By on March 20, 2013

Times are tough if you’re into Japanese cars. The sportiest Honda is a hybrid with 15-inch wheels. The coolest Toyota is a Subaru with 150 pound-feet of torque, while the fastest Toyota is a horse race between a three-row SUV and the Camry. And, despite the efforts of the American car-buying public, Mitsubishi still exists.

Sure, there are some bright spots. The Impreza WRX, for example, is still cool, despite Subaru’s attempts to make it look like a hood-scooped version of every other compact car. And the Nissan GT-R is awesome, even though experts like automotive journalists and Porsche employees will tell you it lacks “soul.” But there was a time not so long ago when there were more than just a handful of cool Japanese cars.

To the Past!

To get there, we have to go back to the mid-1990s, an era which included societal bright spots like AOL chat rooms and Tickle-Me Elmo. (Who, despite all the jokes, leads an enviable life considering how happy he gets by simply being tickled.)

Back then, the state of the automotive industry was depressing. AMG primarily existed in the form of a powerful C-Class with a slow-witted automatic transmission. The BMW M3 was hilariously underpowered and dramatically overpriced, which earned it rave reviews from Road & Track. And the Ford Mustang had panel gaps larger than the human birth canal.

In other words, it was just like today.

There was, however, one major difference: every single Japanese automaker built a sports car that was beautiful, powerful and desirable.

The Cars

When I say “every Japanese automaker,” I’m not exaggerating. The only Japanese brand to sit out the mid-‘90s sports car fun was Suzuki. Instead, Suzuki focused its efforts on the two-door X-90 SUV, which was launched in purple and had T-tops. Really, it’s a wonder they’re not still around.

The most memorable ‘90s sports car was, of course, the Acura NSX. Mid-engined and gorgeous, the NSX was Honda’s only entrant into the ‘90s Japanese sports car game. The Honda brand instead took its usual “wait and see” approach, which led to the late arrival of the S2000. A similar strategy brought the 2003 Pilot to market about twelve years after the Ford Explorer went on sale.

The most beautiful ‘90s Japanese sports car was the Mazda RX-7, which may actually be the pinnacle of automotive design. If you don’t hear this car talked about today, it’s because you don’t know the lingo: the ’93-’95 RX-7 is now referred to solely as the “FD” by kids with flat-brimmed baseball caps whose only driving experience comes in their mom’s Ford Windstar.

Nissan’s ‘90s Japanese sports car was the 300ZX, which they wisely decided not to call an Infiniti despite its near-$40,000 MSRP. While there was a 320-horsepower twin turbo model, available T-tops, and even a 2+2 variant, I think we can all agree the high point was that commercial where GI Joe picks up Barbie in a scale model to the tune of Van Halen’s “You Really Got Me.”

Even Toyota entered the ‘90s sports car world, debuting the beautiful “Mark Four” Supra for the 1993 model year. Base models used a 220-horsepower six-cylinder, but the Supra Turbo was the one to have thanks to 320 horsepower and 315 pound-feet of torque. Although Supra production ended in 1998, Toyota has mentioned the possibility of a successor at every single auto show since.

Of course, no discussion of mid-‘90s Japanese sports cars would be complete without mentioning the Mitsubishi 3000GT, which shared its platform with the Dodge Stealth and its curb weight with a Gulf Coast oil rig. Base versions of the 3000GT were front-wheel drive, while the turbocharged VR4 powered all four wheels. Bizarrely, a hardtop convertible was also manufactured and sold new for – I swear this is true – nearly $70,000. Somehow, this is the same company that made the Endeavor.

Subaru brought up the rear of this segment with a wedge-shaped sports car called the SVX. With a naturally-aspirated flat-six, the SVX was low on power – a problem Subaru attempted to remedy with an excess of windows. Interestingly, this didn’t help, and neither did the ensuing transmission problems that dogged virtually every car.

What Happened?

For one, each car had a weak spot. The NSX, for instance, used a DOHC version of the Acura Legend’s V6. This didn’t sway Ferrari buyers who were accustomed to high-revving V8s. The last-generation Supra was way too expensive, and – in addition to its curb weight – the 3000GT suffered from the pitfalls of a cash-strapped Mitsubishi. As for the RX-7, we all know about its apex seals, which sounds kind of like a racing team started by a sea lion.

Of course, those are relatively minor quibbles. The real reason Japan’s sports cars died is because we, the consumer, didn’t want them. After years of buying Corvettes, Camaros and Mustangs, America turned its back on the Japanese challengers, issuing a loud and clear message to Japan: We don’t want your fun cars. We want your dull, three-box sedans.

And we’ve been stuck with them ever since.

Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

184 Comments on “Remember When Japanese Cars Were REALLY Cool?...”


  • avatar
    mike978

    I like your writing Doug and you are mostly correct, however in the first paragraph where you list the poor performance vehicles now available from Honda, Toyota etc you miss Mazda. I assume on purpose because they don`t fit in with your premise (agreed they are a relatively small player) but they have the MazdaSpeed 3, recently departed RX8 and the MX5. Not all Japanese companies have descended to low powered, lacking in fun to drive cars. Just most of them.

    • 0 avatar

      …and, frankly, even the “regular” Mazda models are pretty nice to drive. But as you mention, the RX-8 is gone – and while the MX-5 and Speed3 are cool, we’re a long way from the days when the RX-7, 300ZX TT and Supra could meet at a stoplight…

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        The Speed3 goes out of production any day now as Mazda preps for the next gen 3. I expect it will miss a model year. The Speed6 has been gone a while. Mazda is sorely lacking in the segment because IMO, the Miata is too specialized to carry it.

        Personally,I am hoping for a new Speed6 for next year. A new rotary won’t show up till MY 2017 (even if then).

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Mazda had the MX-6 — which in the early 90s was pretty bitchin with turbo. They even had a 5 door

  • avatar
    threeer

    A good friend of mine in college bought the very first 300ZX available in middle TN (his stable included a Ferrari 328, a M-B 560SL, a M-B 560 SEC and a slant-nose Porsche 911 Turbo. When he first brought the 300 ZX to campus, it drew quite the crowd. Found it interesting that he sold it less than a year after buying it…always hoping that he would have pity on this poor college kid and simply donate one of his cars as “charity” and take the tax write-off. Never happened. But seeing his T-top Z really made me want one for the longest time…

  • avatar

    I think it goes beyone that, Doug. All of the cars you mentioned were at the high end of the spectrum – every one a halo car. Each of the Japanese manufacturers also offered performance on a budget through much of the 80s and 90s, and that put speed and fun in the hands of regular, working class guys like yours truly.

    300ZX out of your price range? Check out the 200SX Turbo or the 240SX!

    NSX too rich for your blood? Well the Prelude and the CRX are closer to reality.

    Supra way out of line? Carolla GTS or a hotted up Celica will suit you just fine.

    3000GT overwrought? The Eclipse is fun and fast.

    RX7 out of range? The Mazda MX6 is a real honey of a car.

    Everywhere you looked there was something fun and (reasonably) fast at a good price. All that is gone now and what we are left with seem way too expensive, downright silly or overly fragile.

    Of course they blame it on the Generation Y-ers not buying cars. But here’s one fat old man you would have shopped the modern version of the Mazda MX6 2 door coupe.

    • 0 avatar

      Totally agree. I wanted to only cover the “halo” stuff since it was really the coolest of cool, but the ’90s meant an exciting Japanese car for every budget.

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      Good for you that Mazda is toying with the idea of bringing out a Mazda 6 coupe.

      http://www.autoguide.com/auto-news/2012/10/mazda-6-coupe-in-the-works.html

      • 0 avatar
        Easton

        It will never happen. Boring rules the day.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        I see no benefit in making a coupe.

        I do, however, see the benefit of a Speed version & the wagon, and personally, I’m hoping the two will be combined.

        • 0 avatar
          kvndoom

          A Mazdaspeed6 wagon. Well the one good thing is it will be considered a classic, since you’ll be one of the 3 people who buy it in the US.

          • 0 avatar
            redav

            I understand why people don’t buy wagons. I’m not sure why the Speed6 didn’t sell more.

            The way I see it, if they offer a Speed6, they know it won’t sell much because neither the Speed3 nor the Miata do. But, it might be justified if it sells in similar numbers.
            I can’t see the wagon selling at all if it’s offered as an option for the regular 6, and even if it did, it would compete with the CX-5.
            If you believe anything on the internet, those that want a Speed version are the same folks who want a wagon, so making them one and the same shouldn’t hurt sales. And it might just attract those 12 other people who are looking for a midsize wagon.

            The benefits include getting the wagon into the US market (to shut up the interwebs fanbois) in a form that doesn’t have to sell like hotcakes to be justified. It also wouldn’t cannibalize CX-5 sales like a regular 6 wagon since no one will cross-shop a modestly-powered CUV with a Speed6.

        • 0 avatar
          Easton

          For crying out loud, why does every single car on the road nowadays have to be a sedan???

          • 0 avatar
            Zackman

            “For crying out loud, why does every single car on the road nowadays have to be a sedan???”

            I have a theory on this. I strongly feel one reason is when Air Conditioning became common in cars, the OEMS started deleting roll-down back windows from coupes and fixing the glass, effectively sealing the rear compartment, coupes became impractical even if the back seat was usable.

            That’s the main reason I haven’t owned a coupe since the late 1980’s, and don’t plan to anytime soon. In other words, no Camaro coupe for me!

            Like it or not, unless you get something very small with only a token back seat, it’s a sedan or in some cases, a convertible.

