Japanese carmakers took the world by storm in the 1970s and 80s, introducing a string of high-quality, affordable economy cars with releases that perfectly coincided with a couple of world oil crises. Where once the automotive market in the United States had been dominated by boatlike sedans, beefy muscle cars, and massive pickup trucks, an influx of imports shook up Detroit like an earthquake.
Consumers all of a sudden realized that they loved the reliable and efficient cars being designed and manufactured in Japan. Detroit's response was to start imitating the aspects that they thought made Japanese products so successful, but the results were bad and consumers only turned to the real deal even more.
Japan has its own automotive landscape, however, and what brands like Toyota, Honda, and Nissan shipped to this country didn't represent the entirety of their national industry. In fact, many cars destined for these shores were available in radically different form for the Japanese domestic market. Known as JDM cars, cars built specifically for Japanese use are increasingly popular to import to the States these days.
But just like any industry, even the Japanese automotive world has had its fair share of swings and misses as they've tried to stay ahead of the curve in terms of design and engineering. And yet, many fans of JDM sports cars refuse to buy anything made anywhere else. Keep scrolling for 25 big-time flaws that most people seem to ignore about sports cars from Japan.
25 Acura NSX
The Acura NSX was one of the world's greatest automotive achievements when it debuted in 1991. Sold in Japan with Honda badging, it was a lightweight, balanced, cost-effective Ferrari-beater with fighter jet styling and a comfortable interior.
But the NSX suffered from a few flaws, the most notable being its relative lack of power.
A 1997 engine upgrade helped a bit, but still the NSX had less than 300 horsepower. Another infamous issue was the 'snap ring' failure, which came about because of an improperly manufactured transmission case for a specific range of build dates and could result in dangerous metal shards grinding in the transmission itself.
24 Acura Integra Type R
Honda and Acura had another sports car hit with the success of the Acura Integra. Especially in Type R trim, the lightweight coupe (although it was also sold in sedan form for the Japanese Domestic Market) is well-known as being perhaps the best front-wheel drive sports car ever made.
But therein lies its flaw—front wheel drive sports cars just simply can't compete with their rear-wheel and all-wheel drive counterparts, of which Japan, and even Honda themselves, made more than just a few.
23 Subaru Impreza WRX STI
Subaru's rally heritage has led to the immense success and popularity of their Impreza in WRX STI spec. The Japan domestic market (JDM) received the STI a full generation ahead of US and Canada, but in both markets, the STI has combined all-wheel drive, a turbocharged Boxer four, and a six-speed manual transmission in a utilitarian, economical package.
But later model updates have trended towards turning the STI into more of a road-racer than a grippy off-road monster. While on the tarmac, the STI suffers from big wheels, an uncomfortable interior, and most of all, from the fact that its entire engine is mounted ahead of the front axle.
22 Mazda RX-8
The Mazda RX-8 was the last sports car built by the Japan manufacturer to utilize a Wankel rotary engine. The rotary format combines light weight with potent high-RPM power, and with rumors of the rotary's resurrection continuously swirling online, plenty of fans dream that a new rotary-powered sports car could be on the way.
But the RX-8 and its predecessors all suffered from the same flaws as every single other vehicle powered by a Wankel engine; terrible fuel economy, unreliable engine seals, and exorbitant oil consumption.
21 Nissan 350Z
Nissan's long line of Z cars helped to establish Japan's reputation for stylish sports cars that paired good looks with superb driving characteristics. And though the Nissan 350Z wasn't quite as smooth on the exterior as its predecessors, it certainly featured wonderful driving dynamics and a powerful inline-six engine.
But the 350Z was plagued by safety issues from the start, with high fatality stats and an unusually high number of recalls reported by the NHTSA.
Not exactly something that fans of the Fast and Furious who went out and bought a 350Z want to hear.
20 Subaru SVX
The Subaru SVX that debuted for model year 1991 was a futuristic concept from the very start. It offered all-wheel drive, a super-edgy wedge design, and a radical interior, not to mention the largest naturally-aspirated engine that the Japanese manufacturer would build all the way up to 2008.
But strangely, given Subaru's steadfast use of a manual gearbox in their WRX and STI models, the SVX was only offered with a four-speed automatic slushbox of a transmission that prevented any true sports car buyers from picking up one of the otherwise awesome cars.
19 Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86
However you want to refer to the sports car known alternately as the Scion FR-S, Subaru BRZ, and Toyota 86, one simple fact always remains true: it's grossly underpowered. The little coupe seats four people (although not particularly comfortably) and has solid exterior styling despite a surprisingly low entry price.
But execs at both Toyota and Subaru have remained determined not to release a legitimately powerful iteration of the car, citing its low weight and focus on handling as being more important than outright straight-line speed.
