Essay : Top 10 1990s coupés

Coupés are a cyclical phenomenon. They’re fashionable purchases, and when people want them – they really want them. And when not – you end with a dearth of them.

We concentrate on an era when just about every important manufacturer built affordable coupés – the 1990s. Because right now, many of them are absolute bargains on the secondhand market – but you can be assured that today’s bargain sub-£1000 coupés will be tomorrow’s classics.

Bargain style

If the 1980s were the era of the hot hatchback, the 1990s will be associated with the return of the cheap roadster and the affordable coupés. Perhaps this swing back to the more traditional sports car was a demand-inspired backlash against a market saturated by go-faster, red-pinstriped turbocharged family hacks. It could be argued that the coupé never really went away – the Toyota Celica, Isuzu Piazza, Ford Capri and Opel Manta bravely flew the flag for the format, but more often than not, they were generations behind their more mundane cousins, and as a consequence, the marginalised as the decade wore on.

But following the rebirth of the popular coupé for the 1990s, the wave of stylish two- and three-doors exploded on to the market made the most of the technology available to them – and during much of the decade, buyers lapped them up. Don’t believe us – consider that almost a quarter of a million Opel and Vauxhall Calibras were built during their eight year production run. Not bad for a niche vehicle that was sold and designed primarily for Europeans.

And here are ten of the best next-generation Capris for you to enjoy (so no tiddlers like the Vauxhall Tigra, or large cars such as the Rover 800). Take a look at the prices of these cars – it’s definitely a case of ‘now’s the time to buy’.

10: Ford Probe

Ford Probe

The Probe is currently a bit of a forgotten player – probably because it wasn’t called Capri

Much was expected of the Ford Probe when it hit the UK market in 1992. Mainly because enthusiasts were keen to see a new Capri from Ford, especially in the wake of the Calibra’s arrival and subsequent sales success. The Probe was part Ford, mainly Mazda, built as part of a joint Venture known as AutoAlliance International near Detroit. The Probe was offered with two engine options, a 2.0-litre Mazda four-pot and 2.5-litre V6, featured interior and exterior styling by Uncle Henry, and platform, drivetrain and suspension by the Japanese company.

The mix ‘n’ match Probe didn’t sell in the UK as strongly as Ford executives had hoped, lacking the wide-range and gorgeous styling of its rival from Vauxhall. Which is interesting because now, it’s the Ford that’s gaining something of a cult following – probably not on merit, despite cool pop-up headlamps.

9: Volvo 480ES

Volvo 480ES Turbo

Volvo’s Dutch built sporting three-door estate was a pretty and quirky addition
to the coupé ranks

Volvo’s first front-wheel drive car was a wonderfully retrospective thing – a sporting three-door estate launched in 1987 that recalled the 1972-’73 P1800ES, right down to its glass hatch. It would be a theme returned to with the C30. But Volvo’s Renault-powered Dutch-built 480ES was a soft-launch for its new platform that would also underpin the 440/460 range that proved so popular during the 1990s. As for the 480ES, its styling had British input from Stephen Harper, paving the way for a move away from the box-like Volvos that had dominated the company’s output since the 1966 140-range.

The 480ES was packed was technology and had a wonderful analogue/digital dashboard, but it hardly set the world on fire in terms of performance – it had a maximum power output of 108bhp, and a 0-60mph time of around 11 seconds. The 1989 Turbo added 10bhp and meant the 48oES cracked 120mph – but that wasn’t really the point. It was simply a clever car bought by clever people. And very few survive today. Why? Because it had neither the build quality or reliability of its larger Volvo cousins.

8: Peugeot 406 Coupé

Peugeot 406 Coupé

The best looking car here by a country mile, and probably the least sporting to drive
unless you buy a V6

The Peugeot 406 is probably closer to the Rover 800 rather than Tomcat, and it’s a bit newer than the rest, but it’s most definitely here on merit. After all, it’s probably the last ever beautiful Peugeot, and for many it’s the embodiment of an affordable Ferrari. Today, you can pick up sorry examples for less than £500, and if you’re brave enough to buy a bargain V6 (packing up to 210bhp) for that kind of money, you’re looking at possibly the most bangs you can get for your bucks.

But in truth, if you spend a little more and buy a well-kept example, you’ll be rewarded by a civilised, fine-handling coupé that still looks a million euros. It was available in 2.0-litre petrol form and with a 2.2-litre HDI, as well, but the one to have if you love driving is the 3.0-litre V6. Especially when you know it’ll crack 150mph in the correct circumstances. Vive la France!

7: Toyota Celica

Toyota Celica

£500-2500 (excluding GT-Four)
The Toyota Celica was a coupé mainstay of the 1970s-2000s – and you’re not short
of choice now

Unlike the arrivistes among this list, Toyota enjoyed unbroken coupé production with its long-lived and highly successful Celica line. Some were bad, but most were good – and since 1986 and the switch to front-wheel drive, the Celica was an excellent driver’s car with plenty of performance, tidy road manners, and that all-important legendary Toyota reliability. The 1994 sixth-generation T200 Celica continued this excellence, but with smoother, less controversial styling than its immediate predecessor.

Although it was overshadowed by big-selling European rivals, the Celica continued to sell strongly in the UK, helped in no part by the GT-Four homologation special, which packed 250bhp and four-wheel drive. Standard 1.8- and 2.0-litre models were far from slow, though – and all were good to drive. Sadly, they’re too-often overlooked these days, with low values, but don’t bet against demand for them lifting significantly in coming years – it’s a precedent already set by 1970s and ’80s examples.

