For most, Japanese vehicles are associated with reliability, practicality, and years of trouble-free motoring. They’re often a go-to for both family and domestic cars. Yet, ask a petrolhead what they think about Japanese cars and you might get a different response altogether. In their eyes, Japan has been carefully crafting cars, designed to make you drool over their slender lines and stunning looks. Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) cars are highly sought after, especially by enthusiasts across the UK.
In fairness, none of this should come as a surprise. Japan is bursting with natural beauty, so it should know how to make an attractive car. With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of the eight coolest Japanese cars that, we believe, have ever graced this planet.
The Coolest Japanese Cars Ever to Exist
1. Toyota 2000GT
With its sleek lines and gorgeous curves, the Toyota 2000GT sits at the top of our list and for very good reason.
In 1967, Toyota launched Japan’s first-ever supercar – the luscious 2000GT. The aim was to challenge its main European rivals such as the Ferrari 250 GTO and Jaguar E-Type, and it certainly gave them a fright.
With its long, flowing bonnet and flared wheel arches, the jaw-dropping 2000GT certainly looked every inch the part. What did let it down was an underpowered 2.3-litre six-cylinder engine producing 138hp which simply couldn’t compete with European supercars of the time.
Nevertheless, enthusiasts are still madly in love with the 2000GT, yet just 351 units of this limited-run classic were produced up until 1970. Such is their rarity and timeless appeal that examples of this classic hardly ever come up in auction and, if they do, they can sell for huge seven-figure sums.
2. Datsun 240Z (Nissan Fairlady Z)
Datsun now falls under the Nissan banner, but there was a time when it made some of the coolest Japanese cars on the market. The superb 240Z, which was sold as the Nissan Fairlady Z in Japan, is a shining example. There’s a compact yet stylish design reminiscent of the 1970s era of motoring that remains an obsession with many enthusiasts to this day.
The 240Z was Datsun’s response to the Toyota 2000GT and was in every way a luxury grand tourer with a supercar design. Compact and spritely, it took on the likes of the Triumph Spitfire, Austin Healey Sprite, and MG MGB in the sportscar category, but unlike its British rivals, it was reliable, didn’t leak, and started in winter.
3. Aspark Owl
With its low-slung carbon fibre body, aerodynamic design, and dihedral doors, the all-electric Aspark Owl is a thing of sheer beauty. The pointed nose and ultra-low body, combined with a powerful wing, create a vision of hypercar perfection.
The Aspark is not only drop-dead gorgeous, but it’s also mind-blowingly fast. It gobbles up the road like a ravenous owl swooping for its prey, and the horizon arrives in the blink of an eye. It’s powered by four electric motors – one for each wheel – which whack out just shy of 2,000hp. Acceleration to 60mph arrives in an eye-watering 1.69 seconds, making the Owl one of the quickest cars in the world when it was launched in 2017.
4. Honda NSX
Inspired by their Formula One success in the 1980s, Honda set about developing a supercar to compete with the best Europe had to offer. Soon, the sleek and stylish NSX was born and launched in 1991 to great acclaim.
The NSX was an everyday supercar with an aluminium body and a chassis tuned by the late, great Ayrton Senna. It boasted the first VTEC engine in a production car and could reach 170mph, giving the Ferrari 348 a run for its money in both performance and looks. Yet where driving the Ferrari at low speeds might rattle your bones, the NSX is just as comfortable popping to the shops as it is on the wide-open road. Whether you prefer the first or second-generation NSX, it remains one of the coolest Japanese cars of all time.
5. Mazda Cosmo
Gracing our streets for almost three decades, the Mazda Cosmo made heads turn from 1967 all the way through to 1996. Beautiful, practical, and rare – the Mazda Cosmo was a real head-turner and very special for many reasons. Even now, JDM cars like the Mazda RX-7 still pay homage to its ancestor thanks to its sharp senses and rotary twin-turbo engine.
This two-door sportscar was aerodynamic and futuristic in design, making it one of the coolest Japanese cars ever produced. It was also the first production car driven by a two-rotor rotary engine. Mazda produced only 1,000-or-so Cosmos which makes it a real collector’s item.
When it was launched in 1967, the Cosmo represented Japan’s four-wheeled take on the world’s obsession with technology and the international space race. Nowadays, it would be a stellar addition to any classic car collection.
6. Honda S2000
Buoyed by the success of the NSX, Honda dipped its toe back into the sportscar market with the luscious S2000, and it undoubtedly made a huge splash.
Produced between 1999 and 2009, much of the success of the S2000 was due to its raucous 2.2-litre four-cylinder VTEC powertrain which remains one of the most iconic, naturally aspirated engines ever built. A mid-engine, rear-wheel drive set-up also made the S2000 quick and enthralling to drive, as well as delicious to look at.
Launched to celebrate its 50th anniversary, Honda certainly struck gold with the S2000 with more than 100,000 units made and sold all over the world. Its quietly aggressive front and chunky back end pay homage to the famous Italian styling house, Pininfarina, which worked on the early designs of this two-door thoroughbred.
7. Toyota Supra (Mk IV)
While the third generation Supra was square and boxy, the fourth generation was a slender, curvaceous beast with an aerodynamic body and enormous rear spoiler that would turn heads wherever it went.
This Supra was a gorgeous fastback coupe that delivered an exhilarating drive that left owners desperate for more. The most powerful 3.0-litre GTE V6 twin-turbo version delivered a whopping 321hp and handled like a dream. The Supra Mk IV was so good looking it even made it to the big screen when used in the early Fast and Furious films. In almost perfect Toyota symmetry, the Supra can trace much of its roots back to the 2000GT and its inline-6 engine layout.
8. Mazda RX-7
The RX-7 has been turning heads since its launch in 1978. It’s debatable which of the three generations of RX-7 is best, but such is the popularity of this Japanese classic that it has a global fanbase and a place in motoring history.
While the first-gen RX-7 produced just 100hp, later generations were much quicker and more powerful. The third-gen twin-turbo model belts out 252hp and handles superbly, providing a thrilling driving experience. Third-gen RX-7s are often modified by their owners so they look even cooler than when they came off the production line.