Of all the body types of cars on the road, perhaps nothing is as timelessly cool as the humble station wagon.
In an age where “practical” means boring, bland crossover or SUV, you can be forgiven for forgetting that once upon a time the definition of practicality was a station wagon.
With a wagon, you get the benefit of car-like driving dynamics, but also heaps of space to store the dog, kids, and everything else you need to go away for a road trip.
I can recall a time where wagons were ubiquitous on the road, and every manufacturer seemed to make several decent wagon options.
These days, good wagons are getting harder and harder to come by.
Subaru still makes the Outback, Mazda offers the Mazda6 wagon, and Audi keeps the performance wagon dream alive with the fantastic (albeit very expensive) RS4 and RS6 … but even once ‘wagon-centric’ manufacturers like Volvo have shifted primarily to crossovers and SUVs.
Sad times for the wagon enthusiast indeed.
But for those of us with sufficient brainpower and taste to know that a wagon remains the best choice for everyday practicality.
Not only are wagons typically more practical (in terms of cargo space) than SUVs, but they are also generally better to drive. While SUVs have improved markedly over the years in terms of driving dynamics, the average wagon is still superior. Most people ‘in the know’ about cars will agree that SUVs aren’t as good to drive as wagons, at least in the majority of cases.
Not that it matters for much – the writing all but seems on the wall for the humble wagon, at least compared to the seemingly relentless growth of SUVs/crossovers.
While many people think of Audi or Volvo when asked to think of manufacturers who make good wagons, Japan has produced some superb examples over the years.
In this article, we run through some of the best JDM wagons ever produced.
If you’ve read our guide on the meaning of JDM, then you’ll know that term has a specific meaning (Japanese cars built solely for sale in the Japanese Domestic Market). However, these days many people use JDM more as a term to describe Japanese cars that are harder to come by, whether or not they were necessarily originally sold in Japan.
With that in mind, some of the wagons in this article are “true” JDM and others are just Japanese-made wagons, which were available in multiple markets. Where one of these JDM wagons was only ever built for the Japanese market, we have tried to indicate so.
One other thing to note is that many of the JDM wagons in this article were built over multiple generations. As this article isn’t a comprehensive history, we just focus in on certain generations or specific models.
The Best JDM Wagons Ever Made
In no particular order, here are what we believe to be some of the best wagons ever produced for the Japanese market.
To reiterate, some of these vehicles were also available new in other markets (sometimes under different badges or with varying specifications/trim levels) but they are close enough to the true meaning of JDM. Some were only ever built for the Japanese domestic market, and have found their way into other markets as grey imports.
Subaru Legacy GT
Where Garage Dreams is based (New Zealand) if you ask the average car enthusiast what comes to mind first when thinking of fast Japanese wagons, then the answer will almost certainly be the Subaru Legacy GT.
Thanks to its boxer engine – and the fact that many of these have been kitted out with big, loud exhausts – this is a car you can often hear coming down the road before you see it.
Unlike the Mitsubishi Evo Wagon, which was one specific model produced for two years (with a couple of variants) there have been many different “Legacy GTs”, since the earliest first-generation models starting in 1990. This is one of those cars where you start peeling away the layers, and you find more and more interesting and quirky sub-models that were produced for different markets.
However, in order to keep things simple, let’s just say that the Subaru Legacy GT is fantastic, in any guise and from any generation. All have their own particular charms and downsides, but if you want a fast wagon then any generation Legacy GT will do you fine.
As a kid growing up, the Legacy GT was the car I always wished my dad had (he had a number of Subaru Legacy company cars, but never the GT), specifically the facelift second generation Legacy:
Well before Audi had cemented its role as the king of performance wagons, Subaru was the top of the pack – offering blistering straight line performance, excellent grip from the ubiquitous AWD system, and load-lugging practicality. I recall reading somewhere, and unfortunately I cannot find the link any more, that the second generation Legacy GT was the fastest station wagon in the world at the time of its launch in the mid 1990s.
While the WRX/WRX STI will always be Subaru’s most celebrated creation, the Legacy GT had a great deal going for it. The twin turbo EJ20 motor offered more linear acceleration than the single turbo WRX, and you also got far superior practicality and comfort. In the real world, for day to day driving, the performance sacrifice isn’t noticeable to most, unless you are really pressing on.
Our American readers may be more familiar with the fourth and fifth generation Legacy GTs, which came to the US market with a turbocharged 2.5L engine. These are great cars in their own right, and shouldn’t be overlooked.
However, for the Japanese Domestic Market (and those of us in right hand drive markets where these cars were commonly exported to) the twin turbo 2.0L configuration from the second and third generations is perhaps the most iconic. No left hand drive twin turbo Legacies were ever built, as apparently installing a steering wheel on the left hand side of the car would interfere with critical components and was firmly in the ‘too hard basket’ for Subaru to achieve.
