QotW: Which Japanese automaker is furthest from its roots?


Sometimes you have a great history and come to the table with some big wins already under your belt. Then you make a bad decision, miss the goal by one yard, and ruin everything you’ve worked for, leaving legions of hopeful fans bitterly disappointed.

Which Japanese automaker is furthest from its roots?

Subaru achieved record sales this year, but some argue that their *cough* legacy models have become too mainstream. Honda is still going strong, but their lineup lacks the sharp driving dynamics and intuitive designs. Isuzu was the first to offer a factory-souped street racer, but now all they make are heavy duty trucks.

What say you, dear reader? As always, the most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “What’s the strangest JNC sighting you’ve encountered?” 


Banpei‘s photographic evidence of not one, but two identical Nissan Prairies, Spudenater‘s ghostly encounter with a dead AE82, Jim-Bob‘s tale of a Godzilla sighting in the middle of nowhere like a scene out of 2 Fast 2 Furious, but the champion this week is Kuroneko‘s double tale of a cruise with the Subaru 360 club and a chance double-encounter with a 2000GT:

This one time, I was out on a drive with the Subaru club, and one of the 360 had a fuel line problem. So, the club president in his WRX offered to tow him home. Unfortunately, halfway back to Tokyo on the Shin-Tomei expressway, we were passed by some Porsche going pretty fast. The club president then taking up the challenge for a top speed run against the Porsche – forgetting he was towing the diminutive 360. At we supposed speeds well over the legal limit, the driver of the 360 was of course mildly distressed, and was flashing his headlights madly at the WRX driver in a vain attempt to get him to slow down.

When we all stopped at the next PA, the rest of the Porsche drivers came over to exclaim they were amazed how fast the WRX was in keeping up. ‘Yeah’, said one guy though. ‘But what about the 360 flashing his lights who wanted to pass us both!’

Nothing was as strange however, as driving an S800 to my local Toyota yard to photograph a 2000GT, and in saying goodbye to the shacho we both stood next to the S800 & the 2000GT I’d just photographed. We then stood slack-jawed as someone drove past in yet another 2000GT with their grocery shopping bags in the back. Now, that was strange…

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

JNC Decal smash

This post is filed under: Question of the Week and
tagged: , .

33 Responses to QotW: Which Japanese automaker is furthest from its roots?

  1. Nakazoto says:

    Hino. They’re like Isuzu only they started and ended with the Hino Contessa.

  2. Rayson says:

    Subaru models might be too mainstream but at least the “WRX” nameplate is still alive and the glory DNA still managed to survive (sorta?). Honda might be too bland but at least they still make amazing Kei in Japan, and the return of almighty Type R despite of the questionable amount of Japanese influence on the new Type R.

    But Mitsubishi, no doubt everything from their products to marketing leave a bigger than ever question mark. They went from creating cars with Mitsubishi’s unique charm to cars that simply no one is interested. Galant turned into a giant bland family car that nothing in the car speak “Japanese” and then eventually bit the dust. Lancer is pretty much an outdated platform that yell “Hey I look like an Evo!”. Pajero started out as a competitor to the Land Cruiser and then eventually become forgotten. And the new Mirage, it would make more sense selling it 20 years ago, the car just simply yell “1990s”!. The marketing was so bad that I didn’t even realized the Mirage was out until I saw them sitting at the dealership lots begging for new owners. The end of Lancer Evolution also marked the end of the Mitsubishi’s legacy in producing unique cars.

    FYI I was once a big Mitsubishi fans and today I always question whether did Mitsubishi replaced their product department staffs with those that used to work in Mitsubishi Electric.

    • Jim-Bob says:

      I hate to say it, but I actually kinda like the Mirage. It’s like a Geo Metro for the ’10’s (and I am a Geo Metro fan boy). Unfortunately, what is not like a Metro is the price. For similar money you can get much better vehicles from a number of other manufacturers. If it came as a base model for around $9500, they would sell a lot of them. As it is though a cheap one stickers around $13,000 and for that price I can get a Mazda 2 or even a Nissan Versa, both of which are much nicer cars. The only advantage the Mitsubishi offers then is fuel economy and most drivers do not drive enough miles to see a significant enough financial advantage to sacrifice the comfort of the other cars in it’s price range.

      • Ryan Glass says:

        As a car enthusiast I hate to admit it, but I do love the Mirage. There’s an honest to goodness character to their design and quality. It’s not trying to be something that it’s not, and isn’t all that different in concept to the Geo Metro, Daihatsu Charade, or even the earlier Toyota Starlets and Honda Civics.

