QotW: What’s the greatest car of the Heisei Era?

This Tuesday, April 30, Emperor Akihito will become the first Japanese royal in 200 years to abdicate his throne, citing his age and declining health and bringing the Heisei Era to a close. Though Japan’s royal family is largely symbolic these days, their reigns are still important markers of time. Akihito took the throne on January 7, 1989, ending the Showa Era that is often referenced with nostalgia for its post-war economic boom, bringing things like color television, transistor radios, and a Cambrian explosion of the cars that we know and love today to the forefront of Japanese culture.

Akihito’s era, then, will have spanned just over the last 30 years. It was probably just as significant, car-wise, ushering in the days of peak Japan with cars like the Skyline GT-R and Z32, Toyota Supra twin-turbo and SW20 MR2, Mazda FD RX-7 and MX-5 Miata, Mitsubishi 3000GT and Lancer Evolution, Honda NSX and Integra Type R, Subaru SVX and WRX STI, and so on. With the recent death of beloved models like the Mitsubishi Pajero and Toyota Mark X, it almost seems like another golden automotive age is ending.

What’s the greatest car of the Heisei Era?

The most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “What’s your favorite Z?

The winner this week was returning champion Jeremy A., who gave the nod to a Z generation that even most Z fans dislike. Nevertheless, it was a highly entertaining and relatable comment:

The 280ZX (S130). And it’s not just because I own one. (It mostly is.)
I was born in 83, and spent my formative years seeing the S130 and Z31 on the streets, the S130 was in my toybox (Two transformers, and a number of Matchbox cars), and it was on TV. Heck, it was even going to be KITT for a while, until GM’s money came in and convinced Knight Rider’s showrunners that KITT should be an F-body.

The S130 gives you the classic Z looks, updated for the late bubble-era with more muscular haunches, square edges where it needed them and round where it didn’t. It introduced the Z to the turbo, stood up to and spanked the F-Bodies, Fox Bodies and Corvettes of the day, and it brought the car into the 80s, with a more refined interior, T-tops, digital gauges and a ride that was at home in the curves as it was cruising the freeway.

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13 Responses to QotW: What’s the greatest car of the Heisei Era?

  1. Ken Graham says:

    Does it have a supercharged V8?

  2. dankan says:

    It isn’t my favourite car of the Heisei-era, but probably the greatest car of Heisei would be the XV10 Toyota Camry.

    No, please put down that pitchfork, and at least hear me out before you light that torch over there.

    The Lexus LS400 was Toyota’s moonshot that re-defined the luxury segment. It was spectacular, technologically advanced, terrified the automotive competition, and changed how everyone saw Japanese cars.

    The 1991 Toyota Camry did the same thing, but for affordable family cars. Yes, the contemporary Accord of the same year was a great car. But that Camry totally demolished the North American conceptions of what a mid-size family sedan was supposed to offer. No one else had anything that good, for that price, and it turned the Camry into the default family sedan for the entire future of the family sedan’s existence (and it might be the last family sedan left, in the end). It killed the category as a competitive marketplace. You either got the Camry, dared to be an individual and got the Accord, or you made a mistake. There were no other choices anymore.

    That’s an insane achievement, and what was more impressive was the price level it was done at. Anyone can make a supercar or high-end luxury sedan. It takes real engineering talent and genius to build something as good to an affordable budget. The Camry did that.

    And no, it’s not glamourous. It’s not sexy. But that vaguely Jaguar-lined XV10 Camry was the single greatest Heisei-era car anyway, because no one else managed moonshot-level engineering on a mac and cheese budget.

  3. XRaider says:

    For me…It’s either the following: Toyota Crown, Nissan Skyline GT-R R32, Mitsubishi GTO and Honda Accord…….However One car brought me into this: Subaru Legacy

  4. Alan says:

    I came here to put in a thoughtful reply about how the era was spoilt for riches and choosing a single best would be an automotive Sophie’s Choice, but dankan has sucked all the oxygen out of the room and perhaps my will to live.

    Oh fuck it, NSX.

    • dankan says:

      Hey I love the NSX, and FD3S, Z32, and a host of others. But I felt a case was there to be made that greatness wasn’t the conventional choice.

  5. Steve says:

    I had to think a bit about this question because I was initially focused on the cars *I * liked during that time (240sx, MR2, Rx7, Supra, etc.). But none of those really outshone the others in a significantly great way. So what car
    caused a real ripple in the automotive

    The Lexus LS400.

    Although its impact on the automotive scene may not have been as great as Datsun’s 240z and 510 were in the 70s and Mazda’s RX7 was in the 80s, it did tell the world that Japanese manufacturers were now ready to take on the ‘big boys’ in the luxury segment.

    US domestic luxury brands were no match. They had to up their game and finally offer basics such as IRS. Initially poo-pooed by Mercedes Benz, MB saw a loss in a market that used to be exclusively theirs. They had to step off their high horse and appeal to the ‘unwashed masses’. They even started marketing SUVs and crappy econoboxes like the CLA, taking a page out of Lexus’ playbook, offering an “entry-level” model to introduce (“indoctrinate”?) into their market.