    • 0 avatar
      SteveMar

      +1 – There were many options for sporty car drivers from the Japanese makes during the 80’s and 90’s. The halo cars were great fun (for the most part), but there were others that could be had for much less money that offered 80-90% of what the halo cars did.

      What’s interesting about Japanese cars from that era was how the companies were experimenting with different types of cars and technologies to see what would stick in the US market. Even then, despite increasing sales, I think the Japanese still thought of themselves (and were considered by many American buyers) as the “upstarts”.

      The overall decline of the sport couple market by the turn of the century sealed that fate. Since 2000, it seems Japanese car companies have become much more conservative overall in their approach (with the possible exception of hybrids), spreading their tech more broadly throughout the model line and taking fewer stylistic risks (again with the exception of some “cute” cars like the Cube, Scion, etc.) Now the Korean makes push the frontier more aggressively as they have moved into the “upstart” space once occupied by Toyota, Honda, Nissan, et al. Mazda might be the sole exception to this — but as one of the smaller Japanese companies, they have the most to again by staking out a niche, which I think is why we’ve seen Mazdaspeeds, MX-5s, RX-8s, etc. until the present.

    • 0 avatar

      The MX6, never driven one, but I heard some quote about it, along the lines of “Torque steers like a helicopter with the tail rotor shot off.”

      Which is one of my favourite automotive similes.

      Your right about only talking about the halo cars, Toyota also had the Celica GTFour and the MR2. Toyota made a lot of cars for the enthusiast, not so much any more.

      • 0 avatar
        James2

        I had the Probe GT cousin of the MX-6 and, yeah, it had torque steer. Wasn’t a problem, really. The Mazda K-series V-6 in the ‘twins’ was a magnificent motor.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    The cars I loved in the auto mags of my youth! I would buy any of them if I could, in unmolested form. Especially the NSX, Supra and RX-7 in that order. I wouldn’t mind an RX-8 or the Supra’s upscale cousin, the Lexus SC with 5 spd stick.

    There’s a museum in Nashville, the Lane Motor Museum, dedicated to imported cars, especially rare ones. They have (hopefully, as the displays do change) a tribute to the Nissan Z car. There is a 92 300ZX with under 1000 miles on it I think, maybe even under 100 miles. Also a low mileage 280ZX from the mid 80’s and a 240Z. Just amazing to see the progression of the car, but also the time warp factor on the 300ZX. Made me miss these cars, even though it was more GT than sports car by the end of the line.

    The Lane Museum is worth a stop in Nashville if you get the chance.

  • avatar
    Freddy M

    Well, the only one that survived to this day was Nissan who still churns out the Z, but point taken. And the fact that since that time, these manufacturers have found their niche and went for them full force. Sure these classic Japanese sports cars had their day, and I among others fawned over them. But at the end of the day, they couldn’t pay the bills and the companies made the fiscal decision to put more effort and development into the products that did.

  • avatar
    Syke

    And, unfortunately, Mazda is being properly rewarded for turning out reasonably exciting cars by having one of the more marginal presences in the states. Same old story – make exciting cars, the mass market stays away, and the only people who are interested are the motorheads who wouldn’t buy new, anyway.

    • 0 avatar

      Mazda is doing fantastically well here in Australia, see loads of 3s, 6s and CX-5’s.

    • 0 avatar
      TorontoSkeptic

      Same in Canada.

      TTAC just published the “what canadians bought in 2012″ and the Mazda3 outsold the Camry, Altima and Malibu… combined.

      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/best-selling-cars-around-the-globe-what-the-canadians-bought-in-2012/#more-481026

  • avatar
    iNeon

    No, I don’t.

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    Supercharged MR2

  • avatar
    jco

    my friend had a twin-turbo 300ZX. there was a lot of money in that build, high-spec Jim Wolf turbos. was solidly running 10sec 1/4 mile times and very smooth to drive on the street.

    the NSX still grabs attention and looks like nothing else.

    also, don’t forget these late 80’s/early 90’s classics:

    85-87 and 88-91 Civic/CRX Si
    the first twincam VTEC cars (which mostly we didn’t get here. we had to wait for the GSR and it’s B18C)
    original Integra
    the birth of the Miata
    R32 GTR
    Silvia chassis cars – the S12 which we did get a turbo version of, and the now ubiquitous s13 and s14
    the Pulsar/Sunny GTi-R, not the weird ass Pulsar base versions we got stuck with
    Starion which kinda sorta led to the DSM cars (remember the Galant VR4?)
    the rwd Celica, XX/supra with special mention of the GT4
    the rwd Corolla family, including the AE86 of course
    X70-chassis Cressida, but we never got the best versions, the X70 turbo and twincam Mark II
    which led to the LS400, which was created out of this era of Japanese success

    probably more. i think a lot of it had to with the strength of Japan as a whole in that era. remember when we thought Japan would own corporate America? the original Die Hard movie! Rising Sun (Sean Connery, Wesley Snipes. a special mention because the Japanese ‘villian’ owned a Vector W8)

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Two things killed the fun Japanese cars. The consolidation of platforms, and the yen.

    When these cars left, they had damn near doubled in price, I think. Supra Turbos were MSRPing in the low 60s, if I remember correctly, when they left in 1998. That is like $120K today. Plus the Supra had a platform, the Celica had ANOTHER platform, and then the Corolla had ANOTHER platform.

    I think there is hope for every manufacturer though.

    Honda/Acura need a RWD platform for Acura. They could easily make a sports car or 4 from that. Toyota/Subaru are back in the fray. We need a flat 6 Supra. Nissan’s been in the mix for 10 years, though something under the Z would be nice (if it was lighter). Mazda & Mitsu are too broke. They just need to survive. Hell even Hyundai has an entry. Now are all the entries COOL? No. But like the 90s showed, even cool doesn’t necessarily sell.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      And the best part was you could drive all these cars in Gran Turismo!

      As a Z owner I keep hoping for the 2nd coming, but the fact that we even have a BRZ / GT86 in today’s market shows a ray of sunshine. But man those 90s car choices were awesome. I lusted after a 3000GT, 300ZX or a Starion, but could only afford an Eclipse GS-T after owning a Prelude Si.

      Love to see Honda return to its racing heritage and bring back some kind of sports car, cause the CR-Z isn’t cutting it. Its sad that fastest car from Toyota is the Rav4, given they made the Supra, Celica and MR2. Nissan is pretty much the only one keeping the light on with the insane GT-R, the traditional Z, plus Infinity with G-series.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      This, the cost of RX-7, Supra, et al sky rocketed killing the market for affordable sports cars.

  • avatar
    david42

    I’ll be damned. I was SO SURE that the 3000GT (non-VR4) was rwd.

    I used to own an SVX. Yes, it was underpowered, but it was still glorious. Not quite as crazy as a Citroen, but closer to one of those than to most other vehicles you could buy in America.

  • avatar
    azmtbkr81

    I miss the timeless, purposeful, minimalist lines of the ’90s Japanese sports cars (with perhaps the exception of the 3000GT). The svelte and perfectly proportioned last generation 240sx is the pinnacle of automotive beauty in my mind.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      Isn’t that funny; I was just thinking the same thing about the Mk.III Supra which is similar in styling to the 240SX fastback. I loved all those old Japanese machines, the Supra was sleek and robust at the same time, like the old Jag XJ-C.

      On the rare occasion I see one of those old Supras, they still make me stop what I’m in the middle of, and lose my train of thought. But so does a 1970 Torino too. Thank goodness for the Genesis and FR-S/BR-Z. Even Nissan Zs are out of reach for most people these days.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      Me too. Today’s overwrought, baroque, complex, cluttered, and disjointed styling fashion leaves me flat.,

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      I feel pretty much the same way about the NSX.

  • avatar

    I disagree somewhat. The FR-S/BR-Z and the Miata are sports cars. So what if they don’t have enough power to get into orbit? They’re both comparatively light, and the overall driving experience is wonderful.

    And don’t tell me the Z disappeared?

    I’m more concerned about the disappearance of the CRX (or anything like it) than I am about the NSX.

    But overall, hotted up Japanese cars like the SI are way better than the sporty cars of, say, 30 years ago, so there’s not much reason to spend 40k-plus. And the 3000GT is a porker, basically more like an American muscle car than like a CRX. And even fairly mundane Japanese cars, like my ’08 Civic (stick), could outrun the Corvettes of my youth (60s).

    Of course, the RX-8 was doomed by terrible gas mileage, for which there was no fix and an engine with personality quirks that could necessitate expensive repairs. I wrote about that in ’04, I think, and I woudl have bought one had there been a fix for the gas mileage and the quirks, and had the thing had enough headroom. Heck, I’d buy the FR-S if ***that*** had enough headroom. (My sister has one [with a stick] and loves it.)

    • 0 avatar
      George Herbert

      David Holzman:
      Of course, the RX-8 was doomed by terrible gas mileage, for which there was no fix and an engine with personality quirks that could necessitate expensive repairs.

      There are fine fixes for both of those, to wit: Suck it up on the gas mileage, and replace the engine when it grenades at ~45k (04-08) or probably around ~90k (newer) miles.

      I’m 2+ years and 24,000 miles into my 04 RX-8 and have fed it about 1300 gal of gas and a new engine (3 weeks … **3 WEEKS** after the extended 8 year warranty ran out…) plus regular dealer maintenance. I can budget for engine #3 at around 135k. It’s far cheaper than the gas costs over the same time.

      It’s expensive as a daily driver, but for some things, you just suck it up.

  • avatar
    cwp

    “automotive journalists and Porsche employees”

    But you repeat yourself.

  • avatar

    “The only Japanese brand to sit out the mid-‘90s sports car fun was Suzuki. Instead, Suzuki focused its efforts on the two-door X-90 SUV, which was launched in purple and had T-tops. Really, it’s a wonder they’re not still around.”