        I’ve had a chance to drive the Mirage, Versa, and 2 as rental cars over long distances and out of its comfort zone in the city, and I would much prefer the Mirage over any of them. The 2 was absolute torture: noisy, slow, bad fuel economy, horribly cramped, and is way over overpriced itself starting at $15k for a base model. It has good handling, but in 90% of driving, it is a miserable little car. The Versa just screams cheap and has no personality.

        I’ve driven several Mirages over a total of about 2000 miles, and adore the car. It’s not the best handler, and it isn’t refined. But it is comfortable, much roomier than a 2 or a Fiesta, the three cylinder was peppy and was able to keep up with interstate traffic at 70mph with no sweat, felt well built, and on a recent 250 mile run from Vegas to LA, achieved 53mpg average. Amazing! Plus unlike the Versa, it has some character. And for buyers, that base $13000 gets climate control, all the normal power accessories, AUX, and the 10yr warranty.

        Heck, I actually regret that I had purchased my 2015 Honda Fit a few months ago and I wish that I had gotten a Mirage.

        Consider me a fan!

        • Rayson says:

          Interesting, well mainly because the Mirage in Canada isn’t as cheap as I expected (3k more than the Nissan Micra, and the Micra isn’t bad at all for a sub-10k car) and it is quite a rare sight to see a Mirage on our road (I think I saw less than 5 on our road so far). After reading your perspective, now I am actually eager to take one out for test drive!

          I do agree with you the Versa is simply bad, I had one for rental for a week and it was probably the worst driving experience I ever had!

      • Ben Hsu says:

        Interesting perspective, Ryan. Now I’m curious to take a turn behind the wheel!

  3. Coltspeed says:

    Mitsubishi Motors has been going downhill for decades. Sadly, the conglomerate head, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, seems content to let the Motors division bleed to death.

    Speaking of “exciting” and the incorrect usage of the word
    Nissan’s current radio ad spiel “OUR MOST EXCITING LINEUP… EVER!”
    ?!?!? lollol

  4. Banpei says:

    I’d say this is an easy one: Mitsubishi

    Mitsubishi started in 1870 as a shipping firm but quickly added coal mining, banking, insurance, electrics and cars (from 1917 onwards) to that list. In the second world war they made the infamous Zero fighter and after the second world war they also ticked the boxes of petrochemical, petroleum and nuclear power.

    Starting from the 70s Mitsubishi became very active in motorsport (especially rally driving). The Lancer Turbo was the predecessor of a long Lancer EVO lineup that was very successful at rally sports.

    Mitsubishi also partnered up with Jacky Chan and had a long healthy partnership featuring their cars in many of his movies. The cherry on top was the Jacky Chan Special Edition Lancer Evo IX.

    In 2014 Mitsubishi announced to kill off the Lancer Evo, introduced the new Outlander HPEV and focus entirely on electric vehicles.

    Now I ask you: how far did Mitsubishi get from their roots? I think the closest they got to a ship was during the 80s with the arrival of the MMC Debonair V Royal AMG. Unfortunately they don’t make cars like that anymore.

    • daruma3gakoronda says:

      Well, Mitsubishi used to be a Zaibatsu, but when that was demolished by GHQ, they became multiple companies, which, while sharing the same name and oftentimes working together, they were independent companies. Mitsubishi Motors is one of them.

      • pstar says:

        Even as keiretsu the independent companies were/are all each others’ main shareholders.

        Mitsubishi Motors has made a lot of bad decisions, and some good cars over the decades. The worst decision, and the one that caused them to end up where they are is their willingness to team up with Chrysler and become a supplier of captive imports instead of having a presence of their own. Chrysler sucks balls, for one. And two, it meant that while Honda and Toyota were building a reputation for Japanese quality, and Mazda and Datsun were building a reputation for a new kind of mass-produced small sportscars, Mitsubishi wasn’t making any kind of image for itself, other than supplying the cheapest cars to the dealerships that sold the shittiest, worst cars (Chrysler/Dodge).

  5. daruma3gakoronda says:

    This is a VERY easy one.


    While they still make looms, it’s not their main industry anymore. Toyota is now synonymous with Automobiles.

