The 1980s may have been the decade of the hot hatch.
But the 1990s was the period in which the coupé mounted a comeback. There was a coupé for everyone, from small but perfectly formed runabouts to large and sophisticated grand tourers. Some have aged better than others, but all of our choices are guaranteed to stand out in a car park full of crossovers:
Volvo C70 – from £1000
Unveiled at the 1996 Paris motor show, the Volvo C70 was developed in just 30months. “We threw away the box but kept the toy inside,” said head of design Peter Horbury about the new design language. Development was carried out by Volvo and Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR).
Though undeniably beautiful and great to drive, the coupé version was far less successful than the convertible. Of the 70,031 coupé and convertibles built, just 24,395 were tin-tops. They’re generally robust and should have a history of careful ownership. The 240bhp 2.3-litre five-cylinder T5 is the pick of the bunch – if you can find one.
Volkswagen Corrado – from £1000
People have been labelling the VW Corrado ‘the nextbigthing’ since production stopped in 1995. For various reasons, the Corrado has always lived in the shadow of performance versions of the Golf, but there are signs that values are heading up. Our price gets you on the ladder – you’ll need to spend significantly more to get a good one.
In February 2021, a one-owner VW Corrado VR6 Storm sold for a record £22,750 at auction, breaking the previous record of £20,800. The G60 (pictured) and VR6 versions command the highest prices, but don’t rule out the 16-valve model. It’s arguably the best handling of the bunch, plus you get the same chiselled looks for a smaller price.
Saab 900 – from £1000
You could argue, like so many did at the time, that the three-door Saab 900 was little more than a less practical hatchback. Saab purists look away now, because in a 1999 used car guide, we said the “use of the GMpartsbin is hardly detectable, and as you would expect in a country where a winter breakdown can be fatal, the 900 is one of the best built cars you can buy.”
It’s not great to drive – you can blame the Vauxhall Cavalier underpinnings – but the turbocharged and 2.5-litre V6 versions offer brisk performance. Air-con was standard on all models built from November 1997, but parts and servicing can be expensive. On the plus side, the 900 is supported by an enduring network of specialists and forums.
Alfa Romeo GTV – from £1000
Is this the most stylish coupé of the 1990s? Unveiled alongside the Spider at the 1995 Paris motor show, the GTV was good enough to be named Best Sports Car and Car of the Year by this magazine. It’s amazing to think that it was based on the platform used for a range of more mundane Fiat Group models.
The GTV was offered initially with a 2.0-litre 16-valve Twin Spark engine, and these cars offer the sweetest handling. Predictably, the V6 versions command the highest prices, but buy on condition and history.
Mazda MX-6 – from £500
If the How Many Left? website is to be believed, there are fewer than 220 Mazda MX-6s currently taxed and tested in the UK. Sales were slow; the MX-6 was overshadowed by the more famous platform-sharing Ford Probe. Thirty years on from its launch, we’d say the second-gen MX-6 has aged better than the Probe.
It’s front-wheel drive, so don’t expect it to drive like an MX-5, but the 2.5-litre V6 delivers excellent performance. Your biggest challenge will be finding one; when did you last see an MX-6 on the road?
Maserati 3200 GT – from £10,000
Unveiled at the 1998 Paris motor show, the 3200 GT was the first Maserati to be built under the stewardship of Ferrari. Giorgetto Giugiaro’s design included the controversial ‘boomerang’ rear lights – the first time LEDs had been fitted to a production car.
Granted, the 3200 GT didn’t arrive in the UK until 2000, but as production ceased in 2002, it’s as much a coupé of the 1990s as it is of the ‘00s. The twin-turbocharged 3.2-litre V8 isn’t for the faint-hearted – it’s not an easy car to drive and the bills can be alarming – but this feels like a supercar for supermini money.
Ford Puma – from £500
On the right road, a Ford Puma would be every bit as thrilling to drive as a Maserati – arguably even more so. Other small coupés were rendered obsolete by the Puma; Ford proved that you could mix stylewithsubstance. Few front-wheel drive cars are as good to drive as the pert Puma.
At its best with the 1.7-litre engine, the Puma was also offered with 1.6-litre and insurance-friendly 1.4-litre units. The Ford Racing Puma is a bona fide modern classic and values reflect this, but the standard car offers 90 percent of the fun for a fraction of the price. Rust is the biggest issue; check the rear arches first.
Toyota Celica – from £500
The Mk6 Toyota Celica appears to have it all. A terrific blend of style and reliability, genuine WRCpedigree and the option of front- and four-wheel drive. It’s also cheap, unless you opt for the rally-bred GT-Four. Even then, the Celica is more affordable than other homologation heroes of the period.
The 2.0-litre 3S-GE engine is more durable than the 1.8-litre 7A-FE unit, but both deliver strong performance. Regular oil changes are essential, so study the service history, while corrosion is a huge problem. Values have been low for a while, so problem areas were often left untreated by owners running a Celica on a budget.
