1999, the last year of the second millennium, was not an especially memorable year. A quick scan of the year’s Wikipedia page shows it was mostly filled with unpleasantness.
Things weren’t much better in popular culture. The risable
Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace topped the worldwide box office, while brilliant films like Toy Story 2 and The Matrix barely made half as much money. And Britney Spears’ ode to heartbreak Hit Me Baby One More Time was a global super-hit.
It was a decidedly mixed year in the car world, too. A lot of dross launched, but a few genuinely great cars debuted as well.
We count 23 cars that were launched in the UK during 1999 and here we present all of them.
1999-2003 Audi S6 (10,652 produced) Only those in the know would recognise the S6 as the immensely capable machine it was. Powered by a 4.2 V8 pumping out 340bhp, it could sprint from 0-60mph in just 5.7secs and romp on to a limited 155mph. 4WD meant it could go that fast whatever the weather. Saloon and Avant estate available, the latter much the cooler. Never a big seller in the UK, though.
1999-2006 BMW X5 – The first truly car-like SUV, largely because it was based on the same chassis as the 5-Series. And it turned out to be exactly what the market wanted, particularly in the UK. Proved to be a practical, reliable, luxurious and fast do-everything family holdall as well as a fashion statement. Loads still around.
1999-2003 BMW Z8 (5,703 produced) The Z8 had all the right ingredients. Styling in the mould of the legendary ’57 507 roadster. An aluminium spaceframe chassis and body panels. Suspension based on that of the M5. And the M5’s searing 400bhp 5.0 V8. Yet those elements didn’t quite coalesce into the great sports car the Z8 could’ve been, ending up as more of a GT. Viewed as such it was a very fine car. But that’s not how BMW marketed it. An ignominious appearance in Bond flick The World Is Not Enough didn’t help matters. Widely regarded as a commercial failure, but lessons learned about aluminium were applied to the upcoming Rolls-Royce Phantom.
1999-2005 Chrysler Neon – All-new second generation of Chrysler’s entry-level saloon was undoubtedly a better car, but it was starting from a pretty low bar. Not an interesting car by any stretch, but it was reasonably spacious and excellent value. That attracted quite a lot of mostly elderly UK buyers. Largely forgotten now.
1999-2005 Ferrari 360 Modena (16,365 produced) Had the incredibly difficult job of replacing the brilliant F355 and did so in fine style. Bigger and more spacious yet lighter, with a largely aluminium structure. 3.6 V8 made 400bhp, good for 0-60mph in 4.2secs and a top speed of 184mph. Some thought the on-limit handling a bit spiky but otherwise a life-affirming driving experience. By the time production ended it had become the best-selling model in Ferrari history to that point by some margin.
1999-2010 Fiat Punto II – Essentially a heavily updated version of the original, genius Punto with sleeker styling, more space, better engines and new rear suspension. A much more refined car that slotted neatly into the lives of millions of drivers. On sale until 2010, though some were built in Serbia by Zastava as late as 2013. Very popular in the UK, though typical Italian build quality and its throwawayness mean it’s disappearing rapidly.
1999-2005 Hyundai XG30 – 5-Series/E-Class rival with much to tempt. Powered by a smooth Mitsubishi-based V6, giving a 140mph top speed. Very comfortable with safe FWD handling. Loaded with every conceivable gadget. And good-looking in an anodyne kind of way. But the complete lack of image meant it was almost totally ignored in the UK and only 80 are left. Taken much more seriously in the USA where it was a worthy alternative to Buick and Mercury models and it laid the groundwork for the much more credible Genesis.
1999-2006 Kia Sedona – Massive, Grand Espace-size MPV that sold for the price of a Zafira. As spacious as it looked, though seating layout lacked flexibility. V6 petrol and 4-cyl diesel engines not the most refined or economical. But top-spec versions were lavishly equipped. Actually better made than more expensive rivals and sold in reasonable numbers in the UK. Many ended up in the taxi trade and racked up massive mileage.
1999-2004 Mazda Premacy – 5-seat mini MPV in the Scenic mould. Seemed rushed to market which showed in its relative lack of space and inflexible seat layout. Anonymous outside, grey and plasticy inside, uninvolving to drive – the only reason to buy one was that you really liked the local Mazda dealer. Few sold and virtually forgotten.
