As I write this, it is January 2, 2001 and the new millennium is finally in the works. The past decade has been rather interesting and I sometimes wonder what the OE car manufacturers were thinking. The '90s were an up and down decade, an up time for SUVs, but a definite era of decline for sports cars. Of course, Honda and Acura kicked butt by cornering the small-car, small-price market, launching the import aftermarket into a frenzy.
Today, we see thousands of manufacturers building or trying to build parts to jump on the Honda-bandwagon. However, the new 2001 Civic is almost a love-it-or-leave-it proposition. The body panels are nice and clean, but the increased headroom and legroom killed the original style, making the vehicle very tall. With the axe given to the hatchback and only the coupe left, we don't see a stellar year for Honda in 2001. Will Honda retain its stronghold on the market?
Mitsubishi has it going on, but as if fame and fortune was not its fort, the company destroyed the Eclipse by building a bulky, non-turbo slug with Ferrari Testarossa wannabe side panels. Although DSM owners are truly diehards, the new platform is almost impossible to make fast-we still see the car selling well, but don't expect seeing a whole lot of third-gen Eclipse at the races.
Also receiving the axe in the Mitsubishi line-up was the 3000GT VR-4 in 1999. Although somewhat overpriced, the twin-turbo 320 hp engine sports car was capable of mid-13 second e.t.s in stock form. We are still hoping for the Lancer, but don't see it coming to our shores any time soon. Nissan, on the other hand, has made wrong turns at every corner.
Nissan had the twin-turbo 300ZX, 240SX as well as the Skyline R34 and Pulsar GTi-R overseas. What more can you ask for? Of course, whoever was head boss decided the United States did not want sports cars and killed the 300ZX and 240SX; additionally seeing no market for the Skyline and Pulsar GTi-R. Now with only the Maxima and Sentra in the line-up, many enthusiasts don't even know Nissan exists. Hopefully, that will change with the re-introduction of the SE-R badge on the 2002-model Sentra and Maxima and the production version of the Z-concept. The 2002 Sentra Spec V is to be propelled by a 2.5-liter engine that generates 180 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque.
Subaru seems to have seen the light; a turbocharged version of the Impreza will wear the mighty WRX badge. The 2002-model year WRX should be available in mid-2001. Unfortunately, it will not be the almighty unit from Japan, but a somewhat downgraded version. A 2.5-liter, 215-hp turbocharged flat-four engine will power the U.S.-spec version. The vehicle will still incorporate all-wheel drive, increasing lateral grip and performance. Can you say ultimate street class racer?
Last on the list is Toyota, which was saved on purpose; it seems to be the only one with a clue. Toyota had a decade of atmospheric highs and pitfall lows for its performance car lines. In the early '90s, it released the newly redesigned second-gen MR2 Turbo, catapulting past any previous small car pocket rockets. Besides the first-gen DSM, there weren't any cars in its price range capable of competing with its handling and performance. However, poor sales, due to an inflated pricetag, caused the axe to fall on the MR2 in 1995. In 1993, a new twin-turbo Supra rolled into the limelight. The 320-hp sequential twin turbo engine blew the doors off the competition. The 2JZ-GTE engine is a work of art capable of producing more than 600 hp without fortifying any engine internals.
Today, we see many Supra owners pushing their vehicles to the limits, pounding the dyno to more than 800 hp. In 1998, the Supra was discontinued stateside, breaking the hearts of many.
At the end of the century however, Toyota made a comeback by releasing the MR2 Spyder and Celica GT-S. The Spyder was developed to battle the budget roadster market (primarily the Miata) and seems to be winning. Only 5,000 of these top-down roadsters were imported in 2000, but we are almost positive that more will reach our shores in years to come, in order to meet the increased demand.
The Celica GT-S on the other hand was developed to battle the front-wheel-drive performance sports car market. The 1.8-liter, 180-hp VVTL-i engine performs better than any other production 1.8-liter engine. Combined with the Toyota's exceptional handling characteristics, the new Celica is going to be hard to beat.
No one could have predicted that the '90s would be a roller coaster ride for the import car manufacturers. Will the ride continue in this decade? Besides Toyota's and Subaru's drive to bring performance back into their vehicles, we don't see any bright light at the end of the tunnel. Who knows? Maybe the other car manufacturers will get their collective butts in gear and surprise us all.