    Someday, when (if) I decide to “graduate” to a calmer ride I hope to buy (if I can afford it) the latest LS…

  6. Tom Westmacott says:

    As the last day of the Heisei era dawns over Japan, I can say confidently that the greatest car this era has produced is the Lexus LFA. Coming from the most traditionally Japanese of manufacturers, it took the traditional Toyoda family business of mechanical looms and reinvented them as the means to weave a 21st century supercar.

    As a co-production with Yamaha, the 4.8L V10 engine is a product of two great Japanese names, reprising a partnership including the seminal 2000GT and popular 4A-GE. Unlike most direct rivals it adopts the classic front engine/rear drive layout – taking this traditional architecture and evolving it further than it has ever been with a front-mid engine and 48/52 weight distribution, dry-sump engine, carbon body, torque tube, and rear-mounted radiators. In many ways Toyota created the ultimate cost-no-object drift car, as far ahead of the FD3S as that car was technically in advance of the original AE86 in the pages of Initial D.

    The Lexus project launched in the first week of Heisei, succeeded over the next two decades in putting Japanese technology and crafstmanship onto the same plane of perception as the traditional luxury brands of the west, and reached its peak with the LFA.

    While being a luxury product, it is in no way soft, compromised or stodgy; rather it is absolutely single-minded in pursuit of forging a partnership with the driver, reflecting the uncompromising dream of one man, Akio Toyoda. By toppling Ferrari’s flagship 599 GTO on the majestic roads of Scotland to steal Evo’s heart, the LFA conquered the Mt Everest of the car world, taking Gold back to Nagoya.

    Looking back from a decade later, the LFA picks up many of the things we love about Japanese carmaking – the tradition of craftsmanship, the world-beating technology delivering incredible mechanical feats, the individuality and expression of being able to steer from both ends, and the unbounded ambition and creativity of the Bubble years – and wraps them up into a single world-beating supercar. And yes, I really really want one!

  7. Lachlan says:

    I think the Mazda FD RX7 was the prettiest, and the NSX the coolest, but I think the greatest car of the Heisei era was a more recent vehicle – the Lexus LFA.

    It was incredibly powerful, looked and sounded great, built to ridiculous standards over a 9 year(!) development cycle and they tore up huge sums of money on each one – and it is the supercar I’d pick any day of the week.

  8. Ant says:

    Not for the first time, my answer is the Mazda MX-5. While I’d never hold up sales alone as an example of what makes a car great, it can’t be ignored that Mazda has sold more than a million MX-5s since 1989. It’s likely considerably *more* than a million people have been introduced to the joy of driving thanks to Mazda’s little Roadster, and the world is a better place as a result.

  9. Dutch 1960 says:

    Mazda 787B (you didn’t specify “mass production” or “street car”). For all the reasons.

    It is also good the green/orange car won Le Mans, instead of the corporate white with blue logo. You can see the distinctive color scheme as far away as you can hear the banshee 4 rotor scream.

    A racing moment in time to be remembered forever by the fans of Japanese race cars.

  10. Mothra says:

    It’s the R35 GT-R.

    That car is the culmination of not only one manufacturer’s sales and racing success, but the success of an ideology. The ideology being that a car produced by Japan, an independent Asian nation, could compete and win on the world’s stage.

    If the Showa Era was dominated by the mindset that the East had something to prove in order to “earn” the respect of the West…It was the Heisei Era that proved Japan (and the rest of the East) could define their own measures of success and pride. The Nissan GT-R succinctly embodies that radical paradigm shift.

    Where we all stand now is at the symbolic beginning of a new era in which the East’s potential is without limit…and the West has to prove it can keep up.

    As the auto industry gazes to the horizon unknown, one name still quakes the Earth with infamy: GODZILLA.

  11. Angelo says:

    What’s the best car during the Heisei Era?

    Well, this is probably the most encountered and not to mention the most Japanese, as this is the car that you will see the moment you get out of the airport..

    This is the car where many of the aspiring, young Japanese drivers first felt their way around the driving course.

    This is the car that was the recipient of the Morizo Award way back 2010. This is the car that saw production from 1995 until 2017, when it finally hung the towel to give way to a newer cab model.

    This is the Toyota Crown Comfort.

    Why the Crown Comfort? This car probably represents Japan in a way that most of the cars we all love fail to do.

    It has that certain feel of restraint, that feel that despite the utilitarian looks of it, never fails to make you feel in control.

    And in the 22 years that it stayed in production, it withstood the test of time, surviving the rise and slow downfall of the Japanese Dream.

    It never looked out of place around the Japanese cities that is full of futuristic aura, and never looked too new for the old, traditional Japanese rural towns..

    It just blends in so well, and basically, it’s a must, an experience that is never too expensive nor too hard to attain.

    And it’s never too late, as it is still everywhere in Japan. Just flag down one, and your commute will be memorable.

    Hope you don’t get hit by the door though..

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