The Best JDM Cars of the 90s
The ultimate guide to the best JDM cars made in the 1990sby Dim Angelov, on
There are many cars that are desirable by automotive enthusiasts and they often vary, depending on the region. A type of vehicles that has more or less a global cult following are JDM cars, where JDM stands for Japanese Domestic Market. These are cars or versions of cars that have been produced solely for their local, Japanese market and have not been exported to most (or any) other markets. The 1990s, in particular, gave birth to most of the iconic JDM cars, we lust after today. Without further due, these are the best JDM cars that came in that period.
Honda Civic EK9 Type R
The original Honda Civic Type R is the hot hatch royalty of JDM cars. It may not be the first hot hatch ever made, but it is considered, by many, to be the ultimate. The first Civic Type R is based on the sixth-generation Civic (EK9) and comes with a B16B engine. The 1.6-liter, normally-aspirated inline-four boasts the highest specific output, in its day. It produces 182 horsepower (136 kilowatts) at 8,200 RPM and 118 pound-feet (160 Nm) at 7,500 RPM.
With a curb weight of 2,315 pounds (1,050 kg) and a close-ratio, five-speed manual transmission, the original Civic Type R can hit 60 mph (97 km/h) from a standstill in 6.7 seconds, on its way to a 15.3-second quarter-mile time, and a top speed of 140 mph (225 km/h). The EK9 Type R also came with a seam-welded monocoque chassis, which greatly improved chassis rigidity.
Even more extreme is the 199 Spoon Civic Type R, which had an engine modified to 260 horsepower, with redline increased from 8,400 to 11,000 RPM. It also weighed in at just 1,984 pounds (900 kg).
|Engine||1.6-liter, normally-aspirated inline-four|
|Power||182 HP @ 8,200 RPM|
|Torque||118 LB-FT @ 7,500 RPM|
|0 to 60 mph||6.7 seconds|
|Quarter mile||15.3 seconds|
|Top Speed||140 mph|
In the 1980s and1990s, Toyota was quite successful in the World Rally Championship. The Celica GT-Four was the rally-bred monster, responsible for that, having 30 WRC victories. The ST205-generation of the car is particularly popular, as it is the last of the Great Celica models. The car comes with a 3S GTE, 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline-four engine that makes 239 horsepower (178 kilowatts) at 6,000 RPM and 223 pound-feet (302 Nm) at 4,000 RPM.
This is enough for a 6.3-second sprint to 60 mph (97 km/h), 15.0 seconds for the quarter-mile, and a top speed of 152 mph (245 km/h), with a big wing at the back. Power is sent to all four wheels through a five-speed manual. To this day, the Celica GT Four remains one of the most successful rally cars, ever made. A less-known version of the ST205 Celica is the Celica SS III, which comes with a normally-aspirated, 3S GE BEAMS (RedTop) engine and can easily compare to the Integra Type R.
|Engine||3S GTE, 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline-four|
|Power||239 HP @ 6,000 RPM|
|Torque||223 LB-FT @ 4,000 RPM|
|0-60 mph||6.3 seconds|
|Top speed||152 mph|
|Quarter mile||15.0 seconds|
The Nissan 300ZX is actually a well-known car in the North American market, but it still classifies as a JDM, as the same car was sold in the local market, under the name Fairlady. The Z32, in particular, is a high-tech car even by today’s standards, featuring four-wheel steering, variable valve timing, twin-turbo V-6, and more, even as early as 1989.
The 300ZX/Fairlady was produced until 1996, with many improvements throughout the years, such as the Super HICAS (four-wheel steering) system changed from hydraulic to electronic actuation (1994), upgraded fuel injectors (1995), removal of variable cam timing (1996), and more.
The most desirable version is the short-wheelbase, twin-turbo, manual model, where the VG30 DETT engine makes 300 horsepower (221 kilowatts) and 285 pound-feet (386 Nm). Get it right and you will be looking at a 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 5.2 seconds. De-limited, the 300ZX can hit over 170 mph (274 km/h). More importantly, the Z32 is a coveted model, among the automotive enthusiast community and fans of the model do their utmost to keep these cars alive.
|0-60 mph||5.2 seconds|
|Top speed||170 mph|
As far as Japanese cars go, the Toyota Supra is one of the most coveted ones. This is especially true for the fourth generation, which accumulated great fame, thanks to the original “Fast & Furious” movie. The A80 Supra may have cost more than people were willing to pay for a Toyota-badged coupe when it first came out, but once it demolished a Ferrari F355, people quickly realized what the Supra was capable of.
Of course, the orange movie car wasn’t even the turbo model and to make things even worse, it was an automatic, but nowadays, the desired, twin-turbo, manual cars go for six figures. “More than you can afford pal. Supra!” Even in stock form, the 2JZ GTE, inline-six engine put out 326 horsepower (240 kilowatts) and 320 pound-feet (434 Nm). This was enough for a 4.6-second 0 to 60 mph sprint and a 13.1-second quarter-mile time.
