Japanese automakers have always been considered inferior to their European counterparts when it comes to driving sports car. For the most part, Japanese sports cars don’t look as good as the world’s Ferraris, Koenigseggs, and Lamborghinis, and they’re not as fast either.
However, JDM Sports cars have two main advantages that have helped them stay competitive with Europeans – reliability and affordability. Japanese sports cars tend to cost much less than comparable European sports cars and can be used as everyday vehicles due to their reliable engines. So let’s examine ten reliable Japanese gearhead sports cars that work on a tight budget.
10/10 Toyota Celica GT-Four – $25,000
The Celica is one of the most underrated Toyota models of all time. This sports car was in production for more than three decades during which time it brought in lots of revenue for Toyota and spawned fantastic models like the legendary Supra and this beauty – the Celica GT-Four.
The Celica GT-Four is a special Celica version developed by Toyota to compete in the World Rally Championship. For many, the Celica GT-Four was among the best rally cars of its time, which is why the street-legal version is a big hit among gearboxes.
9/10 Datsun 280Z – $15,000
In the late ’60s, Datsun introduced the 240Z and set the automotive world on fire. The 240Z was a huge success thanks to its excellent design, driving dynamics and affordable price, which is why it held up well in the market.
The 240Z is more than $30,000 today, but the 280Z is still well under $20,000. We love the 280Z as it shared the same gorgeous styling as the 240Z but had more power thanks to the addition of Bosch fuel injection.
8/10 Honda S2000 – $19,500
The ’90s decade was incredible for Honda. It all started in spectacular fashion when Honda unveiled what is arguably its most iconic model – the NSX. A few years later, Honda presented another gem with the S2000.
The S2000 debuted in 1999 and wowed everyone. Gearheads loved its sleek roadster styling, superb build quality, affordable price point and the fact that it was powered by one of the best four cylinder engines ever built – a high revving 2.0 liter producing 247 hp.
7/10 2013 Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ – $17,000
About a decade ago, JDM giants Toyota and Subaru collaborated on a sports car project that would benefit both companies equally. This excellent cooperation has given us two great cars – the Subaru BRZ and the Toyota GT86.
The cars shared identical designs that many geared turbofans loved, and while the engines weren’t powerful enough to compete with other modern sports cars, their reliability made up for it. There are also several upgrade options that allow gearboxes to increase performance.
6/10 Mazda MX-5 – $13,000
In the late ’80s, Mazda built a sports car that completely changed the way other manufacturers approached their design. This amazing sports car, called the MX-5 Miata, was designed with one goal – to be so fun and light that drivers felt one with their cars while driving.
Although the Miata wasn’t as powerful as other sports cars of the time, its light weight gave it incredible handling and made it a hit. Since its inception, the Miata has become the best-selling two-seater sports car of all time, which is why they’re cheap.
5/10 Toyota MR2 – $10,000
The mid-engine layout is the most ideal for many transmissions for sports cars. With the engine in the middle, the weight of a sports car is distributed more evenly, which makes handling at high speed much easier. Toyota was the first Japanese automaker to develop a mid-engine sports car – the MR2.
Introduced in 1984, the MR2 had a fantastic wedge-shaped design that many geared fans loved and a lot of performance for its price. Toyota has produced three MR2 generations and we recommend buying the first two.
4/10 Mazda RX-7 FC – $12,000
The aforementioned MX-5 Miata is Mazda’s most popular sports car today, but before that that title belonged to the RX-7. The RX-7 was in production from 1978 to 1995, spawning three generations during that time. The popularity of the last FD generation has exploded over the years, resulting in a huge price increase, but the second generation (FC) version is still affordable.
The RX-7 FC had a sleek design and performance to match, thanks to a turbocharged Wankel rotary engine. Although the Wankel engine requires special attention, with the right maintenance practices, it can be extremely reliable.
3/10 1994-1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse – $20,000
In the late 80’s Mitsubishi Motors and Chrysler Corporation had a close partnership that led to the development of several models. One of the best models to emerge from the partnership was the Mitsubishi Eclipse, which shared its platform and parts with the Plymouth Laser and Eagle Talon.
The Eclipse was in production from 1989 to 2011 and during that time sold nearly 1 million examples across four generations. The second generation version is a great purchase today as it has a sleek, modern design and a 2.0 liter four cylinder engine with 210 hp.
2/10 Nissan 350Z – $15,000
As the 21st century rolled around, Nissan knew it had to give the Z car a proper upgrade as the 300ZX’s popularity was rapidly waning. Nissan began work on a worthy successor and introduced the 350Z in 2003.
The 350Z was a massive upgrade over the 300ZX, especially in the design department. It was then fitted with the well-known 3.5-litre VQ35DE DOHC V6 engine, whose 300 hp made driving a pleasure. If that’s not enough, the 350Z ranks among the best Japanese project cars because of the myriad of upgrade options.
1/10 Acura Integra Type-R – $25,000
Acura recently unveiled the fifth-generation Integra as a five-door liftback built on the same platform as the current Honda Civic, but the car that springs to mind for most gearheads when “Integra” is mentioned is the legendary Integra 90’s Type-R.
Honda introduced the Integra Type-R in 1995 and equipped it with Honda’s excellent B18C four-cylinder engine. With an output of almost 200 hp, the Integra Type-R accelerated from 0 to 60 in just 6.1 seconds and was thus able to keep up with the Nissan Skyline GT-R at the time.