Classics are great but sometimes you have no choice but to drive a new(ish) car. What that happens, we’d still like something that at least feels like a Japanese nostalgic car.
What modern car provides the most JNC driving experience?
Let’s put the cutoff at 10 years — old to most, but still considered new by all you lovable nuts reading this article — and to keep it interesting let’s limit answers to cars you can actually buy in the US or Australia. The JNC staff pick is the NB Mazda MX-5. It’s light, simple, and shuns electronic middlemen standing between you and the road. What it lacks in horsepower it makes up for in flingability. However, that’s not to say road feel and handling are the only criteria. Where are the slim pillars, the intuitive dashboards, the plain ol’ visibility?
What say you, dear reader? As always, the most entertaining or inspiring comment by next Monday will receive a random toy. Click through to see the winner from last week’s question, “What’s the greatest Suzuki of all time?”
Last week’s QotW may have set a new record for fewest answers received. Perhaps Suzuki never made much of an impression on English speakers. Or maybe the fact that its best work consisted mostly of kei cars made it difficult for power-hungry speed demons to get on board. Well if there’s one ‘Zuk that flies in the face of all that, setting some records of its own along the way, it’s the one suggested by this week’s winner, solidstripe:
The greatest Suzuki of All Time!? Surely history mandates it must be the Pikes Peak Escudo driven by Nobuhiro Tajima. Tajima’s name is the most synonymous name around when it comes to all things Suzuki.
Plus most of us would remember owning the car in GT2 on your Playstation 1 – holding down the gas button and riding the guard rails to victory every time… racing lines be damned!
Omedetou! Your prize from the JNC gashapon is a Hot Wheels Super Speeders mystery pack Mazda RX-7!
Photos courtesy of Mazda, Suzuki.
No modern Japanese car I’ve driven reminds me of a JNC. They’ve simply progressed too far, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Even newer Miatas and the 86/BRZ are too advanced and padded down by safety regulations and modern standards. Because of this, I submit my entry of a non-Japanese wildcard: the 2004 Hyundai Accent. This car is so light and lacking so many features that is the only post-2000 car I’ve driven that feels like a 70s Japanese economy car. It has a sub-100hp engine and 165/70r13 tires, it rattles and creaks, has a funky patterned interior, and has crank windows. It’s not a sports car, but either are some of the best (in my opinion) JNCs – b210s, Corollas, 510s ect.
Really solid choice. A couple of JNC staff also nominated Korean cars too!
I got a stripper Hyundai (white with a grey interior) for a rental a few years ago. It was the reincarnation of the 70s Japanese car, with all it’s faults and charms. I spent some time putting a few extra miles on it in the hills above Santa Cruz, putting it into crazy gutless full throttle with left foot braking 4 wheel drifts on the skinny tires, just like the old days. The FWD and the automatic were the only real differences, but the rest of it was total throwback time, to the point of making note that if I ever wanted a little tin box of a car, the Hyundai would be at the top of the list.
If we’re to limit it to 10 years prior, I would have to say that it has to be the Mazda RX-8. There’s something special on how a rotary sounds and that cuts across all the generation of RX’s, even with different power ranges there’s always a similarity with them; they’re a pain to work on. Haha
So my bet goes to the last of a dying breed, the rotary powered RX-8!
Agreed! I feel that Mazda, out of all the companies is best at holding onto the JNC heritage of great handling, fun to drive sports cars. What other company offers a six speed transmission with all their vehicles? You can even order the Mazda5 with a 6 speed! For a father to be, it takes the pain out of buying the usual mini. Luckily my wife let me replace my Miata with an RX-8!
I’m answering my own question here since my choice was not the JNC staff pick.
I want to feel like I’m driving a nostalgic car even when it’s sitting still. I abhor how new cars have acres of fat plastic encroaching inward from pillars, porthole-sized windows, and belt lines that go up to your earlobes. Focus groups show people feel safer when they feel like they’re driving a tank and peeking through gun slits, but what about the safety of knowing what’s around you?
The last car I drove that wasn’t completely isolated from the oh-so-scary outside world was a 2001 Honda Civic sedan 5-speed (I know, 10 yr limit but it’s the same as the ’02) It still retained a shred of Soichiro Honda’s spirit of driving fun and had a bare-bones dashboard with casette deck. Contrast that with the starship bridge of the new Civic and you want to cry.