Across the years, there have been a number of “special” Legacy GTs, limited run models and other quirky variants. As you’d expect, many of the most desirable Legacies were reserved for the Japanese Domestic Market, and have since found their way into other countries as grey imports.
As age and mileage take their toll, you’ll probably need to consider settling for the best Legacy GT of any generation and variant you can find for your budget (although if you want to daily drive, a later model from the third generation onwards is likely to be your best bet thanks to more safety features and modern creature comforts). However, some of the more interesting Legacy GT variants and spin-offs to keep an eye out for are:
Subaru Legacy Blitzen
Believe it or not, at one point in time Subaru collaborated with Porsche Design to help develop the styling for a limited run Legacy GT, called the “Blitzen”, produced from 2000-2003 as part of the Legacy’s third generation.
The Legacy Blitzen was available as a wagon or a sedan, and was intended to be the top-of-the-line luxury sport package, crammed full of more luxurious features and performance goodies.
Top spec Blitzens feature the EJ208, twin-turbo 2.0L engine that produces around 276hp (autos were slightly less powerful). The Blitzen was also one of the first Subarus to feature a tiptronic transmission, although manual is always the more desirable option.
The Blitzen still a true head-turner all these years later, especially in that eye-catching red paint.
As with many of Subaru’s finest creations, the Blitzen was a JDM only specification (happy to be corrected on this of course), although many have found their way overseas as grey market imports.
Limited-edition Blitzen models were also available for the fourth generation Legacy, and based on the 2.0GT B4 (sedan) and touring wagon.
Subaru Legacy GT DIT
Once again, the Legacy GT DIT (Direct Injection Turbo) is a JDM car. Subaru – like most Japanese car makers – saves their best for the home market.
Packing a 300hp, direct-injection turbo engine that was developed in conjunction with Toyota, the Legacy GT DIT is a fifth generation car, and is one of the last models to bear the Legacy badge, which has now sadly been retired by Subaru.
The more sophisticated engine and CVT gearbox allow for impressive fuel economy for a large, powerful wagon, but you can also press on aggressively if needed. As with many more modern Subarus, the Legacy GT DIT features the SI-Drive mode selector system, allowing you to flick from an economy-focused driving mode to Sport Sharp for maximum throttle response and fun.
It’s a real shame that Subaru never opted to make any of these with a proper manual gearbox, as that would be a total weapon.
Subaru Legacy STI S402
The Legacy STI S402 was the pinnacle of the fourth generation Subaru Legacy.
Produced in limited numbers (402 units max across the wagon and sedan – if anyone knows the breakdown of how many of each were made, please let me know) between 2008-9, the STI 402 actually used a 2.5L turbo engine, which was a modified version of the unit found in 2.5GT Legacies that found their way into the North American and European markets. Various performance upgrades like a new turbo, ECU and improved exhaust help to propel this JDM rocketship to 100km/h in around five seconds flat.
The S402 also featured more powerful Brembo brakes, uprated sport suspension, special BBS alloys and other performance and aesthetic modifications.
Your chances of finding one of these incredible wagons aren’t very high, but if the opportunity ever presents itself, you’d be crazy to say no.
To complicate matters further, the Japanese market also got a “Tuned by STI” 2.0 Legacy GT, which was a souped-up and improved version of the 2.0 GT – although by this point the famous twin turbo setup had been replaced with a single turbo.
There have been a few different Tuned by STI Legacy models produced over the years, so keep an eye out for these. For example, the fifth generation Legacy also had this as an option, and these turn up for sale from time to time and are well worth a look.
If you’re on the market for an excellent example of the Subaru Legacy GT, then our friend Tim from J Cars here in New Zealand has a superb Legacy GT-B E Tune available at the time of writing. The “B” denoted an upgraded suspension package, while E Tune was a revised tune for the Legacy GT, maintaining the same level of power but offering superior fuel economy.
Of all the JDM wagons this list, none make me feel as nostalgic as the Subaru Legacy GT, particularly the second generation GT-B.
I can still remember the excitement of boyhood me saving up enough credits on Gran Turismo to finally buy one, and every time I see a nice one on the road I still get excited, particular if it is in that slightly sickly custard yellow colour that Subaru seemed to love at the time:
If a magic genie gave me the choice between a mint condition Legacy GT-B like the one above and a new Audi RS6, I’d be turning the key on the Subaru every day of the week. You can keep your fancy German engineering, just give me a Legacy GT-B and a twisty backroad and I’ll be a happy man indeed.
