The Japanese cars from the nineties are hot right now, and you should consider buying one of these

With the Acura NSX revival, Toyota Supra’s successor, and reveal of the characterful Suzuki Jimny, Japanese cars never seemed so appealing. Except in the eighties and the early nineties, when Japanese manufacturers went the extra mile to show us just how inventive, cool, and fun they can be. A recent massive rise in popularity of Japanese vehicles led primarily by the new NSX, Supra, and Jimny suddenly increased the value of the cool Japanese cars from the nineties. While the best time for buying Japanese automotive oddities from the eighties and the nineties was a few years before the mentioned trio appeared, you are still not late to the party. I’ve picked up five JDM cars you should consider buying right now.

1989-1999 SW20 Toyota MR2

Some estimates put used Toyota MR2 SW20 prices from $10,000-$20,000. However, if you really want a pristine, low-mileage model, you have to churn out a bit more money. What makes the SW20 Toyota MR2 so unique is the mid-engine layout, its looks heavily inspired by the European exotics of the time, and the fact that it came with a turbocharged engine developing 200 horsepower. In a mid-engine car as small as this (162.4 inches in length), it is a big deal.

The MR2 never really achieved the popularity of the Supra. Heck, even some versions of Celica seem to be more popular compared to it. Nevertheless, it had a smart packaging with a transversely opposed mid-engine layout. Some would say that Toyota took the front-wheel-drive design and engineered it to fit support rear-wheel drive.

1991 - 1995 Toyota MR2
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Toyota MR2
Well, it did, but it did it so well that some MR2's matched the performance of far more expensive vehicles on the track.

That’s what it made it sound - a 200 horsepower, turbocharged engine and engaging driving characteristics. If you are in a market for one, I can tell you that the MR2 comes with either a 2.0-liter, naturally-aspirated or a 2.0-liter, turbocharged engine. The N/A version had an SW21 designation, while Toyota marked the turbocharged models with the SW22 designation number.
Unlike U.S. models that were available from 1990 to 1995, Toyota sold MR2s in Japan from 1989 to 1999. Plus, all of them had even more powerful engines compared to the cars sold here. Examples you should look for should use the turbocharged 2.0L 3S-GTE engine developing 221 horsepower. The most valuable units are low-mileage examples without any mods. Have fun looking for them. It will be a while before you find any. That’s what it makes them so appealing.

Toyota MR2 Turbo SW22 specifications
Engine 2-liter, turbocharged
Power 221 horsepower
Torque 224 pound-feet
Top Speed 140 mph
0-60 mph 5.5 - 5.7 s (est)

Read our full review on the 1991 - 1995 Toyota MR2.

1992-2002 FD3S Mazda RX-7

Usually dubbed as the most beautiful vehicle conceived in Japan, the 1992-2002 FD3S MAZDA RX-7 is also a small wonder of engineering. Made popular by the humongous success of the Fast and Furious movie franchise, the Mazda RX-7 enjoys great popularity among JDM enthusiasts. Right now, it represents one of the smartest investments you can make within the automotive stardom.
The JDM FD3S Mazda RX-7 was the first car exported from Japan with a 13B-REW engine that benefited from a sequential twin-turbocharger system. Right at the start, its 1.3-liter rotary engine developed 255 horsepower and 217 pound-feet of torque.
Unfortunately, out of almost 70,000 produced units, not many remained in-stock condition. This car gained great recognition in car mods communities around the world. Japan included. That is why low-mileage, pristine examples without any mods barely exist. If you ever found one, prepare to pay a hefty price. Earlier this year, Mecum auctioned a well-preserved example with 31,000 miles on the odometer for $35,000-$40,000. It was a car initially sold in the U.S.

2001 Mazda RX7
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Compared to the U.S. models, Mazda created a whole new brand-name to sell the RX-7 called Efini.

Furthermore, with several different versions, the Japanese even had access to lightweight models called the RX-7 Type RZ. It was 70 pounds lighter compared to the next lightest model. It is the one to look for import. It came with a 5-speed manual but models with the 4-speed automatic also exist, and they have a more luxurious Touring X trim package. What makes JDM RX-7s interesting is the fact that buyers had to pay extra for it because the RX-7 was wider than Japanese regulations allowed. Owners had to pay an annual fee for driving wider-than-allowed RX-7s.

Efini RX-7 Type R specifications
Engine 1.3-liter, rotary
Power 265 horsepower
Torque 217 pound-feet
Top Speed 140 mph (est)
0-60 mph 4.9 - 5.4 s (est)

Read our full review on the 2001 Mazda RX7.

1972-2002 C10-R34 Nissan Skyline

As one of the most recognizable names in business, the Nissan Skyline started its journey to stardom in 1968 when the Japanese introduced the C10 generation of the Skyline.

Nissan followed it with the:

  • C110 Skyline (1972-1977)
  • C210 Skyline (1977-1981)
  • R30 Skyline (1981-1990)
  • R31 Skyline (1985-1990)
  • R32 Skyline (1989-1994)
  • R33 Skyline (1993-1998)
  • R34 Skyline (1998-2002 - 2005)

However, this particular nameplate had not come into American spotlight before the early 2000s. Then, the R34 Skyline GT-R made a name for itself thanks to a 2.6-liter RB26DETT twin-turbo I-6 that packed 327 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque coupled with a smart AWD system and advanced suspension tech. One of the most important features is the MFD display that shared numerous pieces of information about driving characteristics to the driver.

