Think Japanese modern classics and you’ll probably have visions of legendary sports cars like the Nissan Skyline GT-R, Mazda RX-7, Honda NSX and Toyota Supra. In reality, there is a plethora of Japanese classic cars that you can buy right now that can prove to be a smart investment.
Japan has given us some great cars over the years and many charismatic models from the 90s and 2000s look very attractive these days. Whether they entered the UK through official means or via the once thriving ‘grey import’ route, there are some great options out there. As always, be sure to do your homework and understand exactly what you are buying.
We have managed to compile a list of Japanese modern classics that are sure to increase in value in the future. The Mitsubishi EVO VIII offers some rally prestige, which is sure to touch any rally enthusiast. There’s also some Japanese luxury in the form of the LS 400 – a car that catapulted Lexus into the premium car market thanks to its blend of reliability and comfort.
Honda Civic Type R (EP3)
- Price range: £2,800 – £16,500
- Our choice: Civic Type R
- Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 197 hp
- years produced: 2001-2005
Exciting to drive, but with decent usability, affordable prices and bombproof reliability, the Civic Type R is a great classic for beginners. At the heart of its appeal is the 197hp 2.0-litre engine, revving up to a heady 8,500rpm, with a screaming soundtrack to match.
The Honda also steers sharply, with plenty of grip, while the slick six-speed manual transmission is one of the best in the business. The ride is firm and the steering lacks feedback, but for trouble-free old-school thrills, the Honda takes some beating.
- Price range: £45,000-£140,000
- Our choice: NSX 3.2
- Engine: 3.2-litre V6, 290 hp
- years produced: 1990-2005
Honda went for bold when it came up with the original NSX, which had Ferrari and Porsche right in their sights. Combining beautifully balanced handling with a howling 274 horsepower V6, the mid-engined machine was just as exciting to drive as its rivals. But it was also surprisingly practical and just as easy to drive as a Civic hatchback, making it much easier to live with than the exotic competition.
As a result, the groundbreaking machine is today considered a solid gold classic – and it has comparable prices. The earliest cars are the purest and most sought after, but later models with a more powerful 3.2 liter engine and a six-speed gearbox are the best.
Lexus LS 400
- Price range: £2,800 – £18,000
- Our choice: LS 400
- Engine: 4.0-litre V8, 250 hp
- years produced: 1990-1994
When Toyota decided to beat Europe’s luxury car elite in the late 1980s, it created the incredible Lexus LS 400. With a whisper-quiet 4.0-litre V8 engine, a smooth, plush ride and an impeccably built interior that fused the latest technology. with traditional luxury, the Japanese machine knocked BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar for six when it entered the showrooms.
While buyers took a while to shake off badge snobbery, the brilliantly designed LS 400 helped lay the foundation for the brand’s current success. Original cars are becoming scarce, but with a few thousand you are assured of a well-maintained car, for example.
Mazda 6 MPS
- Price range: £5,500-£10,000
- Our choice: 6 MPS
- Engine: 2,3-ltr 4cyl petrol turbo, 256pk
- years produced: 2006-2007
Some cars are all mouth and no pants, but the 6 MPS speaks softly and carries a big stick. Its sensible styling hides the heart of a sports car.
Powered by a 256 hp 2.3-litre turbocharger, the fast flagship can accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 6.6 seconds and reach a top speed of 149 km/h. It also has poise and performance, the electronically controlled four-wheel drive system that combines incredible maneuverability with confidence-inspiring grip in all weather conditions. The only real problem is finding one – it was a rare car when it was new, and it’s even scarcer now.
Mazda MX-5 Mk2
- Price range: £800-£10,000
- Our choice: MX-5 1.8i S
- Engine: 1.8-litre 4cyl, 138 hp
- years produced: 1998-2005
The best-selling roadster in the world is one of the best sports cars for buyers on a budget – and the Mk2 MX-5 offers the best value for money. It lacks the cutesy looks of the original and the grown-up appeal of later cars, but it’s just as much fun and costs thousands less.
