Today let’s search for totally rad and totally forgotten cars from the 80s and 90s that I want to buy! In this video we look at the completely forgotten Mitsubishi Cordia Turbo, the ridiculously cute Suzuki X-90, the fun but failed Merkur XR4ti, and the outlandish Isuzu VehiCROSS. Can we find any of these to purchase, or are they all lost to history? Let’s find out!
4 Forgotten 1980s / 1990s Cars. Where Have They Gone?
Mitsubishi Cordia Turbo
Remember the Mitsubishi Cordia Turbo? This boxy and slightly odd thing screams of early 80s styling, and I love the way it looks. The Cordia is the lesser known smaller sibling to the far more expensive Starion, and was sold at a time when Mitsubishi was little known in the states.
But as you might have guessed, in the US, just about no-one bought these. They sold just under 48k Cordias during the model years 83-88 in the States. Apparently they sold better in Europe and Australia—a few Cordias were even used as police pursuit cars in Australia.
Depending on the market, a number of different engines were used in the base Cordia. And the Cordia L and LS could be had with a strange 8-speed super shift dual mode manual gearbox. But the Turbo is the one that I’m interested in.
The early 80s was a hotbed of turbocharged motors. It seems like just about every manufacturer was getting in on the forced induction trend, to boost horsepower and performance from small engines. And Mitsubishi fully embraced this trend and added turbos across their lineup of cars and trucks.
In the US, the Cordia Turbo had a 1.8L turbocharged single overhead cam 4 cylinder motor, making 116hp. Back in the day, Road and Track said it was “their favorite, affordable sports coupe turbo engine.” The car was lightweight, and 0-60 was just about 9 seconds, not too bad for the era. It had independent suspension front and rear, so handling wasn’t too bad.
Can we find one for sale? I grew up in the 90s and don’t ever remember seeing one of these on the road. They must have quickly disappeared from American streets by the 90s.
It’s time for something adorable! And fun! And weird. It’s time for the Suzuki X90. What is this ridiculous vehicle? The X90 is a two door, two passenger, open roof mini-SUV. But even that isn’t a complete description. This thing, even today, defies categorization. It’s like they mated a Honda del Sol with a Suzuki Sidekick.
Designed and created in the heyday of the X games, the whole purpose of the car seems to be an attempt to appeal to Gen X buyers—heck even X is in the name of the car. Gen Xers want to be different right? So Suzuki went all in. Is it an SUV? Is it a sports car? Is it a lifted coupe? It’s all of them! The 90s are ever present on the interior, with the anything but subtle teal and purple splash designed fabric. Even Red Bull used this as the basis for some of their rolling advertisements.
The X90 had good ground clearance, and was available in 4 or 2 wheel drive. The 4×4 version was actually decently capable off road. The 1.6 liter 4 cylinder made just 95hp, but it wasn’t terribly slow, 0-60 was just over 10 seconds.
But unsurprisingly, the X90 sold very poorly. It was a car that was impossible to categorize. And humans tend to dislike things they can’t easily slap a label on. But also, it was probably an example of a car that was trying to be too many things at once. And perhaps it was just a bit too expensive. Compared to the similarly priced RAV4 and CRV that offered more utility, the X90 wasn’t able to make a decent value proposition.
Jeremy Clarkson said “There are almost no occasions where the X90 is suitable.” That might actually be true. But this is truly a car for people that didn’t care about what was suitable. They wanted something radically different, they maybe didn’t care that it didn’t fit traditional categorization. But that meant only a handful were sold, and it only lasted in the states from 1995 to 1997.
Some thought this would actually be a popular segment. Even Car and Driver thought it would be the Next Big Thing. But it proved to be far too wacky for the buying public. But I give Suzuki a lot of credit for trying something different. I would love to see if any of these strange little SUVs are still available.
Next up is a car from a dead brand. A brand that only lasted from 1985-1989. That brand is Merkur. And the car is the XR4Ti.
Back in the early 80s, Ford executives saw the growing trend of Yuppies buying BMWs, and wanted a piece of that market. In the States, Ford didn’t have the vehicle to compete, so they looked to their European portfolio. They chose the Euro market Ford Sierra XR4i as the vehicle to import the US. But company executives didn’t think the Ford, Mercury or Lincoln brands had the cache to compete with BMW. They chose to create an entirely new brand to break into this market—Merkur, german for Mercury.