Subaru Impreza WRX Gravel Express
I’ll probably get roasted in the comment section for posting this (as I guess the body shape is really more a hatchback, but it’s practical enough from experience to qualify as a small station wagon) but the Subaru Impreza WRX Gravel Express is one of the most desirable JDM cars ever built, at least in my opinion.
Maybe it’s because I have nostalgic memories of my university days, where a friend had one of these, and it used to haul ass up the ski field in winter, or down country gravel roads … but nostalgia-aside the WRX Gravel Express has a lot going for it.
In case the pictures don’t give it away, the WRX Gravel Express was a jacked-up first generation Impreza WRX. It also featured a smart two-tone paint job, rear-mounted full size spare, and menacing (and probably not very safe for pedestrians) bull bars.
Featuring a WRX engine, and available with a five speed manual or four speed auto gearbox, the Gravel Express is a genuine rocket ship over rough surfaces.
Finding one of these is hard, as they were only made for 1995-1996 and discontinued due to a lack of popularity. The American market “Outback Sport” looks similar, but is a total con job in the sense that it doesn’t come with the WRX underpinnings.
Compared to the Subaru Legacy GT, the WRX Gravel Express is not the most impressive vehicle in terms of comfort or space either. However, if you don’t mind trading off some practicality, then this is one of the coolest and most interesting compact wagons ever to come out of Japan.
If you want to indulge your inner rally driver, then this is the car for you. And how could you say ‘no’ to a car with such a cool name … who doesn’t want a car that is called the ‘Gravel Express’?
You can learn more about the WRX Gravel Express in our recent edition of ‘Forgotten Heroes’ – we go into far more detail on this particular car.
Toyota Caldina GT-T & GT-Four
What happens when you combine legendary Toyota build quality with the powerful turbocharged 3S-GTE engine from the Toyota Celica GT-4 (or Toyota MR2 SW20, if that’s your reference)?
You get a good time, and one of the best JDM sport wagons ever built, in the form of the Toyota Caldina GT-T.
The Toyota Caldina GT-T was launched in 1997, to coincide with the second generation of the Caldina wagon (which is the JDM equivalent of the Avensis from Europe).
As with many Japanese cars, the Caldina was offered with numerous spec/trim levels, as well as engine options.
For any JDM enthusiast, the GT-T is clearly the most desirable. With just under 260hp on tap, and a 4WD system that was similar to that of the Celica GT-4, the Caldina GT-T allowed you to carry the family with plenty of space, while also sprinting you from 0-100km/h in around 6.5 seconds.
The Caldina GT-T is basically Toyota’s answer to the Subaru Legacy GT.
In 2002 Toyota launched the third generation Caldina. Once again, there were a variety of trim options, engines and spec levels available, but we will focus on the “GT-Four” variant which was the replacement to the outgoing GT-T.
The GT-Four featured the 3S-GTE engine, but this time only came with a four speed tiptronic transmission. If you don’t mind the lack of manual gearbox, then the third generation Caldina GT-Four can be a good buy as it is quite a bit more modern than the second generation GT-T (although the futuristic-for-the-time styling is something you’ll either love or hate).
If you are on the market for a true JDM unicorn, then keep an eye out for a Caldina GT-Four N Edition, which came equipped with better suspension, a Torsen rear LSD and Recaro interior. This special variant still only offered a four speed tiptronic, but by all accounts is an extremely competent and capable performance wagon.
One thing that is great about both generations of the GT-T/GT-Four Caldina is that they are relatively subtle cars, and can fly underneath the radar. If you want a fast JDM wagon that doesn’t attract attention, then you should definitely consider one of these. Compared to the Subaru Legacy GT (which was the best rival for the GT-T) the Caldina is a more vanilla-looking car, which can be a good thing if you want to avoid unwanted attention.
Do note that the original Caldina GT-T is getting very long in the tooth now, and these wagons got cheap enough on the used market that they fell into the hands of boy racers and others who used and abused them. This – in conjunction with some known engine issues – mean that reliability on the Caldina GT-T is perhaps not quite what you’d expect from Toyota, but if you can find a well-maintained and cared for example then you should be fine.
Toyota Sprinter Carib BZ Touring
If you know much about the history of the Toyota Corolla, then you’ll know that this is a car with more different variations than there are stars in the sky.
The Toyota Sprinter was a sportier version of the Corolla, sold exclusively in Japan through a separate dealer network.
The Sprinter name stretches back to the late 1960s, but for the purpose of this article we are looking specifically at the eighth generation of the Corolla/Sprinter (which was also the last to use the Sprinter name, apart from on a particular specification of the Toyota Corolla in South Africa).
The Toyota Sprinter Carib was the name for the wagon variant of the JDM Sprinter sedan, and like many Toyota products of its day was available in a number of different configurations.
