1989-1997 First-generation Mazda Miata
Mazda started its reputation as a sports car maker in North America 10 years earlier with the first RX-7. But it was the 1989 Miata that established the Japanese automaker as a committed maker of cars for driving enthusiasts that continues on today.
Noting the demise of entry-level European sports cars from MG, Triumph, Alfa Romeo and Fiat by the 1990s, the Miata definitely filled a hole in the marketplace. And although it has marginally grown larger and heavier over the years, (now known as the less romantic MX-5) the Mazda two-seater’s popularity has prevented it from going the way of many of the Japanese sports cars on this list.
1990 to 2001 Mitsubishi 3000 GT
Built to rival such 1990 Japanese super sports cars as the Toyota Supra, Mazda RX-7 and Nissan 300ZX, the 3000 GT (sold as the Mitsubishi GTO in its home market) was the Japanese automaker’s first (and last) large, grand touring 2+2 car.
Also sold as a rebadged Dodge Stealth between 1991 and 1996, the Mitsubishi 3000 GT wasn’t as sharp to drive as some of its rivals. But it did showcase Mitsubishi’s engineering prowess, including full-time four-wheel-drive, four-wheel steering, electronically controlled suspension, active aerodynamics featuring automatically adjusting front and rear spoilers and sport/tour exhaust modes.
1990 to 1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX
Mitsubishi’s last Eclipse coupe — last seen in 2011 — is a fatter, less driver-oriented version of the 1990s original. But the original Eclipse (also sold as the Eagle Talon and Plymouth Laser, could be had as a focused, all-wheel-drive sports car with up to 210 horsepower.
Unfortunately, the Talon was discontinued in 1998, and the Eclipse eventually lost its AWD and high-strung turbo versions.
1990 to 1996 Nissan 300ZX
By the time the third-generation Nissan Zed car arrived in 1984, it had become a cartoon character of the 1969 original. Bigger, fatter, and oddly styled from the folded-paper school of design, Nissan knew it had to reset the next Z due in 1990 — and boy, did it ever succeed.
While the 1990 Nissan 300ZX retained the V6 from its lame predecessor; everything else was new. The most heralded model was the 300ZX Turbo, with its 300 hp engine that could hurl the Nissan sports car to 100 kilometres per hour in the 5.5-second range, and top out at a governed 250 km/h.
1993 to 2002 Toyota Supra Turbo
The Supra started out in 1976 as a rival to the likes of American personal luxury coupes like the Buick Regal and Oldsmobile Cutlass, essentially a Celica with a stretched nose and an inline six. But by 1993, the fourth (and what might be the final) generation of Toyota’s top-line sports car ended up as a world-class performance machine.
With 320 horsepower from its twin-turbocharged six, the Supra Turbo trumped its 300ZX rival by about a half-second in zero-to-100 km/h runs. But like the Nissan, Japan’s failing economy made the Toyota too expensive to sell. Although production continued in its home market until 2002, sales in Canada ended in 1997.