6: Nissan 200SX

With ample turbo power and rear-wheel drive, the 200SX was a performance bargain

It might not have had a masculine name, but the 1984 Nissan Silvia picked up a small but not insignificant slice of the UK market. It was blessed with fun rear-wheel drive handling, and plenty of turbocharged performance, and was something of an old-school player, not dissimilar to Toyota’s now legendary Corolla GT coupé. In 1989, it was replaced by the 200SX, a car known elsewhere in the world as the 180SX. Like the S12 Silvia it replaced (in the UK) it had plenty of rear-wheel drive turbocharged power (167bhp), but the 1989 car was so much quicker – now sprinting from 0-60mph in under seven seconds, and going on to a maximum speed of 140mph.

The car sold well, and lasted a mere five years in the UK before being replaced by the S14 Sylvia (also known as the 200SX in the UK). Rust was an early killer, and as a consequence, it ended up being one of the first ’90s coupés to dip below £1000. Numbers soon thinned, and so, finding a nice unmodified one today is quite difficult…

5: Fiat Coupé

Styled by Chris Bangle and powered by a range of great engines, the Fiat Coupé is
already a classic

One of the more appealing Tipo spin-offs, and proof that the Italians could build a great coupé and offer it in quantity and for the right price. Just like its principal rivals, the Fiat was front-wheel drive and powered by a very familiar range of engines, but thanks to decades of experience spinning out sporting cars from more humdrum family cars, and the fact that the engines include such gems as a straight-five 20 valve unit, and turbocharged four-pot straight out of the Lancia Delta Integrale, you know there’s only one thing it can be – brilliant.

The styling, with its trade-mark slashes down the flanks, is a love-it-or-hate it affair, just like so many of its creator’s – Chris Bangle’s – later efforts, while the interior (penned by Pininfarina, and originally planned for the Alfa Romeo GTV) is little short of a work of art. And as for the acceleration – in turbocharged form, Fiat claimed it was the fastest front-wheel drive car you could buy. And today, you can pick one up for under a grand. What’s not to like?

4: Alfa Romeo GTV

Alfa Romeo GTV

The revival of the GTV name came on the back of a brilliant new FWD Alfa coupé

The Type 916 Alfa Romeo GTV Coupé and Spider cousin followed the Fiat Coupé onto the market, establishing the Italians as the ones to beat in this market sector. Like the Fiat, it was a car underpinned by a heavily modified Tipo platform, but Alfa Romeo engineers worked extremely hard on this car to give it world-beating front-wheel drive handling. The body was super-stiff, and the steering and suspension was tuned to beat all existing coupés – rumour has it that the M100 Lotus Elan was used to benchmark prototypes. The GTV was offered with Alfa Romeo’s brilliant Twin Spark and Busso V6 in 3.0-litre form. All were quick, and fun, although the lighter 2.0-litre car possessed the most balanced handling.

Fabulous to drive and far more reliable than anyone expected, the GTV proved quite a hit – and many examples came across to the UK. Until a couple of years ago they were plentiful, but numbers are thinning rapidly, with many having been lost for good as a result of low values and high cost of repairs. 3.0-litre GTVs with the right suspension modifications are thing of real joy – but buy wisely.

3: Rover 200 Coupé

Rover 220 Turbo Coupé

The Tomcat two-door  boasted an innovative  targa-top and variety of engines –
popularity was guaranteed

The Rover Tomcat was a really interesting product built and designed by a company that truly understood the benefits of platform engineering. We all know the R8 was spun into three- and five-door hatchbacks, a five-door estate, coupé and cabriolet – but it was the Tomcat that was probably the most interesting of the lot. In coupé form, it combined great styling, a practical glass T-bar roof, a wide range of engines – and in turbocharged 197bhp 2.0-litre form, electrifying performance. Handling wasn’t up there with the (much more expensive) Corrado, but it could hold its own, even if the magazines soon picked up on its torque-steer. But that didn’t exactly affect sales.

But – and there’s always a but – Rover failed to capitalise on the Tomcat’s success by replacing it. The company made the best use of its ‘soft tooling’ and kept it in production after the 1995 200 and 400 were launched, but sales soon tailed off. As you’d expect for a car purchased on style alone. Still, today they’re an absolute bargain, if you manage to find one that’s not been modified within an inch of its life and perforated by rampant corrosion.

2: Volkswagen Corrado

Of the 1990s selection, the Corrado’s easily the most sought after with enthusiasts

Originally conceived as a possible replacement for the Porsche 944 and Mk2 Scirocco, the Karmann-built Volkswagen Corrado undid much of the bland design that seemed to permeate Wolfsburg’s core during the 1980s. In its execution, the Corrado was a classic coupé – it’s underpinned by the Golf Mk2’s platform and drivetrains, and clothed in a sharply styled body that did its best to remind buyers of what they had been missing since the Giugiaro-styled Scirocco Mk1 had ceased production in 1982.

