyhow. My preferred Skyline would be the Kenmeri. I do, however, think the prices these command in the States is out of hand, however…

      The Pulsar. Now you’ve got me thinking there. The front is pretty close to my beloved 200SX Turbo (from the 80s) but the back end is all sorts of ’90s weirdness. Especially if it has that add-on canopy thing.

      • 0 avatar

        Oh yeah, the Pulsar NX! Good call, Thomas. Especially with that hardtop convertible business you mentioned, yes.

        I like the CL’s looks. I always thought it looked graceful in a vaguely European way, especially at the back. I still see a few of these around, which suggests they sold some.

        The Gen 2 Altimas were horribly cheap in their build, but didn’t have the silly Space Waster jellybean trunk lid of the Infiniti I30 they imitated. Both of those rounded trunks were supposed to be knockoffs of Jaguars, but I’ve never seen it. Of course, everything in this paragraph has 4 doors and is therefore drifting off the subject. (Kyrie, I remember how attractive everyone felt the Gen 3 Altima was, but I think an equally important reason for its popularity was that it was enlarged to have Accord/Camry room for less money.)

      • 0 avatar

        Thats crazy! Do they look any better in person? I’ve noticed that what are out there are generally well preserved.

        For me, the Skyline to have would be the Infiniti M30, as dull as it is they’re usually dirt cheap and you dont have to deal with shady import companies. G35s are too ricey for me.

        The Pulsar always confused me, it shares bits with the Sentra and yet isnt the same exact car apparently. Back then Nissan had a lot of weird redundant cars for different markets.

        Then theres always the G20, which would have made for a pretty nice Altima instead of the pseudo luxury sedan we got. The Altima itself was always either a cheaply made jellybean or a nerfed Maxima.

        • 0 avatar
          Thomas Kreutzer

          They still look weird and are hard to miss. There isn’t anything else like them on the road. I remember that I really liked the Amigo at the time, they were neat rigs, but the VehiCROSS looked like it came from outer space.

          What’s funny to me is that it was out in such nasty weather. It was coming down in buckets. On days like that my Hardbody stays at home safe, warm and dry in the garage. I, on the other hand, was on my scooter so…

          I haven’t thought about the Pulsar in a long time. I recall a couple of models and had to look them all up on wikipedia to get it right. The early 80’s Pulsar NXs were very odd and angular. The later ones were more like the 200SX of the time. Still pretty weird, in my opinion.

          The car I had forgotten about was the Nissan NX2000 – no Pulsar. Looking at photos today, that thing was sweet!

          • 0 avatar

            I’m curious to know the story behind that myself. Was their main car down? Weather?

            The Pulsars a weird hodge-podge of VW Golf and Nissan bits, like they copied VW but then scrambled to hide it with bits from their other cars.

            I always forget the NX2000 myself (despite the cool name). It looks a bit more Geo than Nissan so I get a bit confused.

  • avatar

    Definitely the CL (is that an oldsmobile?), Paseo, Del Sol (although many got very used to its look), and the Geo Storm (yeah I know Geo is GM but it is Japanese after all). Oh, the GS trunk lights look weird too.

  • avatar

    I once saw a guy in a MacDonald’s parking lot proudly showing off his new Toyota Paseo to his buddies.

    I watched him deflate when his friend laughed and told him “that’s a harsh girl’s car, man!”

    It was true.

  • avatar

    I have a weak spot for the Mitsu 3000GT, AWD. It was the awkward kid at the party, trying too hard next to the sexy Supra or the modern 300ZX Turbo. The Chrysler-Dodge versions were even more confusing.

  • avatar
    PSX 5k Ultra Platinum Triple Black

    My nomination in this series discussing bad sporty car design from the Nineties is the 1995-1998 Nissan 200SX SE-R. Between 1995 and 1998, Nissan retailed the JDM Nissan Lucino coupe as the 200SX in the United States and Canada. At best design was incredibly bland, at worst just awkwardly styled and proportioned. It was based off the phoned in 1995 – 1998 Nissan Sentra (Sunny).

    Even though it was based off an economy car, the SE-R had sportyish hardware like a 140 hp engine and the 95-97 even had a viscous limited-slip differential (VLSD).

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