10 '90s Cars That Are Still Totally in Demand or Whatever

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Sorry, Millennials, but even the cars your parents shuttled you to school in are being left behind.

There are still a whole lot of people looking for 1990s cars, but that number decreases with each passing year. Mark Williams, analyst for Kelley Blue Book, did some digging and found that vehicles from the '90s are on a consistent decline, which he doesn't find at all surprising.

“As new model years are introduced to the market, the older model years are being suppressed and yield less interest,” he says. “For example, the most shopped 1990s models are 1999, 1998, 1997, respectively.”

They're not exactly Those '90s Cars, either. Williams pulled up the Top 25 cars from the 1990s searched on Kelley Blue Book and came up with the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Honda Civic, Jeep Wrangler, Ford F-150, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Mustang and Toyota Corolla among the Top 10. Much of that group's current models are still among the best sellers in the U.S. In fact, discontinued rarities such as the Chevy Blazer, Saturn S-Series and Cadillac DeVille scarcely crack the Top 20.

“You’ll notice the list is primarily comprised of trucks, performance vehicles and off-road types, with the exception of your volume leaders [such as] Toyota and Honda,” he says. “It’s a very different list if you look at newer models, as you’ll see more utility vehicles and sedans in the mix.”

So, much like Fruit Stripe Gum and episodes of Clarissa Explains It All, '90s vehicles are continuing their steady slide from general consciousness to BuzzFeed lists to the seldom-explored recesses of memory. There are a few vehicles of that era that still merit an inquiry every so often, though. We spoke with the folks at KBB and used car pricing site CarGurus and came up with the 10 cars from the '90s that anyone cares about in great numbers anymore:

10. Toyota 4Runner

A reliable off-road vehicle is hard to come by, but a cheap one is especially rare. Sure, the '90s models are roomy, have a power-sliding rear window and may have appeared in a hip-hop video or two, but the fact that their owners typically don't have to put a whole lot of maintenance into them is a big seller.

That, and they're still beasts on trails and dunes. This is no crossover. The body-on-frame construction that its competitors ditched in favor of unibody chassis long ago is still with the 2014 4Runner today. With Toyota just dropping the FJ Cruiser and the cost of a '90s 4Runner in the low- to mid-four figures, though, it might pay to stick with the classic.

“Our site gets a lot of traffic from enthusiasts who are not always looking for maximal value, but they are looking for something distinctive in a car,” says Steve Halloran, content and social media manager for CarGurus. “Either something that will take them pretty much anywhere they want to go or something that they can haul huge loads with. The 4Runner has a niche that it pretty much fills all by itself.”

9. Jeep Grand Cherokee

Born in 1993, the Grand Cherokee was designed to give an off-road vehicle some luxury comfort. Though drivers in the '90s turned them into the hulking grocery getters that took the “U” out of SUVs and gave the whole class a bad name, the '90s Grand Cherokee has been redeemed by off roaders. The 1999 model received 4.2 out of five stars from CarGurus readers for both its ground clearance and how it handles snow. It only took about 16 years and a switch to a crossover platform for people to love the original Grand Cherokees for their intended purpose.

“If you're looking for a car to modify and want to take it out in the woods and beat the crap out of it, you're not going to want to spend a whole lot of money on it,” Halloran says. “A beater SUV is going to be a great place to start for somebody who wants to do that with their vehicle.”

8. Toyota Camry

It's still the best-selling car in the U.S. today and one of the Top 5 selling vehicles overall. Why? Because it's reliable enough to still have a whole lot of '80s and '90s models on the road. It's been in the U.S. since 1983, and just about every model year has adequate representation on our streets and highways. It is one of the most boring, uninspiring cars available, but you can't kill it without a whole lot of effort or blunt force. It's built to last and not ashamed of it in the least.

“The older a car you can buy used, the less expensive it's going to be,” Halloran says. “A lot of the cars on our list are incredibly long-lived vehicles. The Camry, the Accord, the Civic — these are all cars that are recognized for the fact that they retain their value well because they run reliably for hundreds of thousands of miles, and any buyer who's looking for value should be starting with those cars.”


7. Ford Mustang

The Mustang brand is an icon, but the generations of Mustangs can sow discord between the most fervent fans. Aside from Lee Iacocca's Mustang II of the late '70s, perhaps no form of the Mustang divides allegiances as much as the long, Fox-body platform of the '80s and '90s. The latter decade, in particular, was an incredibly tough time for the vehicle. The last of the original Fox-body generation drew attention from Vanilla Ice, who name-dropped his 5.0-liter dream machine in both Ice, Ice, Baby and over a Steve Miller sample in the less-subtle Rollin' In My 5.0.

