Japanese Domestic Market (JDM for short) cars continue to capture the hearts and minds of many buyers around the world. If you’re not sure what JDM means, then read our article on this topic here.
While Japanese car manufacturers have long had a reputation for building reliable, high quality automobiles and exporting them, there is also an argument that Japan basically reserves its best cars for the domestic market.
As such, JDM cars have become increasingly popular over the years.
The team here at Garage Dreams lives in New Zealand, where (thanks to a few different quirks, such as sharing the same side of the road) there are many imported JDM cars on the road. In fact, buying a “Japanese import” is a rite of passage for many New Zealanders. Learn more on our article about how to import a car from Japan.
We grew up with a great deal of exposure to JDM cars, and have always been interested in them.
One question we see asked is whether or not JDM cars can be automatic.
But what about if you prefer to let the car change gears for itself?
Do Automatic JDM Cars Exist?
Yes, there are many automatic JDM cars that have been built and continue to be built.
Although we have tended to think of JDM cars in terms of high performance manuals, there are numerous examples of great automatic JDM cars.
There are JDM cars that were produced solely as automatics, as well as models that could be had in either manual or auto.
What Are The Best Automatic JDM Cars?
While there are many examples we could pick from, here are some of the best automatic JDM cars in our opinion (please note that this is not an exhaustive list, and some of these cars e.g. the Honda Legend were available domestically in re-badged versions as well).
One day we would love to do a more exhaustive list, but for now the following will suffice:
The Toyota Chaser is a very desirable mid-size “performance/luxury” saloon, particularly the models sold in the 1990s.
While the Chaser was available with a 5 speed manual, many examples come with a 4 speed automatic – including those powered by the legendary 1JZ-GTE from the MK3 Toyota Supra:
If you thought the Toyota Chaser sounded good, wait until you hear about the Toyota Aristo.
Available as the Lexus GS in the United States, lucky Japanese buyers could have their Aristo with the 2JZ-GTE engine made famous by the MK4 Toyota Supra.
This model was known as the Aristo V300 Vertex or sometimes the Aristo Twin Vertex, and came exclusively with an automatic gearbox (it isn’t uncommon these days however to see modified versions of the Twin Vertex using a manual gearbox from the Supra, to create a four door Supra “hybrid”).
The Aristo offers a pathway to 2JZ-GTE ownership for vastly less money, and with greater practicality. What’s not to like?
Toyota Crown (Athlete/Royal/Majesta)
The Toyota Crown is a flagship series of luxury saloon cars – we have actually produced a Toyota Crown buyer’s guide which you can read here.
One of the editors of this site recently test drove a Toyota Crown Royal and was incredibly impressed by the build quality and overall “feel” of the car.
What is interesting about the Toyota Crown s180 series is that they are basically the same mechanically as common (in the United States) Lexus cars. The Crown Athlete is a Lexus IS350, the Crown Royal is an IS300, and the Majesta is an LS460).
Like many JDM models, the Crown has existed over a number of generations. There was even a very cool turbo Crown Athlete wagon:
The Honda Legend is more commonly known in the United States as the Acura Legend/RL/RLX.
Available over several distinct generations, it is the fourth generation Legend that we feel represents some of the best value for money used motoring on the market today.
The fourth generation Legend came with a system called ‘Super Handling All Wheel Drive’ (SH-AWD) which won a number of awards at the time – including the crown of 2005 Tech Car of the Year from Cnet.com.
We were a bit reticent to include the Legend on this list as it’s not a strict JDM car, but at least where we are from the majority of examples that are available for sale are imported Japanese market examples.
There isn’t much cooler than a fast wagon (on a side note, how sad is it that station wagons have fallen out of favour compared to SUVs and crossovers) and the Nissan Stagea is just about the coolest fast wagon to come from the land of the rising sun.
Available with a number of tasty engine options – most infamously the RB26DETT from the Nissan Skyline GT-R – the Stagea is perhaps one of the most desirable fast wagons of all time.
While the absolute top spec/performance models were only available in manual (particularly the 260RS) there were a number of impressive options that featured an automatic gearbox.
The second generation Stagea was exclusively with an automatic gearbox (apart from the insanely rare Autech Axis 350S that was only produced for a couple of years). This generation Stagea made use of Nissans VQ series of V6 engines.
While the Sentia has never been considered in the same league as some of the other automatic JDM cars on this list, it was still an impressive luxury/VIP cruiser car in its time – and if you can find one second hand, you will almost certainly score an incredible bargain (just beware that parts availability is a bit challenging these days).
One of the editors of this site had two Sentias at various times; one from each generation. In particular, the second generation Sentia was an excellent long-distance mile muncher, with plenty of get up and go from the 3.0 V6 engine.
Unfortunately, the editor’s Sentia met an untimely end when a mechanic got the timing wrong doing a cambelt change, resulting in the destruction of the engine.
Conclusion – Can JDM Cars Be Automatic?
Yes, it is entirely possible for JDM cars to come in automatic. In this article we gave several examples of great automatic JDM cars, such as the Toyota Crown Athlete or Toyota Chaser.
As you can see, many of the top automatic JDM cars are luxury cruisers/VIP-type cars.
Make sure you read our guide on the meaning of JDM for more information on this popular topic, as well as reading our guide to whether or not JDM cars are more reliable.
If you have any questions/concerns/queries, please leave a comment below – we would love to hear from you.
We would also love to know what your dream automatic JDM car is!