1993 Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R V-Spec
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Although previous iterations of the Skyline did not have such an advanced system, they did have a sporty character brushed by Nissan’s enthusiastic engineers. While the R34 is the most popular and most appealing Nissan Skyline, especially in its GT-R form, you would not be in the wrong even with the R33 or the R32. Older models, from the seventies, are also well-appreciated. Interestingly enough, the popularity of the R32, R33, and R34 gave rise to a Nissan Skyline popularity so every version of it, regardless of their shape (sedan, wagon, or coupé) or the propulsion option, has a certain appeal to it.

After all, the JDM variant you should go for is the R34 GT-R Nismo V-Spec Z-tune.

However, with only 20 units produced, you can’t get that one. What you can do is consider importing the R31 Nissan Skyline Coupe in GTS-X, or GTS-R form. They aren’t the fastest (190hp and 210 hp, respectively), but I find them to be the perfect predecessors and root of the development of the magnificent R32s, 33s, and 34s.
With only 800 produced, the GTS-Rs are the most appealing R31s. However, prepare yourself to pay a premium for it. Four years ago, beautiful examples with around 90,000 miles on the odometer were available for more than $17k. They are even more expensive right now.

1993 Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R V-Spec
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Nissan Skyline GT-R V-Spec R34 specifications
Engine 2.6-liter
Power 276 horsepower (315+ horsepower measured)
Torque 217 pound-feet
Top Speed 155 mph
0-60 mph 5.2 s

Read our full review on the 1993 Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R V-Spec.

1991-1995 Y32 Nissan Cedric

The ninth generation of the Nissan Cedric (codenamed the Y32 ) appeared in 1991. As a large executive sedan focused on the Japanese market, the Nissan Cedric Y32 featured rather aggressive body lines coupled with sexy design cues.

Not many sedans have thick C-pillars, frameless doors, cool round lights, and a business cardholder.

Well, one European vehicle does have all of that - the 5 Series. It seems, therefore, that the Cedric is a Japanese take on the 5-series. A successful one at that.

Apart from the Cedric Y32, usually aimed at the luxury side of things, Nissan crafted a sporty Y32 as well. It called it Gloria. It looks even better, but it does not have many mechanical changes compared to the Cedric. Regardless of the version, the Cedric and the Gloria are best with the most powerful 3.0-liter V-6 engine that develops 255 horsepower. Linked with a 5-speed automatic, Cedric Y32 V-6 models usually have a full set of electronic features and a confident look. Interestingly enough the Gloria and the Cedric aren’t too expensive. You can have a reasonably nice example for just over $12,000.

Nissan Y32 Cedric V-6 specifications
Engine 3.0-liter, V-6, turbocharged
Power 255 horsepower
Torque 236 pound-feet
Top Speed 130+ mph (est)
0-60 mph 8 s (est)

1990-1997 FJ80 Toyota Land Cruiser

Considered to be one of the greatest SUVs and off-road-centered vehicles ever to appear on the market, the 1990-1997 FJ60 Toyota Land Cruiser packs the luxury punch of a modern SUV, off-road prowess of the, well, Land Cruiser, and the reliability of a Toyota.

Astoundingly well-built, and seriously capable off the road, the FJ80 Toyota Land Cruisers had one peculiarity in Japan - a diesel engine.

The 4.2-liter inline-six with 130 or 156 horsepower was available in Japan and Australia. Those are the ones you should consider importing. Bear in mind that finding one with "reasonable" milage is almost impossible. These machines are built to be sturdy and used in all imaginable scenarios. But even if you find a high-mileage vehicle you like, don’t panic. The rumour on the street is that Toyota’s internal documents show that all Land Cruisers are designed and built for a 25-year lifespan. I don’t know if this is the truth, but I would not be surprised about it at all. In fact, I choose to believe it, as I already think that the Land Cruiser is the best vehicle in the world.

Toyota Land Cruiser FJ80 Diesel specifications
Engine 4.2-liter, six cylinders
Power 156 horsepower
Torque 266 pound-feet
Top Speed 103 mph
0-60 mph 16 s

Which JDM Import is Best?

5 Sexy, True Import, JDM Cars You Should Consider Buying Today
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However you cut it, the best JDM for import is the Nissan Skyline R34.

The more expensive, the better. Just figure that you would garnish every automotive media outlet’s front page for at least a week. Every Youtuber would like a go in it, and if played right, you may achieve a return on investment via marketing alone. Heck, I’d go for something more insane. Import the R31, R32, R33, and R34 all at the same time and have a drag race, comparison test, or whatever. All MR2s, Land Cruisers, or the RX7s imported could never match the sheer Internet madness that would follow after that quartet appeared on the screen. I know, however, that importing a JDM Nissan Skyline GT-R is an expensive and tedious job. You should do the next smart thing and go for something from Toyota instead. The MR2 SW20 seems like an appealing deal. Their value will rocket in the next ten to fifteen years. But only for clean, pristine, and very low-mileage examples.

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