10 JDM Cars Everyone Should Drive (2024)

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by Lucia Forlini Cataldo Car Culture / 3 Comments

From small sports cars to high-performance sedans, here is a selection of bucket-list cars for the Japanese car enthusiast.

The JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) community is one of the broadest groups in car culture; from high-performance cars that feel most at home on a racetrack to small urban runabouts, there truly is something out there for everyone to enjoy.

While we've already covered cheap JDM cars to get you into the scene in the USA, some people don't have the constraints of budget affecting their shopping ability. If you're one of those lucky few, then there are certain JDM cars you have to drive before you die. Even if you don't own them, these popular JDM cars have become icons in their own right and are experiences you should encounter at least once before you shuffle off this mortal coil.

Ready to add something to your bucket list? Here is a selection of cars from the JDM world that every car enthusiast should drive at least once in their lifetime.

10 JDM Cars Everyone Should Drive (1) CarBuzz

Nissan Skyline GT-R

A precursor of the modern Nissan GT-R with plenty of connections to automotive and motorsport history, the iconic Nissan Skyline is one of the first models that spring to mind when JDM cars are mentioned. Generations of Nissan Skyline GT-R date back decades, all iconic in their own rights, but it was the R32 Skyline GT-R that first earned the nickname Godzilla in the world of motorsport after a series of wins at the Bathurst 1000 in Australia, cementing the GT-R's status as an automotive legend and a Japanese car nonpareil.

From its tuning-friendly versatility to its appearance in the Fast and Furious movie series that cemented its place in automotive pop culture, the Skyline family has something to offer for all JDM enthusiasts. The iconic R34 Skyline can now be legally imported to the US, but beware of high ownership costs that can put a damper on your JDM-ownership dream.

10 JDM Cars Everyone Should Drive (2) Cars & Bids

Mazda RX-7

The Mazda RX-7 is another car that made its way into pop culture after being featured in video games and on the big screen, becoming an instantly recognizable JDM symbol. Much has been written about the rotary engine and its notorious moodiness and high maintenance needs, but for buyers who are not afraid of the upkeep, the RX-7 is a fantastic way to step into the world of JDM cars. The highly sought-after Series 8 RX-7, which produced 280 hp thanks to a few mechanical tweaks but was never introduced to the US market, is newly eligible for import to the States.

10 JDM Cars Everyone Should Drive (3) Mazda

Toyota MR2

The MR2 propelled the mid-engined sports car into the mainstream and quickly became an icon of car design; one was brought on stage during Australia's performance at this year's Eurovision Song Contest, a synth-pop homage to the 80s. With its reputation for reliability, styling cues taken from European supercars, and thrilling driving experience, it's a piece of automotive history that can't be missed.

Rumors abound of its revival, and it's one that we hope comes true.

10 JDM Cars Everyone Should Drive (4) Toyota

Honda Prelude Type S

Less popular than its more famous siblings like the Honda Civic and Integra Type R, and not well known in the US due to never having reached the American market, the "Type S" JDM variant of the Honda Prelude might be an unusual choice. However, with touches of luxury such as premium seats, a sunroof, a wing, and a 2.2-liter VTEC engine that produced around 220 hp when new, the Prelude Type S offers a great balance of comfort and performance.

10 JDM Cars Everyone Should Drive (5) Honda

Suzuki Cappuccino

Embodying the concept of "driving fast in a slow car is more fun than driving slowly in a fast car," the Cappuccino (a kei car only sold in the JDM market) is a small car with a big personality: the perfect choice for those new to the JDM world, and tiny mid-engine sports car enthusiasts in general. Smaller and lighter than a Mazda Miata, relatively cheap, and equipped with a 100 hp turbocharged engine that is one of the highest-revving engines ever in a road car, this lightweight runabout is guaranteed to provide plenty of motoring fun without breaking the bank.

10 JDM Cars Everyone Should Drive (6) Suzuki

Photo: Newspress

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

With its rallying heritage and striking looks, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo is ideal for motorsport enthusiasts who want something that will stand out from the crowd; being a high-performance sedan, it's well suited to the JDM fan who wants a car with character and kick without completely sacrificing practicality. The late-90s Evo V, now available to import to the US, is modeled off the World Rally Championship Group A Evo car, and as a result takes styling cues from the rally car it's based on, making it one of the best-looking cars in the Evo family.

10 JDM Cars Everyone Should Drive (7) Mitsubishi

Photo: FotoSleuth

Subaru Legacy

While most people associate Subaru with the Impreza and WRX STi, the Japanese brand has produced many more hits than just the World Rally eXperimental hom*ologation car.

Less famous or flashy than other Subarus, the Legacy might not seem like an obvious choice at first. However, due to its low cost, reliability, and availability in multiple body styles (sedan and wagon), it might just be the right choice for the prospective JDM buyer who wants something slightly unusual that will still function as a capable daily driver. The Legacy also lends itself well to tuning, achieving up to 350 hp in the right pair of hands (provided you chose one with the 290-hp turbo engine rather than the base 125-hp version).

The new Legacy is a crossover wagon that has let the original down somewhat, but the original is still an experience worth having.

10 JDM Cars Everyone Should Drive (8) Subaru

Photo: Newspress

Honda Civic Type R

Lightweight, agile, and with a finely-tuned VTEC engine and a limited-slip differential, the mid-90s JDM version of the Honda Civic Type R is guaranteed to provide an unforgettable driving experience. Slightly more powerful than its American and European counterparts, the JDM version is also on the upper end of the price range, but for a die-hard Honda enthusiast, it's, without doubt, a price worth paying.

Americans never had access to the Civic Type R until its turbocharged era, and while the new cars are fun to drive, the originals were a lesson in naturally aspirated purity. Now that 25 years has passed since the mid-to-early '90s, you can finally import one, or find one that's already been imported.

