Are All JDM Cars Manual?

Here at Garage Dreams, perhaps the most popular category of car we write about is Japanese cars.

In particular, our readers love learning about “JDM” cars (read our article here on what JDM means to get yourself up to speed with the true meaning of the term – long story short a JDM car isn’t just any Japanese car, it is a Japanese car produced specifically for the domestic market).

When you think of JDM cars, you probably think of things like the Nissan Skyline GT-R or the Honda Integra Type R – fire-breathing performance cars from the 1980s/1990s/2000s … the sort of thing you might have lusted after in real life, or in a Playstation game like Gran Turismo.

As most car enthusiasts will agree, a proper performance car should have a manual transmission (although this is becoming an increasingly rare sight these days).

Most of the JDM cars that probably come to mind straight away are also likely to be manual ones, like the Skyline GT-R.

With that in mind, are all JDM cars manual?

In this short edition of Car Facts we look at the transmission choices of cars made for the Japanese Domestic market.

Not All JDM Cars Are Manual

Simply put, there are many automatic/non-manual JDM cars.

In fact, if you peel back the layers and look past the ‘JDM hero’ cars like the Nissan Skyline GT-R, Honda Civic Type R EK9 etc, then you’ll quickly find a large number of automatic cars built for the Japanese domestic market.

These range from luxury “VIP” cars from companies like Toyota and Nissan, through to small economy cars and kei cars designed to provide affordable, efficient transport to the masses.

In fact, Japan’s unique economy “Kei car” segment (which is the true essence of JDM in many respects) comprises almost entirely of automatic cars these days:

Source: Statistia

The Japanese car market has long been a pioneer in terms of automatic transmissions, and there are plenty of cars built for sale specifically in Japan that are automatic only or have auto options.

For example, Subaru helped to introduce the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), which is a type of automatic transmission, back in the late 1980s with the Justy.

Honda then helped to further popularize the CVT in the sixth generation Honda Civic. You can learn more about the history of the Honda Civic here.

Manufacturers such as Toyota, Honda, Subaru and Nissan continue to make heavy use of the CVT-type automatic gearbox, often under various brand names such as ‘Lineartronic’ for Subaru.

Conclusion – Do All JDM Cars Have Manual Transmissions?

No, they do not .

There are many JDM cars that were sold (and continue to be sold) with automatic gearboxes. In fact, there are probably more auto JDM cars than manual ones!

For example, the Toyota Crown Athlete – which is basically the JDM version of the Lexus IS250/350 – came with a six speed automatic only.

Credit: Toyota

Some JDM cars also come with CVT transmissions – a sort of variation on the automatic “genre” – such as this Subaru Legacy DIT (Direct Injection Turbo) – this is a JDM high-performance Legacy that uses a CVT gearbox.

Interestingly, it seems rather rare to find JDM cars – or any Japanese car for that matter – that uses a dual-clutch transmission like you find in Volkswagen’s DSG or Porsche’s PDK.

Honda have a DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission) but it is used on some of their motorbikes!

What is your favorite automatic JDM car? Do you prefer manual? Feel free to leave a comment below, and get the conversation started.


  • Sam

    Sam focuses mainly on researching and writing the growing database of Car Facts articles on Garage Dreams, as well as creating interesting list content. He is particularly enthusiastic about JDM cars, although has also owned numerous European vehicles in the past. Currently drives a 3rd generation Suzuki Swift Sport, and a Volkswagen Touareg (mainly kept for taking his border collie out to the hills to go walking)

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