Fiat Coupe – from £1000
Like a fair few of Chris Bangle’s other creations, the Fiat Coupé is ageing like a fine wine. Amid reports of unreliability, the sister car to the Alfa Romeo GTV suffered terrible depreciation, which meant too many examples were lost to the scrappagescheme of 2009.
It’s still possible to buy a non-turbocharged Fiat Coupé for £1000, but a good example will cost you around £5000. The 20V Turbo is the one you want, so it’s fortunate that this accounts for the majority of surviving Fiat Coupés.
Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe – from £5000
Of all the cars on our list of classy coupés, the C124 E-Class Coupé is arguably the easiest to justify. The Bruno Sacco styling looks as good today as it did at its unveiling at the 1987 Geneva motor show. Few coupés feel as well engineered as the C124; Mercedes went to great lengths to create the best car in its class.
Launched in 230CE and 300CE form, other versions followed, including the fabulous 3.6-litre E36 AMG.
Ford Cougar – from £2000
The Ka, Puma and Focus are three prime examples of Ford hitting home runs in the 1990s. The story of the American-built Cougar is a little different, with the three-door coupé unable to mirror the success of its ‘New Edge’ siblings. There are many reasons for this, but the Cougar is all but forgotten in the UK.
Introduced to the UK in October 1998, the Cougar endured just a few years on sale before production stopped in 2001; just 12,000 had been sold. Today, the number still alive on our roads has dropped to around 800. The platform-sharing Ford Mondeo is nicer to drive, but a Cougar will turn more heads. Opt for the 2.5-litre V6 for the best grand touring credentials.
Jaguar XK8 – from £2000
Much has been made of the 60th anniversary of the Jaguar E-Type, but it’s worth remembering that it’s 25 years since Jaguar unveiled the XK8. Using the underpinnings of the XJS but using an all-new V8 engine, the XK8 was as beautiful as it was fast; even more so in supercharged XKR form.
There are many reasons to avoid the XK8 – a rotten subframe, worn suspension and worn bores on early models, to name but three – but set aside some extra cash when buying one and you’ll enjoy a classic Jag for significantly less than the cost of its more illustrious forebear.
Peugeot 406 Coupé – from £500
“It’s definitely a masterpiece,” Paolo Pininfarina told us at the 2015 Geneva motor show. “I’d consider it at the level of a Fiat 124 Spider. Almost timeless.” We were questioning the boss of the Italian styling house on whether or not the Peugeot 406 Coupé was a rejected Ferrari. It wasn’t, he told us.
It doesn’t need its questionable link to Ferrari to stand out. You’d struggle to find a more beautiful car at this end of the market. Buy a four-cylinder petrol or 2.2-litre diesel for relaxed cruising or the 3.0-litre V6 for some added poke. Prices can’t stay this low forever, can they?
BMW 3 Series Coupe – from £2000
Your biggest challenge when searching for a BMW E36 Coupé will be finding one that hasn’t been ‘tastefully modified’. They do exist, but it can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. Be patient; stumbling across an unmodified E36 Coupé in great condition will serve as a reminder of how well the E36 is ageing.
The other problem is that the E36 went through a prolonged banger period, so tired, neglected and rusty examples dominate the darkest depths of the classifieds. The four- and six-cylinder engines are durable, but regularmaintenanceisessential. Just watch for Nikasil issues on the early M52 units.
Rover 200 Coupe – from £500
In 220 Turbo guise, the Rover 200 Coupé, later renamed Rover Coupé – was the fastest-ever production Rover. Its 2.0-litre twin-cam engine developed 200bhp, which was enough to propel the ‘Tomcat’ to 60mph in 6.3 seconds, before hitting a top speed of 149mph. That’s quicker than the Rover 3500 Vitesse.
It’s a shame, then, that there are just69 of these turbocharged machines left on the road. Even the non-turbocharged versions are in short supply, so finding one will be tough. Find one without rust or modifications and you can enjoy one of the most underrated coupés of the 1990s.
Honda Prelude – from £1000
Honda is the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ of the car industry. On the one hand, you the NSX, Civic Type R, S2000 and Honda’s F1 heritage. On the other hand, you have an association with the Jazz and drivers of a certain age. This mixed messaging means that the Prelude is one of the forgotten coupés of the 1990s.
The Mk4 of 1991 to 1996 ditched the pop-up headlights and sharp-edged lines, with the Prelude adopting a curvier, more rounded shape. On paper, it looks more expensive than its European rivals, but the Prelude had the equipmentandengineering we’d come to expect from Japan. If you can’t find a Mk4, hunt down a Mk5 – the last Prelude ever made.
Audi TT – from £2000
Most people associate the Audi TT with the new millennium, but it actually went on sale in Europe in 1998, albeit only briefly. Production was halted when several high-speed crashes led to the fitment of a rear spoiler and standard stability control. Examples from the 1990s are hard to find, but they are out there.
