Making a list of the best cars of all time can be difficult. Designating any such list is a subjective process. So is interpreting the word "best" itself. Is the best car the best-performing track car? Is it the most engaging driver's car? The best car could also be the car that best read the market and foreshadowed where things were heading.
With this best cars list, we're looking for the most influential cars, the cars that mattered. These cars broadened ideas about what a car can mean and shaped what became the modern car market. Supercars and sports coupes deserve their recognition. But so do SUVs and trucks, which are now the default vehicles most people buy.
We restricted this list to cars that entered the market from 1970 onward for ease and modern relevance. Tracing technological developments back more than 50 years can get a bit tenuous, as undoubtedly influential as inventions the Model T's mass production process or the Volvo's three-point safety belt were to the modern automobile's development.
From mindblowing track performers to the progenitors of the modern crossover, here are the ten best cars from the 1990s.
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McLaren gave famed F1 engineer Gordon Murray carte blanche to build his ultimate road car. The only compromise was that Honda wouldn’t build him an engine, so he had to go to BMW to get a 6.1-liter naturally-aspirated V12. The McLaren F1 had a full carbon fiber monocoque chassis. It sat three with the driver in a forward, central position. And it changed the game for supercars. Only 106 were built, not all of them road-going. One was trashed by Elon Musk.
Original MSRP: $815,000
Honda decided to take on Ferrari with a high-performance sports car and did so — with a car that was still very much a Honda. The NSX was the first production car to drop a bunch of weight with an all-aluminum body, and it underwent painstaking chassis tuning with Honda F1 engineers and the legendary Ayrton Senna doing a more-than-trivial part of the testing.
Original MSRP: $62,000
The Dodge Viper has always looked like the product of pure testosterone, and the original version was the purest. It had a bespoke 8-liter V10 engine with a six-speed manual. And it may be more infamous for what it didn’t have — glass windows, exterior door locks, airbags, air conditioning, traction control and antilock brakes.
Original MSRP: $52,000
The fourth generation was the last Toyota-built Supra — and the one the Fast and Furious franchise made famous. The stock Supra was formidable, eventually getting more than 300 horsepower and accelerating from 0-60 in 4.6 seconds. But the Supra is most famous as a tuner car. Modifiers quickly realized the legendary 2JZ-GTE engine and rock-solid componentry could accommodate multiples more power than Toyota was providing out of the factory.
Original MSRP: $33,900
Toyota had an idea. A wonderful and — to some — awful idea: They merged the visibility and four-wheel drive from an SUV with the size and fuel economy of a compact car. They gave it a quirky name. After a round of experimentation that included a convertible and an electric car, they stuck with the four-door, which became America’s best-selling and default car.
Original MSRP: $16,168
The Outback was a simple vehicle: Subaru took the all-wheel drive Legacy wagon, lifted it a bit and added some bigger tires. And they stumbled on the most practical all-around vehicle on the market. The Outback became an often-imitated, never-equaled sales dynamo that established the Subaru brand — now full of Outbacks of various sizes and shapes — and the adventure vehicle in the U.S.
Original MSRP: $20,805
The 993 generation is not the best-looking 911 generation, but it may be the most desired by enthusiasts. It was a brief four-year period where Porsche began incorporating more modern tech and adding more high-performance variants into the 911 lineup but, crucially, was still using the more classic Porsche air-cooled engines. Subsequent 911s converted to water-cooled.
Original MSRP: $67,200
Honda took an already solid Acura Integra compact, stripped it down for weight, strengthened the chassis, gave it more power and produced a limited number of what some — especially those paying bonkers prices at auction for them — consider the best front-wheel drive driver’s car ever made.
Original MSRP: $23,500
Mercedes beat the X5 to market with the body-on-frame M-Class. But BMW cobbled together a unibody architecture, some Land Rover off-roading tech and BMW on-road performance into what was basically the first, modern, fully-formed luxury SUV.
Original MSRP: $49,400
If not the ultimate driver’s car, the Honda S2000 was the ultimate car enthusiasts would design. Naturally aspirated 2.0-liter VTEC. Manual Transmission. Rear-wheel drive. Stupidly high-revving. Incredible power-to-weight ratio. A car that thrived on the limit — perhaps to a fault given the super-low mileage counts of so many used ones.
Original MSRP: $34,995