Revisiting the rad interiors from the end of last century.
The 1990s were a fantastic time to be alive. Dance music grew through the rave scenes, grunge ruled the airwaves alongside The Spice Girls, rap grew into a legitimate musical genre, jeans were baggy and comfortable, and Facebook hadn't been invented yet. Better still, horsepower was back in cars as automakers learned how to deal with environmental legislation and technology brought a whole new level of handling and grip to cars.
When it came to interiors, wind-up windows were still a thing, so were ashtrays and a cigarette lighter, but side-airbags weren't and we all had to turn a key in the ignition to start the car still. We could also see out all the windows clearly because pillars were still thin, a leather interior meant all leather, and heated seats were a real luxury feature. Whether you look back at cars from the 1990s with reverence, nostalgia, or complete bafflement over styling, these were the best interiors of the decade.
Like the Ferrari F40, the McLaren F1 was the height of automotive performance. Unlike the F40, though, the McLaren F1 could seat three people, including a tall driver that sat in the middle. The driver had something close to ergonomic perfection laid out around them, and even the center carbon-fiber seat was comfortable despite being so thin. Topping off the cabin for the driver were adjustable pedals to help get the perfect driving position. The F1 even had a surprisingly large amount of baggage space, although it would be warmed up on a long drive due to heat soak from the engine.
The iconic fourth-generation Toyota Supra was mainly known for its legendary 2JZ-GTE engine. Tales of 1,000 horsepower Supras will live on, but we already forget just how good the rest of the car was. It was a more than competent sports car on the road and track - and it had a great interior. What Toyota and BMW forgot about when building the new Supra is how cockpit like the Mk IV Supra's interior was. It featured a dashboard area that curved around to become the center console and put the manual gearshift in precisely the right place. When we look at the interior of the new Supra, it lacks the style and hunkered-down feeling of its predecessor.
Early Golf GTI models set the bar for great interiors, despite being mainly functional. Of course, there's the golf ball gear knob, but the seat patterns on the 1992 GTI were sharp, and all the materials inside were first-rate for the time. Getting in a moderately well kept Mk2 GTI now will still feels like it was bolted together last week, and rattles were not a common complaint inside any Golf of the 1990s. It's the detail Volkswagen put in that gets it onto the list, with everything within easy reach of the driver and perfectly laid out controls and easy to glance at gauges.
When Lexus dropped the LS 400 on the market, it changed the luxury sedan market for good. It showed Japanese cars could be as good, if not better, than the German marques that dominated at the time. Lexus poured an insane amount of money into developing the LS 400, including an all-new 4.0-liter V8 making 250 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. It developed a reputation for clockwork-like reliability, but the crowning glory was an interior. It doesn't look anything special now, but the materials were top-notch and incredibly refined. The Lexus LS 400 also introduced the world to the power tilt and telescopic steering column with a position memory feature and power-adjustable shoulder belt anchor points.
The interior of the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR was as close to a racecar cockpit you could get in the 1990s, and that's because it was built to homologate the FIA GT Championship race cars. Unlike a race car, though, it was upholstered in leather to go with lashings of Alcantara as well as air conditioning, should you option it. There might have been more stylish car interiors in the 1990s, but this was like sitting in a comfortable race car - until you drove it down the road on its race car suspension, of course.
The first generation S-Class set the standard for luxury in 1972, and with each new generation, the interior has taken a big leap forward. On top of all the late 20th-century mod-cons, the W140 generation also got double-pane window glazing, self-closing boot lid and doors, electric windows with a jam-protection feature, and a heating system that kept warm air flowing while residual energy was available after the engine was switched off. It could even provide hot air to your feet and conditioned air to your upper body. Everything about the W140 was over-engineered, including the leather and the incredibly comfortable seating. Just thinking about the 1990s S-Class again is making us want to buy a used one to swan around in now.
The Mark III superseded the Rolls Royce Silver Spur II in 1993, but we love this because of just how inexpensive they are to buy now. Of course, you'll need to be able to afford the servicing, but in return, you get one of the most luxurious sub-$10,000 cars around. Highlights include thick leather seats, burl wood on the door panels, dashboard, and center console, and fold-down burl trimmed trays in the back. Amazingly, the model shown in the pictures is from 1990 and has TV screens mounted in the back of the headrests from the factory.
In 1997, the Japanese market only Toyota Century entered its second generation. It was the final word in handcrafted luxury until the third generation appeared in 2018. The interior, including the seats, is lined with wool rather than leather as it's resistant to water, heat, and doesn't squeak when someone moves. Every decision made in the design process was about achieving a quiet and comfortable interior. The back seat is where you want to be, although the driver gets to interact with the hand-made dashboard and experience a sensation akin to floating. In the back, though, you get reclining chairs that feel more like they should be in a living room than the back of a car.
If you wanted a grand touring coupe in the 1990s, chances are you overlooked the glorious BMW 850ci. In the ultra-rare CSi trim, comparisons were made to driving a Formula 1 car due to its performance and dynamics. While not technically an M car, the BMW 850CSi had a V12 engine that was bored and stroked by the BMW M department to make 372 hp and 402 lb-ft of torque.
The interior of BMW 850CSi captured everything about the 1990s luxury car in one place. The seats are covered in thick gathered Nappa leather, and the dashboard is trimmed in yew hardwood. For electronics, there's all the driver aids BMW could muster at the time and a cassette stereo with a multi-disk CD changer in the trunk. There's also a button for everything, and they're all angled towards the driver.