But it wasn’t a ‘people’s coupé’, like the Scirocco (which remained in production until 1992), being priced well above the older car. The electrically controlled rear spoiler was a nice touch, but in truth, the Corrado was (and is) a very conservatively designed car – but no less brilliant for being so. The price premium over the Scirocco was definitely worth it – because with 16V and supercharged four-pots, and (later) the VR6, all were usefully quick. Like the Golf GTI it was based on, the Corrado was blessed with brilliant handling – and even today, it’s considered one of the best FWD cars of its era. Volkswagen’s ‘scene tax’ means values and demand are assured.

1: Vauxhall Calibra

Vauxhall Calibra

Vauxhall’s Calibra was the most popular coupé in the UK during the 1990s – truly the
new-age Capri

Okay, it’s best to get a few negatives out of the way first. The Calibra doesn’t possess the greatest dynamics, and the best of the lot was probably the mid-range 2.0-litre 16-valve version. It also picked up an unfortunate reputation for attracting the ‘wrong’ type of buyer in the last decade – before disappearing rapidly from the streets, once Corsa drivers realised the Calibra’s brilliant XE ‘red top’ engine fitted under the bonnet. But that aside, it’s easy to forget just how popular the Calibra was in its day.

When it appeared on the scene, the Calibra hit the market running, riding on the back of the Cavalier’s success, and just like the Mazda MX-5, it revolutionised the market sector it competed in. The Calibra was great-looking, but it also boasted a ground-breaking drag co-efficient of 0.26 and that meant that even the weediest 115bhp model could crack 130mph on long straights. Important for its intended buyers. Later V6s proved to be a formidable cruiser, too. But the Calibra was also practical – with a hatchback and large boot, and roomy interior – and that meant it could also star on company car lists… It might not have been the best, but it was certainly the most important offering of its era.

Buy one now, while they’re in the gutter.

Keith Adams


  1. Keith The Ford Pube was pure Mazda with very little Ford, based on the 626/MX6 it never used Ford Engines, I only know this because my mate has two and is part of the Owners Club I must say they are bit of a surprise as not as bad as you would think and for a 90s car they actually handle ok, Rust is pretty decent although like any car once taken ahold difficult to stop.

    The 2.0 is a bit dull and pointless but reasonably economical, whilst the 24v 2.5 V6 is a smooth unit and has a decent turn of speed but thirsty, but difficult not to give it the beans, Amazingly quite a few survive in decent condition.

    Sadly at car shows the Ford people usually give these owners the cold shoulder and Ford Dealer parts have nearly dried up (they were difficult to obtain when in production), Though Mazda Dealers still stock mechanical parts (if you ask for 626 or MX6) otherwise everything is from the U.S.

  2. I thought the pube had a bit of a poundland interior, wasn’t a bad looking old hector, but the steeringwheel was mahoooosive.

  3. Yes, there was a lot of relatively affordable 90’s coupes wasn’t there!
    Looking at them now, I’m spoilt for choice although I think the Probe would be first to drop off my list….

  4. Yes Yorkie Bus, the most common interior you will find on these will be the Japanese favourite relentless Grey…(which put off many customers) but there was a much nicer Black and I think a dreadful Cow Pat Brown, however that colour scheme is on the rise as the New Golf can ordered that way…

    The Pube I think styling wise started off ok at the front but the money quickly ran out… The Dashboard bits and bobs is actually plentiful but challengley styled in a 1980s Jap sort of way, and the rear of the car you can tell they couldn’t be bothered anymore.

    If Ford spent a bit more money or let the European Team do a makeover then it probably would of sold more a seller in Europe, however the £20k asking price and the 2.0 Mondeo was faster and had more horses meant limited appeal.

    Not sure if I would have any of the above? Maybe the Corrado VR6? but thats a no brainer.
    es Yorkie Bus, the most common in

  5. I’d give the Calibra a shake, and nearly did a couple of months ago in the form of a 2.0 8V automatic with a paltry 58K on it. Couldn’t get out of it unfortunately. Interior was lovely, SE4 with cream leather IIRC.

    Shame the interior and handling were insufficient to cash the cheques the well resolved, and class-leading aerodynamically, body wrote.

  6. I had a 2.0 8V and then after that a 2.0 XE powered Calibra. I would have a Turbo or a V6 if i had to do it again. A reliable comfortable coupe that always looked more expensive than it really was. Indeed a true modern day Capri replacement for the man on the street with a powerplant for all.

  7. Had a few corrados,VR6 and G60 peerless handling nothing came at all close.The calibra the moststunning of them all,even today.The V6 was lazy even if it did 145 mph-my 16V would do that,my later turbo,with a Courtney mod would do 165 where permitted.

  8. Always tricky doing these top 10s of each decade because those that were launched late in the decade (e.g. Renault Mégane Coupé, which was at one point the top-selling coupé in the UK) don’t get counted. But it’s not a 2000s vehicle, either. So does it count?

  9. I’d argue that the Megane coupé barely counts as anything, no more than a Hyundai Accent 3-door coupé. At best it’s a truncated hot-hatch.

    The 406 Coupé would trounce most in this list, I think, in V6 form. But having poked several this year with a view to buying, I’d have to be feeling very, very brave to take one on.

