QotW: What is the ultimate Japanese car?

On May 23, 2002 Honda launched the NSX-R. It was the ultimate manifestation of Japan’s ultimate car at the time. It offered true racing technology in a production road car — carbon fiber body panels, flow-through aero creating negative lift downforce, and fully balanced crankshaft assembly from pulley to clutch. Despite its engineering accomplishments, there are faster, more expensive, more beautiful cars that can also claim the title of “ultimate”. Feel free to define the term however you wish, but…

What is the ultimate Japanese car?

The best comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “Where do you want to travel, and with which car?“.

The world is a vast and glorious place. All of the trips from last W’s Q sound epic, and it bring us sadness to know that we will never be able to accomplish them all in our lifetimes.

For example, we had never heard of the term “around the pearl” to describe a coastal route around Sri Lanka until reader Lakdasa brought it to our attention. A non-highway trip around the country in a Suzuki Samurai sounds like the perfect car-trip combo.

Americans are fortunate enough to live in a country that’s so big you can take some pretty ambitious trips within its borders. Take Jacob Durbin‘s Kentucky to NorCal to SoCal (via PCH) trip in an AE86, for example. It’s not necessarily comfortable to drive four-digit mileages in a Hachiroku, but there is something charming about the sparseness of the steed. Similarly, Land Ark has planned a few routes for a potential Miata RF purchase, from where it’s sold to home in Virginia. Nuttiest of all might be Scotty G‘s coast-to-coast journey on a Honda Motocompo.

Not surprisingly, for those demanding a bit more comfort and perhaps mobile sleeping quarters, the Toyota HiAce was a good choice. It certainly sounds like Taylor C. has thought about a Boston to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska trip in a Toyota HiAce Super Custom 4×4 more than once. Meanwhile, Lee L‘s Route 1 trip from Fort Kent, Maine to Key West, Florida, requires a HiAce for the family, or a Datsun 280ZX if flying solo.

The Mother Road, Route 66, was also brought up. We wish Jonathan P. a speedy restoration of his Chrysler Conquest so he can take his dream trek. We also enjoyed Mike P.‘s simple, down-to-earth choice of the car he happened to have in his driveway, a Nissan Frontier.

Elsewhere in the world you might find エーイダン crossing Europe in an awe-inspiring trip to visit ancestral homelands in a Toyota HiLux camper. Meanwhile, Ian N and f31roger plan to ship their own JNCs, a Subaru Young SS and Infiniti M30, respectively, back to the motherland for cross-Japan tours.

The winner this week, however, is someone who has accomplished his dream run. We’d say Fred Langille‘s surprising a spouse with an imported car purchase during a visit to in-laws is more dangerous than his actual Montreal to West Virginia road trip in an untested Nissan S-Cargo, but it looks like he made it with car and marriage in tact:

Actually … i already did it! About 4 years ago, this month, I surprised my wife with a trip to visit her relatives in Montreal, who had emigrated there from the Philippines. The trip had a big surprise in that we were flying up and driving back in, what Doug DeMauro termed ” … the Ugliest Car Ever Made”, a 1989 Nissan S-Cargo van. I had (secretly) been paying on it from the owner who, as it had turned out lived about 15 minutes from her family there! We flew up and at the end of our two-week visit, had the owner drive the van up and, in my wife’s family driveway, we took delivery. After posting a $500 import fee, we began our trek home to West Virginia.

Into the hurricane.
With a leaky sunroof on HER side (of course).
We both had a virus (not THE virus but, the flu … caught it there).
We were sideswiped by an 18-wheeler’s trailer … no real damage, save for a small ding on the pax door near the bottom … and a LARGE stain on the driver’s seat, if you get my drift!

Outside of the trip, the van ran well for an unknown 30-year-old JDM that had never been stateside in its previous life. It went from Japan to New Zealand (where it was painted Red Bull Blue and, had a huge can affixed on the top. The sunroof screen had been removed to affix it there, which made closure completely difficult and, was the reason for the sunroof leaks which have been alleviated a bit (anyone got one of these screens? We DO need one).

The trip was good, outside of the above discrepancies and, camera phones were out as we happily motored along at 55. It took 3 days but, was a decent trip. It was only AFTER we got home that both the alternator and water pump gave out and, new ones procured from Japan.

