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There Were So Many More Sporty Cars in the 1990s

It’s hard to believe now, but just 20 years ago, sporty cars were everywhere. Really, truly, everywhere. All automakers had several sporty cars in their lineups, and it wasn’t uncommon for many people to drive a sporty car, typically with two doors. Now, all that has changed.

Here’s what I mean: Consider Toyota back in the 1990s. There was a sporty compact car, the Paseo, a sporty, slightly larger-than-compact car, the Celica, a true sports car, the Supra, and even a midengine sporty car, the MR2. Chevy sold a coupe version of the compact Cavalier — and a convertible! That was in addition to the Beretta, the Camaro, the Corvette and the Monte Carlo. In addition to the Mustang, Ford had the Probe and a 2-door version of the Escort called the ZX2. 2-door cars were common.

These days, not so much. Only the legends survive: Mustang, Supra, Camaro, Miata, Corvette. All the other stuff is gone or deemed extraneous. Toyota has a second sporty car, sure, but not four. There’s no Cavalier convertible or even coupe. The Mazda MX-6 is gone and so’s the MX-3, and on and on down the lineup. The Mitsubishi Eclipse is an SUV. I could go on.

It’s an interesting shift. While most publications are lamenting the loss of the sedan — and, indeed, that is lamentable, and interesting and applicable to far more people than the loss of the sporty car — the “sort of” sporty coupe or convertible has been almost completely lost. These days, if you want a sporty-looking car, you also get a truly sporty car, like a Mustang. There’s no more “entry level” in the world of performance.

I suppose the reason for this is that people interested in a “cool-looking” car have now switched to SUVs. Those have taken up the title of the “cool-looking” car of the 2000s and 2010s, leaving the entry-level sporty car completely without buyers. I don’t necessarily think this is a shame, but I do think it’s been a fast shift in the market: In 20 years, we’ve gone from an abundance of these things to basically none, and now it’s almost hard to imagine a time (or believe there ever was a time) when the car industry was basically filled with coupes and convertibles.

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  1. I think these coupes became too expensive for what they had to offer.  Also, the buyers in their 20s and 30s who bought these in great numbers may have grew out of them, started families, and needed more practical vehicles to haul their children around, and a sporty coupe would not fit the bill.  Not to mention, these may have been too expensive for a young driver to insure.

    Furthermore, in the early 2000s when the Subaru WRX arrived in the US, it had lots of performance and practicality for the same price as a top-tier sport coupe.  As a result, there wasn’t much of a reason to buy an aspirational sports coupe anymore and they started dropping off.  Now, the only car like those old front-drive coupes left is the modern Honda Civic coupe.
    Another theory I’ve read is before, if one wanted performance, they had to buy a sporty car, but since modern cars have pretty good performance, and they’re practical, there’s no reason to buy a sporty car unless you really want one.
  2. I was always a fan of the Honda Prelude, especially the earlier versions of the 80’s and 90’s.  Just nice cars that were fun enough to drive, great gas mileage and excellent quality.  Hard to ask for much more.

  3. I’m sure there’s others that were missed, but you omitted coupe versions of the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Toyota had 5 Coupes!

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Doug Demuro
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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