However, there is one “standout” option that is peak 1990s JDM cool – the Toyota Sprinter Carib BZ Touring.
This particular variant came with the excellent 1.6L 4A-GE 20 valve engine (look for the ‘Twin Cam 20’ badging on the side of the car and on the engine cover) and an optional six-speed manual transmission, offering high-revving fun, sharp handling and cheap running costs thanks to great fuel economy and legendary 1990s Toyota reliability.
At a fundamental level, the 4A-GE in this configuration was meant to compete with Honda’s 1.6L VTEC offering, with a similar variable valve-timing system providing a noticeable kick in the high rev range.
The Sprinter Carib BZ Touring was a sort of JDM wagon version of the Toyota Levin BZ-R (although the Levin offers some better components in terms of suspension, LSD etc and is therefore the performance choice – if anyone reading knows whether the Sprinter Carib was available with an LSD or super strut suspension, then please let us know in the comments).
Here in New Zealand, the Sprinter Carib was once a common sight on the roads, especially as there were various trims/specs available, such as a 4WD model which was popular as a cheap ski-field hack.
Because these cars got cheap in the mid 2000s, many fell into ownership of those who couldn’t be bothered to care and maintain them properly, or who couldn’t really afford to keep them running properly, and so the Sprinter Carib is an increasingly rare sight.
If I was on the market for a cheap-to-run, fun Japanese wagon that offers the all-but-extinct thrill of a high revving NA engine, then the Sprinter BZ Touring would be at the top of my list. This is the sort of car you could pick up and keep running on a reasonable budget (although age and mileage will mean that repairs will be necessary from time to time, despite the Toyota build quality) and have a lot of fun with.
Toyota Crown Estate
Japanese car makers do a lot of things well (like reliability – read here why Japanese cars are generally more reliable).
One area they knock the ball out of the park is when it comes to making luxurious, comfortable “VIP” cars.
The Japanese Domestic Market is jam-packed with quirky VIP cruisers, like the Nissan President and Mazda Sentia.
The Toyota Crown is another long-running model (in fact, it’s one of Toyota’s longest-lasting car models) that at one point offered some interesting wagon configurations.
As with many JDM cars, there are numerous different configurations and trim levels available, with 100% reliable information being challenging to find.
The most well-known Crown wagon is the S170 (11th generation) Crown Athlete V Estate, which is most desirable and available outside of Japan with the 2.5L turbo 1JZ-GTE engine. Non-turbo variants were also available, although these don’t tend to show up so frequently outside of Japan.
JayEmm on Cars has a great review of the turbo Crown Wagon, which is well worth watching:
However, there have been other Crown wagons in the past, dating back to the original generation ‘Toyopet Crown’ from the late 1960s! The Crown is one of those cars you could write a whole book about.
We were lucky enough to get a look at a rare (and now sold) 1990 Toyota Crown Royal Saloon Supercharger Estate, which was imported by our friend Tim from J Cars. This was the first supercharged estate/wagon ever produced by any Japanese manufacturer, and is about as rare of a JDM car as it is possible to find.
Although the more modern Athlete V estate has better performance, more toys and superior daily drivability, the 1990 Crown Estate has to be one of the most interesting and quirky cars we have ever had the fortune of seeing in real life:
With the most early 1990s JDM interior ever, pop up rear-facing dicky seats, and a ‘box on wheels’ look that would shame even the squarest Volvo, this car was a true blast from the past and very desirable.
Long story short, if you want a Japanese wagon that isn’t necessarily built to be the fastest thing on four wheels, but will transport you in comfort and reliability and have a turn of pace when called upon, then the Toyota Crown Estate should be at the top of your list.
You can read our Toyota Crown buyer’s guide here for more information on finding a good Crown, as well as to learn more about the history of this legendary car.
No discussion of Japanese performance wagons can be complete without mentioning the legendary Nissan Stagea.
Many people see the Stagea as the “practical Skyline GT-R”, and to some extent that is true.
As with the majority of JDM performance vehicles, there are many variants to the original Stagea (some of them bland, tepid load-luggers) but we will focus on the performance variants. Just like the Nissan Skyline itself, there is also a great deal of variance in terms of specification, engine options and outputs and so on.
Long story short, what this means is that not every Stagea is a Skyline GT-R with a big boot.
First Generation Stagea
There’s no denying that the first generation Stagea is the most well-known and desirable.
As mentioned above, many Stageas are not all that interesting, offering sensible engine choices designed to give a tradeoff between passable performance and low running costs. Most Stageas came equipped with either a four speed automatic or five speed tiptronic gearbox.
But none of that matters, when the first generation Stagea also boasted what is effectively a factory “Skyline GT-R Wagon”.