    Having said that… Pininfarina designed big Peugeot coupés that once were almost worthless when they were a decade or so old, and now are massively desirable… Someone should save a few 406s 🙂

  10. Some nice cars in there, I would go with a 3.0 Alfa GTV, A Fiat Coupe turbo or the turbo tomcat from that selection.

    The Calibra was very well styled but the interior was pure Cavalier

  11. The Calibra may have had narrow headlights but that didn’t make it an attractive car, total lack of detailing and virtually no flair or form to it’s flanks renders it the blandest car here (closely followed by the Celica). The Nissan 200SX was a beautifully styled, well made and fast coupe that was both cheap to buy and a hoot to drive! The rest were just boring fwd family cars dressed up in 3dr coupe bodies…

  12. For RWD fun I would go for the Nissan SX200, while the best of the FWD coupes was the VW Corrado (then the Fiat Coupe and Alfa Romeo GTV) though I am surprised that the Corrado did not received the 150 bhp 2.0 16v from the Mk3 Golf GTi or a least an uprated 155-160 bhp version to replace the G60, while a production version of the 3-door Corrado “shooting-brake” estate prototype would have been interesting.

    I agree that the Rover 200 Coupe should have been replaced, yet before that the Tomcat could have done with a 4WD option.

    Personally, I do not rate either the Probe or the Calibra that much as coupes since they are unworthy replacements for the Capri and Manta, I would also include the 406 Coupe though its styling to me is its only saving grace.

  13. What about the Honda Prelude, Keith – either Mark IV or V? I once rode in LJK Setright’s ’97 2.2 VTEC 4WS, with him piloting, complete with Beethoven on a retrofitted Pioneer cassette stereo (recorded from his Linn LP12 turntable). It was amazingly fast and agile, one of the best engines in the world, double wishbone suspension front and rear. Made any of the above seem very medioce. I’d put the IV up in the top 3, on technical merit, driving excellence and design flair (the latter not something the V could be congratulated for)…

    Once had a Calibra; a pretty car but mechanically crude. Agree about the Peugeot 406 Coupe, superb styling, although prosaic dynamically.

    Had loads of Rover Coupes – very good in their way, interesting niche car that Rover used to make, loads of character and a great fusion of Rover and Honda. The 216 (D-series) feels very Honda, the 220 (T-series) feels surprisingly different, and very Rover – amazing the difference the engine can make…

    My top ten:

    1- Alfa GT
    2- Honda Prelude IV
    3- Rover Coupe
    4- Fiat Coupe
    5- Mitsubishi FT0
    6- Ford Probe
    7- Peugeot 406c
    8- Toyota Celica
    9- VW Corrado
    10- Nissan 200SX

    • Here’s a gallery of some of the coupes I didn’t put in…

      Renault Megane Coupe

      Mitsubishi FTO (was it actually officially imported into the UK?)

      Honda Integra DC2 (wonderful car – I will own one. Off brief for bargain coupes, though)

      Honda Prelude (originally put it in, and took it out again – they bore me.)

      Hyundai Coupe (laughably crap as I recall from a fleeting drive of an asthmatic 1.8)

      BMW E36 Coupe (too obvious and, well, just too, er, not me…)

      Audi Coupe (Oh these are a guilty secret – I do like these, especially with five-cylinders and 20 valves)

      I’m sure you’ll all come up with more suggestions – please tell us why you’d have ’em in, and not just that I didn’t include them in my list of cheap coupes. And remember – they need to be cheap and interesting. 🙂

  14. Keith Adams

    I forgot about the Honda Integra. Just think, had Rover not been sold to BMW, there was a possibility of the Rover 200 Tomcat being replaced by a K/T-Series-powered coupe based on this very car (albeit probably less spartan).

    A friend of mine once had a BMW 318 E36 Coupe before selling it, though to me those cars seem to have a bad image.

    Apparently, the sleek styling of the Peugeot 406 Coupe to appears to be drawn from a stillborn Citroen Xantia Coupe.

  15. A good list there and an enjoyable read. For me it would have to be either the Corrado or Fiat Coupe. Recently viewed a sorry looking Fiat Coupe up for banger money. I wasn’t brave enough to take it on, but you ‘re right about the interiors which are fantastic compared to anything else around st the same time.

    As for omissions, does anyone remember the Proton Coupe? No? Well that definitely shouldn’t be in the list either…

  16. The FIAT coupe isn’t sporty though – its a grand tourer (we proved that twice this year).

    I do think the E36 would trounce the whole list for handling finesse though, and the beautiful straight 6 sound.

    [prepares for kicking]A 220 coupe owner I know once mentioned the old 306 “cabriolet” we had felt stiffer than his T roof![kicking over]

  17. Why no 800 Coupé if you have the 406 and Probe?
    Although it should be added that the 218VVC coupé was a much better all rounder than the 220 turbo. The VVC version while singinfactly slower than the turbo was still pretty quick with the added advantage of being able to go round a corner, in fact it would not surprise me if the VVC was quicker than the turbo on A and B roads

    • Dear Stewart:

      Second paragraph in the stand first:
      ‘And here are ten of the best next-generation Capris for you to enjoy (so no tiddlers like the Vauxhall Tigra, or large cars such as the Rover 800). Take a look at the prices of these cars – it’s definitely a case of ‘now’s the time to buy’…’

  18. I’ve never driven an R8 Tomcat, but having owned a 306 Cabriolet when I lived near the best roads and still enjoyed being a hooligan, I can vouch for the chassis/body quality of them. Compared to the Volvo C70 Cabriolet, the CLK cabrio, the Saab 900 cabriolet… it felt more composed and stronger than all of them. Whether the real data would show otherwise, I don’t know, but all that marred the 306 as a driver’s car for me was that I’d tried a hatchback before ordering the cabriolet, and the offset seats spoiled the driving position for me.