The legendary 2JZ engine is mated to an equally capable Getrag V160, six-speed manual, which can handle high horsepower with ease. Moreover, the chassis of the Mk IV Supra is also quite capable and allows the car to be a very good all-rounder, which also makes it great at covering long distances.
|Engine||2JZ GTE, inline-six|
|0-60 mph||4.6 seconds|
|Top speed||155 mph|
|Quarter mile||13.1 seconds|
Honda Integra DC2 Type R
Performance, front-wheel-drive coupes are pretty much extinct nowadays, thanks to the rise of the hot hatchbacks. Long before that happened, however, there was the Integra Type R. The DC2 Integra Type R was also sold in North America, but the Japanese Domestic Market version was the more powerful. The B18C engine produced 197 horsepower (147 kilowatts). One thing that always stayed the same was the close-ratio five-speed manual. The engine, itself, could rev to 9,000 RPM with the V-TEC kicking in very distinctively at around 6,500 RPM.
At 2,337 pounds (1,060 kg), the Integra Type R is very light and with a mechanical, limited-slip differential, it is a proper canyon carver, despite the “wrong wheel drive”. In case you care, the 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) sprint takes 6.5 seconds, while the quarter-mile – 14.7 seconds. To this day, the DC2 Type R remains the ultimate front-wheel-drive coupe, and many a car enthusiast lust after it, which is why prices are in excess of $60,000 for clean examples.
|0-60 mph||6.5 seconds|
|Top speed||145 mph|
|Quarter mile||14.7 seconds|
When it comes to Japanese sports cars, Mazda has been known to do things a bit differently. The Mazda RX-7 is a perfect example of that. While most sports cars use conventional, piston engines, the RX-7 relied on a rotary engine. Ironically, the 13B, twin-rotor engine is the best and worst part of the car.
On one hand, it contributes to the chassis excellent balance and smooth power delivery, making it one of the most enjoyable sports cars to drive. On the other hand, the rotary engine is flawed by design and has a much shorter life span than a conventional, piston engine. When a rotary engine goes bad, it usually goes very badly.
That said, many enthusiasts are willing to overlook the flaws of the rotary Mazda thanks to the sublime experience it provides. Thanks to its superb balance and lightweight, the FD RX-7 is often praised as being the most visceral JDM sports car, ever made. It’s also one of the best looking, scoring a clean and timeless design.
Versions for the Japanese Domestic Market were quite different from the ones, available in the US. The top-of-the-line JDM model was the Type-RZ, which scored Bilstein dampers, lightweight BBS wheels, Recaro seats, and was 66 pounds (30 kg) lighter. Post-1996 RX-7 models also got a revised ECU and vacuum system.
|Engine||Twin-chamber rotary, twin-turbo|
|Power||237 HP @ 6,500 RPM|
|Torque||218 LB-FT @ 5,000 RPM|
|0-60 mph||5.3 seconds|
|Top speed||155 mph|
The US only got a taste of the Subaru Impreza WRX STI, in 2002. The Japanese market, however, has had it since 1994, with the GC8 generation. The original STI (1994-2000) is widely regarded as the purest of all, because of its lightweight, uncompromising character that assured its dominance in the World Rally Championship, for years to come. This generation also spawned the 22B, which was the hardcore, even more lightweight, two-door version of the STI.
The 22B was powered by an EJ22G engine, which was based on the Version III of the EJ20, 2.0-liter, flat-four unit. It comes with a closed block and is good for 276 horsepower (in reality 300) and 265 pound-feet (359 Nm). Power, of course, goes to all four wheels through Subaru’s symmetric all-wheel-drive system and a six-speed manual.
Tipping the scales at just 2,745 pounds (1,245 kg), the two-door Subbie can sprint to 60 mph (97 km/) in under 5.0 seconds, on its way to 157 mph (252 km/h). The 22B was a 1998 model-year-only and featured the full signature STI look, with the WR blue finish, gold wheels, hood scoop, and tall rear wing. Clean examples of the 22B can fetch over $300,000.
|Engine||EJ20, 2.0-liter, flat-four|
|0-60 mph||5.0 seconds|
|Top speed||157 mph|
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI
When talking about the WRX STI, we cannot forgo the Lancer Evolution – Subaru’s arch-rival in rallying. Unlike the “Subbie”, however, the “Evo” was, sadly, discontinued, after 10 generations and 24 years (1992-2016). And while Evolution VII is the first generation, available to the US market, Evolution VI is widely considered to be the most significant of the bunch.