The Stagea 260RS Autech (more commonly referred to as the 260RS) is the Stagea everyone knows and wants.
It is an enhanced version of the Stagea, produced by tuning company Autech. This monster of a wagon came with the legendary RB26DETT (of Nissan Skyline GT-R fame) along with the AWD system from the R33 GT-R, and a five speed manual transmission, as well as a whole host of other upgrades and add-ons.
On paper, it boasted 276hp, but well all know that’s BS … these cars (like the GT-R coupes) were pushing out more than the nominal limit.
Of all the JDM performance wagons ever built, it’s hard to argue that anything is more desirable than a genuine 260RS.
Because of the rarity of the 260RS, it’s not uncommon to see inferior specification Stageas that have been modified to emulate the performance of the “real deal” (and many of these modified examples actually exceed the performance of the genuine article). RB26DETT-swapped Stageas pop up from time to time in markets where these cars are available. If you’re considering buying a modified Stagea, it’s important to do thorough homework on the quality of the modification work, as well as whether or not it is certified and legal for road use.
Also keep an eye out for Series 2 (facelifted) RS Four S Stageas. Available with the RB25DET engine and five-speed manual gearbox – although a tiptronic version was also available – these are much more affordable. At the time of writing, I can see several nice looking examples for sale on TradeMe – NZ’s answer to eBay – for reasonable money considering how stupid JDM classic prices are becoming these days.
Of course if money is no object, and you have to have the best, then a genuine Autech 260RS is the only way to go.
Second Generation Stagea
In 2001, Nissan launched the second generation of the Stagea (codename M35).
This generation deviated substantially from the looks of the previous Stagea, and shared the V35 platform with the Nissan Skyline sedan.
The legendary RB-series engines were dropped, in favour of the VQ-series V6 engines.
Second-gen Stageas with the 3.5L VQ35DE engines offer strong, naturally-aspirated performance. The vast majority of these are automatic, but there was an uber-rare manual version called the Autech Axis 350S and available with a six-speed manual transmission, which was the spiritual successor to the 260 RS Stagea. This basically took the running gear from the Nissan 350Z/Fairlady Z of the time, and packaged it up into a luxury sporting wagon:
There were also some other Autech Axis variants available for the M35 Stagea, for example some coming with 4WD, 2.5L V6 turbo engine options and more. However, only the Autech Axis 350S was available with the very desirable manual transmission option.
Both generations of the Stagea offer excellent amounts of space, and in the right configurations plenty of pace as well. The first generation RB-powered turbo Stageas are definitely the more desirable cars, but don’t overlook the second generation either as prices are a lot more affordable, and they are good cars.
Mitsubishi Legnum VR4
Mitsubishi’s VR4 name (read here about the meaning of VR4) has always been associated with high performance models. For example, the Mitsubishi GTO Twin Turbo, as it’s known in the Japanese Domestic Market and other right-hand drive markets, was sold as the 3000GT VR4 in America – you can read our 3000GT/GTO buyer’s guide and model history here.
One of Mitsubishi’s “hero” cars from the 1980s-1990s was the Galant VR4, which was a souped-up performance version of the Galant family sedan (the original Galant VR4 was the “Evo before the Evo”).
The Legnum was the estate/wagon version of the Galant, and as with the regular Galant could be purchased in a range of different specifications. However, for JDM enthusiasts, the most desirable specification is the VR4, which featured a 2.5L twin turbo V6, optional manual gearbox or tiptronic, and four wheel drive. The Legnum even featured Active Yaw Control (AYC) as fitted to the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo of the time, allowing for improved handling – although some cars could be optioned without AYC.
Another fun fact is that this generation of the Galant/Legnum was the first mass production car to offer a gasoline direct injection (GDI) engine, although that didn’t feature on the VR4 models which used the 6A13TT engine. Not that you’d likely be so interested in one of the basic GDI-powered Legnums, but as you might expect with such pioneering technology, reliability wasn’t great.
I’ve not driven a Legnum VR4, but I have driven a Galant VR4 when I was hunting for my first “cool car” while at high school (performance between the Galant and Legnum is basically the same) and was impressed. While the Evo of the day was quicker around the track, the Legnum/Galant VR4 offered a more comfortable and luxurious driving experience, and remains the better daily driver. In the real world, you will want for nothing performance-wise.
Manual cars can sprint from 0-100km/h in around 5.5 seconds, with the INVECS-II tiptronic versions taking around 5.8-6 seconds. Long story short, the Legnum VR4 is fast no matter what specification you picked. Nominally, these cars complied with the Japanese Gentleman’s Agreement 276hp limit, but like many performance cars of the era these put out a higher figure in the real world. In good running condition, acceleration is impressive.
