Not every vehicle gets to bask in the halo of fame like a Jeep Wrangler, Dodge Charger, or Chevy Corvette—but we feel that there are still a bunch of under-the-radar rides that deserve some time in the spotlight too.
The Summit Racing social media folks agree, and they wanted to hear your thoughts on what vehicles could use a little PR.
So they asked a simple question:
What is the most under-appreciated vehicle of the last 25 years?
As they typically do, Reader Contributions flew in from all across the gearhead spectrum. And once we eliminated the alarming amount of responses that referenced the Chevy Vega or AMC Javelin—along with other cars that haven’t been in production since the Carter administration—we compiled a pretty good list of some ultra-cool rides from the last 25 years.
Check out the list below, and if we made a glaring oversight or other serious omission, let us hear about it in the comments section at the bottom of this article.
10 of Your Favorite Under-Appreciated Vehicles of the Past 25 Years
10. Cadillac CTS-V (2004-19)
Aiming to compete with the high-powered luxury coupes coming from Europe, Cadillac went back to the traditional American recipe of “No Replacement for Displacement” with its V-series. And to sweeten the deal, Cadillac added the “V” designation to coupes, sedans, and—gasp—even a station wagon.
The result was a lineup of LS-powered Caddys that zigged much better than the Catera ever did.
Josh C. and plenty of other folks nominated the CTS-V and it would’ve ranked higher on this list if it wasn’t for one key factor: Are these really under appreciated? Pretty much everyone we know loves these cars. (Us too, if that counts for anything.)
Nonetheless, the outpouring of support warranted its inclusion here.
9. Chevy Monte Carlo (2000-07)
Though a far cry from its rear-wheel drive G-Body ancestors, a handful of readers like Steve L. brought the latest Monte Carlo generation up for consideration. And if you think about it, that nomination makes a whole lot of sense. After all, for a brief moment, it was Chevy’s NASCAR entrant and spawned a handful of special editions—notably the Dale Earnhardt “Intimidator” model.
And lest we forget, even its front-wheel drive layout didn’t stop GM from shoving a V8 under the late Monte Carlo’s hood. Shared with both Buick and Pontiac, the LS4 V8 put over 300 horsepower down to the front wheels—not a small number in the early half of the 2000s.
8. Saturn Sky/Pontiac Solstice (2007-2010)
Remember that time GM made a rear-wheel drive roadster with a manual transmission that wasn’t a Corvette?
Pepperidge Farm remembers.
So does Brad S. and a few other folks who nominated the Sky/Solstice twins, specifically their respective Redline and GXP trims. In that top fighting form, these nimble coupes made north of 250 horsepower and could scoot across the quarter mile beams in about 15 seconds. Fun fact: These cars also exist as a rebadged Opel GT in other parts of the globe.
7. Ford SN95 Mustang (1994-2004)
With the Fox Body reaching legit classic status, folks are beginning to wonder if the oft-overlooked SN95 Mustang will receive such a nostalgic glow-up.
Michael B. and plenty of others from the Blue Oval Brigade certainly think so.
And it’s easy to understand why, from the early GT models with their carryover 5.0L Windsor V8s to the final New Edge Cobra and its supercharged “Terminator” 4.6L that made close to 400 horsepower—there’s a lot to like from the SN95 generation. And let’s not forget that the SN95 brought with it some awesome special editions, like the Bullitt and the return of the Mach 1 and requisite shaker hood.
6. “Anything with the GM 3800 V6”
Thanks to Jim B., this honestly was our favorite response. That’s because anyone who’s familiar with the Buick V6 family lineage knows that, in addition to being dang-near indestructible, you could find a version of this engine in some of the most amazing vehicles GM ever built, including the Buick Grand National GNX and Pontiac Turbo Trans Am GTA.
After its heyday in the 1980s, the Buick 3800 engine soldiered on well into the 21st century under the hood of a dazzling array of cars, including the Buick Regal and Pontiac Grand Prix.
