QotW: What is the Best Japanese Automotive Trilogy?

The new Supra is finally here, and Toyota has been parading a lineup of previous-generation Supras whenever possible in order to remind us that the new one is definitely a Toyota-and-not-a-BMW Supra. But for all the flack Toyota’s been getting about its partnership with BMW, at least they’re trying. Trilogy here is defined as three consecutive generations of a particular model. Year gaps are allowed (A80 -> A90 Supra) as well as name changes (Integra, RSX).

What is the best Japanese automotive trilogy?

The most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “What should we do with the Subaru X-100?

Many of last week’s answers focused on the the original design goal of the X-100, which was to drive cross-country on a single tank of gas. Although this feat would still be impressive by today’s standards, 40 years of technological improvements have all but made this exercise moot. Throw in a modern kei engine or even a hybrid drivetrain and the X-100 would surely be even more fuel-efficient. Hell, a full on EV could accomplish the task without using a single drop of gas. Thus, we liked Kevin‘s idea to give Starman some company up in the cosmos:

Next time Elon wants to send a car to space, just put a rocket in the tail of this thing and send it.

Omedetou! Your comment has earned you a set of decals from the JNC Shop.

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16 Responses to QotW: What is the Best Japanese Automotive Trilogy?

  1. Lupus said:

    There are so many great trilogys in Japanese car history to choose from: Lancer Evo, Nissan Z’s, Supras, Celicas, Mazda’s RX-7… But let’s be honest – there might be only one true Royal Family – Toyota Century.
    Over 50 years of lifespan, and only 3 generations. Some model linages have faded into darkness and came back from knowhere during that time with 6 or more incarnations. But the Century – remains classy & top tier all the time.

  2. Ant said:

    The first that comes to mind is another Toyota: the MR2.

    The first focused on light weight and sharp handling, the second moved upmarket but conversely brought a more exotic shape within the reach of regular buyers, while the third once again went back to basics like the first-gen car, but was a perfect entrant into the (at the time) large market for proper roadsters.

    Each was quite different, but few automotive trilogies have been so consistently appealing.

  3. daniel said:

    maybe mitsubishi sapporo-mitsubishi starion-mitsubishi gt3000 could be an example, mark a moment of Tour de force design for the brand and its decade (luxury personal coupe of the late 70s, angled sports of the 80s, hyper-technological of the 90.

    Maybe not the best but they marked their moment.

  4. dankan said:

    I think the Toyota Century that Lupus suggested should be the winner, but as a runner up, I would submit the R32-R34 run of Skyline GT-Rs. Never has an automotive era and culture been so clearly articulated in a particular model, and then refined to a peak over the three generations. They definitely were an epic trilogy of cars.

  5. Styles said:

    So hard to pick. Loyalty to my car would suggest A60-A80 Supra.

    There are other worthy ones too, and not just in the expected. BD-BG Familia (expecially the XG Turbo, GTX etc), probably the most affordable turbo car around back in my day.

    E80-E100 Corollas, all graced with various iterations of the 4A-GE.

    And of course the 4th-6th generations of the Civic.

    Not can you forget any of the R- series Skylines, 30-34. My pick of them would probably be 30, 32, and 33.

    All of these cars were popular and fairly common down here in New Zealand in the 90’s, in my formative years as a car enthusiast.

    But there’s always one that I think is the best, most focused, and best executed trilogy, and that has to be the 3 generations of RX-7. Iconic rotary power, always kept true to the sports car focus, and just got better and better each generation.

  6. Banpei said:

    The best Japanese trilogy in my opinion are the ones equipped with the RB26DETT: Nissan Skyline BNR32, BNR33 and BNR34.

    If you think about it: these three cars were so advanced in their own time that they were totally in their own league, they dominated the various race series and even were miles ahead of the Skyline lesser models.