There were some different variants produced over the years, such as the Type S and Type V which offered different trim levels (e.g. cloth interior versus leather), factory bodykit options, and other specifications. In the Galant sedan body style, the later Type S cars were only available with a tiptronic gearbox, but what’s interesting is that the Legnum wagon was available with the manual gearbox option in Type S trim. Because these cars aren’t all that common, it’s best to purchase on condition rather than holding out for a certain specification, as you might not be able to find what you want; the main exception being if you have your heart set on a manual car – although I would recommend buying a good tiptronic Legnum over a bad one any day of the week.
These were complex cars when new, so don’t expect faultless reliability. As with many JDM performance cars, they got cheap enough at one point to fall into the hands of those who could not afford to properly care for them, or who did not bother to (the Galant VR4 I test drove was up for sale for around $7000 NZD if I recall correctly, back in 2009. It was in superb condition, but due to being a high school student at the time insurance would have been prohibitively expensive).
Like other JDM modern classics that dropped like a rock in terms of value, such as the Mitsubishi FTO, this means there are lots of tatty, high-mileage, poorly maintained examples. The powerful nature of these cars also means that some have been modified and thrashed to death. Fuel economy is not great either, as you might expect from a relatively heavy, turbo V6 from an era when fuel was cheap, so if you’re after a daily driving/commuting wagon, then you best either have a company fuel card, shares in BP, or a small commute.
However, if you want a true JDM performance wagon that will put a smile on your face (and is still very practical, and modern enough to be highly usable) then you will not be disappointed with the Legnum VR4.
Mitsubishi EVO Wagon
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (more commonly referred to as the “Mitsubishi Evo”) needs no introduction.
Famed as being one of the greatest Japanese performance cars of all time – and for its rivalry with the Subaru Impreza WRX STI – the Evo is a true JDM legend.
The regular Evo sedan is not the world’s most impractical car, offering reasonable space and, of course, plenty of pace.
But what if you have a need for speed but also a need to cram in a load of items into a big boot?
In that case, Mitsubishi has you sorted with the Evo wagon.
The Evo wagon really is a “JDM unicorn”, only being available for the 9th generation of the Evo (Mitsubishi Evo IX for those who prefer Roman numerals) for 2006-7.
There were two primary variants available – the GT and the GT-A, and there was also a specific “MR” version produced.
The GT/MR models had the same six speed manual and MIVEC (think Mitsubishi’s answer to VTEC) equipped 4G43 engine as the regular MR GSR sedan, and only around 20kg of additional weight due to different glass panels, a heavier folding rear seat and anti-intrusion bars. Missing from the sedan was Mitsubishi’s Active Yaw Control (AYC) technology, although apparently the extra weight of the wagon over the rear axle helped to offset the lack of AYVC.
The GT-A wagon came equipped with a five speed automatic, and a non-MIVEC 4G63 from the earlier Evo VIII, with a smaller turbocharger for more low-down torque to better suit the transmission and fact that the GT-A would be more likely to be purchased as a “family wagon”.
Although Mitsubishi originally intended for only 2500 Evo wagons to ever be built, according to Epic Data just under 3000 were produced between 2006 – 2007.
The Mitsubishi Evo Wagon is a proper JDM car that was sold new exclusively in Japan, although some examples have found their way into countries like New Zealand and the United Kingdom as grey imports.
Mechanically, they are basically the same as the sedan (with the exception of the GT-A) so reliability and repair-wise you should expect similar costs to an Evo sedan. Fuel economy is not great, especially by modern standards, and the six-month/5000 mile service interval was always contentious, although you should always stick to manufacturer guidelines if you want to try and get the best reliability possible.
If your after a roomy, truly high-performance 4WD wagon that is about as quick as you’d ever need in the real world, then the Mitsubishi Evo IX Wagon must surely be a contender. However, these cars were rare as hens’ teeth new, and even harder to find now … so don’t be disheartened if you can’t find one.
If you’d like to learn more about the Mitsubishi Evo, then read our Evo buyer’s guide and model history here for more information.
Honda Accord SIR Wagon
Honda has made several Accord wagons over the years, many of them being export models for sale in markets such as North America, Australia and New Zealand, with some American models being sold under Acura badging (a bit like the Honda NSX vs Acura NSX).
For example, here’s a great review and POV driving video by YouTuber Tedward, covering the Acura TSX Sport Wagon which comes packing a potent 3.5L V6 and a tight chassis for huge amounts of capability and fun.
One of the most interesting Honda wagons came in the form of the Accord SIR wagon, for the sixth generation of the Accord.
As with many of Japan’s best creations, this was built for the domestic market.
