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Awesome Japanese Cars That Are Dirt-Cheap And Under The Radar

These Japanese models from Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi, and other are understated and still affordable while giving the JDM icons a run for their money.

JDM cars have some of the most fanatic cult followings in the automotive scene. That said, not every Japanese performance car is equally appreciated. While fans would be quick to tell you about the Mk4 Toyota Supra's insane 2JZ GTE engine or the Touring Car monster that is the Nissan Skyline GT-R, those cars have been priced out of reach for most of us. 

That said, the below-mentioned Japanese cars can be no less enjoyable than the go-to, 1990s JDM sports cars. The best part is that these performance models are not nearly as popular, they can still be found for a relatively attainable price.

Mazda Mazdaspeed6: From $4,900

The MazdaSpeed6 represented a more sophisticated and subtle alternative to the Lancer EVO and Subaru STI
There was a time when the Mazda Mazdaspeed6 (Mazda 6 MPS in Europe) was a relatively popular alternative to the Subaru STI and Mitsubishi EVO. It offers a turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive in a more sophisticated less, boy racer-ish package.

It also wasn't as crazy in terms of styling, with relatively subtle hints that this isn't the regular Mazda 6. Its engine ended up being the foundation for the Ford 2.3 EcoBoost, found in the Focus RS and Ford Mustang.

Mazda Mazdaspeed6 Performance Specifications:

  • Engine: 2.3-liter, turbocharged, DOHC, inline-four
  • Output: 260 horsepower at 5,500 RPM, 280 pound-feet at 3,000 RPM
  • Transmission and drivetrain: six-speed manual, all-wheel drive
  • 0-60 MPH: 5.8 seconds

Mitsubishi Galant VR-4: From $8,000 

Despite being discontinued, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is the brand's most popular performance sedan. There might be a better one, however.

The eighth-generation Mitsubishi Galant features a stout, 6A13TT engine that has the potential to put the 4G63T to shame. It may not be as athletic as the EVO due to its size, but the Galant is more comfortable and ultimately, faster than almost all factory Lancer EVOs. 

Mitsubishi Galant VR-4 Performance Specifications 

  • Engine: 2.5-liter, DOHC, twin-turbo, V-6 
  • Output: 280 horsepower at 5,500 RPM, 268 pound-feet at 4,000 RPM 
  • Transmission and drivetrain: five-speed manual/ four-speed automatic, all-wheel drive 
  • 0-60 MPH: 5.4 seconds 

Lexus SC430: $9,600 

Even today, the Lexus SC430 is a worthy alternative to the Mercedes SL500

Back in the 1990s, Toyota's luxury arm, Lexus made a true competitor to the Mercedes SL500. The Lexus SC430 was unrightfully dubbed by old Top Gear hosts as "the worst car ever made", but that doesn't do it justice.

Even after nearly 30 years, the SC430 has held up quite well in terms of build quality, mechanical, and electric aspects. The 3UZ-FE V-8's performance is also on par with the SL500. Interestingly enough, North American versions were a bit more powerful than European-spec SC430 models. 

Lexus SC430 Performance Specifications

  • Engine: 4.3-liter, DOHC, naturally-aspirated V-8 
  • Output: 285-304 horsepower at 5,600 RPM, 309-325 pound-feet at 3,500 and 3,400 RPM respectively 
  • Transmission and drivetrain: five-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive 
  • 0-60 MPH: 6.0-5.8 seconds 

Nissan 300ZX: From $15,000 

Throughout its production cycle, the Nissan Z32 300ZX went through numerous revisions

You can never tell that the Nissan Z32 300ZX came out in 1989 just by looking at it. The sporty GT car by Nissan was a more luxurious alternative to the Skyline GT-R. Like Godzilla, the Z featured many hi-tech features such as a twin-turbo V-6, rear-wheel steering, keyless entry, variable valve-timing, and more.

While the 300ZX is a bit more popular, this hasn't affected prices as much as the more iconic JDM performance cars, like the GT-R. The Z32 is available as a two-seater coupe, a 2+2, or a convertible. 

Nissan 300ZX Z32 Performance Specifications 

  • Engine: 3.0-liter, DOHC, twin-turbo V-6 
  • Output: 283 horsepower at 6,400 RPM, 276 pound-feet at 3,600 RPM 
  • Transmission and drivetrain: five-speed manual/ four-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive 
  • 0-60 MPH: 5.6-5.1 seconds  

Mazda Mazdaspeed Protege: From $8,500 

The Mazda Protege is a compact performance sedan that preceded the Mazdaspeed 3. The combination of compact packaging, a turbo-four engine, and a manual transmission resulted in a fun, performance sedan that was easy to live with. The Mazdaspeed Protege had a very limited production. It was only produced in 2003, and production ended after 4,500 units. 

Mazda Mazdaspeed Protege Performance Specifications: 

  • Engine: 2.0-liter, DOHC, turbocharged inline-four 
  • Output: 170 horsepower at 6,000 RPM, 160 pound-feet at 3,500 RPM 
  • Transmission: five-speed manual, front-wheel drive 
  • 0-60 MPH: 7.5 seconds 

Honda Accord Coupe: From $5,500 

Despute sporty looks, the Honda Accord Coupe is best-enjoyed at 7/10 pace

The ninth-generation Honda Accord is the last time we got a two-door coupe version of the Accord. The Accord Coupe shares the same platform with the Accord sedan, but with 51 mm shorter wheelbase and 49 mm shorter overall length. Despite the sportier aesthetics, the Honda Accord coupe is more of a GT car. The front-wheel drive and transversely-mounted engine don't exactly scream "sports car", which is why the Japanese coupe isn't a popular platform. On the plus side, you get Honda's reliable engines, good looks, and well-executed interior. You can either get the K24 engine or the range-topping, J35 V-6. 

Honda Accord Coupe IX Generation Performance Specifications 

  • Engine: 3.5-liter, SOHC, naturally-aspirated V-6 
  • Output: 282 horsepower at 6,200 RPM, 252 pound-feet at 4,900 RPM 
  • Transmission and drivetrain: six-speed manual/ six-speed automatic/ CVT (for the inline-four), front-wheel drive 
  • 0-60 MPH: 6.2-5.8 seconds 

Mitsubishi Eclipse GT: From $5,000 

Despite having its strong suits, the fourth-generation Mitsubishi Eclipse failed to undo the damage of the previous model

The fourth-generation Mitsubishi Eclipse was the last time the iconic nameplate appeared on a sports coupe. The first and second generation were hits while the third was a step in the wrong direction. Due to the previous model's mediocre performance, the fourth-generation Eclipse never achieved stardom. GT variants feature a powerful and reliable V-6 engine, which provides good performance when paired with the manual. 

Mitsubishi Eclipse GT Performance Specifications 

  • Engine: 3.8-liter, SOHC, naturally-aspirated V-6 
  • Output: 265 horsepower at 5,750 RPM, 262 pound-feet at 4,500 RPM 
  • Transmission and drivetrain: six-speed manual/ five-speed automatic, front-wheel drive 
  • 0-06 MPH: 6.5-5.7 seconds   

Honda CRX/ Del Sol: From $7,500 

 Even back in the 1990s, Mazda Miata wasn't always the answer. Even today, the Honda CRX/ Del Sol is a worthy alternative despite sending power to the rear. The lightweight model shared the dependable bones of the Civic as well as the engines.

If you find the B16A-equipped VTi model, you are in for a real treat. Moreover, the Del Sol features a manually-operated, aluminum top, which you can store in the rear. For Japan and Europe, there was an optional "TransTop”, which is an electronically-controlled, removable top. 

Honda CRX/ Del Sol VTi Performance Specifications 

  • Engine: 1.6-liter, DOHC, naturally-aspirated inline-four 
  • Output: 160 horsepower at 7,600 RPM, 111 pound-feet at 7,000 RPM 
  • Transmission and drivetrain: five-speed manual, front-wheel drive 
  • 0-60 MPH: 7.8 seconds 

Mazda MX-5 Miata NC: From $11,000 

In 2012, the Mazda MX-5 Miata NC got its last update

The Mazda Miata's future will involve electrification, but you can still buy it as a pure driver's car. The third-generation Miata was the most hated because it grew in size and weight, but as people started finding out in recent times, this didn't make it inferior to the rest.

The third-generation Mazda MX-5 is widely regarded as having the best steering feel of them all while featuring more powerful engines than its predecessors. Moreover, there are tons of conversions available to the Miata platform, both in terms of performance and styling. US buyers had to settle for a five-speed manual while Canada got a six-speed manual version in addition to the automated manual. 

Mazda MX-5 Miata NC Performance Specifications 

  • Engine: 2.0-liter, DOHC, naturally-aspirated inline-four 
  • Output: 167 horsepower at 7,000 RPM, 140 pound-feet at 5,000 RPM 
  • Transmission and drivetrain: five and six-speed manual/ six-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive 
  • 0-60 MPH: 7.2 seconds 

Lexus SC300/400/430: From $4,500 

The first-generation Lexus SC is known in Japan as the Toyota Soarer, and quite simply, it is a budget-friendly Toyota Supra Mk4. In Lexus form, it could be had with a variety of engines, including the 2JZ-GE inline-six as well as the 1UZ and 3UZ V-8 engines.

These are some of Toyota's most reliable engines ever made. Despite packing the least amount of power from the factory, the 2JZ engine benefits from enormous aftermarket support. Even the non-turbo variant of the engine can be modified to the moon and stay reliable if done correctly. 

Lexus SC300 Performance Specifications 

  • Engine: 3.0-liter, DOHC, naturally-aspirate inline-six 
  • Output: 230 horsepower at 6,000 RPM, 209 pound-feet at 4,800 RPM 
  • Transmission and drivetrain: five-speed manual/ four-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive 
  • 0-60 MPH: 7.9-7.0 seconds 

About the author

Dimitar Angelov's automotive interests made him an expert in a wide variety of vehicles. Japanese brands like Toyota are closest to his heart, although performance cars in general are his favorite segment, which is why he is constantly on the lookout for the best deals on the market. Dimitar Angelov's car passion and knack for the written word led him to complete a Master of Arts in Media and Communications, and classic car restoration. Dim is happy to get behind the wheel of any car and share his impressions. You can follow Dimitar on XLinked-inInstagram, and Facebook.

Image source: 2006 MazdaSpeed 6, 2002-2008 Lexus SC430, 1992 Nissan 300ZX, 2015 Honda Accord Coupe, 2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse, 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata