Welcome to Used Car Face Off, where we find two similar or similarly priced used cars and ask you which one you would buy. Choose wisely!
The early 1990s were a strange time. Toyota and Honda thought Americans would buy pretty much anything they put out and for the most part they weren't wrong. But it didn't take too long for customers to realize buying anything with a Lexus or Acura badge didn't necessarily mean it was better than anything else out there.
Lexus and Acura issued plenty of models in the '90s that failed in their mission to challenge the old world rivals in the premium-branded sales race. But after two decades worth of depreciation, do any of these Japanese cars look good yet? Here's two you might consider.
The first Lexus GS300 is definitely one of the most forgotten cars out there. Some of it has to be down to how unremarkable it looks. It's a nice shape, don't get me wrong, but there's absolutely nothing to grab your attention here. Nice shape, nice color, nice wheels. It's nice, that's all.
This particular 1993 GS300 is a nice example of the breed, though. It's 20 years old and has covered fewer than 55,000 miles in that time. Therefore, you can still see a clean interior, which shares a lot of the great bits from the first LS. That includes the great-for-the-'90s electroluminescent gauges and ruffled leather bits everywhere. Also, when was the last time you saw a Nakamichi-branded radio? This car's got one.
While the Japanese-market Toyota Aristo – the car that gave up its badging to become our Lexus GS300 – offered a twin-turbo version of the 2JZ straight-six we see here, Americans only got the normally aspirated 3.0-liter version seen here. But it is, after all, mated to the rear wheels, albeit through a four-speed autobox. With 220 horsepower from new, though, it's not that behind the times.
While a twin-turbocharged Lexus GS would be an awesome buy today if we got it, Toyota never gave Americans the option for such engineering. Honda, however, had Acura. It gave us the NSX, a fantastic offering. The Legend and Integra were also great. And the Vigor? The what? You must remember the Vigor, if only for the name. It tried to rival the 3-series, too. No one remembers that.
In fairness, Acura tried what worked for Lexus, by taking lots of bits and pieces from its midsize offering and adding more power and charging more money. But the interior of this '93 Vigor (with only 38,000 miles!) reminds me of an Accord from the same era, and that doesn't say luxury at all. The orange wood and fuzzy brown cloth on this car doesn't help the case, either.
Here's where things got really odd for Honda. This is a five-cylinder engine. If this were Audi or Volvo, we wouldn't care, but this is a mainstream Japanese car and one of the few applications of an I-5, let alone one mounted north-south. There was decent power from 2.5 liters, at 176. And don't forget the warble.
It's no surprise Acura didn't challenge the establishment with the Vigor, though. Aside from oddities like that five-pot, the frameless side windows and the fact anyone would name a car Vigor, the Lexus is probably the car here that's stood the test of time better and it's the one I'd take. It could still use a couple of turbos to inject some youth, though.