Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Japanese cars even a non-JDM-enthusiast can appreciate

As you can probably tell so far, I am not a huge Japanese car enthusiast. I don't hate Japanese cars, but for a variety of reasons, European cars excite me more. IMHO, European cars are more elegantly designed and appeal more to the senses than Japanese cars. Yes, Toyotas and Hondas will certainly be more reliable and perhaps technologically sound than their German and Italian counterparts, but Camrys and Accords do not excite car enthusiasts as much as Passats and S40s - plain and simple.

That being said, there are a handful of Japanese cars that do excite me. I'm limiting the list to vehicles under $100k, and sold some time within the last 25 years (1986-2011). I'm also leaving out some of the obvious ones like the Subaru WRX, Mitsubishi Evo, Mazda Miata, because they are too overexposed. I'd much rather write about some of the unlikely favorites. Click through to see which ones made the cut:

Nissan GTR R35
Let's start out with a more obvious one. The Nissan GTR R35 is an insanely capable car that can give much more expensive Porsches a serious run for their money. The design is not classically beautiful, but very clean and sharp. The engine sound is delicious. It blows previous Skylines out of the water, and was such a leap forward that Nissan finally decided to bring the car to the States!

Lexus GS
Now for a less obvious one. Hear me out on this - I know most people would expect me to put the IS-F over the GS, but let me explain my reasoning! Reviewing Lexus' current lineup, I realize that their models have become a bit blobby like their Toyota counterparts. The styling of the IS (and especially IS-F) is overdone IMO and will never beat the 3-Series performance-wise; the ES is hideous attempt to mask a Camry; the HS is weird; the CT is ugly; the SC is ancient; the RX/GX/LX are soccer-mom specials; and the LFA and LS are both fantastic but too expensive for this post. The GS, however, has always intrigued me. To be fair, I would never buy it because of its overly soft suspension, and ultimately, the E-Class or new 5-Series would win me over in this price range. However, the GS has certainly held up as an attractive, respectable design.

Mazda 6
I'm not sure why sales of the new Mazda 6 / Atenza are so weak. The Nagare styling is much less offensive as on the 3 (i.e., the grille doesn't look like it's about to eat me). The car is actually attractive and more exciting than its relatively conservative competitors. The ride is also sportier than some of the competition (cough, cough...Camry), and the rear end is almost a notchback. Very slick.
Last-gen Acura TL
When it was redesigned in 2004, there was nothing else like the TL. The deep crease along the sides of the car is quite unique, even to this day. I strongly believe that the previous-gen TL is much better looking than the current iteration, which is overdesigned (I hate the trunk), "shielded" by a huge ugly grille, and lacks the signature crease. Also want to mention, I love the angle of D-pillar...it is very subtle, but works well, and is eerily similar to the current-gen Chevy Malibu (which is also well-designed...in most areas, at least).

Mid-2000s Toyota Celica
The (stock) Celica is not too fast, but even after years of being discontinued, it still looks current on the road. The only thing that bugs me about the design is the door handle, which looks like it was yanked from a Camry.

Last-gen Scion tC
Alas, if only Toyota would style the Corolla like this... I think this is an awesome, underappreciated design. Toyota squeezed in as many upmarket features as possible in this entry level coupe. When the tC was released, very few competitors had 2 sunroofs and indicators on the side-view mirrors. And the interior is one of Toyota's best - the aluminum looks great, and there are enough pop-up gizmos to impress the ladies. Now, why did they have to go and ruin the car in its current iteration? The 2011 model is boxy, has weird C pillars with terrible visibility, and the interior is much less "luxurious" and takes on a more stripped down approach.

late-90s Toyota Supra
The last generation Supra was a fantastic design, silky smooth in just the right places. I love the simplicity of the rear fascia, the mild-mannered air vents on the hood and sides, and the classic rear spoiler. I think this body style Supra is much better proportioned than the oft-compared Mazda RX-7, which looks too small and "mousy" in comparison.

90s-Mitsubishi 3000GT
The Mitsubishi 3000GT and its sister the Dodge Stealth look much more expensive than they are to the untrained eye. To the masses, this reasonably priced coupe looks like a Viper or a Corvette.
Mid-1990s Nissan Z
This car is an absolute classic. I love the glass roof, the aerodynamic stance, and the futuristic interior. It is also a killer in the drifting circuits. Quentin Tarantino knew what he was doing when he included this car as a cameo in Kill Bill Vol. 1. It is so emblematic of Japanese sports cars and added to the already masterful ambiance of the movie. The eventual re-emergence of the Z in the early 2000s was an interesting take on the car, but the current redesign is way too curvy and overdesigned for its own good. Bring it back to basics, Nissan!

Early-90s Infiniti G
The first-gen G was a tarted-up version of the (JDM) Nissan Primera. It is fairly entry-level, but had enough creature-comforts (leather, sunroof, etc.) to make buyers feel like they bought a luxury car. If you squint hard enough, the car almost looks like a baby mid-90s BMW 5-Series. There is something very charming about this car; today, it is popular with the high school crowd - those teens that want to have a respectable car in class, brand, and styling but can't afford to pay a lot. The current iteration of the G is attractive, but a bit too overstyled for my taste. I would buy a C-Class, 3-Series, A4, or even a CTS before I would consider test driving the current G37.

Late-80s Honda CRX
This car instantly reminds me of the 1980s. Honda has never managed to create as timeless of a design, no matter how hard they have tried with the CRZ, Civic Si, and Integra. I think most people will agree that the CRX is not luxurious, not fast, and not classically beautiful, but it's compact in just the right places. Even the glass above the taillights, which looks a bit awkward when applied to the Insight and CRZ, actually works on the CRX.

Subaru B9 Tribeca
Just kidding :)


  1. This was good. Except for the Infinity. I have never liked any of the Infinity designs. Too boxy, too plain and cheap-looking.

  2. Just found your blog. Impressed till I read that you put a Scion TC on the same list as a GTR & Supra, and not an RX-7 or 8.

    1. Fair point, and I can understand why the RX7 and 8 have a strong following. It's really a matter of personal preference - I'm not a huge fan of either car's styling. And despite both models' awesome handling, both are underpowered compared to competition.

  3. What a good blog you have here. Please update it more often. This topics is my interest. Thank you. . .

    car enthusiast