The Accord Wagon SiR was available in FWD and AWD configurations, and is instantly recognisable for its rather bulbous rear
As a younger car enthusiast, I hated the look of this particular wagon, but it has grown on me over time.
Sporting a 2.3L VTEC engine (H23A) and with around 200hp, the Accord Wagon SiR was no slouch. However, the package was let down somewhat by the fact that it only ever came with a four speed automatic transmission. It’s a real shame that Honda didn’t go the full distance and make this a wagon version of the Accord/Torneo Euro R with its more powerful H22A engine and five speed manual gearbox.
That being said, it’s a solid performer in its own right, and an example of a JDM wagon that you could easily daily drive thanks to solid reliability and reasonable fuel economy.
Cars like the Legnum VR4 and Legacy GT-B are a bit too thirsty (by modern standards) for daily driving, and also have a lot more to go wrong. An Accord Wagon SiR gives you ample performance and superior everyday versatility.
Toyota Altezza Gita
Our American readers may recognise this JDM wagon as the Lexus IS300 “SportCross”. The Toyota Altezza was the JDM version of the Lexus IS lineup.
Featuring a smooth, 3L I6 engine (a 2.0L I6 as per the Lexus IS200 was also available), rear wheel drive and sharp handling, the Toyota Altezza Gita is a popular choice when it comes to part-performance, part-luxury Japanese station wagons. A 4WD variant was even available, for those living in areas prone to snow or ice.
I test drove one of these a few years ago, and was impressed by how composed it was both around town and at motorway speeds, and how effortless it was to accelerate and go around corners. From the driver’s seat, it was hard to fault the Gita.
One downside of the Altezza Gita (and the Lexus IS300 equivalent) is that these aren’t the most practical wagons.
Rear legroom is not particularly good, and the rear cargo space is nowhere near as impressive as what you get in something like the Mitsubishi Legnum or Subaru Legacy.
However, if you don’t need the biggest wagon and you want peak Toyota/Lexus build quality in a relatively compact footprint, then this could be a perfect option.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of the Altezza Gita is that the wagon version of the Altezza was never offered with the superb ‘Blacktop’ 3S-GE engine and optional six-speed manual transmission (the Gita – like the Lexus SportCross – was only ever available with an automatic gearbox). This engine, developed with input from Yamaha and sometimes referred to as the ‘Yamaha Beams’ engine, was featured on the most desirable Altezza variant, the RS2000. The final iteration of the 3S-GE, this desirable specification engine offered variable intake and exhaust valve timing, aka ‘Dual VVTI’.
Had the Altezza Gita been available with this engine and gearbox combo, it would surely have to be one of the most desirable Japanese cars of its era.
Mazda Atenza Wagon
Of all the JDM wagons featured in this article, the Mazda Atenza wagon (known as the Mazda 6 for the non-JDM version) is probably the most “boring” in the conventional sense.
But don’t let that put you off.
If you want a car that is practical, reliable, and affordable to run but is also more than capable of putting a smile on your face on a twisty piece of road, then the Mazda Atenza is a superb option.
As with many “mainstream” cars, the Atenza has been produced over multiple generations and with many different configurations. You could have the Atenza/6 with anything from a 1.8L 4 cylinder through to a 3.7L v6, depending on the market you were buying in.
Just about any Atenza/Mazda6 wagon is a good drive, but if you’re after a good value-for-money option that really is rather fun to drive when pressing on, the second generation (from 2007-2012) is worthy of your attention.
In particular, keep an eye out for the 2.5L 4 cylinder with the six-speed manual transmission option. This combo gives more than adequate performance, along with affordable running costs.
Compared to many of the other wagons on this list, the Mazda Atenza/6 is definitely one of the more affordable options – there are plenty of examples to pick from in most markets, and you should be able to score yourself a bargain.
Contemporary reviews praised just how well these cars drive, offering tight handling, solid performance (at least with the larger engine options e.g. 2.5L) and generally good reliability and low maintenance/repair costs. The styling still holds up across all generations; unless you demand proper high performance, the Atenza/6 is worthy of consideration for being a great ‘one size fits all’ car.
One thing to note is that some of the 2.5L cars were recalled in North America due to the risk of Yellow Sac spiders nesting in the fuel lines. It’s worth checking if this recall work has been done on your prospective purchase.
Not every car needs to be a fire-breathing monster to be a great vehicle … the Mazda Atenza wagon is testament to this. I’ve got a few friends who have owned these, and they all rave about their cars.
Nissan EXA/Pulsar NX Sportbak
Fancy something truly quirky?
How about the bizarre, oh-so-cool Nissan EXA Sportbak.
The Nissan EXA was the JDM version of the Nissan Pulsar NX (so American buyers can join in on the fun, as these cars were available with factory left hand drive configuration for the American market).