10 JDM Cars Everyone Should Drive (9) Honda

Photo: Honda

Nissan Silvia

A higher-powered version of its US-market siblings, the 200SX and 240SX, the Silvia has gained a cult following in the JDM community, especially among drifting enthusiasts; so much so that in 2015, one man ended up facing 20 years in prison due to his beloved car being under the minimum importing age of 25 years.

Luckily for US car enthusiasts, there are plenty of options that allow you to own a Silvia without turning to a life of crime: the turbocharged, 247-hp Silvia S15 is going to become eligible for import to the States in 2024, and we can't wait.

10 JDM Cars Everyone Should Drive (10) Nissan

Photo: crash71100

Honda NSX

The NSX-R, a high-performance, Japanese-only version of the Honda NSX (sold in the US market as the Acura NSX) that's 265 pounds lighter after having been stripped of all non-essential components, is considered a masterpiece of Japanese engineering and has earned its rightful place on the JDM enthusiast's bucket list.

For hardcore fans who want to take it to the next level, the NSX Type S "Zero" is even faster than the NSX-R, its moniker indicating extreme weight reduction and focus on performance above all else. Both are extremely rare as they were produced in small numbers, so if you manage to end up behind the wheel of one, consider yourself very lucky.

The contemporary NSX Type S, while fun, simply can't hold a candle to the original hardcore Honda supercars.

10 JDM Cars Everyone Should Drive (11) Honda

Photo: Honda

Other Significant JDM Cars

It would be impossible to highlight every great JDM car that we'd all love to drive. From Japanese sports cars to unassuming vehicles that make great street racers when tuned, Japanese carmakers have built some incredible vehicles, many of which are considered the best cars of all time. Whether they have a five-speed manual transmission, AWD, rear-wheel drive, or oddball engines like the rotary engine, there are literally hundreds of Japanese cars to choose from that will set your hair alight in some way. Not focused on in the article above, here are some more of the best JDM cars you should drive:

  • Toyota Supra
  • Subaru Impreza WRX STi
  • Nissan GT-R
  • Honda Integra
  • Toyota Chaser
10 JDM Cars Everyone Should Drive (12) Toyota 10 JDM Cars Everyone Should Drive (13) Nissan
10 JDM Cars Everyone Should Drive (14)
10 JDM Cars Everyone Should Drive (15)
10 JDM Cars Everyone Should Drive (2024)


10 JDM Cars Everyone Should Drive? ›

The Nissan Skyline GT-R tops the list with good reason. . Equipped with the most advanced technology of its time, its unrivalled speed and maneuverability have made it a regular winner on the racing circuit. And its starring role in “The Fast and the Furious” movies made it a winner with turbofans.

What is the number one JDM car in the world? ›

The Nissan Skyline GT-R tops the list with good reason. . Equipped with the most advanced technology of its time, its unrivalled speed and maneuverability have made it a regular winner on the racing circuit. And its starring role in “The Fast and the Furious” movies made it a winner with turbofans.

Why are JDM cars illegal in the US? ›

All cars that you can drive around in the US need to comply with applicable import laws. Unfortunately, JDM cars don't necessarily comply with some of these laws, especially those related to emission control and safety. Cars you import directly from Japan's Domestic Market also come with right-hand drive.

What does JDM stand for? ›

JDM stands for Japanese Domestic Market. A JDM car refers to all models exclusively built in Japan and either sold there or exported to other countries without modification.

What does GTR stand for? ›

The GT-R abbreviation stands for Gran Turismo–Racing while the GT-B stands for Gran Turismo–Berlinetta. The Japanese chose to use Italian naming conventions when naming the car – as most cars that were made in Japan at that time used Western abbreviations – to further enhance sales.

What are the big 3 of JDM? ›

The term Big Three has since been sometimes used to refer to the following automakers: United States — General Motors, Ford and Stellantis (historically Chrysler) Japan — Toyota, Honda and Nissan.

What is the most reliable JDM car? ›

Honda Civic earned the number one spot on HotCars' list of most reliable Japanese vehicles, pointing out its track record for dependability and performance for 50 years.

Is the Bugatti illegal in the US? ›

In the United States, the Bugatti Chiron can be driven on public roads without a special licence. The car you might (very) rarely see on European streets is physically different from the one you would find in the United States.

Is JDM rare? ›

Juvenile dermatomyositis (JDM) is a rare disease that causes muscle inflammation and a skin rash. It's different from other muscle diseases because it also causes skin problems. Symptoms often first appear in children between ages 5 and 10. Children with JDM have weak muscles around the neck, shoulders, and hips.

Is the Toyota Supra illegal in the US? ›

You'll be taken aback to learn that the 1994 Supra is an illegal variant. The car might have been propelled to stardom after its extraordinary performance in films, but they never saw the light of the day. The NHTSA banned the 1994 model stating reliability issues.

Is GT-R a JDM? ›

And for many Nissan fans in the U.S., the GT-R is a JDM car available in American-spec form.

What does JDM stand 4? ›

JDM stands for Japanese Domestic Market. This term refers to vehicles and parts designed and manufactured in Japan for exclusive use in the Japanese market. Essentially, it signifies cars and automotive components that are specifically tailored to meet the preferences, standards, and regulatory requirements of Japan.

What is not JDM? ›

If the manufacturers made the auto in Japan but sold it on the international market in the US, Europe, or elsewhere, it's not a JDM vehicle. It would always lack particular quirks and features that should comply with Japanese laws and regulations.

Which car is known as King of JDM? ›

In the realm of JDM cars, one name stands above the rest as the king of all kings: the Nissan Skyline GT-R.

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