Nissan 350Z

13 Fun Japanese Cars That Don’t Cost A Fortune

It seems all the fun and exciting Japanese cars have gotten so expensive lately that only the wealthiest or most dedicated enthusiasts can buy them.

However, if you know where to look and are willing to do some research, there are plenty of fun Japanese cars out there that won’t cost an arm and a leg.

Obviously, prices will vary depending on condition, mileage, and location. We suggest you check local listings on sites like Craigslist, AutoTrader, and CarGurus, and consult Hagerty’s valuation tool and Kelley Blue Book to get an idea of what they’ll cost.

Mazda Miata (NB/NC)

2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Image Credit: Chad Kainz/WikiCommons.

We may as well start with the most obvious, fun and affordable Japanese car out there: the iconic Mazda Miata. The biggest bargains right now are the second and third generations.

The NB generation was powered by 1.6 and 1.8-liter engines, and the later NC generation could be had with a 2.0-liter. You can’t go wrong with either one.

Mazda RX-8

Mazda RX-8
Image Credit: Fir0002/WikiCommons.

Mazda’s rotary-powered RX-8 isn’t particularly reliable. In fact, it drinks gas and oil and chews apex seals like there’s no tomorrow, which means it’ll need a complete engine rebuild every 50-60,000 miles. No wonder they’re so cheap!

However, when it works, it’s an astonishing, high-revving performance machine. If you keep an emergency fund for the engine rebuild, it’s possible to get an RX-8 for a song. Even cars with freshly rebuilt engines can be bought for $10,000.


Image Credit: Elise240SX/Wiki Commons.

You may have already guessed that the MazdaSpeed3 is the performance version of the Mazda3. Even in stock form, it’s a decent pocket rocket that packs a punch thanks to its turbocharged 2.3-liter engine churning out 263 hp. All those horses are sent to the front wheels via a manual 6-speed transmission.

The MazdaSpeed3 is the perfect companion for track days and drives on your favorite twisty road. A nice selection of aftermarket parts is available if you want more power or aggressive looks.

Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V

Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V
Image Credit: IFCAR/Wiki Commons.

Nissan introduced the Sentra SE-R Spec V as a more performance-oriented version of the rather mundane Sentra. It’s powered by a 2.5-liter engine that churns out 175 hp, and the only available transmission is a 6-speed manual.

In 2004, the Sentra received a minor facelift, but the most important thing was that Nismo began offering a variety of optional performance parts for the Sentra SE-R. These cars can be found for as little as $3,500, but paying just a bit more will get you one in good condition.

Acura RSX Type-S

2005 Acura RSX Type-S
Image Credit: Russell Purcell/Flickr.

In other markets, the Acura RSX was sold as the Honda Integra. While the Type S isn’t as razor-sharp as its Integra Type R predecessor, it has almost endless modifying potential.

Pop the hood, and you’ll find the now-legendary K20 engine, a unit proven to handle 100s of extra non-factory horses. The RSX Type S is an excellent starting point if you’re into modified cars.

Honda Civic Si (8th Gen)

FA5 Honda Civic Mugen Si
Image Credit: ilikewaffles11/Wiki Commons.

Honda’s eighth-gen Civic Si also has the 2.0-liter K20 engine. A small car with nearly 200 hp and a manual transmission is a formula that ensures you’ll have a great time behind the wheel.

Once we factor in Honda’s renowned reliability and the mahoosive selection of aftermarket parts, it’s possible to turn it into a daily drivable monster, so you won’t need another car.

Toyota Celica GT-S

Toyota Celica GT-S
Image Credit: SevenSixty2 / Wiki Commons.

Car enthusiasts seem to either love or hate Toyota’s seventh-gen Celica. In GT-S spec, it had a 2ZZ 1.8-liter engine that produced close to 200 hp. In fact, the same engine was used in the Lotus Elise.

It seems the two biggest issues people have with the Celica are that it’s only available in FWD configuration and its somewhat questionable design. Those willing to look past that will find that it’s actually a very fun sports coupe that can be driven daily.