1999-2006 Mercedes CL (46,654 produced) Handsome, high-tech gentleman’s express based on the S-Class chassis with the same engines, gearboxes, suspension, gadgets and so on. Betrayed it’s luxury saloon roots in corners, but otherwise a very fine way to travel huge distances at significant speed. It wasn’t especially well made – much like every other Merc of the time – and depreciated like an anvil falling off a cliff. So when problems came up – particularly with the air suspension – repair costs often wrote the car off. Worth beer money now so a good one could be a real bargain slice of the high life.
1999 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI – 6th iteration of Mitsubishi’s road-going rally car was the first imported to the UK after much lobbying by enthusiasts. 2.0 turbo engine rated at 276bhp – it actually made a lot more than that – gave blistering performance and computer-controlled diffs meant massive speed could be carried through corners. The handling was pin-sharp as well. It even functioned properly as a family car. Limited numbers sold in the UK but many more were imported from Japan in a bewildering array of varieties. Not immune from the ravages of time and many ruined by tuners. Good, original UK cars – especially the Tommi Makinen Edition – are highly prized.
1999-2002 Nissan Primera – A thorough facelift of the 2nd-gen Primera with more rounded styling, new interior, new gearboxes and standard aircon. Spacious, well-made and a decent steer, but completely unmemorable. Sold well in the UK – where it was built – particularly to taxi drivers. Disappearing rapidly from the roads with many being used by banger racers before finally reaching the crusher.
1999-2002 Nissan Skyline GT-R (12,175 produced) R34-gen Skyline GT-R picked up where the R33 left off. The package remained the same with an updated version of the 2.6 twin-turbo ‘6’ – rated at 276bhp but really producing at least 330bhp – computer-controlled 4WD and 4WS. New 6-spd Getrag gearbox and Brembo brakes were added, too. Being smaller and lighter than before, the R34 was quicker – 0-60mph in 4.6secs – and sharper to drive. Tiny numbers officially imported to the UK, many more brought in privately.
1999-2019 Pagani Zonda – If supercars are supposed to make you feel six years old, the Zonda is the easily the best supercar since the Countach. It looks bonkers inside and out, but that is backed up by cutting-edge engineering. Company founder Horacio Pagani was a pioneer in using structural carbonfibre in cars and all his expertise went into the Zonda. Racing principals were applied to the suspension, as well. Over the years a bewildering array of special editions and one-offs have been built, all powered by monstrous Mercedes-AMG V12 engines. Ostensibly replaced by the Huayra in 2012, but more have been built since then. Pagani has now announced it will only build ‘new’ one-off Zondas on existing chassis.
1999-2005 Porsche 911 GT3 (4,863 produced) The first in the storied line of road-going race cars and a brilliant debut. Originally came with a 360bhp 3.6 engine related to that in the 911 GT1 race car which got progressively more powerful during the car’s run. Stripped interior and toned suspension produced probably the best handling of any 911 yet. As such, it became hugely popular with the track day crowd, despite the high price. Later GT3 RS took the format to the extreme. A fair few sold in the UK and it’s one of the rare cars that has proven to be depreciation proof.
1999-2005 Porsche 911 Turbo (22,062 produced) The ultimate everyday supercar with 4WD, plush interior, 450bhp, 189mph top speed and pin-point handling. Not the most glamorous thing and its crushing all-round ability rendered it less than thrilling. But it had no real rivals on price, so it sold in big numbers, especially in the USA. Lots in the UK too. Used prices fell as low as £20k, which led to some suffering neglect from penny-pinching owners. But the bad ones are being weeded out now and a good one still makes a fine daily driver.
1999-2005 Rover 25 (227,934 produced) Refreshed, rebadged version of the R3-gen 200 with 75-alike grille. Pretty ancient underneath but the K-Series engines still sparkled and the handling was alright. New wheels, colours, trim/equipment packages and keen pricing kept sales going for a few years. But mounting losses under incompetent owners ‘The Phoenix Four’ couldn’t keep the wolf from the door. A desperate, cost-cutting facelift and misguided-if-prescient SUV-alike Streetwise version were launched in 2004, but it was too late. Rover shut up shop in 2005.