    The BNR32 got the nickname Godzilla for a good reason: there was nothing that could stop it as it totally dominated everything else on the market which, luckily, was limited mostly to the Japanese market. If not, probably the likes of Porsche and BMW wouldn’t have been as large as they are today which became apparent when the R35 was released worldwide and already has been dominating the market for the past 12 years.

    Even though the GT-R R35 is far more powerful and has way better handling, it is still standing in the shadows of the previous three models. It isn’t only the Fast and the Furious aura or Gran Turismo kids growing up and wanting one (me included). It’s way more than that: it’s a car manufacturer that produces 99% bland cars daring to offer a product so outrageous that it became a cult car. There is a good reason why these three kept their value over the years and nowadays are being sold for way higher prices than when they left the dealerships in Japan.

    • Lupus said:

      You’r totally right.
      Thanks to Gran Turismo I had always the feel, that the only true competitor to R32/33/34’r could be Mitsubishi GTO TwinTurbo. It had similary advanced tech on board, it’s performance was pretty close (at least on paper & in game), it had more sportier look, but it didin’t won people’s hearts. I dunno why actually…?

      • Ant said:

        I think a few factors were at fault.

        One was weight – year-for-year it seemed to be 150-200lbs heavier than the equivalent GT-R, and the GT-R itself was quite heavy by 1990s standards.

        Another was how effectively the technology was used. The GTO/3000GT was a fast car, but looking at contemporary reviews, just not as fun or involving as the GT-R.

        And another still is probably heritage. The GT-R’s reputation has always been built on racing success, whether that’s early Hakosukas or the R32 Godzilla. While GTOs did race, it wasn’t to anything like the same extent, or with the same high-profile success, as the GT-R line.

    • Styles said:

      I’d argue that “t’s a car manufacturer that produces 99% bland cars ” isn’t really correct. Especially through the 80’s/90’s.

      That may have been the case in export markets, but in the Japan market they were pumping out performance products and variants left, right, and centre. March Turbo and Super-Turbo, Pulsar N12 Turbos, and the mighty N14 GTi-R (or Baby Godzilla, as we nick-named them over here). Bluebird Attessa Turbo, Skyline GTS-4, turbo and attessa versions of Laurel and Cefiro. Hell, even Attessa Turbo Avenir wagons. VZ-R Pulsar N15. Then the more well known products, 300ZX, Silvia etc.

      And the best thing was every other manufacturer was doing the same back then. Honda, Toyota and Mazda all producing various performance cars and variants. A golden age indeed!

  7. Alvin said:

    The best automotive trilogy was when the Honda S2000, Prelude and NSX were all available at the same time. A good spread in terms of availability and cost. Prelude was fairly affordable, S2000 was definitely attainable if you stretched, and the NSX was for those who really made it. Today you don’t even really have sports cars from Honda, you just get the NSX at McLaren prices only.

  8. TommyGun said:

    280.. 300.. 350

    Numbers so discernable in the automotive world. Each representing a different generation of car culture. And by the looks of present day builds.. it appears we’re headed back to the good ol days, as if things are coming full circle.

  9. Dave said:

    If we were to take some cues from the movie industry, the “best trilogy” should be 1. the most consistently mold-breaking/way-paving and 2. self-contained, at the least at the time of said critique.

    The second criteria, although arguably not as important as the first, is crucial to determine the concept of “best trilogy” because it implies the COMPLETION of a story and a COMMITMENT to see it through to multiple, successive parts. As countless movies has shown, once that idea continues to the fourth installment or beyond, the WEIGHTINESS of the original “trilogy” lessens; the “ground-breaking” idea becomes “retreaded ground” and doubt creeps in on whether it’s a good idea to continue.

    But a COMPLETED trilogy allows us to look back and evaluate its broader meaning during its own time and what it may continue to mean for future audiences. That consideration is crucial to deeming whether it is the “best”, I believe.