I also did not hate my friend’s 2003 Subaru Legacy. I imagine the same era non-WRX Impreza would be more spartan and somewhat more fun to drive, but I haven’t had the pleasure. Maybe someone can enlighten me.
My mom has an ’03 Legacy wagon 2.5L auto. It’s the most soul-draining, numb, dangerously slow vehicle I’ve ever driven. Maybe a manual would take some of the displeasure out, but I will always remember smashing the pedal through an on-ramp and watching as the transmission refused to downshift… as the 65mph semi in the right lane grew ever closer. Everything else about it sucked as well, save the AWD and cargo capacity.
Ah, the one I drove was a manual. BIG difference!
I guess it has to be said, and although it may seem to be the typical and boring answer, the Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ are the cars currently on the market which deliver driving feel close to that of the original AE86. Both are light, fun and RWD, being under powered from the factory and loved by tuners. Even earlier, the TE37 was similar, being more under powered from factory than its german or american equivalents. However, what these little japanese warriors had over the big american and sleek germans was bang for your buck handling, and aftermarkets which brought the cars to life.
Overall, whilst it may not be bare bones liftback, the GT86 harks back the the JNC days when Japanese car producers reigned in affordable handling performance
Honda’s S2000 has everything and more over a Mx5 Miata. Lots more power, wide stance, F1 style 9000rpm digital taco cluster and available in lots of bright colours. Open the bonnet and you see no clutter, it was purposely built to reminisce over the good old days, simplicity at it’s best. Honda’s AP1 engine held the highest NA HP per Litre for several several years beating the Europeans at their own game. Truely a modern classic and future collectable. They are a pleasure to drive and have dated very little given they were first realised in the late 90’s.
But I think that’s why it doesn’t provide a nostalgic driving experience. It’s simply too good. It is a brilliant car, but part of being a nostalgic is being a bit rough around the edges when compared to current cars.
I think the NB Miata and the EJ Civic are excellent suggestions, as well as perhaps the first generation Lexus IS, and the current Mazda2 (which has no power and isn’t the best equipped, but it chuckable like small cars used to be).
Maybe the Indian manufactured Tata passenger cars will meet all criteria for a modern car with an authentic 70’s feel, they even have a nostalgic price 😆
There’s a reason why these arent sold in Australia and the USA !
The JNC staff did consider cars like the Maruti Suzukis, but in order to make the discussion interesting we decided to exclude more “primitive” cars made in India, China and the former Eastern Bloc countries.
Good choice! I don’t know why, but the s2k hadn’t occurred to me at first. It really does seem to fit the bill though. I drove my coworkers around a little, and the closest thing I can compare it to was an s13. Similar handling anyway. The only real nostalgics I’ve ever had were 510s and 521s, so I have nothing else to compare it to, lol.
Danken is exactly right, the question was best nostalgic feel, not BEST roadster.
Since you said car and Japanese, I’ll cross off the 2002 Toyota Tacoma (whose general mechanical configuration and driving experience is not much different than a Corona Mark II of 1972) and the Kia Sephia (whose recycled NA Miata engine and minimal technology gives it the honest feel and surprising durability of an early-80s Corolla, 323 or low-trim Sentra in a generally inoffensive design).
Limiting myself, therefore, to actual cars that actually came from Japan, I’ll nominate the ’02 Mazda Protegé. It was relatively uncomplicated, attractive, reliable, efficient and had an oddball use of English for its name (down to the missing accent on only one of the e’s) — but most of all it was fun to drive. To me the nicest feeling of the best JNCs (and what made me love Hondas in the 70s and 80s) was that you didn’t feel punished for buying a small and inexpensive car. You actually felt like you bought the car you wanted, not the only car you could afford, even though it was near the end of its lifecycle. It wasn’t super quick, luxe or stylish, but it was easy to own, easy on the eyes, and easy to enjoy on a fun road. The sedan’s styling was reminiscent of its own predecessor from two generations earlier, so it had a retro flair even when new. Or you could be a little more individualistic and get the new Protegé5, which was not quite wagon, not quite hatchback, just something different, useful, fun and clever — just like the best JNCs.