The styling is mid 80s cool, with body cladding, bi-plane spoiler, and slightly strange recessed headlights.
The european Sierra had a 2.8L V6, but for the US market we got a 2.3L turbo 4 also found in the turbo Mustangs and Thunderbirds. 5 speed manual cars got 170hp, auto cars got 140hp. 0-60 was about 8 seconds for both cars, very good for the era. With rear wheel drive and independent suspension both front and rear, handling and ride were decent for the era.
Early reviews were positive. The XR4Ti received Car and Driver’s 10 best award in 1985, though they later said it was an embarrassing choice. Even though the car suffered from some early reliability problems, I don’t think Car and Driver needed to backtrack as far as they did. Sure, the XR4Ti didn’t quite have the refinement to compete with the BMWs of the day, but it was a decently fun car with decent handling.
I think Ford expected Yuppies to flock to a German sounding brand name and lap it up. But they didn’t. Sales never met Ford’s expectations.
Not only was the name Merkur weird, and oddly similar to Mercury, it didn’t mean anything to buyers. BMW and Mercedes brand names had history and deep-rooted identities, Merkur had none of that.
Even back in the day, I wondered why the heck Ford didn’t just call this XR4Ti a Ford. Instead they went through the trouble of trying to invent a new brand identity, having to educate any potential buyer what the heck this new brand was supposed to stand for. I will always wonder if it was just called the Ford XR4Ti if it would’ve sold better.
And pricing certainly was an issue—Lincoln Mercury dealers may not have been too excited about selling Merkurs since the margins were much thinner than their other offerings.
The XR4Ti was a decently fun car that was appreciated by some, and today has its share of fans, including myself. The XR4Ti was mostly forgotten not because it wasn’t quite as good as a BMW, but because it suffered from a series of branding, marketing, and pricing missteps. At least that’s my opinion.
Let’s now shift to a mostly forgotten SUV, but one that I would consider completely underrated. I’m talking about the Isuzu VehiCROSS. The VehiCROSS was Isuzu’s design vision of the future. And this athletic, funky 2 door SUV looks relatively modern today.
Back in the 90s, the SUV market was growing rapidly, however they were mostly all boxes on wheels. Isuzu aimed to change that and stunned the automotive industry with the futuristic VehiCROSS concept in 1993. Unlike many concept cars, not much changed from concept to production.
Ok, yes the name VehiCROSS is kind of dumb, and especially the VehiCROSS logo which is decidedly stuck in the 90s. But aside from the name, this is one fantastic, well executed car. It’s a highly capable off-roader with fun to drive on road characteristics. At the time of production it had some of the most sophisticated shocks available—made with aerospace grade aluminum. Isuzu’s torque on demand full time AWD system received high praise.
Performance was decent for the era. The 3.5L 24 valve V6 made 215 horsepower, with 0-60 in the 9 second range. No manual trans in this one, automatic only.
The styling certainly didn’t appeal to everyone, but the great thing about being a limited run vehicle is that it didn’t have to. I like it, but I’ve always called it the shoe car. It literally looks like a running shoe to me. Isuzu even called it “the sport ute equivalent of a cross trainer shoe.” There is a ton of body cladding, typical for the era, but it doesn’t look bad here.
Interestingly, Isuzu planned for this unique SUV to be a limited run vehicle from the start—probably because they knew not many people would buy something this weird. Isuzu employed innovative development and manufacturing techniques to shorten the development cycle. They had created a whole new system to build limited run niche cars.
They also cut a few corners—they went with off the shelf Isuzu Rodeo interior, which didn’t quite match the weird exterior but shortened the time to market.
Sold in the US between 1999 and 2001, only 4153 were imported to the US and just under 6k total built.
At the time there really was no other vehicle like it. And even today there is really no other vehicle like it. Ultimately it was an experiment that paid off in some ways, and didn’t in others. They sold all of the cars they intended to build, but you’ll notice that Isuzu never made another limited production car for the US, and left the US market entirely in 2009.
Which One Would You Buy?
Would you ever consider buying one of these forgotten cars? Which one do you think I should put on my wish list? I’m kinda thinking Suzuki X90. Are there any cars you’d like to see me feature in future videos? Let me know in the comments below.