As any true car aficionado knows, in spite of the amazing technological innovations in the latest crop of cars, there’s always a bit of nostalgia for certain vehicles from the past — even the recent past. In particular, 1997 was a banner year for the automotive industry, with the introduction of soon-to-be-popular favorites such as the Dodge Durango, the Toyota Prius, the Lincoln Navigator and the Mercedes A-class. Likewise, classics such as the Toyota Camry and the Audi A4 also got tweaked with more-powerful engines and spacious design makeovers.
Here’s a look at some of the best cars of 20 years ago, and why they continue to be so memorable.
Toyota Camry V-6
1997 brought a redesign to this customer favorite that included a 3.0-liter V-6 engine and a four-speed automatic transmission. Another innovation was its fuel economy, with an EPA of 19-20 mpg in the city. By comparison, today’s Camry boasts 24 mpg in the city and 33 on the highway. Of course, size makes a difference in fuel economy, and the 1997 Camry had the elongated, sleek contours reminiscent of a mid-size ’70s sedan, with those elegant long hoods one rarely sees anymore.
The 1997 BMW 5-series looked exactly like what it was: the ultimate luxury sedan. There was nothing boxy about this model, with its long, sloping front end and gently contoured roof — and automotive mavens loved its six- and eight-cylinder engine models, both of which also came with manual transmission.
The 1997 Mercedes SLK epitomizes the reason why Mercedes-Benz cars always hold their value. With its enticing, sporty design (showcased at its best with the top down) and its famed silky smooth ride, this tiny two-seater ran away from the competition that year with its supercharged, intercooled 16-valve engine. For all its small size, this beauty still retained the longer lines of late-90’s models, making it a classic favorite among Mercedes-Benz fans.
Land Rover Freelander 1
During the 1990s, the true chic of owning a Land Rover was in its heyday, and the 1997 Land Rover Freelander 1 was designed as a more-practical, streamlined option for urban users. This model was available as a three-door removable hardback, a three-door foldable softback or a five-door station wagon. Users were also given the option of manual or automatic transmission. This flexible model attracted a new generation of Land Rover owners who discovered that you didn’t have to live in the wilderness to enjoy this elegant rough rider. Discontinued in 2006, the Freelander 1 has been designated by Land Rover as a “heritage” vehicle, which means that the company will still manufacture parts so that collectors can continue to drive the original version of this classic model.
The cars of 2017 are worlds apart from their counterparts 20 years ago. Today’s cars have semi-autonomous (self-driving) steering, GPS navigation, wireless connectivity and smart dashboards that not only connect to every media venue available but can even converse with you about upcoming road and weather conditions. The latest cars to come off the assembly line even have augmented reality technology that can superimpose directional arrows on your windshield, as well as artificial intelligence that can alert you if you’re losing concentration.
With so many rapid technological advancements, even recent-model used cars seem to be from a different planet compared to the cars of 20 years ago. Nevertheless, these classic cars from 1997 still have legions of fans who fondly remember those sleek long hoods, contoured roofs and manual transmission engines.