Nissan’s goal with the EXA/Pulsar NX was to create an affordable-to-buy-and-run sports coupe.
The second generation (which featured the Sportbak) could eventually be specified with a 1.8L four cylinder DOHC engine, giving ample performance. Drive it hard, and you’ll have fun. This is peak “humble and honest” sports car, offering everything you need to put a smile on your face, and nothing you don’t.
However, what made the EXA most interesting was its “modular” configuration.
Basically, the EXA boasted a removable T-bar roof, with a difference. Owners could purchase additional panels that could then be fitted to the car, in order to create different configurations.
You could drive the car as a coupe, a targa top, and even a cabriolet.
But the most interesting option of all was the ‘Sportbak’ rear hatch, which converted the EXA into a station wagon/shooting brake.
Marketing material of the time proclaimed: ““It’s a sports car when you want one. A sport wagon when you need one. A convertible with lift out T-top when the sun’s shining”.
In reality, the modular concept never took off. The panels were fairly heavy, and there was also the issue of storage. Converting your car from grocery-lugging station wagon to a top-down sports car sounds great in principle, but doesn’t work all that well in reality.
These cars are very hard to find now, especially in anything resembling good condition. However, if you want something genuinely interesting and aren’t focused on high performance, then keep your eyes peeled.
Honorable Mention: Toyota Prius V Wagon
Ok, shoot me now for crimes against motoring … but there is no denying the impact and influence of the Toyota Prius.
Love it or hate it, this is the car that brought fuel economy into the mainstream for many, and still remains an iconic symbol of attempts at making cars more environmentally friendly and affordable to run. And if it’s cool enough for Brian Griffin from Family Guy, then the Prius is cool enough for me.
The Toyota Prius V wagon is basically a wagon version of the standard Prius, offering substantially more luggage space, or an additional row of seats (for seven total) in some configurations.
While it’s not exactly the last word in excitement, you have to give credit to Toyota for taking one of the most sensible and practical cars ever built, and making it even more sensible and practical. Prius owners tend to love their cars, and with the way gas prices have gone recently, they will be having the last laugh at petrolheads’ expense.
The Prius wagon was available new in North America, Europe and other markets so it isn’t a proper JDM car, but there are JDM versions available.
I figured that in this age of horrifying fuel prices, we should give credit where credit is due and say thanks to Toyota for building the epitome of reliable, practical station wagon-shaped transportation.
Recapping 12 Of The Best JDM Wagons Of All Time
As you can see, Japan has produced a number of superb wagons over the years.
Most in this list are performance-focused (with the obvious exception of the Toyota Prius V as my left-field honourable mention choice, putting my greenie hat on for a second and also fuming about the price of petrol at the moment) so if you fancy a fast way of transporting yourself and the family, and you want to invest in a bit of JDM history, then the wagons on this list are a good starting point.
In a world where the humble station wagon is an increasingly rare sight in manufacturer lineups, the cars in this list take us back to an era when the wagon was the pinnacle of practical performance.
I’m still of the view that wagons are a better option for the majority of drivers, but buyer preferences and tastes have shifted the whole car market towards SUVs and crossovers, which often have worse load capacity than wagons, and worse driving dynamics, but people want to buy them anyway.
For the classic buyer, wagons can also offer better value for money. Unless you’ve been living under a particularly large rock, you will have noticed that classic car prices (even for modern classics like 1990s JDM hero cars) have been going ballistic of late.
Because wagons are the less obvious choice, it can be possible to enjoy better buying.
For example, the GC8 generation Subaru WRX/STI is now becoming unaffordable for most. Prices have gone positively “apeshit” of late. However, the equivalent generation Legacy GT is almost as impressive for real-world use, a darn sight more practical, and also far more affordable. Prices have risen, but nowhere near to the same extent.
If you want a JDM hero car but are finding your budget is being stretched to breaking point, then many of the wagons in this article – with the exception of the Autech 260RS Stagea, Evo IX wagon and some of the more limited edition Legacies – are still fairly affordable and attainable.
One day, wagon enthusiasts will be proven right again by mainstream opinion, I’m sure of it (sarcasm alert) Until then, we will have to make do with excellent and interesting wagon options such as those in this article.
Subaru Outback aside, Japanese car makers probably don’t spring to mind when someone asks you to think of top station wagon manufacturers these days. However, hopefully this article has shown you some of the more quirky and interesting Japanese station wagons that have been produced, particularly for the Japanese Domestic Market.
What do you think are the best JDM station wagons?
Feel free to leave a comment below with your feedback, any technical corrections (as you might expect, with some of these cars there isn’t the best data out there in terms of exact specifications) or your take on what wagons should have also been included in the list.