    (The basic reliability and dealer, well, that’s another story).

    I expect the roadster hardtop, if it secured properly at the back, made it feel even better.

    Also saw one where a young army lad in a LHD but UK registered one had got “lift off oversteer” very badly wrong near Lauder. On a bend that in good conditions I’d balance the car on the throttle, but knew could be lethal if it were cold or covered in leaves, we found a 306 that had gone into a tree – half-way up, about 20ft up. He’d lifted off too fast, not realising the corner got tighter, and rolled the car several times. The side airbags saved him, the roof had ‘popped’ with compression, the windscreen frame was undamaged, the driver’s door fell off when unlatched.

    It’s a shame the drivetrain is so neglected in the UK, and the roof so fragile – because as a 4-seater cabriolet the 306 must be one of the best.

  19. 20…

    ARGHHHHHHHHH it’s coupé pronounced ‘coupay’,non of these cars are chicken sheds (or they wern’t built as such), which is what a coup is.. I don’t care what the beach boys said, they are american, and therfore immediatly worng

  20. There was another important point to consider if you were going to buy one of these models back in the 90s.

    I thought about buying a Calibra back then; I liked them and could afford it at the time, but I was always worried that if I had one, it would get nicked. I was convinced that if I owned a Calibra, I ‘d park it somewhere and come back to find it gone.

    For that reason I never had one to test out the theory. And I wonder how many of the others in the list were high on the “getting nicked” charts?

  21. I don’t think the Probe’s reputation ever recovered from being Gareth Cheeseman’s car of choice courtesy of Steve Coogan..

  22. Some great coupes reviewed here. Time has been rather kind to the Wayne Cherry designed Vauxhall Calibra as it still looks svelte. It also has one of the lowest drag factors of all volume production coupes to this day (0.27). I particularly liked the nine renditions of the ‘SE’ special edition models, not to mention the DTM model with its optional side graphics.

    I have always had a soft spot for the Chris Bangle designed Fiat Coupe, and particularly like the later five-cylinder engine. It is definitely a car that will continue to draw a lot of interest in the classic car scene as time progresses.

    As for the Rover 200 Coupe? Back in 1995 I had the pleasure of spending a day at Thruxton Race Circuit taking part in a high performance driving course behind the wheel of a Rover 220i Coupe, following by a Formula 3 single-seater. The Rover was terrific fun and I was being encouraged by my instructor to rev the engine up to 6,000rpm before changing up to a higher cog. It was fast and very responsive and I really did begin to question why would anyone want (or need) the 220 Coupe Turbo version. I do occasionally consider buying one but, as you say, most of them have sadly been ruined either by the chav brigade or have lost their battle against the dreaded tin worm. It gives me no pleasure to see modified 200 Coupes (ninety percent of which are rather vulgar and tasteless from the execution of those so-called ‘enhancements’) and I just shake my head and walk away in sadness.

  23. I’d vote for the E36, as did buyers in the 90s, probably the reason why it’s successors are still in production. Otherwise I’d go for a 200SX (although most have been ruined by the ricer brigade).

    The Calibra looks good but dynamically I just couldn’t live with another Cavalier, same for the tomcat.

  24. Here’s a public admission. Once I was recruiting for a job and had about 100 applications to sift. One question was “are you a car owner/driver?”. One person said “yes, Ford Probe”. They didn’t get short listed.

    Do I need to say anything else?

  25. What? No Honda Prelude or Integra??? The Integra DC2 was (and still is in many people’s opinion) the greatest handling FWD coupe of all time. Whilst the Prelude was considered more talented than its contemporaries; Probe, Celica, Calibra, Corrado included.

    For some reason you talk about the Alfa GTV as one of the greatest handling FWD cars – but it most certainly wasn’t. The 2 litre model handled quite tidily, but not spectacularly in any sense of the word. And in V6 guise, rampant torque steer was the name of the game with very little in the way of finesse. The Tipo derived chassis was never considered a particularly talented one, with the exception of the Sedicivalvole. Yes, the Fiat Coupe was well liked by the press, but handling was certainly not its trump card, it was more about straight line pace. Nor was reliability, which certainly was not great!

    The ’90s Prelude was seen as perhaps the most talented of the coupes of this generation, with a peach of a 2.2 VTEC engine that Autocar described as the finest 4 cylinder engine produced at that time. I can think of many a group test of the day where the Prelude reigned supreme over all of its contemporary rivals. The soft and saggy Calibra (Cavalier in drag as it was widely known) and Probe just did not compare.

    The Probe was considered to be a pretty average car, and too “American” for European taste in its design and details. The Mazda MX-6 on which it was based was considered to be the better vehicle.

    This article really surprised me with the inclusion of certain models and the blatant exclusion of others which should have been there.

    • Dear Kev R

      In response. Good luck finding an Integra DC2 for under a grand. If it’s not a Type-R it’s not the same thing. Love your passion for the Honda Prelude (I really did put it in, then took it out in favour of the Peugeot 406 Coupe), but I found myself underwhelmed by the examples I drove. Sorry. One man’s meat, etc…

  26. Where is the Ford Cougar on this list ???

    Much better than the Probe in every department….and probably one of the most reliable out of all those that made the list.