  6. hechtspeed says:

    So, as I think about this question, which mfg’r is furthest from its roots, my thought is they’re all far from their roots. I think its because the entire automotive industry and the path the cars have taken in the past 15-20 years has caused this gap.
    When I think of Honda’s roots, I think lightweight, double wishbone suspension Civic hatchbacks/coupes/sedan’s from 88-2000. Since then, the Hatch (in the USA anyway) is gone. The coupes and sedans are 500lbs heavier than they used to be. I think the engine and transmission technology has continued the great high revving roots, but they’re not in a heavier, mcP strut chassis. Yuck! Give me a K series swap into a 88-2000 Civic and that’s what I’d want from Honda dealer today.
    So, I’m leaning towards Toyota being furthest from its roots. When I think of Toyota, I think 70’s and 80’s rwd coupes. The Celica was turned into a fwd terd and the corollas turned into fwd econoboxes. The GT86/BRZ/FR-S is a great car, but its got a Subaru drivetrain. So, its not a Toyota. The Supra has been gone for a long time and the next one will be an out of reach Supercar. Lame!
    When I think of Nissan, besides the Skylines, I think Silvia/240SX and Datsun Z and 510’s. Today Nissan has the GT-R Supercar (no more inline 6 and awd), but nothing else of interest and nothing else rwd. I did dig the Nissan SUPERBOWL commercial of the race driver dad, but then he picked his son up in a friggin’ Maxima. What?! Seriously!?
    When I think of Mazda I think Miata and RX7. The Miata still has its roots. The RX7 and now 8 along with the Rotary engine are gone. 🙁 Can you imagine the RX coupe they could build with the 2.3 Turbo Mazdaspeed motor? And why doesn’t the Miata have that engine? Come on, that’s the zoom zoom.

    Man, I’m a pessimist. But, look at the new Ford Mustang ecoboost, look at the BRZ/FR-S, the new WRX/STi, the Z28 Camaro.

    I’ll tell you that if I had my dream new car, it’d be a modern take on the AE corolla sedan.
    RWD, high revving inline 4 cylinder 2.0L with 6 speed manual
    It would be 4 doors that could fit 255/40/17’s, LSD diff, and way about 2800lbs and not much bigger than the current FR-S/BRZ. I’d take a Toyota Corolla with FRS/BRZ drivetrain as a second option.

    • Bill says:

      ***Nissan’s GT-R is still AWD and they still have the 370Z, which is RWD. They do need something to replace the Silvia/180sx/240sx though.

  7. Dutch 1960 says:

    Mazda. The “Toyo Kogyo” name on the older Mazdas is a legacy of their original business, the manufacture of artificial cork.

    Toyo Kogyo also bet the farm, in the early 1960’s, to make the Wankel rotary engine a commercially viable product. No one else, from Mercedes to GM, from Citroen to Suzuki, was really able to do so. And now Mazda has abandoned its heritage. Not to say that the current cars are not great. But the rotary heritage, from small coupes, to sports cars, to Le Mans, has been thrown over the side. I cannot think of any maker, of any product, that has so completely tossed aside its own identity. Mazda has some interesting and promising areas of engine technology going for it today, but nothing as consequential as a whole new engine, that is technically so far afield from anything that others are able to offer.

    • pstar says:

      Yep, you said what I was going to say. Good job.

      The rotary is the key to the entire Mazda image, their roots as a credible car maker, and their entire story. There’s a reason they put it in everything, and why their flagship cars for 5 decades, from the original Cosmo to the RX-8, were all rotary powered.

      Its hard to overstate how far they’ve moved from their roots and their core as a result. If Ford or Chevrolet no longer made V8s or full size trucks it might be comparable. If BMW and Honda stopped making motorcycles it might be comparable. Pontiac or Oldsmobile no longer existing is pretty comparable.

      Mazda has a responsibility, and they have turned away from it for far too long already (almost a decade). When the RX8 was cancelled there was some discomfort, but Mazda assured everyone that “they were continuing to develop the rotary engine”. They haven’t even hinted for at least 3 years that they even pretend to care about rotary anymore. Can’t they at least humor us? One little statement here and there about how they haven’t forgotten the rotary, they’re working on it, they’ll put it in the greatest affordable sports car has ever seen, and they’ll be doing it next year, and they’re making an official announcement right around the corner? Is that too much to ask?

    • daruma3gakoronda says:

      They indeed bet the farm to build the wankel. They did because if they didn’t, the Japanese government would have shut them down or made them merge a la Prince Motors with another car manufacturer. That, and NSU tricked Mazda into developing the Wankel; Mazda thought that the Wankel was further along in its development by NSU when in reality they couldn’t even figure out a good material for the apex seals. Mazda figured it out and thus the Wankel and Mazda were saved.

      This documentary by Project X (NHK) is one of the best I’ve seen, and worth a watch, hopefully you understand Japanese.