5. Dodge Dakota (1997-2004)
A few folks simply said Dakota in their responses, but others got more specific. For example, Cory B. gave a nod to the 5.2L V8 and Jason L. alluded to the 5.9L powered R/T—both options that ended with the second gen. Dakota trucks, so that’s what we’ll highlight here.
Plenty of people have fond memories of this era Dakota, as it was a true “Goldilocks” mid-size truck with a handful of engine options, notably that rowdy 5.9L R/T Jason brought up. It also had competent four wheel drive system and an array of cab and bed configurations.
But beyond all that, the Dakota was a good looking ride, with styling reminiscent of its larger brother’s “Big Rig Ram” look, mixed with a sleek, aerodynamic element.
4. Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86/Scion FRS
We still can’t figure out why these cars weren’t more of a threat to the Miata’s sports car throne—neither can Dave R. and the rest of the gearheads who nominated the Toyobaru Trio.
The common, albeit undeserved, complaint is that these cars don’t make enough power. Others point to the lack of a convertible option. Still others look to the nebulous relationship between a Toyota chassis and Subaru engine.
Regardless of the pedigree, most owners would tell you that the 86/FRS/BRZ triplets are all potent performers and an absolute hoot to toss around a track. And they’re one of the few sport coupes still available with rear-wheel drive and a manual transmission (and not priced to the stratosphere), so we’re giving them bonus points here.
3. Dodge Neon (1993-2005)
Look, hear us out: Jason S. and a handful of other folks brought up the Dodge (nee Plymouth) Neon. And while at first we were skeptical, the reality is that the Neon’s econobox roots belie the competency of its chassis.
And to prove that point, Mopar actually made an SCCA homologation special: the Neon ACR, which was essentially a factory-built autocrosser. Then the gloves really came off with the introduction of the Neon SRT-4 in 2003. In stock trim, the SRT-4 could run low 14s in the quarter and with a little bit of persuasion, builders could easily get it closer to single digits.
So yeah, totally underrated. And totally deserving to be on this list.
2. Pontiac G8 (2008-09)
Plenty of readers brought up the Chevy SS, which admittedly would’ve fit this list perfectly. But instead, we went with the corporate cousin to the Chevy SS, the Pontiac G8.
That’s because, in addition to getting nods from folks like Dan G. and Bob S., the G8 came first—years ahead of the Chevy SS. The SS had a longer production run too, giving it more time to gain popularity.
…And sure, OK, we have a bit of bittersweet nostalgia for Pontiac too, we guess.
Both cars were essentially rebadged Holden Commodores though, and both could be had with a manual transmission and an LS series V8 engine powering the rear wheels. In other words, the Pontiac G8 and the Chevy SS were short-lived sleeper sedans that could cause a stir at dragstrips and traffic lights alike.
Problem is, a lot of folks don’t even know they exist.
1. Ford Panther (1992-2012)
We were hesitant to put the Ford Panthers on this list for the same reason we didn’t want to include the Caddy CTS-V. Are these cars really under rated? Don’t they have a cult following?
Then we snapped to our senses.
Ford fans like Rob S. and Kasey K. came to the table with their Crown Vic and Grand Marquis nominations. Then others chimed in with more specific Mercury Marauder and Police Interceptor suggestions. Dozens more followed—making it clear that, not only does the Panther make the list, we’ve got to pin it to the Number One spot as well.
If we’re being honest, the Ford Panther platform wasn’t beautiful or remarkable in most ways—it was just a big, old-fashioned body-on-frame sedan. But thanks to an available V8 and things like a “Cop Suspension,” the Crown Vic and Mercury Marquis wound their way into every corner of the gearhead world.
From taxi and police service to donks and spec racing, the humble Ford Panther platform has become a reluctant automotive icon.
And that’s why we all love it.
So, what did we miss? Any other hidden automotive gem we should know about? Tell us about it in the comments section below.