    A friend of mine has just spent £2000 on his 1993 16v Calibra……engine rebuild, plus other stuff that needed doing.
    He surely could have got a `mint` one to replace it for £1500……but he just loves the thing.
    Takes all sorts, ehh ??

  27. The Mercury (ford) cougar,dont see many of them now,the V6 was the only one to have but they got a reputation amongst some ford clubs for seizing up(?????)the Calibra still looks stunning today,how can a Datsun 200 SX look better?

  28. One of my colleagues has a P reg Calibra still in daily use and still good it looks. My favourite Coupe though was my Dad’s 1973 Mazda RX4 in white… it looked really modern then with twin headlamps and steel sportswheels.

    I still enjoy looking at photos of it. It was a gas guzzler but remained one of my Dad’s preferred cars.

  29. FTO was imported here briefly, but the vast majority are ex Japan market Grey Imports.

    My brother is selling a tidy 1995 FTO 2.0 V6 Mvi auto if anybody wants one

  30. Tony: Wasn’t the FTO imported as a grey import through Ralliart? And subsequently supported at utter rip-off prices by Mitsubishi dealers… I don’t recall them ever being an official UK car.

    Francis: The RX8 is amazing. I’ve been so tempted by cheap ones lately, having had one new, but they are not cheap ‘reliable’ cars – it’s still a good £2,500+ to get a usable one and it won’t be cheap to run (not fuel, that’s obvious, more consumables and maintenance as they get older).

  31. @22 Have you driven the Fiat Coupe 20v Turbo Limited Edition? I had a go in one once – flippin’ eck, what a rocket – wheelspin in the first 3 gears….

    Didn’t the Calibra form the basis of the SAAB 9-3 hatchback?

    The Alfa GTV 3.0 V6 is on my wishlist for when, at some point, I can afford a weekend car to remove the boredom of driving a company car all week long. A decent example will cost £2-£4k, which given what the car is, is not bad at all!

  32. Always liked the Tomcat; once had a soft spot for the Volvo 480ES; think the Corrado is a great looking car; the 406 and Calibra are very good looking too but let down by rather repmobile interiors.

  33. From memory the Honda Integra was sold in Australia as a Rover 400 (I think!) My dad used to get his car MOT’d at a Vauxhall Open dealer and I have a lasting memory of the Opel Monza GSE (I know its 80’s!) – what a car that was! Also the Renault Fuego with its big glass rear hatch. And the original Audi Coupe/Quattro. More than any other car design most oupe’s tended to sell well in their first year – then take a massive drop in sales in following years.test drove a 480 GT (one of the last of the 480’s) Moon roof (a sunroof that did not slide!) lovely leather an a fab trip computer!

  34. @41,At full pelt they sound like an F16!a wonderful handling car,i cant just reconcile the centre of the dash for some reason,like a CD has been stuck there!
    I think with the Renesis engine the golden rule is change the plugs and air filter every service regardless-in other words skip the interim and do the lot,a work pal has one he says its not too bad on fuel and he has only had to put a starter motor on it possibly due to past poor starting (due to clogged air filter,and boy,do they clog up!)Ihave always loved the rotary engine even in the still futuristic looking NSU Ro80.

  35. Did Mazda ever cure the appetite for rotor tips? The Volvo 480 was about as fast as a glacier, and not that pretty either, it had that sort of shrunk hearse look about it, especially in black. I’m sure the 480 also shared quite a lot with the Renault 19…

  36. Did Mazda ever cure the appetite for rotor tips? The Volvo 480 was about as fast as a glacier, and not that pretty either, it had that sort of shrunk hearse look about it, especially in black. I’m sure the 480 also shared quite a lot with the Renault 19…

  37. Did Mazda ever cure the appetite for rotor tips? The Volvo 480 was about as fast as a glacier, and not that pretty either, it had that sort of shrunk hearse look about it, especially in black. I’m sure the 480 also shared quite a lot with the Renault 19…

  38. Rotor tips haven’t been an issue for decades, if maintained properly. They inject oil (but mine was around 500ml/2500 miles, so hardly excessive) and you shouldn’t do short, low-rev moves like shuffling it around the drive too often.

    Cane them, rev them before shutting them off, make sure the oil cooler pipes, sill rust and so forth are seen to (I installed grilles on my oil coolers), and the main weak point appears to be the clutch and the inevitable electronics.

    Totally worth the effort and, FWIW, risk, if well maintained they handle incredibly well, beautifully balanced with amazing brakes. And they’re reasonably practical.

  39. After eventually falling out of love with Rover (2 years of 200Vi ownership with it spending a great deal of this at the dealership) I traded it the week my extended warranty expired for a 2.0 Peugeot 406 coupe. The best made car I have ever owned with great handling too but given the car weighed as much as small moon it did struggle for power.

    This was duly exchanged after 2 years for a 3.0 Alfa GTV Lusso. Now to this point I had never kept a car longer than 2 years, but my love affair with this car lasted 8 years and 100k. I only let it go to a mate 6 months ago as I was not getting enough use from it with my young family. It nearly went to an acquaintance of Keith’s, one Doc Chevron, but in the end he chose to stick with his beloved Citroen BX 16v.

    Okay so there are a few typical Alfa niggles to put up with such as incorrectly made wiring looms, but once you get the rear suspension poly bushed it is a brilliant car.