It's a sad fact, because even with a tiny turbo would make a big difference while bumping power up above the 200-205 horsepower range that the FR-S/BRZ/86 occupies.
18 Scion tC
The Scion tC was part of Toyota's fervent effort to attract a younger crowd to their brand, and plenty of buyers didn't even realize that Scion was owned by the historic Japan manufacturer.
As a sort of precursor to the FR-S, the tC focused on nifty styling, low costs, and respectably fun driving dynamics. Yet it was hampered by the fact that like many of Toyota's economical commuter cars, it utilized a front-engined, front-wheel-drive layout that resulted in nose-heavy steering once the car was actually pushed to its limits.
17 Subaru WRX
Every generation of Subaru's Impreza that has hit these shores has retained its secondhand value remarkably well. Blame it on the simple designs, rugged utility, and rabid fanbase, but from early, non-turbo two-doors to late-model hatchbacks, consumer demand keeps used prices high.
But even huge Subaru enthusiasts will admit that the cars have a tendency to blow head-gaskets at a ridiculously frequent rate, so finding one that has had its engine rebuilt recently is a priority when shopping on the used market.
16 Mazda Miata
Many would-be racers often find themselves wondering if a Mazda Miata is the right car for them. After all, ever since its introduction over three decades ago, the Miata has always offered some of the best handling that can be had for the price, either new or used. And while the old adage that driving a slow car fast is more fun than driving a fast car slow may indeed be true, the Miata sadly does fall into the category of slow cars.
At least, until the tight corners show up, at which point the little car shines. But Miatas, especially early models, suffer from a cheap build quality that centers around light, economical materials, and their biggest flaw is how badly they age over time.
15 Lexus LFA
The LFA represented an aspirational ethos from Lexus, who hoped the car would inspire their design and engineering for a full 25 years following its 2010 debut. And with its angular, futuristic exterior (highlighted by that trio of exhaust tips), a full decade of development, and a price tag of around $375,000 when new, the LFA was, and still is, the peak of Lexus' prowess.
But for a car as advanced as the LFA, its high-revving V10 engine still leaves a lot to be desired, with torque peaking at only 354 lb-ft.
Throw in a six-speed sequential gearbox as the only option, and Lexus could definitely have done a little better.
14 Toyota Supra
The Toyota Supra has gained a cult following thanks to its role in The Fast and the Furious equally as much as its impressive twin-turbocharged V6 engine and all-wheel-drive platform.
But Toyota made a huge mistake when they opted to ship the Supra to the United States without a manual transmission, something they seemed forced to do because of this country's introduction of stringent OBDII diagnostic requirements.
But rather than send the slushbox, Toyota would have been better served simply waiting another year to release the fully-realized Supra.
Mazda may be known for their Miata and the rotary-powered line of RX sports cars, but a few ardent followers of the brand also swear by the Mazdaspeed6. With a few rally-inspired details like all-wheel drive and a six-speed stick shift, the Mazdaspeed6 nonetheless suffers from a distinct lack of power.
Its turbocharged inline-four engine only maxes out at 274 horsepower, while the entire sedan weighs in at over 3,500 pounds. That all-wheel-drive system isn't particularly sport-tuned either, being only able to send up to 50% of torque to the rear axle.
12 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
Mitsubishi's competitor to the Subaru WRX STI is their Lancer Evolution, a true rally champion that can be had in homologated form for street-legal driving. But much like the STI, the Lancer Evo (seen above in awesome special-edition Evo VI Tommi Makinen spec) is a thoroughly un-enjoyable car when driving on the tarmac, with too-tight suspension, a cheap interior, and large wheels that only make every tiny bump feel like a mountain.
Some huge fans of the model overlook these issues, but most drivers will be quite unhappy driving a Lancer Evo.
11 Nissan GT-R
Nissan's GT-R doesn't actually share a lineage with its namesake, the performance-oriented, iconic line of the Skyline GT-R, being a completely new, ground-up project from the Japan manufacturer. Of course, this country never received any of the Skyline GT-R generations when they were new, although with the 25-year rule now covering plenty of R33 and R34 examples, sightings on city streets are becoming more common.
But the contemporary GT-R is perhaps even more formidable, with a twin-turbocharged inline-six engine that produced 478 horsepower and 434 lb-ft of torque when it debuted in 2007. Sadly, its transmission simply couldn't handle that kind of grunt, and many drivers suffered frequent failures, especially when trying to use a launch control feature.
10 First-Gen Subaru Impreza
The first generation of Subaru Imprezas was perhaps the best-looking of any generation since, and it even came in two-door, STI form for the Japan market. Sadly, Subaru only shipped the first-gen to this country in Impreza form, and we didn't get the WRX or the STI until the second generation in the early 2000s.