  8. alvin says:


    Two reasons:
    1. The Murano Cabriolet

    2. Another company built the car that was true to its very own roots:


  9. cesariojpn says:


    Back then, they had a model for nearly everyone. from cheap transport to sporty offerings to utility, Toyota had something for everyone.

    Nowadays? Well, let’s focus on the US Market:

    Toyota is now equated to “Beige” as many of their cars are regarded as appliances with a very bad placement as a NASCAR car. Lexus is the luxury brand with little to no oomph (and ya can’t outright buy the LFA). Scion is a waste of space that has been poorly mismanaged from day one because they try to be a “youthful” brand when sales have shown this idea isn’t right. Stumbles like giving Scion the GT86 and killing the Supra have only hurt the brand that used to have a equal mix of sporty to luxury.

    They are making some strides in reclaiming the past, but it’s not enough. If I was running it, i’d gut Scion and make it the “affordable brand” with Kei Cars, and stop trying to market to the youths. Shift the GT86 to the Toyota umbrella alongside the new Supra. And just to give the Lexus brand some kick, bring over the Toyota Century in limited numbers (around 10 or so).

  10. For me it clearly must be Honda. From an european view.
    While Honda for me was synonymous with sporty, simple-but-great lightwight cars with superb handling we still have the cars with the same names like Civic, Accord and NSX but they have nothing in common whith what they once used to be.
    They’re now either tech-ladden cars with bad “futuristic” Styling or Weird all-Kind-of-cars-shoehorned-into-one cars! (So called crossovers of many different platforms).
    Also a Point i never understood is the fact that they make so many different cars for all the different marekts. In the past they made the Civic, Accord, prelude, NSX and some smaller cars. Some were not sold on all markets while other markets got some Special Editions. But now? Every market seems to have it’s own Accord and civic based on a total different Platform, manufactured in a local plant. That’s sad.
    Also i can’t get the Feeling that there’s not much of the “Japanese-ness” left in the actual series of Honda’s coming to the market’s outside of Japan. While we all loved the local market Honda’s (outside Japan) for the japanese inginuity and simple thoughts that went into the design and Technology i feel like all the current cars sold outside of Japan are also designed either in the UK oder USA for the local markets and lost all of their japanese roots. I feel like there is not much of a classic Honda left in most of the Honda’s sold outside of Japan.

    • pstar says:

      Imagine how much worse American Honda fans have it. At least Honda cared about their European market enough that they got the same or better products than they made for Japan itself. The “Euro R” designation means it is at least a good car. The US has “Si” and that sucks and isn’t even anything. And the US Accord is a bloated whale that really has no sporting credibility at all (unlike Euro Accord). Euro Civic at least moves forward and theres sexy 3-door hatchbacks. Meanwhile, North America gets stuck with ugly reheats of the same boring Civic thats been around since the EK went away. Pretty sure if you put a US-market 2001 Civic and 2006 Civic and 2012 Civic side by side nobody knows or cares which is newer.

      I have a feeling US Honda fans would kill for this compared to the crap Honda actually gave them: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/03/Honda_Civic_Type_S_front.JPG

  11. emuman says:

    For me its between Nissan and Mazda. Nissan has still its halo cars, the GT-R and the 370Z, to let the Skyline und Z-series ideas live. But the rest of the lineup is boring and whats more important, since owned by Renault, they are not more reliable than the average any more. This is the key feature of japanese cars, their reliability, especially when the car is getting old.
    Mazda delivered the most bulletproof cars (at least in Germany) in the last couple of years accordning to statistics like TÜV report etc. But the last Mazda 3 and 6 are only average and in the mid-2000 they had this massive problem with rust. And Mazda has no rotary cars any more and there is nothing like a 3 and 6 MPS. The only car with tradition is the MX-5, but it is massivly underpowered, if you like it or not. Times have changed, the people drive 7-second-SUVs as there daily driver and I am not sure they wan’t a slow sportscar any more for the weekend. The formula worked 20 years ago. I like the puristic concept, but I am afraid to say, that I don’t think the customers share my view.
    But Mazda is not lost, they can return with a new RX-7 in 2017.

  12. JHMBB2 says:

    If there’s anything I learned from JNC, it’s that Mazda used to be badass. I mean, I never would have guessed from these boring Fords rebadged as a Mazda that Mazda was such a badass company with awesome sports cars like their older RX line, and even the little pick-up. Most of us are familiar with the RX-7 and the RX-8, but I mean the styling of those old RXs are just on point. I’d say the FD is a timeless design too.