    Kev R the torque steer issue seemed to a choice of rubber. Some owners with cheap rubber reported some issues. I always ran on Pirelli PZero’s and like fellow owners who made the same choice I never had any issues. Damned expensive though, the rear suspension geometry with massive camber would eat a set in 9k.

  40. Sheer high mileage eventually claimed my mate’s turbocharged Tomcat, but I got behind the wheel every now and then in its heyday and, compared to the various examples of tat I drove at the time, it never failed to impress me with its crazy acceleration and roller skate handling. Maybe nostalgia has hazed my memory and it would disappoint me today, but in 1998 this sparkling 1995 example awoke the big green monster in me.

  41. Ford Cougar was late 90s, great looking car in my opinion. Once even got a brochure on it from Mercury in the states sent over!

    406 coupe would be as runnable as the saloons, the HDis still go for well over 2k though. Near into 407 coupe money.

    Had a GTV, great fun car, like a go kart, silky smooth twinspark. In terms of relibility, it never failed to start but was let down by dodgy electrics (burn marks on the fusebox and the wipers had a mind of their own) and suspension bushes went all the time. Recommended timing belt interval of 30k was well needed!
    Some on the Alfa forum reckon the twinspark had a slightly better weight distribution than the V6.

    And of course I need to petition on behalf of the Accord coupe, 🙂 there was a version mid 90s but by late 90s model Honda moved it further away from the US saloon on which it was based. Comfortable and utterly reliable, if a bit thirsty, overlooked and so cheap. Not a go kart like the GTV was, more of a grand tourer.

  42. Not yet, but they are getting painfully close, £1250 ish with scruffy drivers seats, look a bit higher and there are some nice ones about

  43. When the Calibra first came out It was a stunning looking car. The years have done it no favors it does look dated now.
    I think Quintin Wilson at the time somed the car up “A Cavalier in a party frock”
    The Corrado has lasted well Ive owned two. However I do find the frontal styleing a bit odd/bland. The standard 16V was hardly any faster than an Injected Scirocco. As the Corrado wieghed a lot more. The Corrado braked and handled a lot better. In the last year of Scirocco production the basic Corrado cost approx £6000 (£1200 v £18000) more than an equivelent Scirocco. That was the Corrado’s downfall. It was a very expensive car to produce.

  44. Corrado VR6 for driving pleasure. Alfa probably best looking car here although it was not a sporty car to drive. Pug is probably most practical here, though the interior lets it down as its a bit low rent. Fiat was great in a straight line, but show it a bend it understeered terribly. The 480 is probably the most indiviual car here – I still love em – but there not great to drive. Calibra is another good car but they dont go great round corners – again a bit nose heavy. Probe was not bad to drive but so low rent. Celica is probably the best buy here, as they were bomb proof. Tomcat is a great buy bar the engine issues do frighten me while the nissan is just too bland.

  45. Regarding Mazda Rotary engines, my Dad had no mechanical trouble with his car which he kept till 1978. It was low mileage though. Forgot to say my other so called favourite coupe of all time would be the MK1 Cavalier Coupe.

    From the day it was launched I would look through the dealers windows in admiration at the ones on display. I couldnt afford to buy but perhaps that added to the attraction?

  46. Keith Adams – December 10, 2012
    Ford Cougar – bit new?

    The Ford Cougar was released in late 1998….so it is a 1990`s coupe.
    A 2.0 is a very sensible choice if you can drop on a good one.
    Bombproof Zetec engine, well proven in the MK II Mondeo.
    The 2.5 V6 is more common but a little too juicy these days.

    They only made em’ for 4 years over here…so you most certainly are not part of the herd should you drive one.
    A very good looking car IMO.

  47. I’ve always thought the Calibra (or Mk 3 Cavalier coupe) to be a rather “cheesy” car. Maybe its the types of people that generally bought them new / nearly new or that fact that it pretended to be something revolutionary that it was not. Ot perhaps Vauxhalls marketing? The word pretend is there somewhere…. Its not a bad car, but not a particularly good car either – its a 3 door cavalier with thin headlights. But definately the whitest-sock and trainers of 90s coupes.

  48. What about Ford’s brilliant little Puma (’97 onwards)? Somewhat cramped, but a great steer, even if the brake discs were prone to warping.

    Along with a 5-pot Fiat Coupe, the Puma would be at the top of my list.

  49. Finding a Puma now that the inner rear wings haven’t parted with the rest of the body is gonna be hard, and the Zetec SE’s thirst for 5w30..However if you do find a good one, they do handle very well

  50. @66, There is a bloke near me with a fairly mint black one,only spoiled by project puma stickers on the screen (why?)the 1.7 engines have awful oil consumption problems and end up dead most of the time.Much better than a Tigra though.

  51. Volvo C70 is a good call. Defied the boxy Volvo look of the time, looks classy even today.
    Was the main vehicle of the Saint film.

    Fella in work bought a Puma as a toy / commuting car, says its a fun wee drive.
    Fiesta based, few spots of rust as per seemingly most 90s Fords. Remember the advert with Steve McQueen?

  52. The killer for the C70 is the £600+ throttle bodies when and not if they fail,plus the programming,seen a few broke because of this.

  53. @ francis brett

    On early cars with the distributor instead of a coil pack, there is no troublesome Magnetti Marelli ETM to worry about. I think they sorted the problem altogether though on late 2001/2002 cars.

  54. The Calibra for me all day long , still looks fantastic in my eyes. How did we get away with headlamps so small , when you look at the size of them now , is there any need?? A nice white 2.0 16V Calibra would happily sit in my garage.