There are 1.6-litre and 1.8-litre engines, plus plenty of special editions. However, corrosion can be fatal and you should avoid modified versions. But take your time and you will find a spoiled one with a fully stamped service book.
Mitsubishi Evo VIII
- Price range: £20,000 – £45,000
- Our choice: Evo VIII MR FQ 340
- Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol turbo, 340 hp
- years produced: 2003-2005
Think Mitsubishi, and no doubt you think of the dignified and efficient Outlander PHEV SUV. Still, it wasn’t that long ago that the brand was more known for its exciting, rally-bred Lancer Evolution. Ten versions of the supercar-slaying saloon were produced, but it’s the Mk8 model that delivers the best mix of speed and value today.
With its 2.0-litre turbo engine and hi-tech four-wheel drive, the Lancer is lightning fast and extremely involved on twisty B-roads. Finding a standard, unaltered copy won’t be an easy task, but if you succeed, you’ll be rewarded with one of the greatest road racers of all time.
- Price range: £3,500-£20,000
- Our choice: 350Z
- Engine: 3.5-litre V6, 296 hp
- years produced: 2003-2009
It’s hard to believe that the same company responsible for the everyday Micra also supplied the dazzling 350Z. Launched in 2003, the bold Nissan coupe combines concept car looks with old-school rear-wheel drive thrills and powerful muscle car performance.
Its 3.5-litre V6 produces no less than 296 horsepower in later cars, while the precise steering and hefty six-speed manual transmission are a joy for the driver. Despite its exotic specs and entertaining driving experience, the 350Z is still a Nissan at heart, so it’s reliable and relatively cost-effective to drive. And with prices starting at just £4,000 for a good one, it’s a solid gold bargain to boot.
Suzuki Swift Sport
- Price range: £1,700 – £5,000
- Our choice: fast sport
- Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl petrol, 123 hp
- years produced: 2006-2010
If you can’t stretch to an Impreza, but still want a rally-bred replica on your ride, look no further than the original Swift Sport. Developed to compete in the Junior World Rally Championship, the feisty Japanese hatchback features a specially tuned 1.6-litre high-revving 123hp engine and lowered and reinforced suspension.
The ride is firm, it’s noisy on the highway and the interior is a little cramped, but when you point the Swift’s snub nose through a series of corners, it offers plenty of grip and responsive handling, which makes it hugely enjoyable. Typically sturdy Suzuki build quality means it’s durable, while well-maintained examples start at just over £2,000.
- Price range: £9,500 – £31,000
- Our choice: GT86
- Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder, 197 hp
- years produced: 2012-present
While rival manufacturers were chasing ever more power and traction for their high-performance cars, Toyota and Subaru went their separate ways in 2012 with the GT86 and its BRZ twin brother.
Designed for fun to drive in all conditions, the compact coupé has a simple recipe of a responsive 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine, manual transmission, rear-wheel drive and relatively thin tires.
Even at moderate speeds, the cars are exciting to drive, with an agile, controllable handling that always brings a smile. They are also surprisingly practical, reliable and cost effective to use.
Here the GT86 outshines the BRZ thanks to its greater availability, and with Toyota’s all-new GR86 arriving soon, there’s never been a better time to buy.
Toyota Land Cruiser Amazon
- Price range: £8,500-£32,000
- Our choice: Land Cruiser Amazon V8
- Engine: 4.7-litre V8 petrol engine, 232 hp
- years produced: 1998-2007
It is said that nothing lasts forever, but whoever came up with that expression clearly had never owned a Toyota Land Cruiser. Unstoppable whatever the terrain and as tough as old boots, the rugged off-roader is as reliable as the morning sun. The most desirable of the lot is the Amazon, which combines the rugged 4WD appeal of the stock car with a leather-trimmed interior and the option of a powerful 4.7-litre V8.
High running costs and somewhat vague handling are Toyota’s drawbacks, but if you want an imposing and luxurious modern classic SUV that always gets you where you want to go, then look no further.