    As a Suzuki Cappuccino owner I take offence to that statement. My cappo is/was awesome (friend crashed it 3 weeks ago at Mt BawBaw tarmac rally, she will live again!)

    With a few mods, it’s up to about 80-90kW from its little 660cc 3 cylinders of fury. It handles amazing being only 720kg with double wishbone all round, close to 50/50 weight distribution and gives me the ability to call even NA MX-5’s fat/whales.

    It has so much character, and is so raw to drive, with manual tight rack and pinion steering, no abs, no traction control. Makes an awesome sound, like half of a 911 GT3 and so many WTF IS THAT looks as you drive past, burbling and back firing on the roll off.

    Damn I love that car, DAMN YOU ANDREW! WHY DID YOU CRASH IT!

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Suzuki Swift GT

      Not a big seller or a halo car. But it definitely offered more than enough sport per pound.

      • 0 avatar

        The Swift GTI has quite a cult following here in Aus. I have a G13B motor and jimny gearbox in the garage to do an eventual swap into the cappuccino.

        There was also the Alto Works little 4WD hatch of fun. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:CA21S_Suzuki_Alto_Works_1.jpg

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Japanese cars were never cool to me.

    What was cool? Try a Chevelle 396 SS. THAT was cool, and go from there.

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      I think it was 1986.. my gearhead boss Brian drove his latest in a series of Camaros. He appeared in the office one day beaming in all his 80’s feathered haircut glory… I thought maybe he’d bought a Vette or some such.

      He asked me to walk out to the parking lot with him. Sitting in his usual spot was a dark blue little bug-car. A brand new CRX. He raved about it and insisted I get in for a demo drive. It was crazy quick and tracked like a go-kart.

      I looked at gearhead Brian’s face aglow with pride and joy, and I thought: “We’ve finally lost WWII”.

    • 0 avatar
      juicy sushi

      Your loss…

      • 0 avatar
        Summicron

        “Your loss…”

        Good book on Japan… “Embracing Defeat” by John Dower. That’s what I did. Happy Camry owner with a masters in Japanese.

        Got Kimigayo on my MP3 player, yo.

        • 0 avatar
          juicy sushi

          I just tell my in-laws they’re out of their minds for voting for the LDP again after they’ve spent 30 years running the country into the ground.

          Also, I was referring to Zackman’s comment, on coolness…

          • 0 avatar
            Zackman

            @juicy:

            I figured my comment would get a rise out of someone, but I suppose it all comes down to when one grows up.

            What happened? Most likely, we baby-boomers grew up.

            I grew up in the era of 1960’s supercars, and that leaves an indelible mark. All the Japanese cars that came later were improved imitators of classic European sports cars with a lot of refinement, and for that, I certainly respect them for improving on the fun factor and being relatively low-maintenance – they actually started and ran and didn’t burn up on you!

            I really took a liking to a 1976 Toyota Corolla SR5 hatch which I nearly bought, but I was into the country, and Jeeps and pickup trucks were the rage until I married, then econoboxes were the rule.

            So that brings a little clarification to my earlier statement. Also I’ve always been a boulevard cruiser and not a corner-carver, so that explains why I love big cars like Impalas…

          • 0 avatar
            juicy sushi

            Zackman, it wasn’t a rise, just an observation. I know you’re more a barge man, and this article didn’t mention the barges, which were mainly Japanese domestic on the affordable end of the scale. The original Infiniti M45 was right up your alley though…

          • 0 avatar
            corntrollio

            “The original Infiniti M45 was right up your alley though…”

            Did you mean the Q45? The M of the 90s was the M30 coupé/convertible, based on the Nissan Leopard (a subsequent generation of which also underpinned the J30). The later M was based on the Gloria and then the Fuga.

          • 0 avatar
            juicy sushi

            Nope, the M45:

            http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infiniti_M#section_2

            See the second generation (that’s the one I mean)

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Impressive, I’ve been working with Chinese since January, the Eastern languages are tough my hat’s off to you.

          • 0 avatar
            Summicron

            Oh Lordy…. studying putonghua, eh?
            If you can stick with that and succeed then you truly are an Officer and a Gentleman.

            It’s the damn tonal system… at least 4 different meanings/pronunciations for each hanzi. Yosh

          • 0 avatar
            juicy sushi

            Yeah, that will be impressive. I’m tone deaf so it’s a dead loss for me…

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            The best Infiniti “soft cruiser” would definitely be the 2nd-gen Q45, which was more like a Buick than anything they’ve made before or since.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @Summicron

            Thank you for the praise although at the moment I’m not trying to speak it. Part of my job for the past few months has been to work with a translator and make language changes or additions to resx files, asp/html files, and in our database (technical liaison as it were). Since January its been Simplified Chinese (and one project was Traditional) I’ve been slowly learning about the grammar structure and a few of the more common characters from the translator… as you may imagine its quite different. My company struggles with Eastern languages in general (we love Thai for instance) and we are trying to enhance our products to be truly world class… its getting there.

          • 0 avatar
            Summicron

            @28-Cars

            Jeez, your job sounds fascinating. I used to translate Japanese & German, Japanese mostly technical and German mostly legal.

            No Westerner is going to jump in as an adult and fully comprehend any Asian language. We work in our jargon-niches. I became so specialized that I could quickly comprehend and translate a paper on, say, OLED displays or hydroforming steel car parts, but I’d have a hard time keeping up with the banter on a Sumo broadcast or a Japanese news show.

            I was/am definitely a “book” learner and user of foreign languages. You’re actually in their doing real communicating in a business environment. Your knowledge will be vastly more practical and employable.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @Summicron

            Things get interesting around here, and I see it all because I’m one of the maint developers for the old system and soon to be the new system. It all started with the “old product” because almost all of its content was stored in the database, and on my team I had the greatest expertise with database development/performance tuning (which is becoming uncommon with newer developer hires, all java or .net, weak understanding of SQL and the DB, they see it as a “black box” to interact with).

            My company is aggressively chasing new business in China, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam… each one of those countries uses a different native language and each one requires individual translations for each bit of content. I sort of took up the fight to update changes or load these languages from scratch and its been very eye-opening to say the least.

            Thank you for your compliments, I see my strengths as being having the interpersonal skills to interact with PMs, sales, executives, or non tech-savvy business people, a lack of patience for bullshit, and the technical prowess to generally deliver what they want the system to accomplish. Many people even in this company throw up walls when it comes to business needs or requirements, they just want to live in Final Fantasy VII and write beautiful but impractical code (while enforcing a litany of pointless internal rules of course).

            I just had an interesting conversation with my dept director on Tuesday you might enjoy. In China the common font they apparently use is called Simsun. Chinese characters displayed in Arial can sometimes appear very similar to Japanese ones and thus, we need the ability to change the font for the Admin part, the initial greeting part and the testing part of the app for Chinese locales. I was able to reuse a hack I developed for the testing part to change the CSS style sheet, but the welcome and admin part share code and somebody got the bright idea to permanently build the CSS file into the solution, which requires a build, regression, and God’s permission to alter. Stupid, stupid, stupid… think of it like putting the HVAC system in a car behind a pane of glass. I said to my director, Tammy what they have built is a Jaguar… modern, sleek, fast, sexy, and expensive… but its totally impractical for our needs and its in the shop constantly. What we need is an old school Volvo… durable, reliable, of high build quality, and designed to be maintained. Evidently this resonated with her since I found out she once had a 740 and her ex-husband had a string of post-96 lemon’d Mercedes because he liked ‘fancy cars’.

          • 0 avatar
            Summicron

            @28-Cars

            Heh… somebody earlier today kind of snarked at your desire to forge your own path. Seems that you refute that guy every time you show up for work.

            Cool career, Lad. I’m jealous :-)

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      + Never did much for me either. Even the ones that looked good on the outside were tacky on the inside. All of the cars I thought were cool in my youth came from across the other pond. And the Europeans have certainly not lost the plot of cool.

      I will also say I never would have dreamed 20+ years ago that American cars would get to where they are today. The Japanese have lost 90% of their mojo with no sign of it coming back anytime soon.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed. In the 90s, in terms of cheap fun, I was Always thinking and dreaming of such things as Fiat Barchetta and Coupe, Ford Puma and Opel Calibra.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        My ultimate issue with these 90’s Japanese sports cars is that they’re pricey to upkeep and to really appreciate their power you have to rev the snot out of them at high speeds, there is nothing practical about them.

        I think the key flaw with almost ny 90’s Japanese sports car is that you don’t have to look far to see what car its copying, fine on a cheap Hyundai but not on something fairly expensive.

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      @ Zackman… An SS 396, maybe a Swinger 340,how about a Judge? My favourite a 68 Roadrunner 426 Hemi twin four barrels,rubber mats,and dog dish hub caps. Now that was cool. Nothing about any Japanese car was ever cool. Yesterday I got my butt kicked for defending the Impala. Today I’m just going to recognize,that there is big generation gap here. I guess I’m going to leave it at that.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        Mikey, where do we begin? Pontiac GTO, Judge, Olds 442, Buick GS, Chevelle SS, Impala SS, Camaro RS & SS, Nova SS, Roadrunner, GTX, Firebird, Swinger, Barracuda, Charger, AMX, Rebel, Duster 340, Shelby Mustang, et al.

        Did I miss anyone? Probably…

    • 0 avatar
      luvmyv8

      I used to be the same way too. don’t get me wrong, I’d love me some 440 Mopar, LS6 Chevelle or Super Cobra Jet 428 Ford, but…..