The first EVO’s to come to the US, the ’03 EVO VIII would be my vote. No computer controls for the AWD, easy to defeat ABS, RWD bias, minimum sound deadening, and economy car roots. I owned one for a year and a half and it remains one of the only modern cars I would drive. It has the same raw visceral feel of an old car.
I nominate the first gen Honda Fit! It is an honest to goodness simple usable car, with good handling and a great manual shifter. With the second-gen Honda attempted to go all futuristic and ruined both the interior and exterior, but the clean lines of the first-gen will be beautiful for decades to come. And it comes from a long line of funky hatchbacks from Honda in Europe and Japan! Definitely a future JDM classic 🙂
The Honda Fit GD3 was the first new car I ever owned coming from a beat up 4th gen prelude it felt familiar yet fresh. Plenty of visibility with the exception of a bit of blindspot in the year. Simple and clean design. No real frills with the interior being cheap looking plastic but solid enough to hold up to college kid wear and tear. But the real reason it feels like a JNC is because of the availability of aftermarket parts for its peppy little L series PLUS the option for engine swaps for those with larger pockets. I’ve seen fits with K and B series engine transplants tear it up on the track as well as they hold massive amounts of groceries. The fit has featured itself in nearly every aftermarket scene.. from track monster to show car to VIP to simply slammed and flush. Lastly its pretty much going to be a classic in my heart because they ruined everything that made the fit awesome with the second generation.
My first car was a GD fit as well! Some jackass rear ended me on the freeway though and now I drive a first-gen TSX, which is another great car that was ruined by Honda with their second-gen!
I am sure there are more than a few here who grew up tinkering on Hondas in the 1970s but for me JNC = RWD; Toyotas, Datsuns, Mazdas, Mitsubishis, etc. So, I agree that the modern Japanese car with the “driving experience’ closest to JNC is the NB Miata. Which is why I bought one in 1999. And even though the S2000 may be ‘too good” as danakn said, it is still a small, four-cylinder, M/T, RWD car which makes it JNC-like to me. Even the IS300 with the I6 (and M/T) qualifies as JNC-like (which is why I bought one of those, too).
I would nominate the Honda CR-Z.
And now that 90% of you have quit reading, I’ll explain my choice.
When all of our beloved JNC were made in the 60s-70s they were the BEST technology available for the day. For example, my Datsun 2000 would run circles around its British counterparts of the day (I should know, I’ve owned a 1971 MG B, as well as a 68 Datsun 2000). While the 1600 engine may have been a copy of a BMC unit, the internals were of better quality. Then, with the advent of the 2000 engine, OHCs were introduced, increasing the technology even more. Other improvements over the British counterpart included significantly better ergonomics, a better fit and finish, suspension improvements, and a much better driving “feel”. I could go on all day. Not trying to rag on british cars here, I still enjoy the driving experience there as well, but the Japanese cars were a technologically better car.
That being said, lets talk CRZ, an admitted throwback to the CRX, a lightweight, nimble, but underpowered car. Honda did a wonderful job with the CRZ in all the same areas I just mentioned above about my Datsun 2000 in ways of quality and technology.
The CRZ has a simple interior, not overdone, utilizing near perfect ergonomics. If you haven’t taken the opportunity to drive one yet, I encourage it. The shifter is great, seating position is low and sporty, but still plenty of visibility, steering wheel fits your hands very well.
The styling is distinctly Japanese, very much like the Japanese Classic Cars we all love.
Lets talk tech. The use of a “KERS like” hybrid drive technology for example. While I’m certain many of you shudder at the word “hybrid”, its a term any true automotive enthusiast should learn to love. The development of alternate energy (electric) vehicles will be the salvation of the classic cars we love.
I believe its all these factors that give me a “nostalgic” feel to a new car. Because, lets face it, no auto manufacturer is going to start “making them like the used to”. Our classics utilized the very best of what Japan had to offer, and I feel there are a few cars left being made that still do.
I totally agree with you 100%. Being an owner of the car it has a “feel” to it, very different than any other car. Being behind the wheel just makes you feel special, just as any prized classic would.
