Whether you are seeking a reliable daily driver, a performance-oriented machine, or a stylish and unique ride, there are plenty of overlooked JDM cars that are worth buying. Don't underestimate the potential of these hidden gems in delivering an exceptional driving experience while also saving you some money.
Here's a list of ten underappreciated JDM cars that deserve more attention:
1. 2015 & 2019 Toyota Mark X GRMN (N/A)
2. 1989-1995 Honda Inspire (~$6,000)
3. 2002-2012 Daihatusu Copen (~$5,500)
4. 1990-1996 Mazda Eunos Cosmo (~$10,450)
5. 1980-1990 Isuzu Piazza (N/A)
6. 1991-2000 Lexus SC400 (~$8,500)
7. 1996-2006 Mitsubishi Galant VR-4 (~$10,350)
8. 1996-2001 Nissan Stagea (~$11,000)
9. 1979-1981 Toyota Celica Supra (~$12,450)
10. 1991-1995 Nissan Cedric (~ $8,600)
101991-1995 Nissan Cedric
The design of the 1991-1995 Nissan Cedric subtly amalgamated features reminiscent of some of the era's iconic European sedans. The front bears some similarities to the BMW E34 5 Series, while the rear lights evoke the Mercedes-Benz W140 S-Class. This eclectic blend gave the Cedric an aura of understated elegance and a somewhat European flair.
Being positioned as a luxury sedan in Nissan's lineup, the Cedric came with plush interiors, ample legroom, and a range of features to enhance the driving and passenger experience. Its build quality and features were in line with Nissan's emphasis on comfort and luxury for this model. The top-tier version housed the VG30DET 3.0-liter turbocharged V6, which originally graced the Nissan Bluebird. This engine delivers a robust 255 hp.
While the name "Cedric" might not resonate globally or carry the same cachet as some of its European counterparts in Japan and among car enthusiasts, it's recognized as an exemplar of Japanese luxury and innovation. Over the years, its distinct design and performance capabilities have earned it a place in the annals of automotive history.
91979-1981 Toyota Celica Supra
The Toyota Supra has earned its status as one of the world's most beloved cars, primarily owing to its remarkable potential for customization and its iconic role in the inaugural Fast & Furious movie. However, what many might not be aware of is the Supra's origins as a Celica, with the Supra name initially designated as a trim level.
In its initial iteration, the first-generation Celica Supra didn't boast formidable power, with even the most potent model producing a mere 138 horsepower from its 2.6-liter straight-six engine. Nevertheless, it sported a striking appearance reminiscent of Japan's interpretation of a Mustang Fastback. Subsequently, the Celica Supra evolved into its second generation, where the JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) version introduced turbocharging, paving the way for its eventual transformation into the automotive legend it is today.
81996-2001 Nissan Stagea
The Nissan Stagea was a spacious and practical family wagon that not only shared design elements from the Skyline series but also utilized the same engines and drivetrains. Among the most sought-after Stagea models was the 25RS, equipped with the 2.5-liter RB25 engine sourced from the Skyline GT-T.
In 1998, a facelifted 'Series 2' model was introduced, featuring a game-changing addition – the 260RS. This variant incorporated the formidable 2.6-liter RB26DETT engine from the Skyline GT-R, providing the Stagea with the same powerplant as a bona fide sports car. Notably, many Stagea owners opted to modify their vehicles by swapping out the front-end components – headlights, bumper, and fenders – to mimic the appearance of the iconic R34 GT-R, resulting in one of the most striking and stylish wagons on the road.
While the Lancer Evolution series may be Mitsubishi's most famous offering, the Galant is a somewhat lesser-known gem. This slightly larger sedan took a different path, featuring a twin-turbocharged V6 engine instead of the Lancer's turbo-4.
Under the hood, the Galant VR-4 packed a punch, producing a respectable 276 horsepower in adherence to the "gentleman's agreement," alongside an impressive 270 lb-ft of torque. Power was effectively distributed to all four wheels through a 5-speed manual transmission, delivering a thrilling driving experience.
Adding to the Galant's allure was its availability as a wagon variant, known as the Legnum VR-4. This wagon not only heightened practicality but also injected an extra dose of coolness into the model lineup. It offered additional cargo space while preserving the sedan's exhilarating performance characteristics.
In essence, the Mitsubishi Galant VR-4 is a captivating yet somewhat overlooked member of Mitsubishi's automotive legacy. With its twin-turbocharged V6, AWD system, and the practicality of the Legnum VR-4 wagon, it presents a distinctive and appealing option for those seeking a blend of power and versatility, setting it apart from the more widely recognized Lancer Evolution series.
61991-2000 Lexus SC400
The Lexus SC series was positioned as a more upscale and refined version of the Toyota Soarer coupe, which itself shared its platform with the iconic Toyota Supra Mk4. The Soarer was available with a range of engine options, including the 2.5-liter twin-turbo 1JZ-GTE, the 3.0-liter twin-turbo 2JZ-GTE, or the 4.0-liter 1UZ-FE V8, offering various levels of performance.
In contrast, the Lexus SC400, arriving two years after the introduction of the Lexus LS400 sedan, featured a naturally aspirated 2JZ inline-six engine or the V8 powerplant, specifically the same 4.0-liter V8 found in the LS400. This V8 engine produced 260 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, delivering smooth and consistent power to the rear wheels.
