Some of the greatest cars of all time have come out of Japan and to celebrate we have created a list of 20 of the best of them. Carry on reading below to find out what the best Japanese cars of all time are!
Nissan GT-R R34 Z-Tune
To start this list we thought we would go with the Nissan GT-R R34 Z-Tune. The Nissan GT-R range of cars are some of the most famous sports cars in the world and the Z-Tune is arguably one of the best of them, if not the best.
The Z-Tune was designed and developed at the end of the R34 Skyline’s production life. Nissan’s in-house tuning company, Nismo took existing R34 GT-Rs and turned them into Z-Tunes by installing new parts and modifying the chassis.
Nismo stripped down the old R34 GT-Rs completely and rebuilt them from the ground up. The chassis was greatly reinforced and carbon fibre was used extensively to save weight. Nismo’s engineers completely redesigned the car’s bodywork and gave the car a more aggressive suspension setup and new Brembo brakes.
The 2.8-litre RB26DETT ‘Z1’ engine produced 500 horsepower and was based on the ones found in Nissan’s Le Mans GT2 and GT500 racing cars. All this extra power meant that the Z-Tune could go from 0-100 km/h (62 mph) in as little as 3.8 seconds and on to a top speed of over 325 km/h (201 mph).
Nismo only produced 19 of these cars (20 were planned), making the Z-Tune one of the rarest Japanese cars of all time. Because of this, the Z-Tune has become a real collector’s item with one in Hong Kong selling for more than HK$500,000 a couple of years ago.
If you would like to know more about the R34 GT-R, check out our Buyer’s Guide and History article here.
Widely considered to be Japan’s first supercar, the 2000GT is definitely one of the coolest cars to ever come out of the land of the rising sun. The 2000GT was Toyota’s answer to the likes of the Jaguar E-Type, the C2 Corvette and the Porsche 911. Today, it is Japan’s most expensive classic with examples fetching over $1,000,000 at auction.
Toyota began developing the car soon after the 1964 Japanese Grand Prix. The company wanted to create a new car that would provide a new, more engaging driving experience for Japanese motoring enthusiasts.
To create the car, Toyota enlisted the help of Yamaha. Yamaha had already spent time developing a prototype sports car for Nissan, but the company rejected the offer and went on to create the 240Z.
Toyota and Yamaha unveiled the prototype 2000GT, the 280A1, at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1965. The car wowed attendees at the event, but buyers had to wait until 1967 to get their hands on the full production version of the car.
If you would like to know more about the Toyota 2000GT, make sure you check out our video below.
The production car featured a longitudinally mounted 2.0-litre in-line 6-cylinder engine that produced a respectable 150 horsepower. Toyota mated this engine to a 5-speed manual transmission. A number of 2.3-litre models were produced for the American market.
While the 2000GT’s performance wasn’t as great as the likes of the E-Type Jaguar, the car could still go from 0-100 km/h (62 mph) in 10 seconds and a top speed of 215 km/h (133 mph).
The 2000GT was the first Japanese car to feature all-round power-assisted disc brakes as standard and it also featured a limited slip differential.
To create the car’s bodywork, Toyota’s designers took great inspiration from the E-Type and the company’s own Sports 800. The luxurious theme continued on the inside of the car, however, the interior was somewhat cramped compared to its Western counterparts.
Toyota produced the 2000GT for a total of three years with 351 cars rolling out of the company’s factory doors. The 2000GT’s most notable moment came when it appeared in the James Bond film “You Only Live Twice”.
The original Honda NSX is one of the most loved Japanese cars of all time, and the Type R version of it is undoubtedly the best. Honda launched the NA1 NSX-R in 1992, two years after the launch of the normal version.
The NSX-R was more track orientated than the standard NSX and gave a greater driving experience for enthusiasts. To create the NSX-R, Honda’s engineers took a standard NSX and put it on an aggressive diet. They removed everything from the air-conditioning to the audio system and the sound deadening. Overall, Honda managed to save as much as 120 kg over the standard car.
To improve handling, the rigidity of the chassis was increased and the entire suspension system was replaced with a more track orientated one.
The 270 horsepower 3.0-litre mid-mounted V6 engine also received some attention. Honda gave the NSX-R a blueprinted and balanced crankshaft assembly which was normally reserved for their racing car engines.