I’d have to say the new Nissan Micra from down under. You can get it with a 1.5 twin cam four producing all of 100 hp (75 kw) and 100 lb/ft (136 nm) of torque. The 5-speed manual transmission is standard and the whole car weighs in at 2120 lbs. (962 kg). It’s still running our favorite MacPherson strut suspension up front with a simple torsion beam and coil spring suspension out back. Hauling the whole package to a stop is the JNC standard, disc up front, drum out back brake package. This is a car that doesn’t take a super computer to fix either, a dude with a hammer can most likely get the job done. It’s a fun, simple, lightweight, rev-happy, car that looks quirky and will always put a smile on your face. That’s about as close to a JNC as you can get and still have a warranty.
To me a JNC embodies one thing. Just one thing. The joy of the driving experience.
Cars back then were so simple. My AE86 for one is a simple mechanical wonder. It was made during a time when the idea of throwing out the old part and replacing wasn’t even heard of. Everything on that car is rebuildable.
Technology in my opinion is hampering the driving experience today. Cars now tell you when to brake and accelerate. If you push it too hard the traction control will say, “Hey now, we are not allowed to do this sort of thing.”
Of course the Miata has brought so much. But, lets take a step back to my AE86. Then fast forward to 2002. I think my Toyota Altezza Gita embodies the Japanese Nostalgic way. Everything learned from the best of the old Toyota’s are in the Altezza.
Nobuaki Katayama knew what was lost in the late 90’s early 00’s. A true drivers car that gives enjoyment for the driver. Katayama once said “Some cars get you to A to B. And that’s fine for those drivers. But, some want to have enjoyment out of driving and that’s who the Altezza is for.” “The flavor of a car is created on track”, said late test driver Hiromu Naruse. Test driver of the LFA and Altezza.
I can go on forever stating facts. But, that doesn’t answer the original question. Now it’s time for my true answer. As I stand in my driveway I see my IS300 SportCross and my AE86 right behind it. Each car echo’s each other. It’s like they are connected through the same DNA. Brothers in arms that share the same thing. The fulfillment of the drivers expectations. If that isn’t the meaning of a nostalgic then my friends I do not know what is.
I daily a 1979 corona with a really powerful engine transplant. When it rains, I drive my 86 4runner. I know j-tin and definitely know the experience. Two cars give me the driving feel but only one gives me style points and attention of my kyusha styled corona. The mx-5 has that under powered, balls to the wall driving experience of the old school Japanese cars. But my pick would have to be the 370z.
I have access to a 2012 370z through my father, and he gladly hands the keys to me any day he isn’t driving. I was floored by how well this car feels as a driver’s car. That is the key to j-tin, they are driver’s cars. They have style and they are absolutely fun to drive. I cannot believe the 370z has so many safety/speed/fun retarders because you can’t feel one safety feature other than the seat belts and brakes. Traction control and stability control on the 370z still allows you kick the rearend out even when engaged. And when you turn traction control off it stays off. Again, I drive a 79 Toyota corona with a 1jz-gte and that 370z gives me the closest feeling to taming a dragon like my j-tin. Power aside, the car feels like you can drive it, not ride in it, not control it, but drive it. The power is fun too:)
The 370z has style. I know it borrows cues from the S30 chassis and can’t truly be considered original, but damn did Nissan do it well. You know a car looks good when people who know nothing of cars can appreciate and finally understand automotive beauty. Few cars today look as if an artist had anything to do with the design. Evos and STIs look like Dom Toretto drew then up, most super cars look like a bunch of triangles were thrown together and then flattened, contemporary VW’s have the pizazz of a 2005 Camry, and Mazda continues to make under-powered hype. The 370z has real conceptual cues and true composition. The car has lines that never end and proportion reminiscent of da Vinci.
The 370z gets my vote all day long. Driving experience with timeless style.
Do you think I’d be here if the answer was anything but NONE ?
I would have to say the overhyped Toyota 86/Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ.
Its most likely the ultimate culmination of a compact sports car of this decade. It amazes me how Toyota and Subaru could work together to create such a great vehicle that is even simple and thrilling (From my experience in Gran Turismo 5). The car seems to have a lot of potential in the modified car scene as the 86 already has several awesome iterations. Although I’m not the age to even drive, I believe that the 86 would provide the most nostalgic driving experience.