      Back in ’98 a game was released on the Sony Playstation. It was called ‘Gran Turismo’ and I swooped on it on the first release day. Initially, I was disapointed, because I was expecting more ‘Merican cars in it and half of the cars I had no idea what they were….. Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution? Huh? Subaru Impreza WRX? What? Nissan Skyline GT-R? What are these?

      Then I bought a R32 GT-R in the game…. and I destroyed everything with that car….. and thus began my obsession with the Skyline GT-R, which still very much burns inside me to this day and it will be an itch I will eventually scratch.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      “Japanese cars were never cool to me.”

      My parents feel the same way and have never owned Japanese cars.

      When they could have been driving an Acura Legend around in the 1990s, they settled for American stuff and a couple Swedish mechanical nightmares.

      Their loss.

  • avatar
    1998redwagon

    love the red then grey photo grouping. helps to make the point.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    The LF-A isn’t considered cool? Lexus IS-F maybe?

    Kind of a tepid article that doesn’t take into account ever changing world-wide emissions and safety laws, which had more of an impact on REALLY cool Japanese sports car market than the Camry did.

    While I agree that the Subaru SVX was a neat car, it wasn’t a sports car by any means, it was a Grand Tourer, which is why it had an automatic transmission.

    This article skips all sorts of economic and environmental realities just to bemoan the loss of cars that didn’t really sell that well in the first place and weren’t even that profitable.

    3 row CUVs on the other hand, those are extremely profitable. Do the math, it’s REALLY cool.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      The LFA would be cool if there was ever a chance that someone could actually get one. Personally, I would love to see one IRL, but that’ll never happen.

  • avatar
    Cerum

    True but STI, EVO, 370Z, & re-release of S2K & Speed6. When adjusted for inflation all are better value and are more accessible to younger buyers.

  • avatar

    One thing to keep in mind – the golden era of great JDM sports cars is an aberration. They came about during a time of enormous prosperity in Japan that was largely fueled by an absurd economic bubble. In that context, a $100,000 3 rotor Mazda Cosmo looks sane. So does building a bespoke assembly line for Honda’s all-aluminum supercar. No surprise that these cars weren’t replaced after the bubble burst, and they only soldiered on in the domestic market in their original form.

    • 0 avatar
      juicy sushi

      I think they’re also the classic example of the engineers running amok. The companies were flush with cash and eager to one-up each other, and gave their engineers free reign to go nuts. All the Japanese car companies were very engineering-led and oriented, which made it much easier to get stuff approved that made no business sense.

      • 0 avatar

        Absolutely. I think a lot of the younger journalists (my cohort) chastise the Japanese OEMs for “losing their way” when it fact, this era is a complete outlier spurred by an unsustainable economy and a now-aged population that was at the peak of their earning potential and able to buy these cars. But the younger crowd tends to use this as a baseline rather than an anomaly.

        • 0 avatar
          kuman

          in defence of the modern car, some new cars from japan, especially their K cars are really cool in different way, just look at the Honda Nbox TTAC reviewed this one or N1, its packed with design n technical breakthrough ( for a micro car that is ).

          The JDM honda odyssey MPV is much cooler than your accord or estates anyday.

          Toyota have its alphard and vellfire luxo MPV on their line ups… all black with dark tint and smashed setup, its the new yakuza mobile.

          Cool then and cool now is 2 different beast.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Points taken but I see this as the height of a brand’s lifecycle, engineers should have the greater say in the product they are asked to produce.

        Bean counters helped doom GM and one day they will doom Japan’s offerings if they are allowed to take control (which seems to be the case).

        • 0 avatar
          juicy sushi

          They took control for the past decade, or perhaps 1995-2007 or so, but Akio Toyoda seems to be pushing back pretty hard, and Honda claim to have some new tricks coming.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            LFA was a nice start, even if its goals were not mass production but more design and process development.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      REALLY good point. Never thought of it that way.

      Meanwhile, the 911, Corvette and Mustang have soldiered on for over 40 years…

      • 0 avatar
        juicy sushi

        Some Japanese cars have similar durability and market commitment, namely the MX-5, Z and the RX series, but they are only a small part of the larger brand, much like the Mustang and Corvette were for Ford and GM (and the 911 is now for Porsche).

    • 0 avatar
      jco

      yeah, this is the same point I was making above. that this was a mirror of the Japanese strentgh at the time.

      however, Toyota just finished building a sports car from a bespoke carbon fiber assembly process/factory that this site covered. and they didn’t do it just to build 500 LFAs. they were pioneering carbon fiber assembly, which I really hope trickles down eventually.

      so this kind of Japanese engineering isn’t dead. Toyota and Nissan still make me hope for good things to come.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      Yes, you have to remember what Japan was like then. Their stock market peaked at the very end of 1989, but there was still a lot of irrational exuberance through the 90s, and the Japanese were buying tons of American assets (sort of like the Chinese are now). Of course, after the initial groups of buyers bought some 1st tier assets (like Pebble Beach), the stupid money started coming in afterward buying 2nd, 3rd, and 4th tier assets, just like the Chinese are doing now.

      The engineers had huge budgets, and that’s why the VR4 had 4-wheel steering (and things like active aero), the Z also had Super HICAS in the twin-turbo Z32, and I believe the Prelude had 4-wheel steering too. Nissan has made an electrically operated version of HICAS available off-and-on since then, but the R&D bucks aren’t there for a lot of these types of features these days.

      As Derek said, the baby boomers had a lot of money to buy these types of cars. They benefited from a lot of things Gen X, Gen Y, and Millennial-types won’t get.

      • 0 avatar
        azmtbkr81

        The automotive industry has followed the baby boomers fairly consistently over the last 30 years.

        When the boomers were in their 20s and 30s they wanted sports cars.

        Once they grew out of going fast and started having families they traded in their sports cars for SUVs.

        Now that their knees are too creaky to climb into SUVs they want CUVs which are the automotive equivalent of creamed corn or those cell phones with the huge buttons.

        I know that my generation will grow old too someday but hopefully we won’t drag the car industry down with us.

    • 0 avatar
      L'avventura

      The problem of your argument and the logical failure of this entire article is that the worst and most obscene examples of Japanese automotive expression are all very recent: LFA, GTR, and the upcoming NSX revival.

      This is a time when the US, Euro, and Japanese have burst, the Chinese are about to burst, and the global economy is at a doldrums.

      The Supra, original NSX, and RX7 were comparatively affordable, at least compared to the sheer useless examples that Japanese sports cars have become recently. Not to mention niche cars like the IS-F and Juke-R.

      Cars like the GT86/FRS/BRZ/MX5 are positively rationale in comparison.

      But please don’t insult our intelligence, this article is nothing more than Jalopnik-level flame-baiting. It only makes sense it you are able to convince yourself that the only sports car that Toyota has made since the Supra only make “150lb/ft torque”.

      • 0 avatar

        Honestly, this comment is really harsh considering I believe you’ve missed the point of the article. I’m not discussing the most obscene examples of “Japanese automotive expression,” whatever that is. I’m discussing a time when every Japanese automaker had a world-class sports car. No more, no less. Those days started and ended in the ’90s.

        • 0 avatar
          Kevin Jaeger

          It was a fine article as usual, Doug. Don’t take an ankle-biter too seriously.

          If I had more room in my garage I’d love to add an RX-7 and an MR2. I loved this era of fun Japanese cars.

        • 0 avatar
          L'avventura

          I apologize if I came off too harsh, but the language in this article is clearly worded to incite a response. Example, in regarding the sportiest Toyota as just a “Subaru with 150lb-ft of torque” or the Japanese sports cars have “died”;

          All the cars you mention in this article, while well-regarded, were pricey and poor sellers in their time.

          The spectrum of Japanese cars have greatly improved since, to ridiculously expensive examples like the LFA, slightly less expensive but still six-figures that is the GTR (and presumably the upcoming NSX), all the way down to cars like the MX5, S2000, and FRS/BRZ.

          The argument that Japanese cars are now just “economboxes” and that the Japanese sports car have “died” is simply false.

        • 0 avatar
          L'avventura

          Giving it some thought, on the argument that “every Japanese automaker had a world-class sports car” during the 90s, I would make the argument that the 00′ years were ultimately much better for most Japanese sports cars.

          Subaru & Mitsubishi: 3000GT & SVX, were both quirky and interesting but they weren’t really well regarded even for that period. The WRX & EVO rivalry that proceed those cars did a lot more to both company’s images.

          Nissan: after near bankruptcy in the 90s, the Carlos Ghosn-era saw the S15 Silvia, 350Z, and GTR.

          Honda: The NSX gave Honda credence, but it could be argued that the S2000 did more to Honda’s image due to its accessibility. Now, they no longer have the S2000 and the NSX is coming back.

          Mazda: Also nearing bankruptcy in the 90s, The Ford-era saw the MX5 endure, and while we can consider the RX7 better regarded than the RX8, it was nimble and much more affordable. MPS3 & MPS6 were also released.

          Daihatsu & Suzuki: still building quirky keis, same as the 90s.

          Toyota: the exception, Toyota sports cars and largely stagnated in the 00s outside the IS-F.

          • 0 avatar

            The 3000GT VR4 has more power than the Evo. The 300ZX TT has more power than the 350Z. Even the SVX had more power than the original WRX. The S2000 is cancelled; the RX-8 is cancelled; the MazdaSpeed6 is cancelled. And I’ll believe the NSX is coming back when I see it.

            Japan’s heyday is long gone…

          • 0 avatar
            L'avventura

            That’s a poor argument to compare cars, relative horsepower. Its also false, you compare the top of the line VR4 to the lowest Evo. There are variants of the Evo that make upto 400hp such as the FQ400. Horsepower aside they were a hell of lot faster car.

            Keep in mind, Japan at the time was limited by the 276hp “gentleman’s agreement”, the VR4 was a regional anomaly no different than the FQ400. Also, the modern Z34 Z-car makes 350hp in its base model. Not to mention 545hp in the GTR if you want to talk out-and-out horsepower.

            The problem with all the cars you listed is that nobody bought them, they were made at the lowest point in Japanese economy with the yen sky-rocking in the 90s.

            But that’s not the point, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Subaru and Nissan’s sports car credibility actually grew more in the 00′ period.

      • 0 avatar

        The LFA is a dry-run for the mass production of carbon fiber components for automobiles. That and a marketing exercise. The GTR was put into production because Nissan can leverage the FM platform and the VQ engine to dampen some of the development costs. I’d advise you to refrain from embarrassing yourself with obtuse statements and petulant insults aimed at our writers.

        • 0 avatar
          thelaine

          Thank you Derek. “Obtuse.”

          Now I have a polite alternative to “What the hell are you talking about?”

        • 0 avatar
          L'avventura

          The weakness of your argument is that you state that Japan’s “golden” era is an “aberration” due to their 80s “absurd economic bubble”.

          First off, most of the cars presented in this article are AFTER the economic bubble burst in 1991. Most of these cars are from Japan’s ‘Lost Decade’.

          These cars were made during the Japanese automakers decline; Nissan & Mazda were ultimately taken up by Renault and Ford during the time of the 300ZX and FD RX7 were in production.

          Also, I’m pointing out to you that most of Japan’s “absurd” and expensive sports cars endeavours have come AFTER the economic bubble burst.

          Let’s take Toyota as an example, after the Supra, they’ve contested in WRC, LeMans, and very expensive and fruitless F1 program (not to mention Honda’s), then there were ISF and LFA (and a hinted production version of the LF-LC).

          Besides the GTR, you also have the upcoming NSX. A hybrid and expensive. All very expensive cars during a global economic crisis.

          While I apologize for coming across too harsh, expect that your factual inaccuracies will be called out.

          • 0 avatar

            You know why they came out after the bubble? Because they were developed during the bubble. Think about the development cycle for a car that debuted in 1991. They were getting started sometime around 1985.

          • 0 avatar
            L'avventura

            Derek, the ultimate failure of all those cars listed were because they were made during the Lost Decade. Like a meteor to the Yucatan Peninsula, the cars became much too expensive as the yen sky-rocked in the 90s to historic levels.

            Three of the companies that made cars here neared bankruptcy, Mitsubishi Motors, Nissan, and Mazda. They became controlled by the Germans (Daimler), French (Renault), and Americans (Ford).

            There was no extravagance here as you insist, the 00′ period marked a greater period of Japanese extravagant spending. Also most Japanese cars were largely bespoke (even passenger cars). Platform sharing was not something they did, particularly Nissan. This is why they went backrupt, it was Carlos Ghosn and Ford who forced out redundancy.

            Also, what we consider the ‘bubble cars’ actually started development in 1981, when Japan signed a Voluntary Restraint Agreement with the US that limited Japanese exports to 1.68 million cars that forced the Japanese to make more expensive cars (and was the start of brands like Lexus, Acura, Infiniti)

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    Had an early 90s 4th-Gen Prelude Si. Bought it new. Was recently graduated from college, finally making decent money. I loved that car, and it remains my favorite of all the cars I’ve owned. It was quick, agile, completely dependable, looked cool, delivered good gas mileage. Ticked every box.

    I get that the market has changed considerably since then. Trends, fashion, economic realities. A Prelude probably makes no sense as an offering today. But it sure was fun while it lasted. Wasn’t super car-ish like the NSX, but for the price and operating costs, the Prelude was a great car.

    • 0 avatar
      tienbac2005

      My sister needed a car 2 years ago, and at that time I was driving a 04′ Camry, that car was good, but just so boring to drive. I ended up giving my sister the Camry and bought a 94 Prelude VTEC. Best decision ever. Put about 45k miles on it since I bought it and only needed to change the master clutch cylinder.

      Parts are cheap and easy to maintain. I wish there were still cars like this around.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        I always had a fondness for the Honda Prelude of the early 90s vintage and the 2nd generation Acura Legend, too.

        Even though they were “wrong wheel drive” they handled well, they weren’t bloated or garish but tastefully restrained while distinctive, were dead nuts reliable, and the interiors & gauges were as good as any cars of that period (and as good as those in some cars costing 3x as much.

        I so miss the Honda/Acura of the 90s.

        Mazda is the only real Japanese manufacturer that’s still credible as a producer of not-complete-appliances left.

        I’m not a particular fan of the FR-S/FT-86/BRZ, but it would be unfair of me to not also give them a nod of appreciation, too; they are rear wheel drive, good handling, and fairly good looking cars sold at a reasonable price point, after all.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          The second gen Legend was not FWD.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Legend was FWD from 86-95, both generations.

            Vigor was the RWD offering I believe built on a Legend modified platform.

            http://en.wikipedia DOT org/wiki/Acura_Legend

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            Yes it was. Honda mounted the engine and transmission longitudinally for the second and third gen, then ran a side shaft off the transmission to drive a front differential. Chrysler used a similar setup on the LH cars in the ’90s.

            http://world.honda.com/mechanical-illustration/large/image/large-14.jpg

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I can’t recall the engine setup on the Legend, but on the RL I’ve seen the longitudinally mounted FWD setup. My 1990 Audi 100 had a 5-cyl in a similar setup “north/south”, but it was still FWD as is the RL, and the Chrysler LH.

            ’68 Olds Toronado was I believe the first mass produced car to pioneer the longitudinal engine mounted FWD setup.

            http://en.wikipedia DOT org/wiki/Oldsmobile_Toronado

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            The Vigor was also FWD, using the same setup as the Legend. The diff was mounted on the left side, though, since the 5-cylinder was slanted to the right.

            http://carphotos.cardomain.com/ride_images/1/2367/601/5915300024_large.jpg

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I did some quick searching, you are correct the Vigor was FWD, but so was Legend. The transmission comes off the back of the motor but much like my Audi, it bends forward and drives the front wheels.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            My apologies, I was operating -for YEARS- under the assumption that the Legend was so desired and valued because it was RWD, and the last Honda sedan to be such.

            I am DEVASTATED. And dissapoint.

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            Honda’s only RWD cars (not counting the motorcycle-engine S and T-series from the ’60s) are the NSX, Beat (transverse mid-engine), and the S2000 (conventional FR). Everything else is FWD (or transverse front-based AWD in the RL and TL).

            The Legend was the only way outside the NSX to get a Honda V6, until the Accord got a V6 option for 1995.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Don’t be, evidently with that weird engine setup they are not as reliable as something like the Accord or TL (specifically the transmission, Chrysler LH suffers from similar tranny problems).

            I know when I had the Audi I had to check the tranny fluid regularly because of the problems with those is there was only one seal between the differential and the transmission (IIRC) and when it leaks the two fluids slowly coagulate and it can ruin the transmission over time.

            I lusted after a somewhat clean 2000ish 3.5RL/120K a lot had here that they just couldn’t sell for some reason… I think they dropped the price to $1895 or something ridiculously cheap. I looked them up and apparently despite being made in Japan, the build quality can be surprisingly off on some. The engine isn’t very powerful something like 200bhp@5900rpm (for a V6 in 2000 not bad but not great for a “flagship”) and it drinks gas because of the odd setup (17/25hwy or around there) and they all seem to need at least one trans prior to 150K. Such a shame. I would imagine the Legends weren’t much different, I know they became popular ghetto sleds around here and have mostly disintegrated in the PA salt.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Heres the big issue, we’ve hit an era where a cars actual driving experience and fun factor mean nothing, now its simply about fashion and getting 40 mpg, everyone wants to “project an image” rather than just drive and enjoy it.

    I don’t think this article just goes for Japanese cars, most cars even since the 90’s have morphed into mid-sized Camcord knock-offs or CUV treading the same dumb concept that gave us the AMC Eagle SX-4.

    Cars have become pretty consistent in a good level of quality (save for a few recent recalls) and gas mileage, it’d just be nice to see a few others that are genuinely different and not just aesthetically, anyone can make a car that appears different on the surface.

    Yes we have the FRSBRZ86 GTsamestupidcar, a new exciting sports car that weighs and has has weight distribution that rivals my ’92 Volvo 240. I swear the new FRZ86 is closer to a “beginners guide to sports cars” than the real deal.

    We still have cheaply built muscle cars too, but we can owe a great deal of this to Hollywoods glorification of older models and our nostalgic baby boomer age.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Just based on what I’ve read from the reviewers, the 2014 Mazda6 seems like it might be a real distinction in that class, putting the driver first.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Save for bizarre styling I’ve yet to see what makes the 6 all that different from a Camry.

        • 0 avatar
          Sam P

          The driving experience in a modern Camry is horrific. I presume the 6 is far better, or at least as good as the modern Honda Accord is.

          • 0 avatar
            niky

            The Mazda6 is worlds better than the current Camry and Accord in terms of the driving experience. The new electric steering isn’t as sweet as the utterly perfect racks in the previous 6 and Protege, but it’s still very, very good.

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          At Niky:

          I’d like to know how one mid-sized FF sedan can be so much better to drive than another FF mid-sized sedan.

          I’ve driven FFs from many makes and models including a “sporty” Grand Prix and a Honda Z600, the only one that provided a fun drive was an ’89 Tercel.

