A Guide to 1996 Cars

From luxury sedans to stunning hatchbacks, the best cars from 1996 include models from Audi, Volkswagen, and Mazda.
Written by Rob Shapiro
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
The best car in 1996 might have been the Audi A4 but not far behind were the BMW M3, Volkswagen Golf GTI, and the Mazda RX-7. 
The mid-90s was something of a turning point for the automobile industry. Technologies were advancing and being married to new styles that were breaking away from the classic designs of the 1970s and 1980s. 
Cars offer us an enjoyable dose of nostalgia. If you’re ready to stroll down memory lane, let us transport you back to 1996 and remind you of some of the best cars from that time. From newly designed luxury sedans to sports cars that have stood the test of time, here are some of the best cars of the mid-90s.
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The best cars of 1996

The automotive standouts from 1996 cover a lot of ground and many can still be found on the road today. Here are six that are worth remembering. 

The best car of 1996: Audi A4

Fair market range: Under $1,000
Powertrain: 2.8L V6 SOHC 12 valves. Transmission. 5-speed manual. Transmission (Option)
What makes it special: 
A sleeker body made the 1996
Audi A4
something to behold. It was available as both a four-door sedan and a five-door “Avant” wagon-style vehicle and combined a noteworthy exterior with a luxury cabin that is best described as a marriage between practicality and style.
Audi has a reputation for comfort and the ‘96 A4 was no exception. It handled well, rode smoothly, and featured an engine that delivers exceptional performance.  
Sure, there were faster cars available in 1996, but the A4 offered the best mix of drivability, style, and features. For speed demons, trim levels like the S4 and R4 upgraded the car’s speed and torque. Overall, it’s a fun ride to take for quiet drives while also being reliable enough for your daily commute.

The best hatchback of 1996: Volkswagen Golf GTI

Fair market range: Under $1,000
Powertrain: 2.0L L4 SOHC 8 valves
What makes it special: 
Volkswagen Golf GTI
is an interesting one. It was eye-catching in a different sort of way as its box-like body stood out among the more aerodynamic cars of the ‘90s. Now, the 1996 Golf is a bar that current hatchbacks are still trying to reach.
There are three reasons why this car is still seen as one of the best from 1996: speed, practicality, and reliability. While some were faster and others offered more luxurious details, the ‘96 Golf GTI featured just enough of these three things to cement its place in a lot of best cars of 1996 lists (including this one!).
For a small coupe, the GTI has impressive handling and could corner with the best of its class back in the day. It’s not a sports car or a race car—and that’s kind of what makes it special. It checked a lot of boxes for a lot of different drivers.

The best luxury car of 1996: BMW M3

Fair market range: $2,600-$5,665
Powertrain: S58 twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six
What makes it special: 
It’s been over 25 years since this
hit the market and it’s still considered one of the true standards among luxury cars. With 321 horsepower and either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, the ‘96 BMW M3 was in a class all of its own. 
The M3 has been regaining popularity in recent years, partially due to the awesomeness of the ‘96 model. Ultimately, it was this vehicle’s handling that made it so impressive. Its engine and steering capabilities made every drive calm and quiet. 

The best luxury SUV of 1996: Acura SLX

Fair market range: $2,875 to $5,135
Powertrain: 3.0-liter V6 engine with four-speed automatic transmission
What makes it special:
With the SLX,
predicted that SUV drivers were searching for a crossbreed model that blended comfort with the ruggedness of a truck. 
There was a lot to love about the interior of the SLX. It featured ample passenger room with plenty of comforts. Under the hood, an adept powertrain made overcoming hills a breeze.The base model might have cost over $30,000 back in the day, but now you can get a used model for cheap—and you’ll love every mile of every drive. 
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The best family car of 1996: Toyota Camry

Fair market range: $475 to $4,030
Powertrain: 2.2L L4 DOHC 16 valves
What makes it special: 
Most people don’t consider the
Toyota Camry
to be timeless, but the Camry was easily one of the best family cars in ‘96—and it’s still getting the job done. 
Its subdued style helped it appeal to a lot of different tastes, and it was one of the most comfortable and reliable family cars to hit the market back in the mid-90s. It even shared some exterior and mechanical components with the
Lexus ES 300
—giving it the performance of a more upscale vehicle with the safety features of a family car.

The best sports car of 1996: Mazda RX-7

Fair market range: $350 to $14,020
Powertrain: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, rotary engine-powered
What makes it special: 
RX-7 was a gorgeous sports car. With a stripped-down curb weight and out-of-this-world handling, the RX-7 was an instant classic with an exterior that was a real head-turner. 
Featuring a rotary engine, the RX-7 offered a light and smooth ride—and back in ‘96, this made it rise above its class. It was even considered to be relatively affordable when it first hit the market.
While the RX-7 didn't get the best reliability rating but its combo of high power and light weight made it the best sports car to come out in 1996. 

What cars came out in 1996? 

It was a good year for the automotive industry, with a nice mix of practical family cars and sports cars that enthusiasts still gush about. Here are some of the other cars that hit the road in 1996:
Vehicle type
Fair market range
1.8-liter, 16-valve, DOHC inline 4
$250 to $3,445
First Acura to be offered in new colours (pearls in red, green, or black)
Compact car
2.0L L4 SOHC 16 valves
$388 to $1,017
A popular car with laughably bad 0-60
Full-size SUV
5.4L Triton V8
$345 to $3,918
Only a limited number were sold for export
Compact car
1.6 L Inline 4
$360 to $1,988
Engine was the first to meet California's super-strict low-emissions vehicle standards
Subcompact car
1.6L DOHC engine with 110 hp
$302 to $902
Renowned for its affordability
3.0L (181-cubic-inch) V-6
$405 to $1,606
Its redesign was a big automotive story in 1996
911 GT3
Sports car
3.6L, water-cooled, DOHC, 24-valve, flat-six
$5,000 to $12,000
Featured larger brakes and upgraded suspension to previous models
compact pickup truck
2.4L inline 4
$1,055 to $5,197
Toyota’s sixth generation compact pickup truck
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Ford Taurus
was the most popular car in 1996 selling over 348 million units.
With a top speed of 215 mph, the Lamborghini Diablo GT was the fastest car available in 1996.
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