Dodge Caravan, Plymouth Voyageur (1984)
Introduced in 1983 as an ’84, these vehicles were not only marvels in packaging efficiency, but they invented a segment known as the minivan. Before these were introduced you had only 2 choices if you needed seating for 7; get a wagon and install a rearward facing third row or buy a large van more suited to commercial duty. The minivan had seating for seven (optional, mind you), a fuel-efficient 4-cylinder engine, and could fit in the average garage. It was a success. Chrysler later went on to offer an extended wheelbase version and offered a more powerful, Mitsubishi derived V6. Today, the Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town and Country (the Plymouth Voyageur was dropped a few years ago) still account for over 1/3 of all minivan sales.
Mercedes Benz 300E (1986)
This vehicle, known internally as the W124, was a breakthrough in design and engineering. With a rigid structure, this was one of the most structurally stiff vehicles on the market, giving it class leading performance, comfort and safety. 20 years since its introduction, they are still running all over the world. The inline 6-cylinder power plant was smooth, refined, and powerful for its day. It’s not uncommon for these vehicles to run for 300,000 miles with no major mechanical problems. Looking at one today, they still manage to look modern.
Ford Taurus (1986)
The birth of a legend. Ford took a big gamble assigning a sleek, aerodynamic vehicle to its family sedan line-up. The public tired of the boring, boxy, sedans on the market and enthusiastically welcomed the Taurus to the market. Two engines were available, a 2.5L 92hp inline 4, and a 3.0L 140hp V6. Though far less than a contemporary family sedan, the Taurus had bold styling that made a statement. The Taurus became the best selling family sedan throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s only to fail as Ford lost their confidence and started building sedans that only satisfied local focus groups.
Mazda Miata (1989)
Few vehicles can lay claim to dominating a segment for so long. After being on the market for over 16 years, only now does the Miata have a competitor (the 2006 Pontiac Solstice). Back in ’89, Mazda took a gamble and introduced a small, 2 seater with great handling at a time when the world largest automaker was reeling after the dismal performance of their little 2 seater, the Pontiac Fiero. The Miata offered a rev happy four cylinder and impeccable reliability (both absent in the Fiero) at a reasonable price. Immediately, dealers were asking thousands more than the sticker price. They had to put customers on waiting lists. Today, it has more room, more power and even better handling. Now that’s progress
Ford Explorer (1991)
No, Ford did not invent the SUV segment. Let’s not forget the Jeep Cherokee had been around since the mid 80’s. The 1991 Explorer was replacing the 2 door Bronco II. The Ford Explorer took the ideas and lessons from the Bronco II and ran with them to become the best selling SUV of all time. Built on the same chassis as the Ford Ranger, it was cheap to produce and offered a unique combination of luxury and ruggedness. With its 4.0L V6, the Explorer was no barnburner but it held its own. Today the Explorer is living in the shadow of the infamous tire controversy with Firestone, and facing increasing competition. As sales continue to decline, ford will surely “re-invent” the Explorer to take back the segment it once dominated.
Other great vehicles from this time period include the Honda Accord, Lexus LS400 and Jeep Grand Cherokee.