Toyota MR2 Spyder

Toyota MR2 Spyder
Image Credit: r MercurySable99/WikiCommons.

The third-generation Toyota MR2 was only available as a convertible. It’s short and stubby, prone to snap oversteer when driven enthusiastically by unskilled drivers, and has practically zero storage space. So, why should you buy it? Because it’s amazingly awarding to drive.

How many mid-engined cars can you own for under $12,000? With a few suspension tweaks, the MR2 Spyder can be turned into a cornering machine, and while its 1.8-liter engine only has 138 hp, both turbo and supercharger kits are available.

Nissan 350Z

2009 Nissan 350Z
Image Credit: Hugh Llewelyn/WikiCommons.

If you prefer your sports cars with rear-wheel drive, the Nissan 350Z is certainly worth checking out. It follows the traditional sports car formula, with a front-mounted 3.5-liter V6 engine driving the rear wheels via a manual transmission. What more could a driving enthusiast possibly ask for?

Most Japanese sports cars from the 1990s and early 2000s have seen their prices skyrocket in recent years, but the 350Z is still attainable for the average Joe. We don’t know how long that’ll last, so buying one as soon as possible is probably wise.

Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX (2nd Gen)

Mitsubishi Eclipse
Image Credit: Rudolf Stricker/Wiki Commons.

Mitsubishi has ruined the Eclipse name by using it on a boring crossover. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the Mitsubishi Eclipse was one of the coolest Japanese sports coupes. It even had a starring role in the first F&F movie.

After appearing in said movie, the second-generation Eclipse became highly sought after among JDM enthusiasts. Many of these cars have been fitted with cheap fiberglass body kits and loud exhausts, and were driven within an inch of their lives. Find a solid and somewhat standard Eclipse, and you won’t regret buying one.

Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4

Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4
Image Credit: order_242/WikiCommons.

The Eclipse wasn’t Mitsubishi’s only exciting sports car during the 1990s. They also made the 3000GT VR4, designed as the brand’s flagship sports car. It was so technologically advanced that it had equipment that wouldn’t become standard until many years later.

There’s an obvious downside to that, though. Old technology will eventually break down and fail; fixing or replacing it can be a nightmare. Low-mileage cars aren’t cheap, and a high-mileage one will most likely require some work. If you’re unable to fix it yourself, you may be better off just walking away and looking for a different car.

Subaru WRX

2008 Subaru Impreza WRX
Image Credit: Rutger van der Maar/WikiCommons.

Subaru WRXs come with a metric ton of rally heritage from when Colin McRae, Richard Burns, and Petter Solberg dominated the forest roads. Not to mention its appearance in the late, great Ken Block’s early Gymkhana videos.

The first-generation Impreza WRX was never sold Stateside, but it can be imported now thanks to the 25-year rule. However, they’re getting expensive, and so is the “Bug-Eye” version that was available in the States. We’d go for either the “Blob-Eye” or “Hawk-Eye” models, as they’re the perfect mix of performance and affordability.

Lexus IS300

Lexus IS
Image Credit: Shadman Samee/Wiki Commons.

When Lexus introduced the first-generation IS, it immediately became a style icon. Before long, gearheads realized the IS300’s true potential, and thanks to its excellent chassis, this Japanese sedan has proven itself as a highly capable drift car.

There are still plenty of affordable IS300s, but you may want to buy one before they’re all snatched up by the JDM crowd. It comes standard with the naturally aspirated 2JZ engine, but swapping it for either the turbocharged version or the more affordable 1JZ turbo unit is not too difficult.

Andre Nalin

Author: Andre Nalin

Title: Writer


Andre has worked as a writer and editor for multiple car and motorcycle publications over the last decade, but he has reverted to freelancing these days. He has accumulated a ton of seat time during his ridiculous road trips in highly unsuitable vehicles, and he’s built magazine-featured cars. He prefers it when his bikes and cars are fast and loud, but if he had to pick one, he’d go with loud.

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