  55. Yes it’s a ‘tiddler’ and so not included here but I too liked the Puma. There was one up the road from me, off the road and gathering moss, until recently. I’d buy one quite readily, funds permittinhg……

  56. @Keith,
    If you said you liked the Audi Copupé that much I’d have given you mine.. which was a 2.3 20v Quattro, it’s only issue being the windscreen needed glueing back in (thanks to another quiality autoglass job but no rust)

  57. I think the BMW is just too much of a ‘chopped up saloon’ to be a true Coupé, similar reason for the Megane, its more a replacement for the 3 door Renault 19 really. The problem with the Prelude is the Integra/NSX isn’t it? Buy one and you’ll wish you’d saved up and bought the other.

  58. @Keith
    I still have guilty feeling about that, really wished the VVC had gone to you! or the XJ-SC, I’ll come up with somthing when you have space/time. I’ve yet to find anything worng with that VSX XM..

  59. The lines between Coupe and saloon/hatchback have always been a little blurred. Some people would call a two-door E30 BMW or three-door Saab 900 a coupe. I’m not one of them…

    I think my rule of thumb is this – if the manufacturer calls it a coupe, then it’s a coupe…

  60. Yes the is aparently a Jetta coupe.. I agrre there is, its normally got Scirocco or Corrado written on the back.. unless I actually have a Mk2 Golf GTI coupé.
    AKIK there was no 3 series coupe till the E36, I think its mostly americans that called the 2 door E30 a coupé, or coop(arghh this wrong prounciation really grates) and seem to apply the term to anything with only one dorr on the side.. but then they are worng by definition

  61. I have been lucky enough to own a 3 litre GTV, 20V Turbo Fiat coupe and a S14 nissan 200SX.

    Out of the three I would say the Fiat was the best, although the Nissan did run it close. The GTV was great as well, but it was very heavy on fuel and there is zero room inside.

    The main problem I had with the Nissan is that it attracted the wrong kind of attention and the engine note is dull. Good Chassis though.

    My Father had the Calibra and a Mate had the 220 Coupe Rover, neither had what you call a decent chassis, although the Calibra was a looker.

    The Puma is a good cakll too, I had one for a while and loved it until the rear arches rusted away.

  62. I’ve seen pictures of a Bora coupe, which is a mash up of a Bora and a 3 door Golf.

    Also of a 306 coupe, again a mash up of the 306 Sedan and a 3 door.

    Used to think that proper coupes had to be 2 door saloon or fastbacks. Would mean that the squashed hatchback-like new Scirrocos and Velosters are hatchbacks. However this would also mean that the Brera is not a proper coupe. So I overruled that rule 😉

    For sheer shenanigans, you can buy a 406 coupe and add this bodykit…

  63. But as for coupe..
    coupé [ˈkuːpeɪ]
    1. (Engineering / Automotive Engineering) Also called fixed-head coupé a four-seater car with a fixed roof, a sloping back, and usually two doors Compare drophead coupé
    2. a four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage with two seats inside and one outside for the driver
    3. (Transport / Railways) an end compartment in a European railway carriage with seats on one side only
    [from French, short for carosse coupé, literally: cut-off carriage, from couper to cut, from coup blow, stroke]

    So it follws the 2 door Jetta, the 2 door E30, and E21 are NOT coupés

  64. @Stewart

    Interesting point about the use of the word ‘chassis’. But it’s modern parlance for ‘suspension, damping and steering’ – a kinda collective noun. It’s been used this way for years, and therefore you’d have to say it’s not incorrect to say it this way – it’s just a case of word-evolution.

  65. It’s still incorrect, we have proper words for those as you mention, so why not use them? we have dumbed down things too far. The fact its been used wrongly for a long time does not make it correct

  66. Although I do accept your point that language evolves, and new words and terms come into use as time goes on, or we would have to accept that american english is the more correct derivative having been largely fixed in aspic since Websters ‘A Grammatical Institute of the English Language’ of the late 1780s which would just not be on!

    But that’s it.. ‘new words’ not changing old ones!

  67. It is ‘dumbing down’ and yes it is how language evolves, but I am not keen on a dumbed down english language! nor should anyone else be (IHMO)

  68. ‘dumb’ itself seems an Americanism? (As in ‘Americas Dumbest Criminals’ and the likes), I recall it used to be used, probably fairly un-PC, as a term for mute.

    Chassis these days seems to be used as a swappable term for platform in relation to automotive engineering..

  69. My preferred Prelude coupe was the original late 70s MK1 and 80s MK2. My brother owned a MK1. I agree with Keith the later 90’s one’s lacked style and looked too big/heavy & boring. That white Integra DC2 looks so much better.

  70. In the 90s Honda offered a coupe of it’s C-D-E segment models, along with the Integra, Prelude, CRX.

    My favourite Celica would be the 70s Mustang style one.

  71. One thing I think is surprising it just how good most of these cars still look today.

    Shame most companies today are focused purely on producing over stylised carbage in a million niches rather than just doing a highly stylish, practical yet inexpensive coupe.

    I am in the Calibra corner, its beauty is a result of aerodynamics rather than purely styling, a practice I am not keen on.

    However nearly all these cars have a timeless style we just don’t see anymore. The 406 looks even better than when I saw it at the ’97 motorshow!!

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