          • 0 avatar
            niky

            If the best front-drivers you’ve ever driven are a Tercel and a big old Grand Prix, then you’ve had a pretty poor time of it. No Integras? Protege5s? Older Focus hatchbacks? Mazda2s? First-gen Fits? MINIs? Lots of lovely front drivers that will cut up a back road with more confidence than some sporty rear drivers.

            As for the in-class comparisons: A Camry nowadays is a barge. An Accord is a barge with nice steering.

            A first generation Mazda6 is not a barge. It’s barely bigger than the 626 that preceded it. While the 626 was related to the MX6, it wasn’t really great to drive. Good, but not great.

            The first-gen Mazda6, on the other hand, does the whole dancing and singing jinba ettai thing. The steering is as good as the NB Miata, probably a bit sharper. It feels like a Miata, too. Ridiculous amounts of tire and wind noise, buzzy refinement and lift-off oversteer if you happened to be on the right mountain road in the right frame of mind. A true hoonigan’s car, which is why Mazda figured they’d build a Mazdaspeed6 variant. Personally, I’d have had a turbocharged front drive variant… keep it simple, keep it light.

            The second-gen Mazda6 is tighter and more powerful (though lacking a Mazdaspeed variant). The steering is sharper, but electric, and the rear end is more behaved. It feels like a front-wheel drive 3-series. So it’s lost a little charm but the driving experience is still light years beyond what passes for an Accord nowadays. The next 6 is going back to its roots. Emphasizing light weight and a smaller package. I’m pretty stoked to try this one out.

  • avatar
    Cirruslydakota

    After selling my 07 Mustang GT last year for a woman (I dont regret it, but feel free to flame me anyway.) I decided to try something outside of my comfort zone since all I had driven and owned for 13 years has been domestic RWD cars and trucks. Requirements were sporty, fun, relatively fast, four doors or five, MANUAL transmission, and good on gas (25 highway or better, so same as the GT). I tried really really hard to find something domestic but each had their flaws:

    Dodge Caliber SRT4 – Im a Chrysler guy at heart and no way in high hell was I going to own that miserable Diamler decontented piece of shit.

    Chevrolet Cobalt SS – Drove one and I have no idea where Motortrend and C&D got the idea this thing handles well and the engine is a gem. Engine was weak and the interior was awful. What killed it for me was the worst blocky chunky steering wheel ive ever felt.

    Focus ST (Older non turbo one) – My soon to be wife owns one, therefore I cant own one. I do however like this car quite a bit. What about the new ST? Good effort but the MS3 is still faster and its been out for years.

    So then I turned to the other countries.

    VW – No. Theyre junk, im a mechanic and ive worked on enough of these to know I dont ever want to own one or anything German. Ever.

    Toyota/Scion – Fun? Not here.

    Nissan – Besides the expensive and slower than a GT 350/370Z what else you got?

    Honda – Civic Si? Sorry, I like torque and power below 5,000 RPM. CR-Z Sport Hybrid? What?

    Hyundai – Veloster? Slow. Veloster Turbo? Slow.

    Then came Mazda. Hmm, lots to cloose from here. Miata sounds nice but is way impratical. RX-8? Nah. Mazda 3…Wait a sec, dont they make this in an attractive hatch? But I wish it didnt have that stupid grin…

    Then I remember a few years ago fawning over the first gen Mazdaspeed 3 so I began a search for the ultimate stealth muscle hatch. A week later I brought home a 2008 Cosmic Blue Mica MS3 and I couldnt be happier. Handles like its on rails, turbo power is addictive, swallows cargo and hauls people with ease, gets 30-31 on the highway, and is just plain fun! Zoom-Zoom indeed.

    (Most who are in the know realize the S3 is on a Volvo platform with ford parts so its still somewhat domestic with a sweedish platform built in japan. Also, parts are insanely expensive for this thing!)

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Japanese sports cars are cooler today. The only thing that was better back then were the names.

    Doug, I have owned every model you mentioned with the sole exception of the NSX. That one was given to me as a ‘Thank you’ for a day and that model may represent the only exception to the 90’s sports car idiom.

    The lighter, less powerful, less expensive sports cars of the 90’s are far more fun to drive than their big brothers.

    Miata is more fun than the RX-7
    MR-2 Turbo is more fun than the Celica All-Trac and Supra Turbo
    240SX is (when equipped the right way) more fun than the 300ZX
    Eclipse GSX is more fun than the 3000GT-VR4

    If I recall correctly, back in 1991 you could get a Prelude Si w/ 4 wheel steering, an Integra, a Civic Si, and a CRX. If that didn’t float your boat there was always the far more sedate Legend and Accord coupes along with the Civic.

    The Honda brand sold a greater variety of two door models back then than four door models. The Accord wagons could be ordered with sticks. In fact, every trim of every model sold back then that came with an H in front of it could be had with a manual transmission.

    The far more serious issue back then for the halo cars was weight. The cars looked nice on paper. But real world performance ran the gamut between touring and ‘damn the ride sucks!’.

    Every sports car model you mentioned with the sole exception of the NSX (and arguably the Supra) was fighting a hefty dilemma by the time the 90’s were in full swing. Before SUV’s were bulking out of every corner, you had sports cars that were pretty much leading the super-sized march to mediocrity.

    It took the last five years to dig ourselves out of that ditch. The sports car of today is a cooler deal when you compare all the variables related to the actual ownership experience. I just wish they brought back the old names.

  • avatar
    juicy sushi

    That 300ZX ad always bugged me as it aired after they had actually axed the 300ZX in the North American market. So it was promoting a company which had nothing decent to offer anymore…

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Growing up, I was always amazed by the variety of seemingly ambiguous Japanese sports and pseudo sports cars.

    I say ambiguous because they were fairly infrequent in my Big 3 dominated town, and names like 3000GT and 240SX just didn’t have the emotional context that Mustang, Charger, Camaro or Corvette had. Plus, it took me a LONG time to warm up to the wonky boxy styling of Japanese cars from the 80’s.

    A day of enlightenment came when my weird uncle bought an SVX as his daily driver. I didn’t really care much for it, but it really woke me up on the genre.

  • avatar
    niky

    Wait, no love for that rip-roaring, brilliantly quick Suzuki halo car… the Cappucino?

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I wish we could include the AWESOME Mazda Eunos Cosmo on this list :

  • avatar
    Loser

    Remember When Japanese Cars Were REALLY Cool?

    Honestly, I don’t remember them ever being cool. I do remember them as being inexpensive and indestructible. Also remember my mom telling me I could not park my new ’85 Toyota pickup in the driveway, WW2 and all that.
    Back in the 80’s and early 90’s “made in Japan” was still used by many to call something cheap junk.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      “Back in the 80′s and early 90′s “made in Japan” was still used by many to call something cheap junk.”

      Did you watch Back to the Future? That’s what Doc Brown said back in 1955, but in 1985, Marty McFly says that all the best stuff is made in Japan.

      • 0 avatar
        Loser

        Yes I remember that. Also remember the movie Gung Ho. Some of the Japanese workers were inspecting a Camaro model car when one guy picked it up and the front wheel fell off. They looked at each other and one said “American car” and started laughing. My girlfriend and I went to this movie, she had a new Camaro on order at the time and didn’t find it too funny.

    • 0 avatar
      stickmaster

      By the 80s the Japanese had already established a reputation for quality, which peaked in the 90s.

      But “made in…” doesn’t mean anything anymore. Everything is subject to cost cutting and the bottom line.

      I still trust the Japanese car brands above anyone else, though.

      • 0 avatar
        Loser

        “By the 80s the Japanese had already established a reputation for quality, which peaked in the 90s”

        I agree 100% but a lot of people back then refused to see the facts. I can’t count how many times people called my ’85 Toyota “Jap scrap” and had a few tell me it would fall apart on Pearl Harbor Day.

        For the most part I don’t care where something is made or what brand it is. I just buy what will best fill my needs/wants at the time.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          “had a few tell me it would fall apart on Pearl Harbor Day.”

          I like that its clever.

        • 0 avatar
          bumpy ii

          This probably depends on where you lived in the ’80s. The ‘Jap crap’ attitude held on in the industrial Midwest about a generation after it had lost any validity.

          • 0 avatar
            Loser

            Yep, I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland. A large percentage of the kids I went to school with had a parent working for one of the Ford or GM factories. When the wind was blowing just right you could smell the Ford foundry. My father lived on the east side of Cleveland and worked for TRW’s Valve Division. He got a hard time at work because starting in ’75 he only bought Honda’s or Toyota’s thanks to a string of bad American cars. A ’74 Buick Apollo was his last American car.

            When I go back up to Cleveland that attitude is mostly gone but you still run into a few living in the past.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    In my humble opinion, part of the downfall of this class of cars is that in the American public’s mind “sport” went from low-slung racing inspired, fast and compact to “sport” meeting tall, upright, clumsy handling (relatively) underpowered 4wheel drive boxes inspired by tractors and freight hauling semi trucks.
    Where, exactly is the “sport” in a “sport utility vehicle”??

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      Think fish & game-type sport. That was the original intention, anyway.

      That’s why a fast coupe is a *sports* car, whereas the SUV is a *sport*/utility vehicle.

  • avatar
    mstover

    I had a 1986 Mazda RX-7. I was fortunate enough to be able to take it with my when the USAF sent me to Germany. Consequently I got to legally drive it at high speeds on the autobahn. That was one fun car especially after a local german Mazda mechanic re-tuned it for driving over there. I’ll never forget him saying, “I don’t know what those Americans did to your car, but I fixed it…It will drive much better now.” Fun, but noisy at speeds over 100mph. It was a great old car that everyone noticed. Yeah it gulped gas and as a rotary it used oil, but still I really do miss driving a truly FUN car.