1999-2005 Rover 45 (147,457 produced) As the 25 was to the 200, so the 45 was to the 400. Indeed, everything we’ve just said about the 25 can be applied to the 45. Expect there wasn’t a Streetwise version. But, like the 25 and 75, an MG version was launched in 2001 – badged ZS -with a Peter Stephens-styled bodykit and honed suspension. All three MG models proved to be a proper laugh to drive and the V6-powered ZS was arguably the best of the bunch.
1999-2005 Rover 75 (211,175 produced) – The only Rover developed entirely under BMW’s ownership. Featured sophisticated BMW Z-axle rear suspension and diesel engines. Petrol engines were Rover’s own. So very nearly a class-leading car with elegant looks, plush ride, tenacious road holding and generous equipment levels. But the handling was lifeless with lots of bodyroll, the interior wasn’t all that spacious and the image didn’t chime with the thrusting young executives it was aimed at. The MG ZT version addressed most of the those concerns but Lord knows what they were thinking with the bizarre RWD V8 version. The 75 was, at least, built properly and performed well in owner satisfaction surveys. This writer actually owned one and it was a fine – if boring – machine. Sales were decent but, like all Rovers, the 75 is disappearing from the UK’s roads.
1999-2005 Tata Safari – Indian marque Tata tried to take on the Discovery with this big 4×4. But its basic underpinnings and agricultural driving experience made it more of a cut-price Defender. But even viewed in that light, it was rubbish in the extreme. Stone age suspension and a tall, narrow body produced wobbly handling. The 2.0 4-cyl turbo diesel engine was gutless. And worryingly in a two-ton car, the base model didn’t even get ABS. For country types who bought cars by the kilo, it made some sense thanks to the bargain price. The trade-off was a near-total lack of equipment and dreadful quality. Only a few hundred were sold in the UK and just 37 are left.
1999-2006 Toyota Celica – 7th and last generation of Celica used the same chassis as the upcoming E120-gen Corolla and peppy 1.8 4-cyl engines with variable valve timing in 140bhp and 190bhp forms. The latter revved into the stratosphere but was light on torque. Amusing to drive, pleasant to sit in, sharply styled and properly screwed together, it was easily the best of the dwindling band of smallish FWD coupes. Sold pretty well – despite lacking the WRC-winning cache of previous models – but now yet another car that is rapidly disappearing from the UK’s roads.
1999-2005 Toyota Yaris – After decades of producing the sub-par Starlet, Toyota finally got the supermini recipe right with the Yaris. Peppy new 16v engines in 1.0 and 1.3 sizes were mated to a fine-handling chassis and the upright body provided tons of space. The dashboard’s central instrument pod took a bit of getting used to, though. Up against ageing opposition, it went straight to the head of the class. So easy to drive that it became a favourite of driving instructors and OAPs. But its appeal was much wider than that and the French-built Yaris sold in vast numbers. Loads still around in the UK, but for how much longer?
1999-2005 TVR Tuscan – A typically ferocious sports car from the Blackpool maker. Used a modified version of the Cerbera’s chassis and running gear with TVR’s all-new, own-brand 6-cyl Speed Six engine in 350bhp and 390bhp flavours. Hard work but incredibly rewarding to drive, and less likely to spit you off the road than previous TVRs. Monstrously fast, 0-60mph passing in the low 4s and a top speed on the far side of 180mph. Just a shame it was appallingly unreliable, though specialists have since sorted the various mechanical and electrical problems. Good ones now a coveted classic.
1999-2005 Vauxhall Zafira (246,835 produced) Vauxhall was the first to offer a small MPV with 7 seats in the Zafira. Also the first 7-seater with a third row that ingeniously folded into the boot floor, rather than having to be removed entirely. Rearmost seats a bit cramped, but otherwise the interior was extremely spacious and flexible. As boring to drive as the 4th-gen Astra it was based on. A big seller in the UK, helped by endless finance deals. Proved to be pretty tough too, but numbers are falling fast. Not least because its turned out to be an effective banger racer.
Check out our galllery of All The Cars of 1986
By Graham King