    The Toyota Century may satisfy the first criteria, with Toyota’s focus on a very particular demographic (yet arguably more varied than that of its more standard offerings). But it’s also more of a “curated” undertaking, breaking preconceptions of how stately a Toyota can be without breaking much technological nor philosophical boundaries. Additionally, the third generation was only recently released, and so I would not consider its trilogy complete (nor would I want it to be).

    The three generations of the Mazda RX-7 fulfill both criteria: a singular commitment to a unique technology (rotary), culminating in a full spectrum of expressions (from NA to twin-turbo, from Porsche-mimicking wedge-shape to oh-so-sensual lines), while maintaining a core aesthetic (pop-ups, massive B-pillar, wraparound rear glass)—through two decades of very quickly changing economies and consumer tastes, no less.

    Flaws aside, the RX-7 was the true BUILDING of a company’s brand values and DNA in REAL TIME (not added to the company’s lore by later generations). Without fear, and seemingly without any hesitance, every RX-7 generation walked the fine line of “what we know” and “we don’t really know if this will work”. The trilogy wouldn’t have worked for any other company, large or small; it’s complete; and we can rightly judge its impact on the car community in totality while also hoping—with a bit (ok, a lot) of trepidation—for a future revival.

    And that’s why the RX-7 continues to be the best Japanese automotive trilogy to date.

  10. Bugeye / Blobeye / Hawkeye

  11. Colin said:

    obvi duh rx7.
    mod close debate

  12. Al said:

    RX7s. From the 70’s to the early 00’s/. True and faithful to the Rotary engine proposition, All three versions sporting a similar formula, 50/50 balance, Front engine Rear wheel drive. 2 or 2+2 seating. Two door, a wide rear window, and pop-up headlights.

    Last but not least, they will rev to the moon. That is the real trilogy characteristic – they rev and ask for more.

  13. ahja said:

    I’ll offer S30/S130/Z31 (and it even extends further) to Z32. The S30 could be a trilogy by itself, and it might even be able to win by itself. So…Despite revisionist history over the last few decades, the S130 was a massive sales success when it was new, and the turbocharged car was one of the fastest accelerating cars available for sale, as well as the fastest car from Japan. And, they actually look quite good. The Z31 was a success story too, and I think its the most “80s sportscar” of all 80s sportscars. (And Z32 is well beloved). In short 280ZX and early 300ZX are currently perceived as the weak links of the blood line, but in their own time they weren’t considered lousy at all, and sold in number that we can only dream of (like 1979 280ZX sold more than 10x as many as all BRZ/FRS/GT86 COMBINED… and that’s in a world with 2 billion less people..back when people liked cars.)

    RX7 makes an excellent argument too. It also sold enormously well in its first generation, but it had a pretty steep decline from 1987 onwards, very sadly, even though the cars just got more and more awesome. I’ve never understood the compulsion of Japanese owners to utterly destroy the peerless stock looks of the FD. I have obsessed over both Zs and RX7s, but with the RX7 I can’t actually decide which generation I want most (2 or 3)…so that’s a point in RX7 favor.

    Then theres the R32/33/34 Skylines. Theyre always the 800 lb gorilla in any parking lot, and I don’t know anybody into cars who doesn’t at least kind of want one. A decade of distilled badass. But, the middle of the trilogy is just weak (I never hear anybody who wants an R33 the MOST). Plus, those in America don’t really have access.

    MR2…yeah. We all like them. “Too niche”, as a publisher or something might say.

    Supra…definitely not. A80s are such a different/higher car than the predecessors that its a continuity break. Any of the other trilogy cars you can park side by side and all is pretty much harmonious. A60s and A70s trying to associate with A80s is like a bunch of embarrassing thirsty dudes desperate to be seen with a scorching hottie.

    NA/NB/NC Miata…contender? I still don’t like ND’s, but I didn’t like NCs until the ND came out and then I realized that NCs look the best *by far* of any Miata. Before that I thought it was NBs…best selling sportscar of all time. That’s hard to argue with too.

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