Japan has given the world some of its greatest driver's cars, so selecting a top 10 list is particularly daunting. Do you agree with our shortlist?
1. Mazda MX-5 (generation 1)
When the original MX-5 (Miata) arrived in the late '80s, it took the world by storm. Here was a compact, no frills, rear-wheel drive roadster in the tradition of the best British sports cars of the '60s, but with all the reliability that Japanese cars were famous for. Its recipe was simple - light weight, 50/50 weight distribution and a focus on driving purity. No wonder it quickly became the fastest-selling sports car in the world.
2. Toyota 2000GT
Regarded by many as Japan's first serious attempt at a sportscar, the 2000GT was an important image builder for the Japanese brand in the mid- to late-60s. At the time Japanese cars were respected for their reliability, but not for their flair or performance. With the 2000GT Toyota aimed to shatter those perceptions and the car quickly garnered critical acclaim, with some publications likening it to the Porsche 911. It was, however, very expensive at the time, so commercial success eluded it. These days, however, it's one of the most prized Japanese collector cars.
You can read more about the Toyota 2000GT in the first issue of SentiMETAL, the digital magazine, which can be purchased for only R49, here.
3. Lexus LFA
In many ways the LFA is to Lexus what the 2000GT was to Toyota. Similarly featuring collaboration with Yamaha, the LFA was created to change perceptions of the Lexus brand (excellent quality, but a bit... boring). It certainly was unlike any Lexus before, with a screaming 412kW V10 engine underneath its long bonnet, and thrilling dynamics to match its power. It was, like the 2000GT, one of the most expensive Japanese cars ever produced.
4. Subaru Impreza 22B
If ever there was a vehicle that epitomises the Subaru generation with their obsession with blue paint, yellow livery and gold wheels, it's the rare 22B. When the 22B came to market as a road-legal rally car, it immediately gained the giant-slayer tag thanks to its incredible performance, which, in 1998, was mental. Back in the day, getting from 0 to 100 kph in under 5 seconds was strictly reserved for the likes of Ferrari and Porsche, and yet the 22B was able to trounce them at a fraction of the cost. Throw some corners into the mix and it would take something really special to match it. Factor in some gravel... and the 22B was untouchable.
5. Toyota Supra MkIV
Loved by the Gran Turismo generation and with its fame cemented by appearing in the first installment of the Fast & The Furious series, the fourth-generation Supra was a serious performance car which also offered significant tuning potential. With a focus on weight-reduction, optimal weight distribution and that 2JZ engine (naturally aspirated, or twin-turbocharged), the Supra could run with some of the planet's most exotic machinery, but cost a fraction of the price.
6. Honda NSX
Developed to be cheaper, faster and better looking than a 328/348 Ferrari, the mid-engined V6 NSX had a cockpit inspired by the F-16 fighter jet. It was the first production car to have a fully electric power steering system and an all-aluminium body. Then there’s THAT video of Ayrton Senna hustling it around Suzuka, showing us that when driven properly, the NSX was a tool for going very, very fast. The NSX’s production spanned from 1990 all the way to 2005 and our personal favourite, the NSX-R, has now become a collector’s item among enthusiasts.
7. Honda S2000
If you don't think hitting the redline at an ear-piercing 9 000 rpm is cool, then you're not cool. The S2000, produced in 1999 as a 2000 model to celebrate Honda's 50th anniversary, is a highly sought after, rear-wheel drive roadster that delivers ample driving thrills (and the first generation was particularly prone to snap oversteer). Equipped with a high-revving, naturally aspirated 2.0-litre engine producing 179 kW and 208 Nm of torque, the S2000 made use of a snappy 6-speed manual transmission to showcase its rear-wheel talents. The high-revving S2000, at the time, delivered the most kW per litre in the world for a naturally aspirated road car.
8. Nissan Skyline (R34) GT-R
The first Nissan Skyline GT-R was introduced as long ago as 1969, but it wasn't until the launch of the GT-R R32 version a couple of decades later that the legend of Godzilla began to gain any traction around the world. Of all the iterations however, the GF-BNR34 (R34) has become somewhat of a unicorn – particularly among those who enjoy a bit of tyre-smoking drift action. The R34 is special because it comes from an analogue era where a manual gearbox and 3-pedal dancing trumped double-clutch efficiency. Of all the variants it’s the V-Spec N1 homologation special that sits at the top of the R34 food chain. It was sold without air conditioning, audio equipment and other amenities and limited to just 38 units worldwide.
You can buy a Tomica Premium toy car version of the Skyline R34 GT-R here.
9. Datsun 240Z
The sexy Japanese coupe was introduced late in 1969 as a 1970 model, featured glamorous styling and a 2.0L straight-6 engine. It proved popular all over the world, particularly as it was significantly more affordable than rival sportscars. It was eventually replaced (and grew fatter each time) by the 260Z and then the 280Z. It is the grand-daddy of today's 370Z.
10. Mazda RX-7
The rotary-powered Mazda RX7 has remained part of car enthusiasts’ collective unconscious by virtue of its unique engine. A rotary engine has no pistons, but owes its rotating motion to the process of pressure conversion. The final FD generation boasted twin sequential turbocharging. With 206 kW and rear-wheel drive, the RX-7 was a joy to drive. It won numerous motorsport events too, notably the 1991 Spa 24-hour event. There was even a rally version! It was popular among the tuners and once you’d mastered the intricacies of the Wankel engine, it was near unbeatable. It even received screen time in the Fast and the Furious franchise, as Vin Diesel’s pride and joy in the first instalment. A 2nd RX7 featured in Tokyo Drift, with an outrageous Veilside bodykit. As for reliability, well, there’s a reason why so few of them around these days.