  • avatar
    chrishs2000

    I don’t really get this article. The influx of 90’s sports cars was caused by the Japanese economy and mindset at the time. Plus, there weren’t even that many cool cars – the SVX was a gigantic pile of sh*t and the non-VR4 3000GT was a complete and utter dog.

    The 2000’s brought plenty of cool Japanese cars – the S2000, 350Z, RX-8? These were world class sports cars before sports cars started being measured solely by acceleration times.

    I think the better article would have been about the complete disappearance of cars like the Celica, Integra/RSX, Prelude, MX-6, 240SX, etc. Who makes a reasonably priced, sporty 2 door car anymore? Don’t say Hyundai/Kia.

  • avatar
    skor

    Sporty cars, as opposed to true high-end sports cars, have trouble generating a profit these days. Changes in demographics and economic conditions have all but killed this type of car. The cars you’re talking about are meant for young people. The US, and most of the developed world, is much older today. Young people these days have much less disposable income. I know, Mustang, Camaro, Charger. How old was the average Mustang buyer in 1965? How old is the average Mustang buyer today? From what I’m seeing, new Mustangs and Camaros always have a middle-aged dude behind the wheel. I don’t see a market for these type of car coming back anytime soon.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      The middle-aged due is behind more than the Mustang and Camaro. The data from Polk shows the average of a new car buyer is 51 as of 2011. It was 48 in 2007. Apparently the only brand to have a drop in average age was Buick (from 62 to 59). Now the oldest average buyer is Lincoln at 60.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      “How old was the average Mustang buyer in 1965? How old is the average Mustang buyer today?”

      As far as I can tell, it’s still the same guy.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        Nice. That might be Post of the Day.

      • 0 avatar
        Hummer

        Haha +1 CJ

      • 0 avatar
        Loser

        Wow, one of the few times I agree with CJ. I know a few youngsters that like the new Mustang, Camaro and Challenger but these cars are priced way out of reach for them. Seems for the most part kid’s today couldn’t care less about cars or even getting a drivers license

        • 0 avatar
          Hummer

          Hell I think a ton of people like them, but a ton of people are buying them for the engine not the fancy interior stuff and body work that ups the price, you can’t even get a stripper with the biggest engines

        • 0 avatar
          skor

          Loser, kids can’t afford new sporty cars now, or any new car for that matter. First off, the cost of new cars is now higher than back in the day. In 1965 a new base Mustang cost $2,400 or about $17.5K in today’s money. Today a base Mustang costs about $22K. Secondly, a kid could get out of high school in 1965 and find a job that paid a living wage, today kids complete college and end up in minimum wage jobs.

      • 0 avatar
        Shipwright

        Hey! I resemble that remark! although my first new Mustang was an ’88 GT.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      “I don’t see a market for these type of car coming back anytime soon.”

      Coming back? The renaissance is in full swing.

  • avatar
    stickmaster

    The Japanese made some really good sports cars/coupes back in the day. That was when the companies were swimming in money and it allowed them to be adventurous.

    But let’s face it…these cars don’t sell that well and never will. There’s a reason why you see SUVs and sedans on the road. Because people want vehicles with utility, not flash, when they are going to be spending a good chunk of money on a car that they actually have to drive every day.

  • avatar
    Mrb00st

    90’S Japanese sports cars are something I could talk about endlessly, one of y favorite topics. The centerpiece was always the engine- something high tech (NSX’s dual-cam V6, titanium connecting rods, screaming VTEC) something massively turbocharged (RX7 and Supra’s twin-sequential setups, the 300ZX’s sea-of-snakes twin turbos, the VR-4’s “god I don’t want to work on this” sideways setup, the DSM’s, the AllTrac/GT-4, and on and on), unique stuff (RX7’s Rotary, the prevalence of pointless tech like 4WS and active aero) and more. While Chevy would sell you an LT1 Vette for mid thirties that would do the same thing performance-wise, you don’t see people idolizing the LT-1 Corvette… ever.

    My PERSONAL favorite of the era – and it’s like picking a favorite child – was the “SW20″ MR-2 Turbo. It checks all the boxes for things I like about cars. Mid engined. Pop-ups. Low-slung. Yamaha-fettled high-revving twin cammer with a big turbo. Rear drive. A handful to steer. Toyota solidity. It was the midget supercar, and doesn’t really get the respect it deserves relative to this crowd of heavyweights (all a good 500lbs heavier, save for the featherweight FD3S – whoops – RX7.)

    Today, the closest things you can get to that (in personal order)

    Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T: strange that the Koreans do Japanese sports cars the best. Massively turbocharged 2.0L that benefits from direct injection, making 275bhp out of a measly 2.0L on regular gas. Balanced, RWD chassis, just enough back seat, great brakes, LSD, cool interior, priced realistically.
    Evo/STI: getting pushed out of the market now for the same reason these old Jap heavyweights did: too damn much money. An EVO is a really fun car, but the 40k Mitsu wants for one will buy you something without a fisher-price interior, 250 mile range, go-kart ride quality, and questionable reliability. It’s impressive, but not for 10k+ more than a Genesis 2.0T. The STI lost a lot of it’s “charm” with the 08 redesign, by which I mean it’s actually a real car you wouldn’t feel bad daily driving, although the gas mileage is murderous.
    370z: No, not really. More like a 70’s Japanese sports car.

    I see a lot of hope in Mazda, who genuinely seems to want all their cars to appeal to people who like to drive. Even the CX-9 is the sportiest 7-passenger kiddie bus. Fingers crossed they survive.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      As cool as the NSX is, I always felt it was about 100 to 150 horsepower short of greatness, I remember when they hit, it was an awesome car for 80k (that was what the Acura stealer was getting for them) right up until you got to the engine output then all of a sudden no matter how well it handled or braked or how much Honda reliability it had it was meh…

      Then there was the Yokohama tire issue which really was an acura salesman issue as they tended to neglect telling their new owners that the tires would wear out in ten thousand miles or less.

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      The CX9 is really a poor-man’s X5/X6. Just massively fun for something so big and heavy.

      The Genesis Coupe 2.0T doesn’t get enough love. The current one reminds me of nothing so much as a Nissan Silvia (we used to have an S12 and I’ve driven an S14 with the SR20 and an HKS upgrade) with more refinement, more legroom, more power, more presence and better manners. It’s a doddle to drive and it goes around corners very nicely indeed. Yet people still bag on it because the first-gen was a dud to drive and they still expect this one to be the same, without having ever set foot inside one or driven one in anger or at least irritation. The 86 may have a fantastically quick steering rack and a lithe nature, but how it gets fawning admiration from everyone while the GC gets the cold shoulder is just unfathomable.

      Of course, I’d dump either car for a used MX-5 with a supercharger… or a V8-swap. I’m not picky.

      • 0 avatar
        raph

        “The 86 may have a fantastically quick steering rack and a lithe nature, but how it gets fawning admiration from everyone while the GC gets the cold shoulder is just unfathomable.”

        Well when you pump lots of money into the buff rag PR machine you get results. It also helps that the toyobaru twins helped fill a bare nitch.

        On the GC, I remember the rumor mill talking about a regular production vehicle with Hyundai’s V8, man that would have been really cool to see an Asian manufacturer with a pony car, I suppose the market just wasn’t there though (hard to believe on the east and west coasts with so many people that utterly disdain domestic manufacturers).

        • 0 avatar

          Just hype. Remember when that Aussie rag said it was better than a Cayman? HA! Now you get R&T saying its good but not great…just like Jack did.

          http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/toyobaru-hype-weve-hit-peak-bullshit/

          • 0 avatar
            niky

            Better than a Cayman? Even after driving it on the racetrack, I’d even hesitate to call it better than an MX-5.

            By all objective measures, of course, it IS better than an MX-5, but the MX-5 does the whole “slow car fast thing” a whole lot better. Anytime you criticize the 86, you’re ostracized for being a power-hungry meathead who “just doesn’t get it”. But there’s the rub. The 86 isn’t an ultra-light, underpowered sportscar. It’s a relatively light, relatively powerful one. Which means it should be better than it actually is.

  • avatar
    Grahambo

    @Chrishs2000: The ’94 (base FWD) SVX L that I drove to work today because of predicted severe winter weather coupled with the summer tires recently (and perhaps prematurely) installed on my daily driver would beg to differ with the assertion that it’s a pile of sh**t. Given that it’s had very little go wrong aside from replacement parts (belts, alternator, AC) in over 120,000 miles and 18 years, given that it actually provides some modicum of passenger room in the rear seats, and given that it still hugs the road better than most new sporty cars (e.g., sport-package 3 series, albeit not true sports cars), I’d have to beg to differ as well. World beating 0-60 it does not provide, but comfortable and massively enjoyable high speed cruising — as befitting its true nature as a GT — is effortless.

  • avatar
    raded

    Mazda has the right idea. Make the same flavors of car as everyone else, but make them way more fun to drive.

    Going from a Mazda3 to a Corolla is like night and day. It’s hard to believe they cost about the same and compete in the same market segment. Yet, somehow, most car buyers end up picking the Corolla.

    Part of it is the reality of the economy, part of it is a car buying public unwilling to shop around.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      THIS ^

      Having been in both and drivin the 6 speed manual 2.5 Mazda3, there is a world of difference, not even in the same class as each other.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      True, but most consumers don’t honestly care about the driving experience; they care about getting the best mileage and comfort for their money, and the Corolla delivers on that. I sort of like the Mazda3–stupid grin and all–but the lack of space in the rear seat turns me off. Rest assured, though, that the Corolla is the absolute last car I would purchase in the compact-sedan class. I’m looking at the Cruze right now…

  • avatar
    zeus01

    The three primary reasons for buying a sports car are 1) because you’re a driving enthusiast and sports cars are damn fun to drive, 2) You like driving vehicles with status, and sports cars in general fit that bill quite nicely and 3) some combination of both 1) and 2).

