Let’s face it, only one country of origin makes vehicles that are pretty unanimously regarded as “bulletproof” throughout the auto world: Japan.
From finely tuned engines to the unique and the intriguing design language they exhibit to well, sheer cost-effectiveness, Japanese cars are a gigantic market that crosses very frequently over into the sports car realm as well. The beauty, however, of these Japanese-made sports cars is that largely they can be thrashed about, ran to high miles, and consistently go through the wringer while still maintaining their composure. Listed here are 10 iconic Japanese sports car models that you can find today without breaking the bank.
While Mitsubishi is known famously in JDM circles as the manufacturer of the legendary Lancer EVO, many forget that the Japanese manufacturer dabbled in sports cars prior to and during-but-aside from the EVO. The 3000GT is a perfect example of this, a small, sporty looking front wheel drive coupe with an optional manual transmission and a peppy engine. Although the rare VR4 trim of the 3000GT is nearly nonexistent anymore, you can still find clean examples of the 3000GT for low prices on the market.
Another older model that has maintained its prestige in the world of Japanese sports cars, the 300XZ is a predecessor to the modern-day 350Z and 370Z but offers way more usability than the latter.The 300ZX can comfortably seat four and is offered in a twin-turbo configuration, two options unavailable in the newer Zs. If you’re looking for a cheaper sports car with that Nissan reliability and some speed, the 300ZX is a perfect choice to fill that void.
8SCION FRS/SUBARU BRZ
The reason these two models are combined is that, well, save for some badges they are virtually the exact same car. However, that doesn’t mean bad things, as the FRS and BRZ’s shared FA20 is a reliable, peppy, and naturally aspirated four-cylinder that although not putting out much stock power, is quite capable of moving the tiny sports car around, and on top of that is very easily modifiable in the aftermarket. The FRS/BRZ are great cars simply because they’re light, quick, rear wheel drive, and exemplify everything a small roadster should be.
Also, given that the models have been out for a considerable amount of years without appearing too dated, the prices have dipped significantly, so snagging one up for cheap is a breeze.
Continuing with the idea of inexpensive, fun, and reliable roadsters is the Mazda Miata. Like the BRZ/FRS, it is a small easily maneuverable vehicle with a small four-cylinder engine that is capable of getting the peppy Miata moving.Another vehicle with a strong aftermarket part presence, upgrades are easy and affordable, often doable by even the least experienced auto enthusiasts. Unlike the BRZ/FRS though, the Miata only seats two people, comes available in a convertible, and weighs even less. Although Mazda has recently released a new Miata, prices on older models are very modest and allow a lot of bang for your buck when purchasing.
For fun that doesn’t have to end once the weather gets dodgy, the Subaru WRX is the perfectly balanced year-round fun car that delivers power and poise on the road. The iconic boxer four-cylinder engine coupled with a respectable turbo allows this car to deliver potent power to all four wheels.
Despite not being as inexpensive as the previous cars on the list, early 2000s WRX models can be found with slightly higher mileage for reasonable prices. If you’re alright with running the risks of forced induction on an older car’s engine (or just planning to do a full turbo swap anyways) this is the Japanese sports car for you.
The Mazda RX-8 is one of the last true quirky Japanese sports cars sold on US soil. Sporting a streamlined, coupe-like design (that actually hid two half-sized suicide back doors) and a pistonless rotary engine, it was an oddball from the start. The beauty in purchasing an RX-8, however, lies in the fact that it is a true rarity and a sight to behold on the roads. Although it is still quick, the points for the RX-8 are attributed to its unique styling and ability to turn heads even today.
As long as you’re okay with slightly more constant oil changes due to the nature of the rotary engine, the RX-8 is a great option to cruise down the road in style.
Although Toyota is known today in the sports car world for producing the GT86 (formerly the Scion FRS), the brand’s pedigree in terms of road-ready enthusiast cars extends way beyond its modern roadster. An often forgotten Toyota model is the MR2, a sporty, mid-engine coupe with wild body lines and details that were more commonly seen in supercars of its time than Toyotas.Produced for three generations, the MR2 is a slightly older, yet still fully reliable and fun vehicle that an enthusiast could grab up for a moderate price and have fun with.
3HONDA CIVIC SI
It’s impossible to create a list of Japanese sports cars without including one of the most commonly found examples of that category. The Honda Civic Si has been a mainstay of the tuner car world for the 21st century, offering reliability, speed, and value wrapped in either a coupe, hatch, or sedan configuration.
Honda’s notoriously high-revving engine, thanks to the pioneering use of variable valve timing, and buttery smooth manual gearbox has made the Civic Si the often first choice of enthusiasts looking to jump into the car world without sacrificing the necessities provided in a daily driven vehicle.
Like the Civic, the Integra has always been a solid reliable choice for a starter sporty car. Built very similarly and boasting similar power numbers to the Civic, the Integra is slightly more refined and luxurious inside, given that Acura is Honda’s higher-end brand.
However, these modern conveniences don’t detract at all from the legendary reliability and fun associated with the Civic’s big brother and have afforded it legendary status amongst tuners as well. With Integra’s easily accessible at low costs (save for the limited Type R trim) it is another great choice for an entry-level sports car.
Although not necessarily always aligned with sports cars, the Eclipse fits the bill just as much as any other vehicle listed here, and thanks to some clout from the Fast & Furious franchise coupled with some sporty upgrades in early 21st century models, the Eclipse came into its own as a solid low priced sports car.