This is due to the Evo VI being the last Lancer Evolution that was properly lightweight. It was also the first Lancer to interrupt Subaru’s WRX winning streak. The legendary 4G63T engine features a more conventional inline-four layout, as opposed to the STI’s flat-four, but is just as capable with its 276 (official) horsepower and 275 pound-feet (373 Nm).
At 3,009 pounds (1,365 kg), it is slightly heavier than the ultimate STI – the 22B – but it still manages a 4.7-second 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) sprint, thanks to its close-ratio five-speed manual and super-all-wheel-drive system. In 2021, a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI Tommi Makinen Edition sold for $140,000.
|0-60 mph||4.7 seconds|
|Top speed||150 mph|
Another car that blessed the Japanese market is the Honda NSX. And while the mid-engine sports car was also sold in the US, as the Acura NSX, this is one of the most significant JDM cars, ever made. Just like the JDM abbreviature stands for Japanese Domestic Market, NSX stands for “New Sportscar eXperimental”.
Racing driver Ayrton Senna was involved in the development of the Honda NSX and thanks to him, it became the corner-carving, track-slaying, mid-engine coupe it was meant to be. Like the Mazda RX-7 from earlier, the NSX provides a visceral driving experience. Earlier models didn’t have power steering and the cockpit was inspired by an F16 jet fighter.
Exterior-wise, the NSX was influenced by the Ferrari 348 and it proved that you can have supercar-like performance and reliability in an exciting package. Engine-wise, the NSX came with a C30 (earlier models) or a C32 engine (post-facelift). Both are naturally-aspirated V-6 engines with 271 to 290 horsepower and 209 pound-feet (286 Nm) to 224 pound-feet (304 Nm).
Coupled to a six-speed manual, later versions are capable of a 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 4.3 seconds, a quarter-mile time of 12.7 seconds, and a top speed of 174 mph (280 km/h). Some earlier examples of this “Japanese Ferrari” are still relatively attainable, but that might change soon.
|Power||271 - 290 HP|
|Torque||209 - 224 LB-FT|
|0-60 mph||4.3 seconds|
|Top speed||174 mph|
|Quarter mile||12.7 seconds|
The Nissan Silvia may be among the (relatively) more affordable Japanese cars, but it has achieved cult status, thanks to its superb chassis and handling. Moreover, later generations come with a variety of potent engines, most notable of which is the SR20 DET. In the Nissan S15 Silvia, the engine was good for 247 horsepower (184 kilowatts) and 202 pound-feet (274 Nm). A six-speed manual and a limited-slip differential send power to the rear wheels.
With a curb weight of 2,756 pounds (1,250 kg), the Silvia is great fun to throw into corners, which is why it’s often the go-to drift platform. Sadly, with that comes the infamous “drift tax”. The 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) takes 5.5 seconds while the quarter-mile is covered in 13.9 seconds. Even as late as 1999, ABS was optional on the S15, which makes the Silvia one of the most mechanical sports cars you could get.
|0-60 mph||5.5 seconds|
|Quarter mile||13.9 seconds|
This one is a bit of a cheat, since production ended in 1987, but we just had to mention it. The Corolla is hardly a name associated with performance and excitement, nowadays. And while the upcoming Toyota GR Corolla may change that, it is the AE86 model that remains a cult classic. It comes from a time when Corolla was still a compact, super-lightweight, rear-wheel-drive hatchback/coupe.
As with some of the other cars on this list, the version sold on the Japanese market was a bit more powerful. Its 1.6-liter 4A-GE, inline-four produces 128 horsepower (96 kilowatts) at 6,600 RPM and 110 pound-feet (149 Nm) at 5,200 RPM.
Because the little AE86 is so light – 1,984 pounds (900 kg) – it could reach 60 mph (97 km/h) in around 8.0 seconds and cover the quarter-mile at 16.0 seconds. What’s interesting is that many AE86 have received engine swaps from later AE111 models. This means that it’s relatively easy (if you look hard enough) to find a 4A-GE 20-valve “Black top” engine, which makes 160 horsepower (119 kilowatts) at 7,800 RPM and 119 pound-feet (162 Nm) at 5,600 RPM.
At the time of writing this, the AE86 is still a relatively attainable JDM classic, even though some would argue whether the plus $20,000 asking price is fully justified.
|Engine||1.6-liter 4A-GE, inline-four|
|Power||128 HP @ 6,600 RPM|
|Torque||110 LB-FT @ 5,200 RPM|
|0-60 mph||8.0 seconds|
|Quarter mile||16.0 seconds|
Back in 1999, if you wanted a Mazda Miata with power, this was what the Japanese market offered – the Honda S2000. Fast-forward to nowadays and the “S2K” can still hang with the latest iteration of Mazda’s compact roadster.