    Problem is, by the mid-1990s SUVs became the defacto status-mobile in pretty much all of north America. Enthusiasts still bought sports cars, but those who previously bought sports cars they didn’t need with money they didn’t have to impress people they didn’t like switched to SUVs for the same reason. That, and to carry more passengers and cargo. CERTAINLY NOT to save on fuel costs.

    Even if the status-junkie demographic only represented about 1/3rd of all sales of sports cars the switch to SUVs by these folks was still one hell of a smack to a car manufacturer’s bottom line. The yen may also have been a factor, but it doesn’t explain why sales of Toyota 4-Runners, Nissan Pathfinders and Subaru Outbacks of the post-sports car era didn’t suffer.

  • avatar
    Laflamcs

    Nnnnope.

  • avatar
    JD23

    My first car was a hand-me-down ’91 240SX. These days, the Toyabaru twins are the only reasonable facsimile of that car.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    The ’80s Celica, CRX, 240SX, MR2, Eclipse, RX7, you name it, were total chick cars. Females didn’t or couldn’t really appreciate their nimble handling characteristics and just loved their trendy, sporty look.

    Whether they were bought (new) by them or for them, they were mostly base models and couldn’t have been great profit sources. It didn’t matter because by the late ’80s, the compact SUV craze started taking over. Samurias, Troopers, Rodeos, Trackers, Sidekicks, Monteros, Wranglers, Cherokees, 4Runners, Pathfinders, Jimmys and of course, Explorers.

    The mid ’90s Supra, RX7, 300ZX, 3000GT were serious performers and ‘chicks cars’ they definitely were not. They were asking Corvette money though, and it just couldn’t sustain.

  • avatar
    AFX

    I’m still bummed out that the Isuzu Como never made it into production. That could have been the ultimate Japanese Elcamino supercar. Instead we got the turbo Impulse with handling by Lotus.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Now that’s hardly fair–that first Mazda6 was a gem in plainclothes. The second generation, not so much. This newest iteration should prove to differentiate itself from the other companies in a positive way, because it can afford to do so.

    But it really is too bad that fun Japanese cars are now the exception, not the rule.

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      The second generation was better in every way. Which is to say, it wasn’t as buzzy, immediate and playful as the first-generation one. All qualities that made the first gen car absolutely smashing to drive and absolutely unattractive to the people Mazda were trying to sell it to (midsize sedan buyers).

      After driving the CX5, I have high hopes for the new Mazda6. With the CX5, Mazda gives you your cake and lets you eat it, too. Economical, practical and more than just a little fun.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        The second-gen Mazda6 was basically a restyled Fusion, so buyers flocked to… the Fusion.

      • 0 avatar
        JD23

        The supposedly more mainstream-friendly second generation Mazda 6 has sold far less than the first generation. The same thing happened when Subaru took a car that was admired by enthusiasts but not particularly successful commercially (the Legacy), turned it into a generic, mediocre family sedan, and then sold even less.

  • avatar
    CelticPete

    It’s going to far to say they were cool. They were cooler. That’s more accurate.

    Why? Japanese cars were by and large better looking back in the 80s and 90s. Japanese styling has really gone down hill. Acura is terrible, Nissan is generally bad, and Toyota is pretty bad as well.

    Sure the NSX totally ripped off a Ferarri – but it looked damn good and was reliable. Thats why Japanese cars did well – they copied other cars – and added reliablity and quality.

    Nowadays they ‘lead’ and their taste isn’t particularly good. The Prius has got to be the most revolting car on the road (outside of the Nissan Juke).

    That being said though – they were never that cool. Like it or not there is an inverse relationship between praticality and reliablity and coolness.

    This is why so many vintage cars are cool. Whether its a classic Jag or Chevelle SS or 50s SL Mercedes – those cars are cool BECAUSE they are neither practical or reliable.

    It’s the same with car looks. The best LOOKING cars are low to the ground, kinda wide and small. This is because those are the mental cues for ‘fast’ and ‘good performance.’ I realize people will doubt this. But no one looks at a minivan and thinks ‘cool.’

    The opposite – high riding, narrow and well above the ground (say the Toyota RAV4 or the Prius) are seen as ugly. They have actually researched this kind of thing. One of the coolest cars you can get for the buck is a Mustang. Fast, Low to the ground, not particularly practical..

    But thats just for the buck. Its not going to compare to an antique classic..

    Its hard for the Japanese to make “cool” because at their heart they want to make practical and reliable, IMHO. Japan is not really a car culture – they are extremely urban and don’t have a very good long distance highway system. Not surprisingly the best cars they have are amazingly small and amazingly practical – fitting a huge amount of space into a tiny spot..

  • avatar
    PCP

    Supra MkIV was insane – turbo and manual of course, naturally aspirated and automatic were just lame excuses. I don’t think any did less than 360HP brand new. Little mods would easily give you more than 400HP. Built quality was awesome too – what else would you expect from a Toyoty. Bought one with 65k miles, looked and behaved like new. Would run >180miles/h on German Autobahn. Sold it before it killed me – still mourning, though. True, it was about as expensive as a NA Porsche brand new. But it would give a Porsche Turbo a run for it’s money just slightly tuned and still last longer and be cheaper to run.

  • avatar
    Fordson

    For one reason and another, there has just never been a high-dollar Japanese performance car market in this country. That’s why when Turbo Supras and 300ZXs started getting above $40k there was nobody buying them. Once you were spending Porsche money, you wanted a Porsche. The modestly-priced performance market was there, and it really spread – there was no shortage of JDM acolytes out there tuning FWD Hondas and 240SXs. Cheap, easy to tune and reliable (unless you did too many ill-advised mods…).

    Even today, there are plenty of people in this country who see Japanese = sports car or tuner/high performance car, but frankly they don’t have more than $25k to spend on a car. Either it’s a new $25k FR-S or a 3-year-old Civic Si for $15k and then $10k worth of mods on it, but that’s it.

    This is a great piece, though…and the silver/grey sedan image speaks worlds about the market today – riddle me this…how can a car be all silver and totally, totally beige at the same time?

  • avatar
    CesarV8

    The early 90s was an amazing time for Japanese sports cars! As I remember it, there was a kind of three-tier battle constantly going on. At the bottom of the scale, there were the Celica, Nissan 200SX, Honda Prelude, etc. duking it out. At the top you had the big guns, all of them with turbos: the RX-7, Supra, 300Z, and 3000VR4. The NSX is certainly part of that wonderful era, but it had its own battleground, that of Ferrari, Porsche, Lotus, Corvette, etc. Somewhere in all that mix, was the third group; that of the rallye homologation specials. The crazy, super high-strung beasts such as the Celica GT-Four, the Galant VR4, and of course the Lancer Evo and Subaru WRX saga.

  • avatar
    CelticPete

    We could have fun cars again if we created a new class of cars with different safety regs, IMHO. With the overall aging of Japan (they are actually set for a drastic population REDUCTION over the next 50 years – its unprecedented) and the aging of boomers in the US we aren’t going to see a ton of sports cars.

    But if they allowed something similiar to the Kei car here we could see a ton of fun little cars that would be a nice alternative to Motorcycles and bicycles – which offer ZERO safety and are allowed on public roads.

  • avatar
    Southern Perspective

    My Nissan Tiida gets me where I want to go well enough; can I help it if he wants to be a Buick when he grows up??? :)

  • avatar
    Jellodyne

    Japan made beige econoboxes back then, and they were slower and less sporty. And they make sporty cars now, though many of them have 4 doors.

    WRX STi (Better than the SVX in every respect but wedginess)
    Evo X (better than the 3000GT in just about all respects)
    MazdaSpeed 3 (Arguably as fas as an FD)
    Miata (0 to 60 isn’t everything, and is about as good as back then)
    370z (respectable evolution of the Z)
    FR-S/BRZ/GT86 (OK, slower than a supra, but better handling)
    Scion TC (Just kidding, but actually better than most Celicas)
    GT-R (Gonzo evolution of the Skyline, which we didn’t get back then)
    LFA (Pure halo supercar)
    NSX (… is coming back, but may disappoint given Honda’s recent track record)

    Heck, in 20 years we may look back on NOW as the glory days.

  • avatar
    kuponoodles

    OK… I’ll be the computer geek with the nerdy comments.

    The late 80’s and 90’s saw the wider and more accepted use of computers to design body styles and other visual cues.

    It was new and exciting and looked “cool” at the time.
    But now, we are all jaded and overwhelmed with “good looking” coupes.
    Time travel back to 1995 with the BRZ/FRS/FT86 or Genesis, it would attain the same cult status as Supra’s,RX7’s and 240sx.

    Another way of looking at it.. *geek snort*:
    Has anyone watched Toy Story 1 recently? It looks blocky and low budget by today’s standards but in ’95, it was holy crap, how did they do that?!

    The quest for efficiency has caused all sports cars to use the same tear drop design. I make a daring prediction. The next universally “gorgeous” car, will be pencil and clay, then refined by a computer. And people will hate it because Hot Wheels designed it 25 years ago.

  • avatar
    Tosh

    Seems only I remember the PRIMARY reason that these cool cars disappeared from the US market: A big change in the US crash standards for the 1997 model year. Secondary reasons were a poor Yen/Dollar ratio and falling sales, making it not economically feasible to update or redesign these cars (while most continued to be sold after 1996 in other markets).


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States