The ten 90s Japanese sports cars that absolutely need to make a triumphant comeback
With Japanese automakers airing on the side of “family friendly” with every fresh model release, automotive enthusiasts, especially members of the Gran Turismo generation, can’t help but yearn for the glory days. The 1990s were the peak for Honda, Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Mazda, with a myriad of sports cars and European giant-slayers to choose from, many of which were affordable to the working class speed junkie.
Our latest review of the Honda S2000 CR made us nostalgic for a time not-so-long past. The S2000, released in 1999, was a bit of a swansong for the Japanese sports cars we knew and loved, with the only modern carryovers being the Mazda MX-5 Miata and the Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ, among few others. So in honor of the golden age of motoring in the Land of the Rising Sun, here are ten Japanese sports cars that we despairingly want back.
Mazda RX-7 (1993-1995)
The Mazda RX-7 is a perfectly-balanced rotary-engined Japanese legend
We kick off the list with one of the true icons of an era. Making its U.S. market debut in 1993, the third generation RX-7 was, and still is, one of the best treating cars of all time. With a 1.3-liter twin-sequential turbo rotary engine putting out 255-hp, Mazda’s iconic sports car was named Motor Trend’s Import Car of the Year for 1993, back when they used to separate American and foreign car awards. It was also named to Car and Driver’s Ten Best list for every year it was available in the U.S.
Sadly, the rotary engine is no longer among Mazda’s lineup, with the end of the RX-8 coming just one brief year ago. But to this day, the FD RX-7 remains an incredible spectacle bargain, and we would love to see its come back.
Toyota MR2 (1991-1995)
The 2nd generation Toyota MR2 is a fantastic mid-engined budget sports car
The MR2 is a prime example of the age when Japanese automakers dared to be bold, unfazed by the need to meet sales requests or appease the bottom line. With rear-wheel-drive and a mid-mounted Two.2-liter 4-cylinder or Two.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, the MR2 was a hoot to drive, and opened the world of mid-engined motoring to the masses. With up to 200-hp until the end of its production in 1995, the 2nd generation MR2 would do well as a working-class Porsche Boxster/Cayman rival, and would send the message to the masses that Toyota wants to be joy again.
Honda Prelude (1992-2001)
The “bullet-nose” Honda Prelude is still one of the best front-wheel-drive coupes ever made
While the current Accord Coupe could be considered the modern equivalent, it just can’t match up to the Prelude’s light weight and impeccable chassis tuning. The fourth and fifth generation Honda Prelude featured a range of 4-cylinder engines putting out up to 200-hp in SH spec. Built with front-wheel-drive and available with a sleek 5-speed manual, the Prelude remains a dearest among motorists on a budget, proving that “wrong-wheel-drive” can still be a entire lot of joy.
Mitsubishi 3000GT (1991-1999)
The Mitsubishi 3000GT, seen here in infrequent convertible form, was a technical miracle in the early 90s
Mitsubishi’s outlandish 3000GT is a relic of a time long past for an automaker that seems to have lost its stride in a big way. Upon its inception in 1991, the 3000GT in top-spec VR-4 trim suggested technology seen only on today’s high-end sports cars. The VR-4 was tooled with four-wheel-drive, four-wheel-steering, electronically-adjustable suspension, and automatic spoilers and aerodynamic effects, all of which are available on the brand-new Porsche nine hundred eleven Turbo twenty three years later! With a max output of 320-hp from the Three.0-liter twin-turbo V6, the 3000GT was exceptionally bold and frantically unique. If only Mitsubishi would look a little stiffer at its own history…
Acura Integra Type-R (1997-2001)
The Acura Integra Type-R was underappreciated in its day, but today un-modified examples are very coveted
The Integra Type-R was a punchy little front-drive coupe that can hold its own with many of today’s modern hot hatchbacks and sporty economy cars. The Type-R was good for 195-hp from its 1.8-liter 4-cylinder, and could come back almost 30-mpg on the highway, matching up fairly nicely with the current Honda Civic Si. Sadly, Acura demonstrate no signs of suggesting a reboot any time soon, and finding an un-modified Type-R is just about as difficult as spotting a unicorn in Central Park.
Nissan 240SX (1995-1999)
The Nissan 240SX was slightly underpowered but exceptionally capable in the treating department
While we have a modern equivalent of the excellent 300ZX in the form of the 370Z, the 240SX has no true spiritual successor in Nissan’s lineup. The Altima Coupe is a sporty take on the near-best-selling midsize sedan, but it can’t hold a candle to the raw treating prowess of the 2nd generation 240. With a Two.4-liter inline 4-cylinder putting out only 155-hp to the rear wheels, the 240SX left much to be desired in the horsepower department, but the chassis was able to treat much, much more. Some plain modifications can turn this neo-Datsun into a serious back road barn-burner.
Mazda MX-6 (1993-1997)
The Mazda MX-6 still looks good twenty years after its debut, with a curvy coupe figure that is undeniably 90s
With some gravely curvy sheet metal and an available slick and potent Two.5-liter V-6, the Mazda MX-6 remains one of the best coupes of the 90s. Available with up to 200-hp upon its demise in 1997, the MX-6 was a direct rival to the Honda Prelude, and was just as capable in every way. Despite a current lineup of excellent-handling cars like the Mazda3 and Mazda6, the Hiroshima-based automaker is still lacking a sporty coupe for those who can do without four doors.
Mitsubishi Eclipse (1995-1999)
The Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX was a potent, all-wheel-drive road-going rally coupe
The most latest two generations of the Mitsubishi Eclipse can be filed under the “missed opportunities/utterly disappointing” category in the sports car archives, but the mid-to-late 90s is when the Eclipse was at its prime. With a 210-hp Two.0-liter turbocharged inline 4-cylinder powering the front or all four wheels, the curvy 2nd generation Eclipse could hold its own with the best sports cars out there, not to mention several established all-wheel-drive competitors. While the most latest Eclipse was a subjectively good-looking car, it lacked the spunky, well-tuned nature of its most memorable predecessor.
Toyota Supra (1993-1998)
The Mark IV Toyota Supra is a Japanese icon, with original turbocharged examples fetching over $50,000 today
Is there a more iconic Japanese sports car than the incredible Mark IV Supra? Accomplish with a cartoonishly-rounded form and ridiculous curved spoiler, the Toyota Supra is the holy grail of Japanese coupes among spectacle enthusiasts. The Supra was available in base trim with the amazingly capable Three.0-liter inline-6 putting out 220-horsepower, but more serious customers could opt for the monster 320-hp twin-turbo version. Unluckily, many surviving models have been modified by the tuner crowd beyond recognition, so finding an original-spec Supra is enormously difficult. But fear not! Toyota’s latest FT-1 concept could signal the comeback of the iconic giant-slayer.
Acura NSX (1991-2005)
The Acura NSX was Honda’s noisy and proud entrance into the world of mid-engined supercars
We round off our list with one of Japan’s crowning motoring achievements. The one thousand nine hundred ninety one Honda (Acura in the U.S. market) NSX was a mid-engined response to Italian supercars that boldly exclaimed: “Japan can do it too!” With a Trio.0-liter V-6 pushing out 270-hp in one thousand nine hundred ninety one and up to 290-hp by the end of its production in 2005, the NSX was nothing more than an exercise in the capability of Japanese engineering (with flip-up headlights!). While Acura has been keeping us on hold with news of a reboot for some time now, nothing can match the shock value of the original. There’s a reason that Ayrton Senna pridefully possessed one, and if it’s possible to find an un-modified example, you should too.
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