Since then, we’ve done alot of work on it, mechanically and cosmetically, earning Top 35, Most Unusual and Best Import trophies plus, the van was a focal point during the Huntington WV rest stop for The Great Race last May where we, the Huntington Regional AACA club (I’m the Secretary) had assisted the race cars in parking and reentering the race.
We’ve had a few smaller trips but. nothing beats the Montreal, Canada-Huntington, WV exodus!

Omedetou, your comment has earned you a set of decals from the JNC Shop!

JNC Decal smash



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19 Responses to QotW: What is the ultimate Japanese car?

  1. Lupus says:

    For me the “Ultimate Japanese Car” is Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R V-Spec.
    It is essentially a street legal racing machine, that was was built that way from the beginning. It houses a powerplant that bacame legendery for it’s potential and reliability. It uses state-of-the-art technology for drivetrain, suspension and steering on a level of advancemnet that only Mitsubishi’s GTO could stand against. From the looks it’s rather simple, more functional then appealing, but still with it’s own, unmistakable style. It wasn’t exported so it’s on top level of JDM’ness, a holy grail for every Nihon Steel lover and all of us raised on Gran Turismo. This car defined the Japasese performance cars making as a whole – the amount of technical gimmicks, computers, almost flight-support systems became a characteristic element of many JDM top sports cars up to this day.
    So… Ar San Ni Gee Tii Arr all the way..

  2. Jeremy A. says:

    I’ll define ‘Ultimate Japanese car” as ‘The Most Japanese Car” and go with the Honda City Turbo. This will probably be a vast outlier in a sea of supercars, but hear me out.

    It’s a Kei car. A type of car that does only and could only exist in the unique urban environments that Japan offers. And being a Kei car, it is low cost to buy, low cost to register and tax, low cost to operate. It is a hatchback with four seats, able to do grocery runs, carry the family, and generally serve as a practical car for the modern Japanese family.

    However, it is also all wheel drive and turbocharged, a reminder that performance and sporting aspirations do not need to remain domain of the idle wealthy. The salary man can also have a car which is exciting to drive and makes all the proper ‘sporting car’ noises.

    Of course, having a place in it to dock the Honda Motocompo also plays into that very Japanese-ness of the car. Use the City Turbo to go into town using the motorway or the B-roads, and then sip fuel in the shopping district on the Motocompo. Many other cars would embrace the more Western ideal of just taking the car everywhere, or parking the car and then taking public transportation. But the City Turbo embodies that obsession with personal mobility that we see from companies like Honda and Toyota every year at the auto shows, with their personal motorized pods, or Asimo-legged chairs. The City Turbo put that concept into production and into the hands of the people. All in all an extremely Japanese concept.

    So yes. Ultimate Japanese car? The Honda City Turbo.

    • kyushanerd says:

      Your compleatly right, I also love the honda city bro. But the Honda city isn’t a Keicar. It has a 1231cc Engine and doesn’t register as a Keicar. Just so you know. If you want to have more info on Honda city’s -> https://col.xii.jp/index.php

  3. Ray Raible says:

    Has to be the 70 240z and 510

  4. Fred Langille says:

    Wow … I am thrilled to know that I’m this week’s winner! I look forward to receiving the sticker pkg. Would you like pix of my S-Cargo? The one you have is really nice, mine just has the sunroof. Tell me how to send them and I’ll do so.

  5. Ryan A. says:

    It’s the LS 400 for me. It benchmarked against segment leader, and beat it in terms of quality and price. High value is the key attribute of Japanese cars to me. Its design and engineering was very human-focused, as far as comfort and convenience goes.

    The Miata is also a great example. It took an existing segment and made it better. I’ve heard it described as a Lotus Elan that works – and that’s a fair description.

  6. Azfer says:

    The ultimate Japanese car is the Toyota Century. It’s sooo ultimate that Toyota doesn’t even share it with the rest of the world, unless you buy really old models. It’s made for Japan’s most Japanese family, the royal family of Japan. It proudly celebrates Japan’s rich tradition of exceptional craftsmanship without being too loud about it, also another hallmark of Japanese culture. It takes a takumi six weeks to complete one of the phoenix badges. The tail lights look very simple but have very intricate design details. Continuing with its Japanese-ness, standard upholstery is wool because leather is too noisy for Japanese tradition, unlike other cars of this class where it’s organic hide from cows that don’t go near a fence. Leather is an option, however.

    While there are other great Japanese cars, they have been made with a global audience in mind compromising some of their Japanese-ness along the way. The Century, however, is unapologetically Japanese.