Although the VW Golf platform and engines were utterly conventional, the styling was anything but. Even today, some two decades on, the Mk1 TT still turns heads; just imagine what it must have looked like in the era of millennium bugs and unwanted domes. It’s aluminium, so rust isn’t an issue, but body repairs are in contrast expensive.
Mercedes-Benz CL – from £5000
The C140 Mercedes-Benz CL, formerly known as the SEC, was the coupé version of the S-Class saloon. As such, it was one of the most opulent, extravagantandexpensive coupés you could buy, with depreciation to match its eye-watering price. Initially, two versions were offered: the 500 SEC with a V8 engine and the 600 SEC V12.
The CL name arrived in 1996, with Mercedes positioning it as the flagship of its coupé range. It was discontinued in 1998, with the new model (C125) serving only to accelerate the rate of depreciation. If you’re buying one, set aside the same price again for running costs. Running a flagship on a dinghy budget isn’t recommended.
BMW 8 Series – from £10,000
You could spend around £75,000 on a new entry-level BMW 8 Series Coupé and watch it depreciate hideously. Why would you when you can buy an original E31 8 Series for as little as £10,000? Admittedly, that’s not enough for the 850CSi and its glorious V12 engine, but the 840Ci is no slouch.
If there’s one thing that was slow, it was the sales of the original 8 Series. At its launch in 1989, an 850i cost over £77,000 – that’s the equivalent of nearly £190,000 in today’s money. Don’t rule out the V8 versions, because they’re cheaper to run and any problems should have been ironed out by now.
Volvo 480 – from £500
The 480 represented a radical departure for Volvo. After more than 50 years of sending power to the rear wheels, Volvo went front-wheel drive with the 480. Since 1998, all Volvo cars have been front- or four-wheel drive. It was also the first (and only) production Volvo to feature pop-up headlights.
It was the coolest Volvo since the 1800, and after years in the doldrums, there are signs that the 480 is finally being accepted as a certified classic. The turbochargedversions are the most desirable, while ABS brakes, side impact beams and a driver’s airbag became standard in 1993. Yes, the 480 arrived in 1986, but production continued until 1995.
Vauxhall Calibra – from £1000
Cavalier in a posh frock or one of the most stylish cars of the 1990s? Either way, the Vauxhall Calibra spent years languishing at the bottom end of the market, but renewed interest in the coupé should save it from oblivion. It might not be as good to drive as a VW Corrado or Toyota Celica, but it’s arguably better looking.
It was also the most aerodynamic car on sale, with the base model boasting a drag coefficient of 0.26. A number of engines were offered, including a 16-valve ‘Red Top’, 2.5-litre V6 and Calibra Turbo. Early cars suffered from rust, but the galvanised body from 1995 improved matters.
Nissan 200SX – from £3000
Criticised when new for being a little bland, the Nissan 200SX (S14) soon caught the eye of the driftingcommunity. Finding an unmodified example is tough, but if you do, you’ll be rewarded with a coupé that’s as good to drive as a contemporary BMW 3 Series. If you don’t like the styling, opt for the earlier S13 model, complete with pop-up headlights.
The engines are strong and respond well to upgrades, but steer clear of units that have been pushed to the limit. Also look out for rust and signs of damage – these are expensive cars to repair.
Audi Coupe – from £1000
The Audi Coupé is on the crossroads between old and new. Based on the B3 generation Audi 80, it waved goodbye to the straight-edged Audi models of old, and hello to a new softer, more aerodynamic future. This was also the final Audi coupé before the launch of the TT.
It arrived in 1988 and remained in production until 1996, spawning the charismatic and thrillingS2version. Thanks to a glorious 2.2-litre five-cylinder engine, the S2 could hit speeds approaching 150mph. Prices of standard Audi Coupé versions are affordable, but parts can be expensive.
Rover 800 Coupé – from £3000
The Rover 800 Coupé was revealed at the 1991 London motor show, before going on sale in 1992. Power was sourced from a 2.7-litre V6 Honda engine mated to an automatic gearbox, with Rover furnishing the big coupé with every conceivable extra. A price of £30,000 is the equivalent of £65,000 in 2021. Designed primarily with the US market in mind, it never made it over there.
The cost was justified by the bespoke nature of the 800 Coupé, and sales were strong enough for the car to remain in production until 1998. By then, other engines had been added to the range. A futureclassic in waiting. Buy one while you still can, since it seems less than 20 are still alive today.
Mazda MX-3 – from £2000
It speaks volumes about the popularity of coupés in the 1990s that we could have doubledthelength of this slideshow. The Ford Probe, Hyundai Coupé, Vauxhall Tigra, Honda Legend Coupé, Toyota Paseo, Honda Accord Coupé… the list goes on.
We’re concluding the list with the Mazda MX-3, a car famous for its 1.8-litre V6 engine. Cooler than a Tigra and almost as good to drive as a Puma, the MX-3 is a classic in waiting. A 1.6-litre version is also available, but the V6 is the one you want.