JDM cars are some of the most sought-after and frequently imported cars for American car enthusiasts. Here’s 20 JDM cars you might want yourself!
Japan seems like it’s one of the coolest places in the world, especially to a car enthusiast. It’s where drifting and Gymkhana started before being popularized into major motorsports, famous tracks like the Twin Ring Motegi and Suzuka Circuit are there, and it is also home to some of the most well-known car manufactures in the world. Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Suzuki, and Toyota all reside in Japan. While some of our favorite cars like the Toyota RAV4 or Subaru Forester are shipped and sold to us directly from Japan, there are those models that only ever get sold in Japan itself.
These are JDM cars. We’ve already went over what JDM is in a previous article, but now it’s time to bring together our list of the top 20 JDM cars. Not all of these can be shipped over to us just yet, but we can fondly obsess about them until we can. Additionally, not all of them may be what you initially go to when you think JDM, but there’s a few fun or interesting JDM cars that deserve some recognition on this list. I know I’d be more than happy to import and cruise around in any of these JDM cars (some more so than others).
You probably haven’t run into anything like the Autozam AZ-1. It’s a Mazda sourced mid-engine Kei car coupe with a turbocharged 657cc (0.66L) 3-cylinder and in total it weighs only 1,587 lbs. If that doesn’t sound cool enough, this thing has gullwing doors too! Just be careful not to bonk your head on the raised doors as you try to contort yourself into the driver’s seat, it’s kind of a tight fit.
The Honda City was a fun compact car idea we in the states never got, and Honda made it even more alluring with the Turbo II variant. It was a 1642 lbs compact hatchback that’s trunk was compatible with a Motocompo, which is a foldable moped with a 50cc engine the fit perfectly in the rear. Honda added an intercooler to the turbocharged 1.2L I4 CVCC ER engine. Compared to some others on this list, the stubby little Honda City Turbo II isn’t exactly a track beast, but how cool is it to just park and cut through heavy traffic on its stowed away moped?
The Daihatsu Hijet is the epitome of Kei cars and comes in one of two forms: a super compact truck or a super compact van. Either option found driving around in the US is sure to turn some heads. The truck variant has a truck bed that can open from the rear, either side, or be turned into a flatbed. The van variant, although small, can have seating for six and is a great contender for a van life conversion. They’re also a fun platform to engine swap with a Suzuki Hayabusa.
Suzuki doesn’t really sell cars in America anymore, just motorcycles and mopeds. So, we unfortunately are all missing out on the recent Suzuki Jimny platform. This off-roading cube car is small enough for the Japanese Kei car segment all while being able to run alongside the Jeep Wrangler over rocky terrain or through the woods. America did get its predecessor in the form of the Suzuki Samurai and Sidekick, but we’ll have to wait a long while before we can get our hands on one of these current models.
If you want to feel like royalty, the Toyota Century will do it. The Century is the most luxurious car Toyota makes and it serves as the Imperial House of Japan’s vehicle of choice (much like the President’s specialized Cadillac). Unlike other JDM cars, this car isn’t really about being the driver, it’s about being the passenger. The recent model comes with super comfortable massage seats, privacy curtains, active cabin noise cancelation, rear climate controls, and a personalized rear infotainment system. The previous generation is just as opulent for passengers with just a little less advance tech, but there’s also a V12 under the hood, so that’s cool.
The Nissan Skyline GT-R is known for destroying other JDM cars on the track, but have you heard of its little brother? The Nissan Pulsar GTI-R was a homologation special created for use in the World Rally Championship. This Pulsar looked like your everyday hatchback, but it carried the SR20DET engine found in the Silvia S13, was all-wheel-drive, and was capable of 0-60 mph in 5 seconds. It’s recorded as having a quarter mile time of 13.8 seconds, just .6 seconds slower than the R32 GT-R of the same time. Needless to say, if you’re looking at JDM cars and also want a sleeper, this is it.
The Mazda Roadster is what we know in the US as the MX-5 Miata. I know we have plenty of Mazda MX-5 Miata’s here in the states, so why import another one from overseas? Well, the Mazda Roadster Coupe was much like the NB models we have here in America, except it had a fully integrated hardtop which helped make the chassis more rigid. Sure, there was the OEM hardtops to replace the convertible top for American MX-5s, but how clean does Mazda Roadster Coupe look?
If you’re little bit of an anime fan, you know why the Toyota Sprinter Trueno AE86 is on this list. For those that don’t know, this is the main car featured in anime series known as Initial D. Besides being super recognizable to weebs, the RWD Toyota Sprinter Trueno is known for being an iconic early drift car that’s known for carving Japan’s mountain passes. The closest thing to a Sprinter we got in the US was the Corolla on the same platform. Fun fact: the new Toyota 86 got its name thanks to the popularized nature of the AE86 chassis.
The Honda Integra DC2 was one of the first production Honda JDM cars to get the Type R treatment. In 1995, Honda added a factory tuned and hand built 1.8L DOHC VTEC B18C engine, a Helical limited slip differential, a close-ratio manual transmission, updated intake system, updated exhaust, upgraded suspension, improved weight reduction, and they strengthened the chassis. Now, we did get the Acura Integra Type R in the US starting in 1997, but the JDM variant has a nicer front-end design and some extra interior options we never saw.
Nissan’s S Platform brought us the drift missile favorites like the 200SX and 240SX in America, but we never did get a full-fledged Nissan Silvia. Whether you choose a S12, S13, or S14, they’ll all be fun driving and easily driftable JDM cars, but they all also have an available Americanized version. The one chassis iteration we didn’t get was on the beautiful Nissan Silvia S15. It’s a JDM unicorn that sadly won’t be found in the US legally until 2024. The one silver lining while we wait is that we can still import some SR20 engines to swap into our American S Platform models.