This has led to many aftermarket tune-jobs, wherein backyard modders drop a later drivetrain sourced from a more powerfully specced WRX or STI into the chassis of an earlier car. The combination sounds appealing, but Subaru would have been much better served shipping the original here in its higher trim packages from the get-go.
9 Second-Gen Acura NSX
When rumors surrounding a potential new NSX seemed to solidify into real news reports, the internet went berzerk at the thought of another economical, world-rivaling supercar from a reliable manufacturer like Honda.
But many would-be buyers were highly disappointed when the new generation NSX was revealed to be a complex, hybrid-powered, all-wheel drive supercar with a price tag that could just about match some Ferrari models.
Honda and Acura had clearly lost touch with what made the original so great, and now only the world's wealthiest enthusiasts can hope to own a new NSX.
8 Honda S2000
After the success of the mid-engined NSX, Honda released another stellar sports car in the form of the S2000. The tiny two-seater featured a more traditional layout, yet still attained nearly perfect balance while offering a potent four-cylinder engine that could wail all the way up to a sky-high 9,000 RPM. Throw in a buttery six-speed stick shift and a standard limited-slip differential, and the S2000 sounds just about perfect.
Unfortunately, it suffered from never having been offered as a coupe, which would have increased structural rigidity while also getting rid of a seriously nagging problem that so many owners experience: a soft-top that leaks during even the softest rainstorms.
7 Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4
The Mitsubishi 3000GT sounds like a potent sports car given that it offers a twin-turbocharged V6 engine capable of sending up to a max of 394 horsepower and 414 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels. Throw in advanced features for its time like four-wheel steering, adaptive suspension, and active aerodynamics, and things sound even better.
And yet, all that advanced complexity has rendered the 3000GT, especially in VR-4 trim, a potential dream-car that is, in reality, an ownership nightmare.
6 Autozam AZ-1
Possibly one of the tiniest sports cars in the world, the kei-class Autozam AZ-1 is just starting to make its way to the United States thanks to the 25-year importation rule. And from first glance, the combination of gull-wing doors, a mid-mounted engine, and angular styling make it seem like a classic recipe for success.
However, the Autozam's cheap build quality is renowned for making the whole car seem like more of a toy than anything able to actually shred through canyon curves.
5 Toyota MR2
The first two generations of Toyota MR2 are still highly sought-after cars if they can be found in good condition. With a mid-engined layout, reliable drivetrains that include optional turbocharged engines, and classic designs (at least for their times), the MR2 has a serious cult following and has earned the nickname "the poor man's NSX."
But for would-be buyers, make sure to find one without T-tops, as the seals that keep weather out are known to be failure-prone, leading to water damage during any kind of inclement conditions.
4 Acura TL
The Acura market presence has definitely had its fair share of ups and downs over the decades. After sterling successes like the Integra, Legend, and NSX came the lows of the 2000s, lows that were epitomized by the subpar TL sedan.
Sure, it had been around since 1996, but the model seemed to get more and more disappointing with each generation.
Culminating in the beak-front fourth-gen that Acura tried to market as a sports sedan despite lackluster performance stemming in large part from its nearly-4,000 pound curb weight and underwhelming, 305-horsepower V6 engine.
3 Toyota Celica GT-S
The automotive industry can be a difficult marketplace to maneuver, and even resoundingly successful brands have their fair share of duds hidden in their pasts. One of Toyota's most disappointing releases was the Celica sports car that they redesigned for model year 1999.
After just about three full decades of successful, fun, economical Celicas (including the successful Celica GT-Four rally car), the model's final iteration proved far too edgy for consumers, and its weak engine maxed out at only 194 horsepower when optioned with sport exhaust.
2 Honda Civic Type R
The Honda Civic is one of the world's best-selling lines of economy cars, having always paired simple style and reliability in an affordable package. And yet, the latest generation of Honda Civic has completely upended the recipe that's allowed the model to last this long, and especially in Type R trim, the Civic now comes bedecked in a borderline hilarious amount of cladding, spoilers, and diffusers.
The result is a car that is obviously trying too hard to look cool, something that could never have been said about Civics of old.
1 Lexus LC
Despite the fact that Lexus had hoped the LFA would be their only high-end sports car for 25 years after it debuted in 2010, by 2017, the brand was already building the LC for model year 2018. With styling clearly hearkening back to the LFA, the LC at least ups its power figures (to 467 horses) while dropping the price tag significantly (to around $100,000).
Sadly, however, Lexus didn't learn from their past mistakes, and still didn't offer the LC with a good old clutch pedal and stick shift.
Sources: nsxprime.com, wikipedia.org & nhtsa.gov.