    I don’t even know what bland faced cars they put out these days. I know, I know, they have the Miatas and MazdaSpeed 3s and 6s (which is a lot more than Honda has, but Honda is a whole ‘nother story…ugh…) but they don’t seem to even vaguely represent what Mazda was putting out back in the day.

    I love quirky styling and quirky engineering the were putting out, today they just push out cheap plastic boxes on wheels with no character or feeling at all. The Miata? I dunno, it’s gotten boring, it looks like everything else out there. It’s great they still push out a RWD sports car (unlike some other company that likes to keep things as boring as possible *cough* Honda *Cough*), but it’s just so-so, I dunno boring and a little redundant maybe? I don’t blame them for trying hard to keep alive such a niche car, and I don’t doubt that it’s hard to keep things original and exciting while moving forward but it’s kinda lame today.

    I’d have nominated Honda, but hey at least they kinda make reference to their cars from back in the day. They seem somewhat proud of what they were, they pushed out the CRZ, making wagons again with the Crosstour and Civic Tourer. Yeah, they’re pretty boring, well extremely boring, but I still get a small hint of classic Honda when I get in a Honda today. As for Mazda, well…damn I wish they were still cool and quirky, I’d probably own one today if they continued with their cool factor.

  13. Jim-Bob says:

    I have to go with Geo here. What was once a proud company known for it’s long tradition of badge engineering is no more. In it’s day it came up with such exquisite badges as Metro, Spectrum, Storm, Tracker and Prizm- some of which even featured actual mechanical engineering work that was done in house! (Usually this work was on the parts that detracted from the overall quality of the product.) Sadly though, this illustrious brand is no more. Even the vehicles they had rebadged are now no longer sold through Chevy and Pontiac dealers. Where once these cars offered an island of quality in the desolate wasteland of economically priced GM products there are now only badge engineered Daewoos and Chinese market cars. Yes, the Prizm may have been a beige Toyota Corolla under the skin but dammit! It was still a better car than the Cavalier that sold along side of it! Oh Geo, where are you now? The world needs more badge engineers like you!

  14. mattmac says:

    I’ve seen nissan posted a few times but i could not disagree more.
    Nissan has kept the Z line since Datsun. I know a lot of 240z fans say all the new Zs are nothing like the old one but still. Consider all the new safety regulations, emission controls and the new Z cars are more close to their roots then any other brand. They continue to produce a relatively affordable sports car with bare bones features. RWD with a manual transmission. What else does a enthusiast need?

    How many other Japanese manufactures have kept a continuous line up like the Z? None!

  15. james says:

    I’d have to say Nissan,If you look at past models and generations they all had one thing in common, they had designs that made you want to drive them and save for GT-R and Fairlady Z, I see no current Nissan that I’d want to drive.They messed up their credibility when they started using CVTs.”Innovation That Excites”? that’s a lie. I second the thoughts on Mitsubishi (I still am a fan of the Galant and would’ve loved if Mitsubishi brought later iterations of the VR-4 to the states) unfortunately,without a lineup that includes something for every taste, then they’ll just have to pack it up like Suzuki,which still brings a tear to my eye.

  16. Bob Cold says:

    Why are people hating on the 370 Z? I understand they are a bit bloated and no inline 6. But jeez. I would have no problems owning one. (I used to have a 280z, so I know the driving experience of those beauties).

  17. Oswald Zelaya says:

    In my humble opinion I have to say Mazda, they dropped their flagship models RX-7, the Millenia and the engine that defined them, for for Christ’s sake , the emblem of Mazda is a rotary engine and they don’t even manufacture that anymore. Although I myself have been a fan of Toyota, Mazda was a company I have always respected because they were the exotic of the exotic in Japan, Yeah you can get a skyline with an inline 6, but that Rotary engine made the stand out from all manufacturers, they are even the only Japanese manufacturers that have won the 24 hours of LeMans, not Honda, not Toyota.. Mazda won it, with an exotic 4 rotor engine that screamed Japan (exept Wankel was German jaja).
    And not only that , they used to make small compact pocket rockets, with great engines, remember the 323GTX? yeah the miata is still there but even with that they have gone out of the road, the original was a little girly and it seems they want to make it appear to the an RX7 which is totally opposite. In the american markets the Protege otherwise know as the Familia has become from a small compact to a huge thristy 2.4 liter car that looks fat…
    Well in conclusion for me Mazda dropping the Wankel engine say it all, imagine a V6 corvette, a V8 corolla (Yikes!”).

    my two cents. Peace.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *