Whether purchased locally or imported from Japan, these Japanese cars are still reasonably priced.
Every country has its own distinct style of the automobile—a distinctive feature of car culture that distinguishes them and makes a car from that country instantly recognizable. Something distinct about a country's car culture sets it apart, whether it's the throaty tone and curve-craving designs of Italy or the thunderous and intimidating quarter-mile-pounding muscle cars of the United States. Like so many other things that Japan excels at, they make cars in a way that is unlike anything else.
The demands and resources of native lands are responsible for many of these identifiers. Small country roads favor nimbler cars, while wide-open terrain with dry lake beds and unused airstrips favored the big muscle car. All of these factors contribute to the way a country makes cars.
Japan is a very populous country, and while the country has a long history, it also has a strong desire to innovate. Practical concerns give way to more passionate priorities in any country that produces fun-to-drive cars, and there is no shortage of twisty mountain roads and drivers willing to tackle them.
We don't get many JDM cars in the United States due to market pressures, emissions, or safety concerns, so we have to rely on grey market imports or wait for the magical 25-year mark to pass before we can import the distinctly overseas JDM cars. Here are those cars that have made it to our shores and are available for a low price, as well as 11 that will require a little more patience.
This JDM car came to America quickly, but it was sold under a different name. When JDM cars were known for their affordability, the inevitable label of "cheap" didn't exactly help when trying to break into the upmarket car market.
As a result, Japan's major automakers created new brands for their more luxurious vehicles: Acura for Honda and Lexus for Toyota. This luxurious Toyota Soarer was sold by Lexus for a short time as the SC300 but was later renamed the SC430 and made available worldwide. The JDM versions came with a variety of trim and powertrain options, and the early models ranged in price from $6,000 to $20,000.
Suzuki's path to a sports Kei car included several detours. One of the roads was a mid-engine tube frame design that was picked up by Mazda and became the gullwing microcar, which has developed a small cult following in the United States as they approach the 25-year window.
Jay Leno is one of the celebrities who is a fan, according to Road & Track. The design was chosen as one of three that were deemed the most conventional, which is difficult to believe. Because of its cult following, the term "cheap" may not always apply, but Bringatrailer.com recently auctioned off one-off for just under $19,000.
1993 Mazda Miata
Anyone who hasn't been living under a rock for the past three decades is familiar with the Miata and why it is such a popular sports car. Whether you buy a 30-year-old model or a brand-new MX-5, these cars have a proven track record of reliability and make excellent mod platforms.
Mazda copied all the best parts from classic British roadsters when designing the first-generation Miata. Still, the Miata was reliable and could be driven daily with one major difference. At the same time, they are not the most powerful vehicles on the road; their weight of just over 2200 pounds makes them a blast to drive on a twisty road or a track day. 90s Miatas are some of the most affordable convertibles on the market, with good examples costing only a couple of grand.
1991 Toyota Sera
The Toyota Sera is the car for those who need a little more wheelbase than a Kei car but still want a car with crazy door arrangements that can't be mistaken for anything else. It's a little heavier than its gullwing cousin and shares a lot of parts with the unlovable Paseo, but it does have those eye-catching butterfly doors.
Crazy doors have always been associated with exotic supercars, but so have mid engines, and it was offered as a replacement for Toyota's MR2 mid-engine sports car. Aside from that, the Toyota Sera has a long and illustrious history, making it a desirable collector's item. You can get one if you can find one, and there are a few for less than $10,000 on Autotrader.
1991 Nissan Figaro
The nostalgia and retro trend did not just affect the United States and Europe. Japan began looking for ways to give classic looks a nostalgic update as early as the early 1990s. The Nissan Figaro was one of those studies.
This one-year-only car now falls into the import window as part of the Pike Cars family, design study cars all manufactured at the Pike Factory in Japan. The distinctive drop-top car takes its design cues from Citroen and Fiat, but it stands out on its own. Imported Figaros cost around $12,000 each.
1st Gen Suzuki Jimny
The Suzuki Samurai was the brave little 4X4 in the United States, but only after the second iteration was released. The first generation was marketed as a Hope rather than a Suzuki. Before being taken over by Suzuki and remodelled, the Hope Motor Company had a line of tiny off-roaders, but they didn't make many.
According to Motoringresearch.com, the brave little off-roader even competed in the Mexico 1000 Rally in 34 hours. Select models are now available in the United States for around $10,000.
When people in the United States think of Toyota sedans, they most likely think of the venerable Camry, its flagship model. In Japan, however, the long-running Crown, which has been in production since 1955, is the flagship sedan. Though it was sold in the US from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, the Crown replaced Corona, and the Crown remained primarily a Japanese-made vehicle.
The Crown lacks the outlandishness that we associate with a JDM car, but if you want a subtly different sedan, the S130 from 1988 to 1995, the most recent model in the import window, can be had around $10,000.
Look no further than the hood ornament to see what car the Cima was designed to compete with. It has a single acanthus leaf, traditionally used to make crowns in Greece.
The Cima, which debuted in 1988, is Nissan's answer to Toyota's long-running Crown. The Infinity Q45 would eventually be known in the United States, but the generations before and after were all Japanese. If the Crown isn't your thing, first-generation Cimas can import and purchase for around $10,000.
The tiny but distinct Cappuccino was one Suzuki that never made it to American shores in any form. The 1,480-pound Cappuccino makes its 9000 rpm 100 hp motor, designed for people who think Miatas are too bloated and heavy.
The little car is a joy to drive, thanks to Colin Chapman's philosophy of 'adding lightness.' Cappuccinos 25 years for $5,000-7,000 if you're looking for an even more pure expression of a top-down sports car than the stalwart Miata.
The Kei Car is a type of car that is rarely exported and is designed specifically for the demands of Japan's congested city streets. Kei cars are built to specifications that keep the cars extremely small, measuring no more than 112" long and 4'10" wide with 660cc engines. They also come with several exemptions and tax breaks that make them appealing to international motorists.
The plucky Honda Cityon sale for less than $10,000, is one of the super tiny cars that can become a novelty outside of Japan.