For those of you who have owned a Japanese sports car, you know that they have the perfect balance of performance, practicality, and speed. My dad drove a 1970 Datsun 240Z, one of the most sought-after Japanese cars – ever! It was fast, barrels of fun, reliable, and easy to drive (if one didn’t mind the light, loose rear end). It was fast in the curves, but it could win in a straight line, as well. He could get 1/4 mile times in the 11.5 second range. He would pass Ferrari’s, Porsche’s, Lamborghini’s, and just about every other super car of the early 1980’s. But, he would be smoked by the time he reached 1/2 of a mile. He was topped out by then. He didn’t mind.
One of our family friends owns a 1967? Datsun Fairlady Roadster. It’s a sight to see! It looks like a Triumph, but it’s way better! It seats the same amount of people, yet it weighs almost 300 pounds less. It’s also infinitely more reliable, and faster.
I have compiled a list of the top 25 Japanese sports cars that enthusiasts give the thumbs-up to. Enjoy my list.
- 1969 Toyota 2000GT: The Toyota 2000GT was Toyota’s answer to the Porsche 911 and Jaguar E-Type. It was the unspoken answer. James Bond drove one in You Only Live Twice. To this day, that chase scene is one of the best in movie history. The Toyota 2000GT looked like a Jaguar E-Type Coupe that sat two. However, it’s high price and exclusivity prevented it from becoming the Japanese Jaguar E-Type.
- 1970 Datsun 240Z: The Datsun 240Z was designed to be an affordable, faster, better-looking competitor to the Chevrolet Corvette and Porsche 911. The Datsun 240Z was powered by a 2.4-liter inline 6-cylinder engine making somewhere close to 200 horsepower. It weighed about 2500 pounds, so it went everywhere in a hurry. It could keep up with Ferrari 250 GTO’s on the track all day long, and shame a Camaro Z/28 in a drag race. This car was a rocket. Today, 240Z’s sell for about $25,000 for a good example. But, don’t buy one at an auction – Barrett-Jackson sold one in Monterrey for $155,000 in 2012.
- 1985 Toyota MR2: The Toyota MR2 was one of the smallest sports cars of the 1980s. It was also like looking at a race car. It had a mid-mounted 1.6-liter 4-banger that pumped out 125 horsepower. It revved to 9000 RPM, and had a cam for every 3000 RPM. It had a top speed of 154 mph, and it was stable in almost every condition. It tipped the scales at 1900 pounds.
- 1999 Toyota Supra: The Toyota Supra was the last true Toyota-built sports car. It was also a massive change in technology and direction for Japanese sports cars. It was powered by a 3.0-liter inline six cylinder engine that was boosted by twin turbos that ramped power up to a raspy 220 horsepower. It was fast, and it looked like it came out of rally-car racing. It had a massive rear wing, a raspy engine note that turned into a bellowing howl at redline, and meaty tires that wouldn’t look out of place on a Dodge Viper. This puppy wants to play.
- 1986 Toyota Celica AE86: The 1980s were the peak of lightweight sports cars. The Toyota Celica AE86 was no exception. It was based off of the AE86-generation Corolla economy car (that generation was the only generation of Corolla that was fun to drive!). It was light, insane, relatively powerful, good-looking, and fun to drive. My dad wanted one (he ended up buying a Honda Accord). So did most teens and young adults. That’s how good the Celica AE86 was. It left a lasting impression on everybody who drove it.
- 1996 Nissan Silvia S15: The Nissan Silvia S15 was the last generation of the wildly popular Nissan Silvia. It boasted a powerful 250-horsepower six-cylinder engine that was helped out by a massive turbocharger. At full throttle, it sounded like a F/14 Tomcat fighter jet. Tuners adored it. Paul Walker, star of the Fast & Furious series movies, owns a 580-horsepower S15 Silvia.
- 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata: The 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata turned the world around. Safety standards in the U.S. were so strict that it was almost impossible to build a light roadster. Mazda had the RX-7 (but it was powered by a rotary engine), but it was too heavy and large. Mazda built the Miata out of forged aluminum, which brought the car’s weight down to 2000 pounds. Other automakers were building cars that weighed 3500 pounds, because they thought it was more expensive to build cars out of forged aluminum. Mazda proved them all wrong. The 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata is still one of the most amazing cars in the world to drive.
- 1993 Mazda RX-7 CSL: The Mazda RX-7 is one of the few cars to be powered by a rotary engine. The RX-7 CSL was a lightweight version of the popular RX-7. It was faster, and all models were built for Japan (right hand drive). Except for one. The only Mazda RX-7 CSL to have left-hand drive is at Mazda USA’s headquarters in California.
- 2007 Toyota MR-S: The Toyota MR-S is viewed to be the last sports car that Toyota built. Yes, Lexus and Scion build sports cars, but Toyota doesn’t anymore. Anyways, the Toyota MR-S paid homage to the MR2 of the 1990s, with a mid-mounted engine and front-wheel drive. While it may look like a chick magnet, it is one fast chick magnet.
- 2000 Acura Integra GS-R: The Acura Integra was one of the best-selling Acura’s ever. It had a high-revving I4 engine, a five-speed manual transmission, it was practical, and it was fast. All of that was put together into a tidy, sleek package. The final iteration of the Integra introduced the world to something called VTEC. While VTEC is standard on all four-cylinder Honda’s and Acuras, altered valve timing and valve lift was F1 stuff in 2000.
- 2006 Mazda Mazdaspeed 3: The Mazda 3 was already a popular economy car, but Mazda knew that they could get far more out of the car. They turned to their in-house tuner, Mazdaspeed. Mazdaspeed turbocharged the engine, put big, aluminum rims, sticky tires, a big rear wing, and torque steer. Torque steer is what Mazdaspeed is associated with nowadays.
- 2000 Mazda RX-8: The Mazda RX-8 may have ended production in 2011, but that doesn’t stop it from being on this list. It had suicide doors (now only seen in pickup trucks), a rotary engine, and good looks. It also happened to be heavy and under powered. Nothing stopped people from loving, however.
- 1998 Nissan 240SX: The Nissan 240SX was popular here in the States. Not only did it have stunning looks, but it had performance to match it. Unfortunately, the only engine we got here was a 2.4-liter four-banger from the Frontier pickup truck.
- 1986 Nissan Pulsar GTI-R: This car could not be built again. It was a subcompact hatchback that could barely squeeze two adults into the tiny cabin. The GTI-R took performance to a whole different level. It was built to satisfy World Rally Championship homogilation rules. Only 5,000 baby Godzilla’s were built, but they were fast. Fast as a bat out of hell. It had a turbocharged engine, AWD, and lots of bodykit add-ons.
- 2009 Nissan GT-R: The Nissan GT-R has been around for over 40 years in some form or another. Godzilla was Motor Trend’s 2009 Car of the Year. It packed a twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V6. Nissan has come out with various iterations of this generation of the GT-R. The most recent is the 2013 Nissan GT-R Track Pack (the fastest stock Nissan to date).
- 1988 Honda CRX Si: The Honda CRX was one of the fastest econoboxes of the 1980s. It was light, extremely fun to drive, and stylish. Plus, it was based off of the wildly popular Civic. The CRX Si was the final CRX. In the U.S., it came with a less powerful I4 than Japan’s. That ushered in the era of Honda shade-tree mechanics.
- 2003 Nissan 350Z: The Nissan 350Z brought back affordable, quick, sportiness to the world. It was about the same size of the 300SX, but it didn’t have two turbochargers. It had a powerful naturally-aspirated V6 that garnered praise from automotive journalists around the world. The engine was so sweet that Nissan still uses it for many of their V6 cars.
- 2000 Acura Integra Type-R: Yes, I know that there are two Acura Integra’s on this list. They deserve to be. Especially this one. The Integra Type-R was the last Integra made. It got the Type-R treatment (lower weight, more power, more looks, more chassis-stiffening). It was also the most stolen Acura to date.
- 2000 Honda S2000: Most people celebrate their 50th birthday with lots of friends and family. Honda built a very special car. The Honda S2000 was a track-oriented beast of a car. It had a 237-horsepower engine, rear-wheel-drive, and perfect balance. A manual transmission helped a lot, as well.
- 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX STi: Subaru took the hum-drum Impreza, turned it into a rally-rocket with a turbocharged engine, a manual transmission, and lots of bodywork. Then, Subaru’s rally team got their hands on it. They built the raucous Impreza WRX STi. STi stands for Specially Tuned Impreza. It is fast, practical, and barrels of fun. It’s the equivalent of a bouncy ball coming out of a gumball dispenser. Unfortunately, it’s ending production. Buy one while you can.
- 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer EVO MR/GSR: This is possibly the most radical Mitsubishi ever. It has a 291-horsepower turbocharged I4. It also has a dual-clutch transmission pulled from rally cars. AWD is standard.
- Datsun 510: The Datsun 510 closely resembles a BMW 2002 Tii. Why? Why not? Japanese automakers used to build their cars in a similar fashion to their European competitors. It came with fully independent suspension, a Positraction rear end, a five speed manual, and a high-revving four-banger. It was a hoot to drive.
- Acura NSX: The first widely produced Japanese exotic car sent Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, and Chevy scrambling for the drawing board. It changed the definition of super car. In my eyes, it’s the most influential Honda ever. If that wasn’t a big enough slap to Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, and Chevy, F1 driver Ayrton Senna assisted in the development of the car.
- Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ: The Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ may only have 200 horsepower, but they are so perfect at what they do that it’s not even funny. They are rear-wheel-drive beasts on winding roads and tracks. Just don’t drag race anything other than a Smart Car. You’ll lose. Badly.
- 1993 Honda Prelude: The Honda Prelude was one step behind the Acura NSX in terms of looks, performance, and just about everything. It had front-wheel-drive, VTEC (shhh!), seating for four, and stunning good looks. It revved to 10,000 RPM in some versions, and power was always there. It is still a collector’s item for Japanese car fans. I can only wonder why…