Honda launched the NA2 version of the NSX-R in 2002, which was based on the facelifted version of the NSX. It received many of the same upgrades and modifications as the NA1 NSX-R, but featured the more powerful 290 horsepower 3.2-litre V6 engine that was given NSX models from 1997.
The result of Honda’s effort was a car that could lap the Nurburgring in 7:56, a time equal to a Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale. The NSX-R accomplished this feat despite having 100 less horsepower than the Ferrari.
Subaru Impreza 22B STi
How could we create this list without including the incredibly Subaru WRX. The WRX is a legend of the rally world and the 22B STi is arguably the best version every created.
Subaru created the 22B STi to celebrate the company’s World Rally Championship Constructors wins from 1995 to 1997. It was essentially a widebody version of the WRX STi coupe and was limited in production. All 400 cars produced for the Japanese market were sold in 48 hours and an extra 24 22Bs were produced for the export market (with most going to the United Kingdom).
Subaru fitted the 22B with a 2.2-litre EJ22G engine that officially produced 276 horsepower and 363 Nm (268 lb ft) of torque. With all this power and a relatively low bodyweight of 1,245kg, the 22B could go from 0-100 km/h (62 mph) in 4.6 seconds (with some even claiming it could do it in 3.9 seconds) and on to a top speed of 252 km/h (157 mph).
Mazda RX-7 FD
The third generation Mazda RX-7 is widely considered to be one of the greatest sports cars of all time, let alone one of the best Japanese cars ever made. It was Motor Trend’s Import Car of the Year for 1993 and Road and Track stated that the Mazda was one of the ‘most exhilarating sports cars in the world’.
The FD was a radical departure from the second generation RX-7’s design and it wowed motoring journalists and enthusiasts when it launched. Its smooth flowing bodywork was in complete contrast to the FC’s boxy appearance.
Mazda combined the lightweight body with a 1.3-litre twin-turbocharged rotary engine that produced some incredible driving dynamics. The engine was mated to either a 5-speed manual transmission or a 4-speed auto.
Depending on the model and where it was sold in the world, the RX-7 FD produced anywhere from 237 hp to 276 hp (for later models). With all this power and a low bodyweight of 1,300kg meant the RX-7 FD could go from 0-100 km/h (62 mph) in just over 5 seconds and on to a top speed of around 260 km/h (160 mph).
Check out our Mazda RX-7 FD Buyer’s Guide and History here.
Mitsubishi Evolution VI Tommi Mäkinen Edition
The Evolution VI Tommi Mäkinen Edition or TME was launched at the end of 1999 and was introduced to celebrate Mäkinen’s fourth consecutive WRC drivers’ championship.
Essentially, the TME was basically the same as the VI, but with a number of updates. Mitsubishi installed high response titanium-aluminium alloy turbine blades on the GSR’s turbo, along with a smaller diameter compressor wheel. RS models featured the old turbo, but could be upgraded with the new GSR one if buyers wanted to do so.
Along with the updated turbo, the TME was also given a new exhaust and big bore tailpipe. Combined, these changes meant that maximum torque was produced at 250 rpm lower than on the VI.
Mitsubishi updated the suspension of the Tommi Mäkinen Edition to improve performance and also fitted the car with Enkei 17-inch wheels. To top it off, a special ‘Passion Red’ colour package was available for TME models that made the car resemble a real WRC car.
Read out Mitsubishi Evo Buyer’s Guide & History now!
Toyota Supra Mk4
Arguably one of the most legendary sports cars of all time, the Toyota Supra Mk4 has become somewhat of a collector’s item with models fetching well over $100,000 at auction (and sometimes much more).
The Mk4 Supra was developed in response to Nissan, Mazda, Mitsubishi and Honda’s sports cars from the late 1980s. While the Mk3 Toyota Supra was an excellent car in its own right, Toyota wanted to create something that was much more in-line with their legendary 2000GT of the 1960s. The smooth bodywork of the Mk4 was in complete contrast to the boxy shape of its predecessor and showed Toyota’s competitors that the company meant business.
Toyota fitted the Mk4 with both a naturally aspirated and a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre inline-six cylinder engine. In Japan, the 2JZ-GTE engine produced 276 horsepower, while in export markets such North America and Europe the stated figure was well over 320 horsepower.
To improve performance, Toyota tried to save as much weight as possible and made the body as aerodynamic as they could. The Mk4 Toyota Supra could accelerate from 0-100 km/h (62 mph) in as little as 4.6 seconds and could smash the quarter mile in 13.1 seconds at 175 km/h (109 mph). Japanese models were limited to 180 km/h (112 mph), while export market Supras could reach 250 km/h (155 mph).
Mazda MX-5 (NA)
While the latest version of the Mazda MX-5 is faster and more complete than the first generation, the original still holds a special place in our hearts. It sparked a series of excellent sports cars and that’s why it features on this list.
The MX-5 NA was an instant hit when it first launched in 1989 and it drew great acclaim from motoring journalists and enthusiasts alike. With a bodyweight under 1,000kg and excellent driving characteristics, the first generation MX-5 was (and still is a joy to drive).
Initially, Mazda only offered the MX-5 with a 115 hp 1.6-litre 16-vavle four-cylinder engine, but they would later add a 128 horsepower 1.8-litre engine for those who wanted a bit more power. In 1996, Mazda increased the MX-5’s power output to 133 horsepower, making it even more exciting to drive.
Take a look at our MX-5 Buyer’s Guide here.
In a way, the Lexus LFA is the true spiritual successor to the Toyota 2000GT. It is one of the most impressive cars to come out of the land of the rising sun and Jeremey Clarkson himself even stated that it was his favourite car.
Lexus and Toyota began developing the car in the early 2000s and prototypes were regularly spotted at the famous Nurburgring. The LFA made its first official appearance at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in 2005, however, the full production version would not be revealed until the 2009 Toyko Motor Show.
With a 553 hp 4.8-litre V10 engine with Dual VVT-I, the LFA was a powerful beast. Full power was delivered at 8,700 rpm and its maximum torque of 354 lb ft (480Nm) was produced at 6,800rpm (90% of torque was available from 3,700rpm).
All this power combined with a lightweight carbon body meant that the LFA had power-to-weight ratio of 2.67 kg/hp. The LFA could accelerate from 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) in 3.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 325 km/h (202 mph).
For those who wanted more power, Lexus produced a Nurburgring package for the LFA. This package increased power to 563 horsepower and the transmission was recalibrated to shift 0.05 seconds quicker.
Nissan GT-R R32
No list of the best Japanese cars of all time would be complete without ‘Godzilla’. The Nissan GT-R R32 is one of the most famous Japanese sports cars ever and it dominated the Group A racing series.
Nissan fitted the car with a 2.6-litre twin-turbocharged RB26DETT engine that sent 276 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels. When it launched the R32 GT-R was one of the most advanced cars the world had ever seen and Nissan’s ATTESA E-TS all-wheel drive system gave the car a unique advantage over its competition.
In 1991, Nissan introduced the N1 version of the GT-R that was designed for home-market N1 racing. 245 of these cars were produced and they built on the GT-R Nismo’s specification. The engine was upgraded and Nissan’s engineers removed any unnecessary weight such as the air conditioning and sound system, and the boot carpet. All N1 models were painted in a unique ‘Crystal White’ colour.
Toyota MR2 Mk2 (Turbocharged)
There is no doubt that both the first and second generations of the MR2 are excellent cars, but as an overall package we would have to give it to the Mk2. The second generation MR2 was more refined, stylish and powerful than its predecessor. Kazutoshi Arima, the car’s chief engineer wanted to take the MR2 more upmarket and he took great inspiration from Ferrari’s of the time.
Toyota produced a range of different MR2 models for both the Japanese and international market. However, the top of the range models featured a 2.0-litre 3S-GTE engine that produced 218hp.
With all this power, the Japanese spec turbocharged MR2 could go from 0-100 km/h in as little as 5.5 seconds and could go on to a top speed of around 250km/h. US models could accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 6.1 seconds.
The second generation MR2 went through several revisions with the most notable being a power increase to 242 horsepower for turbocharged models.
While the MR2 might not be as famous as the Supra, GT-R, RX-7 or NSX, in a number of road tests the turbocharged model held its own against its much more powerful rivals.
Honda Integra Type R DC2
The Integra was the second Honda car to be branded with the company’s Type R nomenclature. The Honda Integra Type R DC2 was first introduced in 1995 and it was given the same makeover that the Type R NSX received. Honda made the car lighter, stiffer, more powerful and much more hardcore than the standard Integra.
It was equipped with a 1.8-litre DOHC VTEC in-line 4-cylinder (B18C) engine that produced 200 horsepower at 8,000 rpm (US models produced 195 hp). At the time of its launch in the United States, the Type R DC2 set the record for the most power per litre (108 hp) of any naturally aspirated engine ever produced in the US.
Incredibly, Honda lost money in every DC2 Type R that they sold. The reason for this is because Honda had to finish the cars in various small fabrication shops in Japan and early versions required hand tooling.
When it launched, motoring journalists labelled the DC2 as the greatest front-wheel drive performance car ever produced and it was known to be one of the best handling cars at the time.
Make sure you check out our Honda Integra Type R DC2 buyer’s guide here.
Mitsubishi GTO/3000GT (Twin Turbo)
There’s no doubt that the Mitsubishi GTO (3000GT) is a technological masterpiece of the early nineties. At launch, the GTO was one of the most advanced cars of all time, and it was designed to take on flagship vehicles from other Japanese manufacturers.
To power the impressive beast, Mitsubishi fitted a 3.0-litre 24-valve DOHC V6 engine that came either naturally aspirated or with two turbochargers. When it first launched, the twin-turbo GTO (3000 GT VR4 in the US) produced around 300 horsepower. This would later be increased to 320 horsepower in 1994.
While the engine was impressive, it was the other features that made the GTO unique. Mitsubishi gave the car an all-wheel drive system, four-wheel steering and an Active Aero system that helped improve downforce. The GTO was also fitted with ECS (electronically controlled suspension). This system would automatically switch the damping force in the four shock absorbers to improve performance or give a better-quality ride.
Make sure you take a look at our ‘3000GT/GTO Buyer’s Guide and History’ article.
Nissan 300ZX Z32 Twin-Turbo
One of the most loved Japanese cars of all time, the 300ZX Z32 was a major step up from the Z31. It was more modern, more stylish and offered a lot more performance. Along with the 240Z, the Z32 300ZX is arguably the most famous of Nissan’s Z cars.
The 300ZX Z32 was the work of Toshio Yamashita. He didn’t want to just build a replacement for the Z31, he wanted to change how Nissan designed and built their cars. Yamashita wanted to take Nissan’s Z-series out of the eighties and into the high-tech nineties.
Nissan fitted the sleek new Z32 300ZX with either a naturally aspirated 3.0-litre VG30DE V6 engine or a twin-turbocharged one that produced around 300 horsepower and 283 lb-ft of torque. With all this power, the Z32 could go from 0-100 km/h (62 mph) in anywhere from five to six seconds (depending on the source. The top speed was limited to 250 km/h (155 mph).
The SR-71 was a special edition version of the Z32 that featured several performance upgrades and a new bodykit. It is claimed that the ZR-71 was the third fastest production car in the world in 1990.
Make sure you check out our Z31 and Z32 Buyer’s Guide here.
The Honda S2000 is regarded as one of the greatest sports cars of all time, let alone one of the greatest Japanese cars of all time. The S2000 was Honda’s first roadster since the 1960’s and it didn’t disappoint.
Honda launched the car in April 1999 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the company. They carried on the tradition of naming their roadsters after the car’s engine displacement (S600, S800, S2000, etc.).
The rear-wheel drive, two-seat roadster was powered by a 237 – 247 horsepower 1,997cc inline four-cylinder DOHC-VTEC engine. This engine held the record for the highest specific output of a naturally aspirated production car engine for 10 years, only being dethroned when Ferrari launched the 458.
Honda’s S2000 wasn’t only known for its incredible high-revving engine, but also for its cornering performance. Today, the S2000 is fast becoming a collector’s item and they can still hold their own against more modern vehicles.
If you would like to know more about the S2000, check out our Buyer’s Guide & History article.
Nissan Fairlady Z (Datsun 240Z)
The Fairlady Z was the 2000GT’s main competitor when it launched in 1969. While it wasn’t as luxurious as the Toyota, the Fairlady Z did offer drivers more performance.
In Japan, Nissan fitted the Fairlady Z with a 2.0-litre inline-6-cylinder engine that produced 130 horsepower. Shortly after they launched the Fairlady Z in Japan, Nissan introduced the car into the American market. It was sold under the Datsun brand and was known as the 240Z.