Produced between 1999 and 2009, the S2000 came in two versions. Earlier, AP1 versions have a firmer suspension setup and a 2.0-liter F20C, inline-four engine that revs to 9,000 RPM. With 239 horsepower (176 kilowatts) and 153 pound-feet (208 Nm), the S2000 had the highest specific output of any four-cylinder production car, at the time.
Later, AP2 models received a 2.2-liter version of the same version, in order to gain a bit more mid-range torque – now 162 pound-feet (220 Nm). Horsepower remained unchanged and the redline was lowered from 9,000 to 8,500 RPM. With a curb weight of 2,822 pounds (1,280 kg) the S2000 is capable of sprinting to 60 mph (97 km/h) in just over 5.5 seconds, while the quarter-mile is dealt with in 13.9 seconds.
In addition to being lightweight, the S2000 is technically front-mid-engined, since the entire engine sits behind the front axle. This further contributes to the car’s superb handling. The Honda S2000 is already considered a JDM classic, which is why they can easily fetch $30,000.
|Engine||2.2-liter, 16-valve DOHC VTEC(R) 4-cylinder|
|0-60 mph||5.5 seconds|
|Quarter mile||13.9 seconds|
Nissan Skyline GT-R
You have probably been waiting for this one. Although fiercely rivaled by the Supra, the Skyline GT-R is widely considered to be the crown jewel of Japanese cars. Its mystique is further enhanced by the fact, the R34 is still not 25 years old and as such, not eligible for import into the US.
The R34 GT-R shares a platform with the R32 GT-R, also known as “Godzilla”, because of its motorsport dominance, back in the day, and the “chubby” R33 GT-R that came after it. Although the R34 is considered to be the pinnacle of all Skylines, all three aforementioned models have the 2JZ-rivaling RB26DETT engine under the hood.
What makes the Skyline GT-R so special is that it was actually an FIA Group A homologation. The engine produces 327 horsepower (244 kilowatts) and 293 pound-feet (398 Nm). This is enough for a 4.9-second sprint to 60 mph (97 km/h) and a 12.9-second quarter-mile time.
At 3,402 pounds (1,543 kg), the Skyline GT-R is one of the heaviest cars on the list, but the race-developed chassis masked the weight of the car exceptionally well. The 2.6-liter inline-six with twin-parallel turbochargers is also extremely flexible and smooth. Not to mention, it can match and even surpass the 2JZ’s tuning potential.
To this day, the Skyline GT-R remains the king of Japanese cars and a coveted icon in the tuner scene, not just in Japan, but worldwide. Unfortunately for most of us, this also means that prices are absurd, with some of the rare versions going for well over $200,000. We can only hope that the bubble would burst at some point, so most of us can enjoy one of the greatest JDM cars, ever made.
|0-60 mph||4.9 seconds|
|Quarter mile||12.9 seconds|
What does JDM mean?
JDM means Japanese Domestic Market. The term describes vehicles that are meant solely for the Japanese market.
What are considered JDM cars?
A JDM car is any car that is sold on the Japanese market and has been built in compliance with all Japanese regulations.
Why is JDM illegal?
JDM is illegal because JDM cars, especially ones that don’t have export equivalents (eg. Mitsubishi 3000 GT and Mitsubishi GTO) have not been crash-tested or emission-tested outside of the Japanese market, where safety and emission standards may differ greatly. Some homologation may be necessary if you really want to import a JDM car to another market.
What’s the most popular JDM car?
Currently, there are many contenders for the title, but the most notable ones are the Toyota Supra Mk IV and Nissan Skyline GT-R. Currently, they are also the most expensive ones to purchase and import.
What counts as a JDM car?
Any car or a version of a car that was originally intended for sale on the Japanese market and has been built to comply with Japanese regulations.
How do I know if my car is JDM?
The easiest way to find out if your car is a JDM is by checking the vehicle identification (VIN) number, which is usually stamped somewhere on the car’s body, most often in the engine bay or around the inner sides of the door sills.
What is not JDM?
Any car that isn’t built in compliance with Japanese regulation and not meant for the Japanese market. This can also be a Japanese car sold for a market outside of Japan. A JDM version of the Honda Integra can differ from the Honda Integra, sold in the US, in terms of engine power (usually due to emissions) or even exterior features, like bumpers.
What makes a car a JDM car?
The market it was intended for, which in this case, is Japan.
Where to buy JDM cars?
There are a couple of auction sites where you can find and bid for the JDM vehicle of your choice. Keep in mind that buying a car and importing it are two different things. Example: If a car’s VIN number is less than 25 years old, the car is not legal for import in the US.
What JDM cars are legal in the U.S.?
Basically, any JDM car that is 25 years or older is legal for US import. You need to make sure that the VIN number is exactly 25 years old. If a car was produced in August 1997, it will become legal for US import in August 2022.
What are JDM cars?
These are cars meant for the Japanese Domestic Market. These vehicles have been built in compliance with all Japanese regulations in mind.