By the way, will there be an update on the Kenmeri Art contest?
Landcruiser 70 series, released in 1984 and still on sale in various markets including Australia!
Throughout the 4 years that I have been driving I’ve only had the opportunity to drive one true JNC classic, my dad’s 73 RX2 that is as stock as it gets. And I’ve had the opportunity to drive many modern cars. Most of the time I peg the RX2 higher than a lot of modern cars that I’ve driven because it is a car that even today can give many newer cars a run for their money in almost any category (except saftey). When I first got behind the wheel I was fascinated with how it drove. I found that it was like driving a modern car, the engine was smooth, the ride was comfortable, and everything was where it should have been. Well the next day after that long awaited experience I went for a drive in my mothers 05 Sienna to run some errands, and then it hit me. Besides the fwd and the large size of the van, it drove much like the Mazda, felt nimble and easy to drive, neither has traction control (not like you need it in either), and both have a very similar power to weight ratios, and a comfortable ride. Thats when it hit me, because of how cars have gotten better over the years, the Sienna (a minivan) had reached the standard that the Mazda set 40+ years ago in having fun from driving. Now I’m not saying that its anything like a nostalgic car, I’m just saying that the sense of fun one gets from the Sienna is much like that of the Mazda. Maybe I just know how to get the most out of a car that I find how to have fun with anycar (which I have been told by friends that think I’m crazy). While the Sienna has every opposite characterstic from a true JNC, its size and engine layout being the biggest ones, I find that anyone can have just as much fun in the Sienna as the RX2 and get a similar driving experience.
Do Keep in mind that I am comparing a STOCK RX2 that has not been modified in any way.
I don’t think there is any car which is under 10 years old that will recreate the JNC driving experience. Part of the experience is the water leaking through the seals when it rains, the car randomly breaking down in the middle of the night and that constant smell of petrol fumes. In terms of driving experience, the older cars just had less gadgets in them so even jumping into my ’94 180SX from my parents ’10 Forester feels like i’m driving a go-kart. Not even the NC MX5 feels like that anymore… sad times.
I am surprised to see that I am the first reader to nominate the first gen Scion xB. Here is a car that is everything that original JNCs were when they first hit the American market:
Very odd to look at, and widely hated for it’s “boxy” looks. It’s dimensions and styling is very “strait from Japan” and (up until its second gen re-design) had little compromise to blend in with the rest of America’s modern automotive design trend. A look that can be described as both ‘cute’ and ‘bold’.
Second, it came with a small motor and low power with a focus on fuel economy. Available in a 5-speed as well, it drives just like any other subcompact should.
Third, xB’s are highly modifiable, and I have seen quite a few slammed to the ground, sporting old school basket-weave wheels. The look of most (tastefully) modified xB’s remind me alot of ae86s, and I get that same warm and fuzzy ‘JDM’ feel as they pass by. 🙂
Lastly, the xB’s initial release caused a trend-wave of redesigns and new models from other car manufacturers. Whether they be Japanese, American, or Korean, everyone wanted to copy Toyota’s new found success in the ‘trendy and hip’ corner of the automotive market place.The same was true for the first breakout of Japanese car manufacturers into the American market, aided heavily by a national gas crisis in the 1970s, as you probably all well know.
Yeah I’m with you here. The xB will be remembered as a first of its kind in the US. And anyone who had been to Japan during that period also knows that they were absolutely EVERYWHERE over there.
Why should you find substitution in a modern car when the real deal (aka an old JNC) will do it? It’s like telling a girl that a Cubic Zirconia is as good as a Diamond!!
Because anyone who drives a clean JNC in the northern snow and salt will be stoned to death by the forum members. You have to have a daily to keep the rust-prone one out of the salt.
Tyler, this comment made me lol. 😀
I would love to say its the GT86/BRZ/FRS, but I still think its too modern to get a real classic car feeling. Also I’ve never driven one, only sat in it so I can’t say anything about the driving experience and handling.