The 240Z featured a larger 2.4-litre inline-6-cylinder engine that produced 151 horsepower. This meant that the car could go from 0-100 km/h (62 mph) in as little as 8 seconds and on to a top speed of 200 km/h (125 mph).
Nissan’s Fairlady Z range of cars would go on to become one of Japan’s most famous series of sports cars.
Honda Civic Type R FK8
While all the Type R Civics from Honda are special, the FK8 has proved to be a formidable beast in the competitive world of hatch hatches. The Type R became the fastest front-wheel drive car to lap the famous Nürburgring in Germany when it set a time of 7:43.80, seven seconds faster than its predecessor.
The FK8 Type R is fitted with a turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine that produces 316 horsepower (JDM and EDM models). This means that the car can go from 0-100 km/h (62 mph) in 5.7 seconds and onto a top speed of 272 km/h (169 mph).
To increase performance, Honda gave the FK8 Type R improved suspension and aerodynamic upgrades, and they also stripped out anything that was unnecessary. The aerodynamic components fitted to the Type R give it a unique, aggressive appearance that is loved by some and hated by others.
Nissan Nismo R35 GT-R
The R35 GT-R was one of the fastest cars ever produced when it first launched in 2007. It made mincemeat of much of its competition and it set the bar for future performance vehicles from both Japan and the rest of the world.
For those who wanted even more performance, Nismo launched a more hardcore version of the R35 GT-R. Power was increased to nearly 600 horsepower and 481 lb ft of torque. This meant that the GT-R could go from 0-100km/h (62 mph) in 2.5 seconds and hit a top speed of 315 km/h (196 mph).
The GT-R Nismo N-Attack model is one of the fastest production cars in the world to lap the Nurburgring. Its fastest time of 7:08.679 was set in 2013 by Michael Krumm in a test conducted by Nissan. This made it the fastest road-legal production car around the track at the time.
Toyota Celica GT-Four ST205
The GT-Four Celica is a forgotten performance gem of the 1990’s. Toyota’s car was incredibly successful in the world of rallying and the GT-Four ST205 was the culmination the company’s efforts.
The ST205 was launched for the Japanese market in February 1994 and for other markets a couple of months later. It was the most powerful version of the Celica ever produced with a 252 horsepower 3S-GTE engine (239 hp for export markets).
Influenced strongly by Toyota Team Europe, the ST205 featured an all-aluminium hood, four-channel ABS, an improved CT20B turbocharger and Super Strut Suspension.
To qualify for World Rally Championship events, Toyota produced 2,500 homologation GT-Four Celicas. These cars featured extras such as all of the plumbing required to activate an anti-lag system, a water injection system, a water spray bar and pump for the front intercooler, a small hood-mounted spoiler and an extended rear spoiler that was mounted on risers.
Toyota Century (First Generation)
While we love all the different generations of the Toyota Century, the first one is still the coolest to us. The Century was originally based on the 1964 Crown Eight and was designed to be as luxurious as a car could be. Its name is derived from the 100th birthday of Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota.
Toyota’s Century was (and still is) used by the Imperial House of Japan, the Prime Minister of Japan, high-level government officials and business executives. The first-generation Century was produced from 1967 to 1997.
Nissan Nismo 400R R33 GT-R
In 1997, Nissan launched an ultimate version of the R33 GT-R known as the 400R. Only 44 of these cars were produced before production ended in 1998. The overall design and development of the 400R was done by Nismo (Nissan’s motorsport division).
Nismo fitted the 400R with a number of motorsport-derived parts and the RBX-GT2 engine was produced by REINIK. The RBX-GT2 power plant was essentially the same as the RB26DETT found in the standard R33 GT-R, but with a number of improvements.
The result of these improvements was a significant increase in power to 400 horsepower and 346 lb-ft of torque. This meant that the 400R could accelerate from 0-100 km/h (62 mph) in as little as four seconds and could go on to a top speed of 300 km/h (186 mph).
Nismo’s upgrades didn’t stop at the engine, they also gave the 400R a complete new suspension set up and improved the chassis and body as well.
If you would like to know more about the R33 GT-R, check out our Buyer’s Guide and History article here.