Lots of performance cars flew under the radar in the 1990s. Some were sleeper sedans, others were a bit more obvious coupes. While turbochargers are the norm in the market’s current climate, once upon a time automakers opted for superchargers to implement forced induction. Most of the time the results were mediocre, but occasional gems would emerge from the assembly line. Here are some of the more interesting supercharged cars from the 1990s.
Mazda Millenia: boosted in its own way
The Mazda Millenia was a sedan from the mid-90s up until the early 2000s. North American models used a 2.0, 2.3, or 2.5-liter V6 that sent power to the front wheels via an automatic transmission. The 2.3-liter used a supercharger that was marketed as an air compressor built by Lysholm to produce 210 horsepower. In theory, the air compressor allowed the Millenia to retain its fuel efficiency while having the power of a larger engine. It still only managed 20/28 mpg in the city and on the highway, respectively.
Manual and supercharged Mercedes-Benz SLK 230 Kompressor:
The SLK class is unlike most of the Mercedes-Benz lineup. Instead of being a large, supercharged four-door executive sedan, the SLK is a small coupe. It’s a rear-wheel-drive roadster and can come with a manual transmission. The SLK 230 from 1996-2000 used a 2.3-liter supercharged inline-four, which sent 190 horsepower to the rear wheels. This allows the car to reach 60 mph in 7.4 seconds. It’s also the lightest generation at 2,635 pounds (minimum).
The Ford Thunderbird was the ultimate sleeper
From 1989-1995 Ford offered its Thunderbird coupe with a supercharged 3.8-liter V6. It used an Eaton M90 supercharger that helped make 230 horsepower under 12 psi of boost. Power was sent to the rear wheels via a manual or automatic transmission. Unsuspecting looks hiding an impressive powertrain made the Thunderbird one of the best sports luxury sleepers of its day.
Jaguar XJR: supercharged comfort
Heavy and proud, the XJR could chauffeur its driver and passengers in sublime comfort. Although it was a little on the heavy side at over 4,000 pounds, the XJR made up for it with its 4.0-liter supercharged V8, pumping 370 horsepower to the rear wheels. For utmost comfort, the XJR was only offered with an automatic transmission. It had active suspension and no limited-slip differential.
The supercharged Buick Riviera was also front-wheel-drive
GM made the list as well, with its 1996-1999 Buick Riviera. This was a large coupe that dipped its tires in the fuel-efficiency pond craze of the 90s, where large American sedans and coupes were front-wheel-drive. The Riviera briefly used a supercharged 3.8-liter L67 series V6, making 225 horsepower in 1995. GM upgraded it for the next year to add 15 more horsepower.
Speed has mutated into a completely different animal since the 1990s. These cars were considered performance vehicles then, but now there are cars that reach 200 mph for less than $100,000. It’s a good thing cars have evolved to use turbochargers, but superchargers deserve their place in history.