    Need I say more?

  7. speedie says:

    “Ultimate” The best achievable or imaginable of its kind.

    No other word in the English language bestows such a weight upon the item it describes. So how does it apply to a car? First you must define the purpose or utility of a car, which is to transport people from point A to point B. Now you could apply other qualities such as “in comfort, “in style, “in safety”, but ultimately for me it is “reliably”. No other car from Japan I think can lay claim to this better than the Toyota Corolla, which was introduced in 1966 and is currently in its twelfth generation. In 1991 it surpassed the VW Beetle as the best-selling nameplate in the world and in 2021 reached the milestone of 50 million sold. Based on how long they last, you can multiply that by 10 to get an idea of the number of people whose lives have been touched by this one line of cars. So for me the “ultimate” Japanese car is the Toyota Corolla which has transported more people, more reliably from point A to point B than any other car that has come from Japan. Live long Corolla.

    • Jonathan P. says:

      The name “Corolla” is also quite a pretty name from the definition.
      “Corolla n. The structure formed by the petals of a flower.”

  8. EJ says:

    Cliche, but the winner has to be the original Nissan GT-R (R35).

    I’m sure that when we watched the iconic video of the R35 beating the 911 Turbo (997) on the Nordschleife while being 1/2 the price, our collective jaws dropped. The car represented everything that’s good with Japanese design. Efficient, and effective, without the needless expensive bits and pieces that made its European counterparts twice as expensive. A technological marvel on 4-wheels that fits right in Akiba as it does on the North Loop.

    It’s AWD system also made it easier to drive than its American counterpart, the Corvette C6 Z06. The Corvette may be faster on the straightaways (and some corners), but nobody can deny that the GT-R is a much better package overall. And don’t forget the iconic information screen designed by Polyphony Digital.

    A car that looked like it came out of the Gundam factory, with similar performance to boot, the GT-R is a Japanese icon, and I would say, the ultimate Japanese car.

  9. BRIAN TREVAN says:

    My ultimate Japanese car is my 1965 Toyota Crown MS 41 S; the first Japanese sports sedan and the first produced by Toyota. It was companion car to the to the 2000GT. My car has only done 17k miles and is completely original. In 1999 it won International Motorclassica’s best preserved category and is like new. Only a few hundred were produced with 21 exported to Australia where it has lived since new.

  10. Nigel says:

    Lupus took my answer. So my other answer would be EF Honda Civic Si. Had an EF hatch and that was an awesome car. But to ad an extra 25 horses by Honda and then the owner adding S type tires. Daily driver and track day machine all in one.

  11. Art says:

    The ultimate Japanese car has to be the Toyota Soarer!

    Toyota already manufactured a full size two door coupé version of the Crown and a mid-size coupé version of the Mark II/Chaser. Toyota planned to replace both with the new Soarer and the new car had to be better than the cars it replaced. This meant that the Soarer became the pinnacle of Japanese engineering!

    The new Soarer boasted with all sorts of cool technologies, like the automatic airconditioning regulated by a microprocessor, TEMS adjustable suspension or a (adjustable) digital speed warning. It also became the first Japanese car to feature a digital dashboard (the Isuzu followed only months later) with a mix of vacuum fluorescent displays, LCDs and LEDs. It also got upgraded in 1985 with the addition of a CRT which could display vehicle information, maintenance information and you could also watch TV (or video) on the display when stationary. Kind of what we are used to nowadays in our Teslas and other EVs.

    Naturally the Soarer featured Toyota’s best (smoothest) inline sixes: the 5M-GEU and 6M-GEU. There were lesser engines, but I wouldn’t call a 1G-GEU or M-TEU a bad engine to begin with.

    The second generation had to be better than the first generation, so it featured the choice of either a twin charged 1G-GTEU or single turbo 7M-GTEU engine. Also it featured the first electronically controlled air suspension and the Aerocabin featured an electric folding roof.

    We all know the third generation Soarer as the Lexus SC300 and SC400. This was Toyota selling for the first time the Soarer abroad and it was, again, the finest from Japan: a super smooth 2JZ, a twin charged 1JZ and the incredibly smooth UZ1 that could also be found in the LS400. Factory options included, amoung others, GPS and the Electro Multi Vision system now featured a touchscreen.