“I wouldn't want to say this in public every place, but I'm not a huge fan of the Fox-body Mustang,” Halloran says. “I never thought they looked as good as the second- or fourth-generation Mustang. I just never really got the Fox-body Mustang.”

It was a huge relief, then, when the vehicle's fourth generation was released in 1993 with a brawnier engine and a less boxy exterior. It was a much-needed upgrade that became a huge favorite almost immediately. It boosted sales by almost 40,000 vehicles in a year and nearly doubled the 1992 total just three years later. Sales peaked at 203,000 Mustangs by 2000, which is almost miraculous considering Mustang sales have fluctuated between 67,000 and 82,000 since the recession.

6. Ford Ranger

Nobody asked Ranger drivers if they wanted to keep this vehicle around. The last time Ford gave the Ranger a complete generational overhaul was 1992. The last time it gave the Ranger a redesign was 1998.

Sure, people love the Ford Ranger, because it was discontinued in 2011 and they'll take whatever version of Ford's small truck they can get. The reason they'll still buy '90s versions, however, is because they're cheap and a reminder of the last time Ford gave a damn about this truck. You can still get new Toyota Tacomas, and General Motors just revived the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon, but the Ford Ranger lives only in the used car listings, and there are still a whole lot of them to go around.

“Anyone who's a specialist in cars or believes their taste is somehow something to be proud of and distinctive from that of other people very easily could be looking to own something that's no longer available purely to assert that,” Halloran says. “My taste is kind of distinctive and I know I'm never going to buy an accord, but I'm absolutely going to look for the last Ford Ranger I can find.”

5. Honda Civic

This isn't where we give you the Toyota Camry spiel about huge sales numbers and reliability.

Sure, there are still people who buy '90s Civics for that reason, but there are typically two traits that draw a certain buyer base to these cars: fast and furious. Tuners absolutely love the Civic because it's really easy to modify. It's a fuel-sipping, smooth-handling family car, sure, but you can turn it into something a whole lot louder and prouder without a whole lot of investment. It's perhaps the one car that soccer moms and their teenage kids find themselves competing for in the used car listings.

4. Ford F-150

Not exactly a huge surprise. Ford crows constantly about the fact that its F-Series has produced the best-selling vehicles in the U.S. for more than three decades. But it wasn't until 1999 that Ford started explicitly targeting everyday drivers by pulling the F-150 away from commercial use in favor of the Super Duty F-250 and F-350. The '90s introduced the F-150 as a family car, an everyday commuter and a mall hauler. Put as many tough-guy accessories on it as you'd like, but after the '90s the F-150 had more in common with the Explorer than it did with its heavy hauling F-Series siblings.

But it shouldn't be discounted that the '90s F-150s, like most '90s cars, belong to one of the last generations of vehicles that most owners had some hope of fixing themselves.

“One of the things that we constantly hear people griping about is that when you buy a new car these days, you can't even see the engine under the hood because it's all sheathed in plastic,” Halloran says. “Back in this era, in the '90s, you could still so some of the work on your car yourself without having to have a lift and a bunch of super-expensive gear.”

3. Honda Accord

Yep, now we're back in Camry territory. Honda pretty much nailed the ’90s family sedan when it made the Accord. It's safe, reliable, dependable and great for everyday use, even more than years after production. It doesn't have the tuner cred of the Civic, but the reliable, standard-issue midsize lives to be boring.

“They've sold well just about every year they've been available,” Halloran says. “The Accord, the Camry and the Civic run well always."

2. Chevrolet Corvette

The '90s Vette? Really?

Lacking the classic lines of its '60s and '70s stingray predecessors, the late-80s and '90s Corvettes looked like Barbie dream cars at best and pale caricatures of a sports car at worst. The performance was still there, but it had all the personality of something you'd expect a weekend warrior to park in a Sonoma tasting room's parking lot.

Performance cars are often wrongly equated with a midlife crisis, but considering just how often the Japanese, German and Italian automakers were handing GM its lunch at this time, the Corvette was a rolling version of that. That said, it's still a Corvette and there are no shortage of folks who'd still like to retire in one, albeit on the cheap. This fits that depressing bill.

1. Jeep Wrangler

Consider this the '90s anti-Vette. Sure, Jeeps are always coveted for their off-road capability and for their iconic look, but the Wrangler lost a bit of its identity when AMC and Chrysler made it a boxier, square-eyed, more '80s version of itself.

That all changed in 1997, when Chrysler brought back the rounded headlights from when it was known simply as the Jeep CJ, put the turn signals back on the front fenders and basically made it look like a Jeep again. There was no stretched-out “unlimited” version, no modified grill and nothing but the classic Jeep experience. For a whole lot of used car buyers, that's still good enough.

”It's the look,” Halloran says. “As the Wrangler got a little softer, it lost some of its appeal to die-hard fans for sure.”

— Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore., for MainStreet

To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.

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