One of the noteworthy aspects of the SC400 was its potential for aftermarket tuning and modifications, similar to the Supra. Enthusiasts found that the naturally aspirated 2JZ and V8 engines had untapped performance potential, making them suitable candidates for various upgrades to increase power and performance.
In an unexpected move for Isuzu, the automaker unveiled a sports car in 1980, and it was a Giugiaro-designed creation that proved to be quite promising. The standout feature was its 1984 introduction of a turbocharged engine, which delivered an impressive 180 horsepower. Power was channeled exclusively to the rear wheels through either a 5-speed manual transmission or a 4-speed automatic.
The Isuzu Piazza boasted a striking appearance, characterized by its unassuming front end and the iconic, boxy shape that epitomized 1980s automotive design. While the car garnered initial criticism from the media due to its less-than-ideal handling, salvation came from an unexpected source: Lotus, the renowned British automotive engineering firm. Lotus intervened and made significant improvements to the Piazza's suspension and chassis setup, transforming it into a much more enjoyable and capable driving machine.
This unique collaboration not only redeemed the Piazza's reputation but also solidified its legacy as a noteworthy sports car from the era. It showcased Isuzu's commitment to delivering a competitive offering in the sports car market, despite its relatively lesser-known status among automakers.
41990-1996 Mazda Eunos Cosmo
Like several automakers worldwide, Mazda ventured into creating a luxury brand similar to Toyota's Lexus. This upscale division was named Eunos, and it featured various models that received the Eunos treatment. Among these models, the most prestigious was the Eunos Cosmo, representing Mazda's grand tourer.
Staying true to Mazda's heritage, the Eunos Cosmo continued to embrace rotary power. It offered a choice between the 2-rotor 13B-RE engine or the more potent 3-rotor 20B-REW powerplant. The three-rotor engine was a powerhouse, delivering an impressive 276 horsepower thanks to its twin sequential turbos. The Eunos Cosmo not only promised a thrilling driving experience but also embodied the essence of a rare gem, largely due to its relatively lower popularity.
This JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) marvel, the Eunos Cosmo, stands out as a captivating blend of performance and luxury. Its rarity only adds to its allure, making it a cherished find for those who appreciate its unique qualities.
32002-2012 Daihatusu Copen
The Daihatsu Copen falls into the category of Kei sports cars, adhering to Japan's stringent Keijidosha regulations governing small city cars. In the Japanese domestic market (JDM), the Copen was equipped with a diminutive 0.66-liter turbocharged inline-4 engine, which generated a modest 63 horsepower. In contrast, international markets received a 1.3-liter naturally aspirated inline-4 engine that produced a more substantial 89 horsepower.
The Copen was celebrated for its exceptional maneuverability, making it a breeze to park in even the most challenging spaces, and its impressive fuel efficiency was a noteworthy attribute. Its compact dimensions and efficient design made it a practical choice for urban driving.
Notably, the Copen made an appearance on the popular TV show Top Gear, where the towering Jeremy Clarkson humorously demonstrated just how ill-suited he was for its compact cabin. Despite such comical contrasts, the Copen garnered attention for its unique charm and versatility.
Today, the first-generation Copen enjoys popularity as a Kei car not only in Japan but also around the world, boasting a thriving aftermarket tuning community. Enthusiasts appreciate its small size, affordability, and potential for customization, making it a beloved choice among those seeking a compact and distinctive driving experience.
21989-1995 Honda Inspire
The Honda Inspire, closely related to the Accord platform in the Japanese domestic market (JDM), eventually became essentially the same car, albeit with a different name. The first-generation Inspire stands out for a notable distinction among Japanese cars: it was one of the rare instances of a Japanese vehicle being powered by a 5-cylinder engine. During its time, it competed in design and market presence with counterparts like the Toyota Cresta and Nissan Laurel.
Under the hood of the Inspire resided a 2.5-liter inline-5 engine that produced a respectable 190 horsepower. Power was sent exclusively to the front wheels, and buyers could choose between a 4-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual transmission for their driving preference. This 5-cylinder engine was a unique feature of the first-generation Inspire and set it apart from its contemporaries.
Although the 5-cylinder configuration continued into the subsequent generation, it eventually gave way to a V6 engine. Nevertheless, encountering a Japanese vehicle with a 5-cylinder engine remains a relatively uncommon occurrence, making the first-generation Honda Inspire a distinctive and memorable entry in automotive history.
The Toyota Mark X serves as the mid-size sedan in Toyota's Japanese lineup, taking on a role similar to that of the Camry. However, a key differentiator between the two is that the Mark X features rear-wheel-drive, in contrast to the Camry's traditional front-wheel-drive setup.
With the introduction of the second-generation Mark X, Toyota injected a much-needed dose of sportiness into the model range. This generation offered various trims, including the Vertiga, GR (Gazoo Racing), and the top-tier GRMN (Gazoo Racing Meisters of the Nürburgring).
The Mark X GRMN, in particular, stands out as one of the rarest and most thrilling models in the lineup. While the standard Mark X usually comes with an automatic transmission, the GRMN variant comes equipped with a manual transmission, elevating the driving experience for enthusiasts. Additionally, the Mark X GRMN boasts a slightly more powerful 3.5-liter V6 engine, a limited-slip differential, an aggressive sporty body kit, and a comprehensive set of chassis and suspension upgrades.
The Mark X GRMN can be seen as a manifestation of what the Camry TRD could aspire to be, offering a heightened level of performance and excitement. Enthusiasts hope that the rumored GR Camry will live up to the same standard of coolness set by the Mark X GRMN.