    If we then simply ignore the Lexus SC430, we can conclude that the Soarer was Japan’s ultimate car. Nissan tried to match the Soarer with the second generation Leopard (which is an equally awesome car) and Honda with the two door Legend, but neither were as refined or groundbreaking as Toyota’s Soarer.

  12. Lukas says:

    Easy – The Nissan Prairie M10.

    Why? Because its ver ysimple, so reliable and easy to work on. Its extremely innovative, but sadly forgotten. And it micht be a death-trap but definately has character. All the others are mainstream.

  13. Styles says:

    I’ll address this question less from a “What is Japan’s ultimate car” point of view, but more from a “What is the most ultimately Japanese car”.

    To me. the ultimate Japanese car is the U13 Bluebird.

    It encompasses the best aspects of the Japanese car industry, in a period that I regard the golden age of the industry in Japan.

    First, the body. A sedan. Conventional, conservative. But then consider the styling, which was rather extreme at the time, daring and alternative.

    The range of trims and engines, from the lowly but reliable carburetted GA16DS and low-tech CD20, right up to the range topping KA24DE and mighty SR20DET, with trims and specifications from bare-bones fleet car to luxurious cruiser or high-performance ATTESSA turbo, I’ve driven them all.

    The reliability of this car cannot be over stated, maintain the servicing and these will run to many hundreds of thousands of kilometers.

    At once conservative and radical, demure and exhilirating, this is one car that ultimately sums up the Japanese car for me.

  14. Lakdasa says:

    “Ultimate Car” could refer to so many things, like you said it could refer to a technological tour de force, same way it could also mean an allrounder.

    For me the ultimate car would have been the Skyline GTR R33. However good it may have been it had its limits so the next best thing to that for me was the Nissan Stagea 260RS Autech. You had the engine, all wheel drive system and a limited slip differential. So all the Skyline goodness on a station wagon (talk about a sleeper) that could carry 5 people comfortably and their luggage with the performance of a Skyline. Yes the Subaru had the Forester STI and the Legacy but the Stagea is one hell of a beast.

    Unfortunately in my country most Stagea’s live a life as funeral cars save for one which has been given a life by an enthusiast with a full conversion of engine and transmission from a GTR.

    Some info can be had here,

    Other option would have been a Nissan Patrol Y60 with the TD42 engine, a big monster on road with its presence and off road capability.

  15. Taylor C. says:

    This week’s survey is yielding lots of great responses. I would love to add my thoughts to the discussion:

    1) For something that’s all-out, I’d have to say it’s the Mazda 787B, most notably No.55 with the green and orange paint scheme. It wasn’t the fasted in the field, nor was it the most powerful, but it held its own, had excellent reliability AND fuel consumption (for a rotary!), and, not until Toyota started winning in 2018, was the only Japanese manufacturer to capture the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It ran only one other race after winning the 24 Hours, and its victory was never really highly publicized. Despite that, it’s probably reproduced by every toy company out there. How ultimate is THAT?

    2) For something slightly more attainable, I would say the R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R Z-Tune takes that spotlight. The culmination of the trifecta (R32/33/34), and each car hand-selected and completely redone. I believe the Omori factory folks took the cars down to nothing and spot-welded certain parts of the door frame as well as added more structural stiffeners. Powertrain was completely upgraded and reprogrammed, exterior was blessed with carbon fiber, suspension and brakes were collaborated with suppliers; everything was just scrutinized. How ultimate is THAT

    3) For an everyday car, it’s gotta be the Toyota Comfort / Crown Comfort, particularly the ones used for taxi purposes. That car was designed to be easy to maintain, and focused so hard on function over form. I remember seeing them in Hong Kong back in the late 90s, and still seeing them last time I went in 2019. That shows just how popular it’s remained all through these years. How ultimate is THAT?

  16. Lakdasa says:

    For some reason my old comment has not been posted.

    For me the “Ultimate car” would mean a technological tour de force minus the drawbacks of a sports car. Therefore I would choose the Nissan Stagea 260R Autech, which basically is a Nissan Skyline GTR R33 underneath with the all wheel drive system intact. All the goodness of a GTR and the practicality of a family car in one package.

    Unfortunately in my country the the Stagea’s are used as hearses (funeral cars). But I know of one which was full done up and in personal use with a collector who went to the extremes of importing a full engine and drivetrain transplant from a Stagea 25T RS.

  17. Alex Larsen says:

    2000gt. Its history and the future it brought about. No need to say more.

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