Following the success of the Type R on the Integra line, Honda decided their flagship hatchback need to join the club. What transpired was the third Honda to get the Type R treatment leading to the iconic Honda Civic Type R. The Civic got much of the same treatment that the Integra did, including a hand ported 1.6L DOHC VTEC B18B engine, a Helical limited slip differential, a close-ratio manual transmission, upgraded suspension, improved weight reduction, and a seam welded strengthened chassis. The interior also featured RECARO bucket seats and almost everything was red inside.
The Toyota MR2 was Toyota’s foray into the mid-engine sports car segment. It fell into that odd affordable mid-engine area that the Pontiac Fiero and Lotus Espirit did in the early 90s. While the American market did get the MR2, we didn’t get to experience it at its full potential. The revision 1 JDM Toyota MR2 GT with the turbocharged 2.0L I4 3S-GTE engine produced 218 horsepower, while the American equivalent only ever reached 200 horsepower. That’s only a couple ponies different, but it created nearly a second difference in the 0-60 mph time.
Everyone recognizes the Subaru Impreza WRX STi as one of the greatest rally cars of all time, but have you noticed Subaru Rally Team’s version only has 2 doors? This model was known as the Impreza WRX STi Type R. It was a coupe version of the WRX with the same body dimensions as the sedan version and it carried a Driver Controlled Center Differential, close-ratio hardened gearbox, and had a water-spray nozzle over the intercooler helping reduce heat and cool the charge to the intake. If you want to get really rare, the Type R coupe was used as the basis for a limited run of 400 widebodied 22B STi to celebrate Subaru’s 40th anniversary and for winning the WRC manufacture’s title for 3 consecutive years.
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution was a formidable foe for Subaru in the world of rally, and it’s all thanks to the 4-time WRC Champion, Tommi Mäkinen. What better way to celebrate his success with Mitsubishi’s cars than to name a special sports trim edition after him? The Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI GSE Tommi Mäkinen Edition came with plenty of performance upgrades, but it also had a special edition front bumper design, red and black RECARO bucket seats with Tommi’s name on them, and came with a sticker package that drew likeness to his own Lancer Evo rally design.
Unlike other JDM cars on the list, North America ended up getting one of the coolest iterations of the Honda S2000 in the form of the Club Racer (CR) trim. What we didn’t get was the similar Type S. The JDM variant received the same wheels, same spoiler, and got its own suspension adjustment similar to the CR. Where the Type S differs is that it has all of the creature comforts that the CR didn’t retain, it kept its convertible soft top, and it didn’t end up with the chassis reinforcement. What you end up with is a track day star with a more comfortable ride than its Americanized brother.
We in America knew the Mitsubishi GTO as the Dodge Stealth or Mitsubishi 3000GT. The model was known for being a sports car that four-wheel steering, electronically controlled suspension, and active aerodynamics. However, the variation we missed out on stripped all that away in the JDM Mitsubishi Racing (MR) trim. This trim did away with the gimmicks, even taking out the ABS, and paired it with a twin-turbocharged 3.0L V6 DOHC 6G72 engine powering all four wheels. It still had room for improvement, but even so the Mitsubishi GTO MR put up quite the numbers against the R32 Skyline GT-R of the time.
The Toyota Supra is a true cult classic of JDM cars. The most iconic of the Supra’s generation has to be the MKIV model carrying the 3.0L twin-turbocharged I6 2JZ engine. It’s shown up in video games, TV series, and most famously in the original Fast and Furious movie. So, get yourself a Toyota Supra and it’ll be sure to decimate all, after you put about fifteen grand in it or more. Even if that means you have to overnight parts from Japan. At least that’s what Jesse told Dom.
You know we had to put a rotary engine on the list. Mazda’s ɛ̃fini branded RX-7 FD3S is another icon among JDM cars. It had perfectly balance handling and came with a twin-turbocharged 1.3L 13B rotary engine that is still fondly remembered and hoarded by enthusiasts (even with its quirks and flaws). The rarest JDM variant of the bunch is the RX-7 Bathurst R. It was created following the RX-7’s three consecutive wins at Australia’s Bathurst 12-hour race and only 400 of these special editions were made. The RX-7 Bathurst R was based off of the Type R trim, but added custom height-adjustable dampers, extra carbon fiber interior components, and it made for the highest power to weight ratio to come from the model.
While North America did receive the Honda NSX with Acura Badging, we did not get the Type R version. The Honda NSX-R was the first Honda car to ever receive the racing-oriented Type R treatment. The first gen Honda NSX was already a mid-engine speedster, so adding aggressive weight reduction, RECARO bucket seats, lightweight Enkei wheels, stiffened suspension and chassis, and improved acceleration made the NSX-R a true track beast of the 90s. Only 483 of the NSX-R were made and all were exclusive as a JDM.
Godzilla. That’s the nickname that the Nissan Skyline GT-R received in its R32 form and the currently unobtainable R34 carries on the legacy easily. The Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 was an AWD beast powered by a twin-turbocharged 2.6L RB26DETT I6 engine that could be easily tuned to 900+ horsepower. It also had a sweet 5.8-inch Multi-Function-Display in the dash that displayed turbo pressure, oil temp, and plenty of other relevant engine stats. We won’t be able to legally get our hands on the R34 until 2024, but that also brings into question how Brian O’Conner came across one just sitting on a dealership lot in Fast and Furious.