Cars that made the 90s: Part 1 Daily Drivers


It almost goes without saying that we’re spoilt for choice here. The nineties was, after all, the decade that gave British motorists more options than ever before. Not only were European models – such as the E36 BMW, Audi A4 and the Volvo 850 – offering viable alternatives to cars from homegrown brands like Vauxhall, MG and Rover, but the idea of owning a Japanese import became popular around this time, too. 

With much less social pressure to buy British than in the ‘70s and ‘80s, iconic cars came from all over. But – with honourable mentions for models such as the Vauxhall Cavalier, Mk3 VW Golf and Honda Civic EK – we’ve tried our best to narrow them down to a mere trio of top iconic daily drivers. 

Let’s take a look at a few of the best daily drivers from the 1990s… 

Ford Escort Mk5 (1990-1997)

While the Blue Oval badge is a true American icon, we’d argue that not many cars could purport to be as quintessentially British as the mighty Ford Escort. After all, by the time the nineties came around, it was highly likely that your parents had owned at least a couple of the long line of Escorts launched since the late 1960s. 

The spiritual grandaddy of the world-beating Ford Focus (itself launched in 1998), the Mk5 Escort may not have been quite as special as its predecessor in the eyes of performance enthusiasts, but there’s no doubt that it was a popular car. In fact, even though many saw the Mk5 as a downgrade and scoffed at the return of the ‘Dagenham Dustbin’, they were still a common sight right up to the mid 2000s. 

It’s also true that the Mk4 XR3i and S2 RS Turbo models were still the most desirable Escorts in the early ‘90s, even when the Mk5 Escort RS2000 came along in 1992. But all that changed when the most iconic Escort of all time was introduced – the Escort RS Cosworth. With its 2-litre turbocharged engine and huge ‘whale tail’ wing, the Escort ‘Cossie’ remains one of the most desirable Fords ever made, commanding mortgage-scale money now in 2024. 

But the real story is that this four-wheel-drive rally homologation special only looked like a Mk5 Escort. Based on the floorplan and mechanicals of the 4WD Ford Sierra this car was merely fitted with body panels that resembled a beefed up Mk5. But, then again, does the fact that this Mk5 Escort isn’t really a Mk5 Escort detract from its iconic status? We think not. 

Citroen Saxo (1996-2003)

You may be surprised to find a small French hatchback here but – love it or hate it – there’s no denying that the humble Citroen Saxo was one of THE hot hatches of the nineties. 

Of course, there were a couple of entry-level options available – chiefly designed to complete various shopping duties around town. But the sporty VTR and VTS models have often been credited with being the first to put performance motoring in the hands of teenagers. The Saxo was so affordable that many young drivers were also able to buy brand-new for the first time. 

What with the combination of a lightweight chassis, potent (for the sector anyway) 90bhp and 120bhp engines, all-round disc brakes and the dealer picking up the cost of the insurance for the first 12-months, the Saxo VTR and VTS models quite literally flew off the forecourts. In fact, a surprised Citroen couldn’t make the righthand-drive versions quick enough to meet the demand.   

After being replaced with the Citroen C3 in 2003, the Saxo may be something of a non-existent sight on the streets nowadays, perhaps a dubious testament to their all but disposable nature. But this iconic car also has one other distinction – this little French hatchback will forever be remembered as one of the most popular cars on the UK modifying scene, ruling the roost for the best part of a decade.   

Subaru Impreza WRX GC8 (1992-2000)

The noughties may have been the decade that saw the Japanese tuner car became king, no doubt helped by The Fast and The Furious movie blasting onto the big screen in 2001. But when it comes to grey imports, it was the early ‘90s where the concept of getting your hands a high-spec car for ‘cheaps’ really started to take off. 

This rise in popularity is often attributed to the unique features of the cars themselves. Imports of the era tended to be a little more outlandish than their restrained European counterparts. Along with a jaw-dropping amount of standard equipment, the performance figures were right up there, too. The nineties saw many iconic Japanese cars; the Nissan Skyline R32, MkIV Toyota Supra and Mazda RX-7 to name but a few. 

But, aside from bona fide sportscars, the nineties also saw the introduction of the AWD Japanese super saloon, offering performance and practicality in one tarmac-destroying package. 

The Subaru Impreza World Rally eXperimental is the car that arguably changed the game for daily drivers. It was even officially on sale on here in the UK, albeit as the slightly detuned 2000 Turbo AWD model. The manufacturer may have been a name synonymous with farmers and the odd country estate up until then but, with their 208bhp road going rally car (240bhp for the JDM WRX), Subaru suddenly became cool. 

Obviously, there were many notable Gen1 Impreza models that followed. Most featuring four doors and various incarnations of the turbocharged, 2-litre flat four engine that put Subaru on the map. But perhaps the Impreza 22B STI from 1998 is the most iconic Impreza of all time. For many it remains the best car Subaru have ever built.

This widebody 2-door coupe was created to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the brand, came equipped with a 2.2-litre, 276bhp engine and sported a unique shade of blue. With only 16 cars being officially imported, the issue nowadays isn’t just the £200’000+ price tag, it’s finding someone willing to sell.