Japanese car manufactures’ recent foray back into sports cars has been an exciting deviation from the past 10 to 15 years of economical, planet saving motor vehicles, but there was a time before where the country made some of the most impressive sports cars on the planet. The 90’s (and really 80’s) were a hotbed of exciting, tune-able monsters that left many European and American cars in the dust. We’ve created a list of our ten favourite ones, but let us know what you think is best.
How could you have a best Japanese car list without the Toyota Supra. It’s one of the most iconic Japanese sports cars of all time, and for good reason. While the Supra started life in 1976, it really wasn’t until the 1990’s when Toyota perfected the recipe. Essentially a elongated Celica with a bit more width and an inline six, the Supra quickly gained a large following in the motoring world.
The Supra could unleash 320 hp and 315 lb-ft of torque from its monstrous 3.0-litre twin turbocharged inline-six engine. With that much power and a relatively low curb weight compared to its competition, the Supra was one of the fastest cars to come out of Japan in a straight line. Not only was it fast on the straights, but due to well dialed suspension, quality weight distribution and grippy tyres, the Supra could make mincemeat of most corners.
Honda Integra Type-R
Like Toyota, Honda was absolutely on form in the 90’s. One of there gems was one of and is still one of the most exciting and engaging FWD vehicles ever built. It’s 1.8-litre four cylinder 195 hp engine was a real screamer, and it showed that sometimes there is a replacement for displacement.
The Integra’s 8500rpm revving wasn’t even its party piece, that came out to show when you hit the corners. With a curb weight well under 1200 kg, suspension of the gods and a strong, stiff body, the Integra could blitz around corners faster than almost any car. Honda’s Integra Type-R was more of a race car for the road, rather than a traditional sports car and we love it.
Who could not love the RX-7. Whether it’s the sound as it passes by or the sound of the petrol pump, the RX-7 is probably the coolest Japanese car of the 90’s. The RX-7 had been around for a number of years, but it wasn’t until the 90’s when the Hiroshima prefecture based car company turned there flagship into a masterpiece.
With 276 hp coming from its 1.3-litre turbocharged rotary engine, a low weight compared to its rivals (around 1,250kg) and a supreme chassis with balanced weight distribution, the RX-7 was a world better and an all time classic.
Our favourite at Garage Dreams and one of the all time greatest cars ever built. The Honda NSX (New Sportscar eXperimental) showed the world that exotic sportscars didn’t have to be just for a weekend back-country blast, but could also be everyday drivers as well.
Honda’s intention with the NXS was to provide a car that could meet or exceed the performance of a V8 engined Ferrari, while offering reliability and a lower price point. This was done by fitting a 3.0L V6 VTEC engine in the middle of the car that drove the rear wheels. In doing so, Honda produced a 270 hp masterpiece that had input from the late Formula One World Champion, Aryton Senna and styling ques from a F-16 fighter jet.
Nissan Skyline GTR (R34)
The Nissan GTR dynasty stretches all the way back to the late 60’s, encompassing some of the best cars to come out of Japan. The R34 GTR was a late comer to the nineties, launching in 1999 and finishing production in 2002. As one of the most iconic Japanese cars of all time, the R34 certainly has a lot to live up to, and it delivers that in spades.
With a Twin-turbocharged 2.6 L I6 engine and a 6-speed transmission, the R34 was bound to be fast. Due to Japanese car industry norms at the time, the R34 was advertised as having 276 hp but in reality it had well over 330 hp. Not only was it a power car from the factory, when tuners got their hands on these they produced some real screamers, with some reaching 1000 hp.
Subaru Impreza WRX STI
While rallying might not have been so exciting in the nineties as it was in the eighties, it did give birth to some of the greatest cars ever built. One of those is the Subaru Impreza WRX STI which burst onto the scene in 1992. With technology from rallying, all-wheel drive, uprated suspension and the much loved turbocharged boxer engine, the WRX has some serious real world speed.
The Subaru Tecnica International (STI) models are the most famous and were introduced in 1994. Improvements over the standard WRX included more powerful engines, improved transmission and suspension, and that STI badge. Nineties WRX STI’s are still seen bashing around rally stages today and the magic hasn’t worn off at all.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
Another brilliant car to come out of the rallying scene was Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evolution series of cars. The Evo series managed to cram six different generations into just 10 years. Mitsubishi’s Evo would go on to become the WRX STI’s arch rival in both the rallying world and on the street.
They were powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and were fine tuned for more performance as the generations progressed. The sixth generation was arguably the most iconic of all time with the launch of the Tommi Makinen Edition. This was named after the famous Finnish rally driver who won four WRC drivers’ championships for Mitsubishi. It came with a number of improvements including a faster spooling titanium turbine, faster steering, lower ride height and larger wheels.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
Mazda not only wowed the world with its performance RX-7, but it also showed the world that a fun, sporty roadster could be reliable. Taking the British roadster concept of open air motoring, Mazda made a number of improvements that meant the MX-5 could be used on a day-to-day basis. A four-cylinder 1.6-litre engine with 116 hp propelled the lightweight roadster, making for some enjoyable driving.
Power steadily increased over the decade, with a 10 year anniversary edition coming with a 1.8-litre 140 hp in 1999. It also had an improved manual transmission, a LSD and Bilstein shocks. The fact that it is still being made today is a testament to how great the MX-5 formula really is.
Compared to the relatively simple Toyota Supra, the 3000GT was a techies dream. The 3000GT was seemingly made for grand tours and Mitsubishi packed as much tech in as they could. It included all-wheel drive, four-wheel steering, active aerodynamics, electrically controlled suspension and a two-mode exhaust system.
There would be three generations of the 3000GT in the nineties with the most powerful coming with a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 that made an impressive 320 hp. While the 3000GT was powerful, its main drawback was its weight. Weighing up to nearly 1700kg, the 3000GT was seriously overweight compared to its competition and that had an impact on performance, not to mention fuel efficiency.
The Nissan 300zx tops out our list and was another large 2+2 sportscar like the 3000GT. Powered by a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 that produced 300 hp, the 300zx could get up and go. While that was less than the 3000GT, the car was significantly lighter, weighing around 1500kg depending on the model.
Like many Japanese cars of the period, the 300zx came with a number of different options including a hardtop, T-top or convertible. It could also come without the turbocharger with an obvious impact on performance.
Nissan’s 300zx was one of the fastest Japanese sports cars of the nineties due to not only its powerful engine, but due to its cornering capabilities. A well-tuned chassis, active rear steering and sport-oriented suspension made for an exciting drive.
What’s your favourite Japanese car of the 90’s?