Which JDM Brand Is The Best?

Here at Garage Dreams, we love JDM cars.

One of our editors has spent time living in Japan (and will probably be headed back there at some stage in the future) and we have owned various JDM vehicles over the years, including one of us having two successive generations of the rare, and somewhat failed Mazda Sentia, which was a true JDM curiosity. 

All the Japanese car manufacturers have produced great JDM cars over the years.

But which JDM brand is the best overall? 

In this edition of Car Facts, we aim to find out, and give our view on the best JDM brand of all time.

This is very much our opinion only – and you are welcome to disagree, and leave a comment in the comment section – but we hope you find our reasoning/logic sound! 

JDM Does Not Mean Any Old Japanese Car

The first point to clarify before we hand out the prize for best brand is that JDM does not refer to any Japanese car.

If you’ve read our JDM meaning guide, then you’ll already know this fact – but the term has specific meaning.

JDM stands for Japanese Domestic Market, and therefore refers to cars that were built for sale new in Japan.

Sometimes this can be something as simple as a different spec/configuration (e.g. a JDM-spec Suzuki Swift Sport Mk1 is a bit different to what was sold new here in New Zealand, in terms of safety features, connectivity etc).

However, there are also many “true” JDM cars that were only ever built for sale new in Japan, and which have since found their way into other countries as used imports.

With that in mind, the best JDM brand is going to be the Japanese car manufacturer that has made the best vehicles (or variants of vehicles) specifically for the Japanese domestic market. 

Which Brand Has The Best “JDM Lineup”

Every Japanese automaker has had great JDM cars.

From Kei cars like the Suzuki Cappuccino:

Credit Tennen-Gas

Through to performance coupes like the Honda Prelude Type S:

Credit: Honda

There’s a case to be made for each and every Japanese car manufacturer having a potential claim to JDM fame.

However, if we had to pick one winner as the best JDM brand, it would be Toyota.

Why Is Toyota The Greatest JDM Brand Of All?

If you ask the average person to name the quintessential Japanese car brand, they will probably say “Toyota”, if only because of the brand’s amazing reputation for reliability and dependability (you can learn more here about why Toyotas are so reliable).

However, when it comes to “JDM legend” status, Toyota is right up there too – and arguably the top JDM brand of all time.

Most would immediately think of the Supra MK4 as being the pinnacle of Toyota’s lineup (and it’s hard to argue otherwise) but if you’ve read our Supra buyer’s guide and history, you’ll know that that while this car was available in a JDM variant, it was also sold new in export markets like the United States. 

What sets Toyota out as the winner of top JDM brand in our view is just how many superb “true” JDM Toyota has produced over the years. 

Outside of the obvious Supra (and Celica GT-Four) here is but a small snapshot of some of the incredible JDM masterpieces that Toyota has given us over the years: 

  • Toyota Altezza RS2000
  • Toyota Levin BZ-R
  • Toyota Aristo 
  • Toyota Caldina GTT
  • Toyota Crown
  • Toyota Blade Master G
  • Toyota AE86

The list goes on … we could write all day about the best JDM Toyotas (in fact, that is an article we probably should create in the near future) but for now, suffice it to say that there is such an impressive lineup of proper, authentic JDM automotive engineering that it’s hard to not at least see the case for Toyota getting the top prize here.

It’s not just the issue of reliability, it’s that Toyota’s “stable” of excellent JDM covers all sorts of automotive interests and niches, from fire-breathing performance cars, to luxury cruisers, to economical family transport with a quirky Japanese flavour.

We think it’s fair to say that while Toyota was in the doldrums somewhat from the mid 2000s until recently (with the launch of the new Supra, the Yaris GR and the superb-looking Corolla GR) the brand’s heyday of the 1980s-2000s is hard to beat. In just about every category, Toyota had at least one – if not more – excellent cars available for the Japanese domestic market, and which we can now enjoy as used exports.

Add to this the cachet that comes with being the manufacturer of what is generally regarded as one of  the best “overall” cars of all time (the Toyota Corolla – read our detailed history guide here – and yes, there were numerous interesting and quirky JDM variants and specifications, often with different names) and it’s not hard to see why Toyota’s name shines as the favourite for best JDM brand award. 

Top JDM Brand Runner Up – Nissan

If we had to pick a runner up, it would be Nissan in a close second.

In fact, Nissan arguably has the single greatest JDM car of all time in the form of the Nissan Skyline GT-R (at least if current sales prices are a gauge of market and popular perception – you can learn more here about how much the R34 GT-R cost new to see just how much prices have risen). That being said, a handful were sold new in export markets like Australia, but don’t let that detract from the fact that the R32/R33/R34 Skyline GT-Rs were really made for Japanese buyers. 

Outside of the legend that is the GT-R, Nissan has also produced a number of other superb JDM icons, such as:

Non-GT-R Skylines

While the Nissan Skyline GT-R is the Muhammad Ali of JDM cars (i.e. ‘The Greatest’) there are also a plethora of Skylines that weren’t GT-Rs.

For example, there were somewhat economical, automatic, four door Skylines, through to turbo RWD only models like the GTS-T.

Some were available in export markets, but many Skyline variants were exclusive to the Japanese domestic market.

  • Nissan Stagea
  • Nissan Fuga
  • Nissan President
  • Fairlady Lineup

Conclusion – Which JDM Brand Is The Best?

If we were forced to pick just one JDM brand as being the best, Toyota would be at the top of our list.

Although other Japanese car brands have produced legendary cars like the Nissan Skyline GT-R (which is arguably the “All Time Great” of JDM – you can also learn here why the Nissan Skyline is illegal and was never sold new in the United States) it’s hard to think of another brand apart from Toyota that has so consistently – at least in the past – produced such a diverse lineup of quirky, interesting and desirable cars made especially for the Japanese domestic market.

Toyota is like The Beatles – the back catalogue of hits just never seems to end. 

Others have impressive resumes, but Toyota does seem to have the best credentials overall. 

Nissan is in close second, with many great JDM-spec and specific vehicles over the years.

Your opinion, of course, is completely welcome. In fact, what constitutes the greatest JDM brand/manufacturer is primarily subjective – just like music. The Beatles might have the most number one hits, but you might think that Pink Floyd is the best band of all time, and your opinion is perfectly valid.

With that in mind, do feel free to leave a comment below letting us know which JDM car brand YOU think is best – it would be great to hear from you.

Don’t forget to read our JDM meaning guide, for more insight and understanding on the ins and outs of JDM.

Author

    by
  • Ben

    From his early days playing the original Gran Turismo and with his Hot Wheels car set, Ben has had a long interest in all things automotive. His first foray into the world of automotive journalism was way back in 2009 and since then he has only grown more interested in the industry. Ben also runs and heads up the video production side of Garage Dreams, focusing on small informative documentaries about some of the world's most legendary cars.

3 thoughts on “Which JDM Brand Is The Best?”

  1. Hey there, Garage Dreams team! I just finished reading your article about JDM brands, and I have to say, it was really informative! As a car enthusiast myself, I always find it fascinating to learn about different car cultures around the world, and JDM is definitely one of the most interesting.

    I really appreciated the way you broke down the different brands and highlighted their strengths and weaknesses. It’s always difficult to compare different brands and come up with a definitive “best,” but I thought you did a great job of presenting the pros and cons of each brand in a fair and balanced way. I was especially interested in your take on Honda and Mitsubishi. I think those two brands have always been somewhat underrated in the JDM world, but they both have a lot to offer in terms of performance and reliability.

    Overall, I think this article is a great resource for anyone who is interested in JDM cars or just wants to learn more about the different brands. It’s clear that you put a lot of thought and research into this piece, and I really appreciate the level of detail you provided. I’m looking forward to reading more of your content in the future!

    Reply

Leave a Comment