My choice would be one of the cheapest cars on the market here, the Daihatsu Cuore (Mira L700). The cheapest base model would be the best one. Its actually very similar to my 1977 Toyota 1000. It has a tiny engine, just under 1000cc’s with only 58hp and it sits on the same tire size as my Toyota. It has no electronic gadgets what so ever, not even anti-lock brakes, central locking or power steering! The factory stereo and speakers sound horrible, and driving it in bad weather conditions is just as sketchy. It can barely keep up with traffic on the motorway. All this is what reminds me of old cars, and thats probably why I love the Cuore’s so much 🙂
So yeah, its not like the AE86 or a nice tuned S30Z.. But lets face it, most classic cars aren’t either.
Now I read my comment again it sounds like I think classic cars are bad. Actually I think the simplicity is great!
Another thing I just thought about is how simple it is to modify the Cuores. Motorswaps are very common with older cars, and the Cuore is popular for just that! You can easily swap the newer engines into the older models, and there’s also a few Kei car turbo engines to choose from. The suspension can be changed around amongst different generations and is very simple so they are very easy to slam. O and it has a 4×110 PCD, how oldskool is that! (Same as my Toyota, again)
Wahoo!!! I won one! I wish to thank the academy, Suzuki etc etc… Who do I send my address to? Thanks a bunch JNC!!
As for this QotW, I put forward the mighty ’96 Toyota Caldina deisel in appliance white. (that’s new isn’t it?) Having owned more than a few JNC’s I think that this vehicle is about as close as it gets.
It’s design inside and out has the charm of a can of Budget baked beans, is no Usain Bolt but the engine seems to be made out of a mixture of titanium/granite and it has more body roll than a pig in muck. Yet I still smile non stop when driving it. Just like most of the JNC’s I’ve owned.
Most of you cats are from ‘merica, but has anybody driven a Cappuccino? There’s no pretense, no real poise or bravado. It’s raw, hilarious fun every time you go for a drive. Things will progress as they need to whether or not purists choose to join or not. The best part with this car is it has all you’d want from a jnc (rwd, balanced, understated, economical and understated) and it’ll start every morning granted you haven’t blown it up (which is hard to do by my count). It’s getting rarer as bean counters dictate new models, but the right kind of advancements do exist, and this was a big one despite its size.
Having driven both modern and JNC’s, i’d love to place my bet in my other Mazda that does the grind when my 87 MX6 turbo needs downtime- a 2012 Mazda 2/Demio- If its all about feel, you cant beat it- direct steering, small wheels,large windscreens and a small 76kw twin-cam! The car is light as a feather, and although it packs an extra 200kg over its JNC equivalent, its nimble wheelbase and direct steering sees me throw it into corners in and out of the Dandenong’s. Most of all, over its throwback pumped body-lines reminiscent of a RX-4, 5spd manual and high-revving 1.5ltr engine, it’s affordable.
Thought I was gonna win that Suzuki thing! 🙁
My bets are on the first gen Kia Sportage, as it’s the only thing I know of besides 90s Mopars that will rust like a true JNC. After all, if it had solid rustproofing, would it really be worthy of this blog?
Plus, it looks like a Jimny. There are few cute-utes that can pull this off. Not even a Jeep Liberty.
I would have to say the Nissan 350z. Only because the z car has usually the same shape as the 240z.
I nominate the Mazda2. It’s got a lot of very Japanese features: a shifter on the dashboard. That sweeping body crease just before the rear wheel arch, a la hakosuka Skyline. A weird, smiling face. A radio display that says “HELLO” every time you start the car. It comes in wacky colors. It’s affordable, economical, dependable, well-built, and has a ton of space and outward visibility that belies its dimunitive size. Above all else, it’s fun and engaging to drive, albeit a bit underpowered. If that’s not the spiritual successor to the Japanese cars of old, I don’t know what is.
I think it’s the utes that are the closest to maintaining the raw feel of older cars. My boss had a 2011 Ford Ranger 4×2 single cab (which qualifies for this list because it’s sold as a Mazda, so just scrapes in as a Japanese car). It’s the last car I can think of that had ride, handlng, performance, NVH and crappy trim that was akin to older cars.
As previously discussed, 70 series hiluxes are still sold in Aus. They must be pretty rough-n-ready still.
I’m way late, but a small pick-up was my first thought as well. Either a Mazda B-Series or a Nissan Frontier. Fairly small, light, cheap interiors, rwd, small tires, and available with a manual transmission adds up to that (somewhat-authentic) JNC experience.