Some of the best sports cars have come out of the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) and with it some of the greatest engines to grace the automobile world. The Japanese don’t only produce an engine with the intention to be used in stock form, but many of their engine designs are with the intention of aftermarket modification. Many of the engines on this list are capable of managing twice the horsepower they came with, even in stock form. Something which for the most part can’t be said for many American or European counterparts. These are the 10 best JDM engines to date.
All the other engines on this list have been used in sports or race cars, but this one is different from every one of those. This naturally aspirated 5.0L V12 was solely used in the Toyota Century which can be described as the Japanese version of a Rolls Royce.
This V12 48-valve DOHC engine utilized variable valve timing (VVT-i) and produced 276 hp in the JDM version and 295 hp for export markets. Peak torque was achieved at 4,000 RPM (355 lb-ft/481Nm) although 295 lb-ft/400Nm was achieved already at 1,200 RPM.
The 1GZ-FE has proven to be an exceptional engine as production went on from 1997 through 2017. And surprisingly the V12 engine was on par with the engine of Rolls Royce in terms of smoothness. The V12 eventually got discontinued in 2017 with the third generation Toyota Century receiving a 5.0L V8 with hybrid technology.
Nissan is known to create fantastic 6-cylinder engines. The RB-/and L-engine series come to mind. But there is one specific engine that stands out, not only because of its features but also because of the way it carved a path for future models. That engine was known as the S20, not to be confused with Nissan’s SR20 which is a four-cylinder.
Nissan’s S20 engine featured a 2.0L straight-6 DOHC setup and was derived from Prince Motor Company’s GR-8 race engine. The S20 engine weighed in at 199 kg and produces 160 hp at 7,000 RPM and 130 lb-ft of torque (177 Nm) at 5,600 RPM.
The S20 engine was placed in the legendary Hakosuka, also known as the very first Nissan Skyline GT-R (KPGC10), and became an unstoppable force when it came to circuit racing, winning over 49 consecutive races in a row. The S20 was later also put in the equally legendary Fairlady Z.
And although this was not the first 6-cylinder engine to be put inside of a Skyline, it was the first purpose-built GT-R engine. And we have this engine to thank for another engine which is on this list, the RB26DETT.
The 4B11T engine featured a 2.0L turbocharged DOHC inline-4 with power ranging from 237 hp to 440 hp. This engine was used in the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X and was the replacement for the previous generation Evo engine, the 4G63.
Some Mitsubishi fans may turn their heads in disagreement on this one thinking that the 4G63 engine should be here instead of its replacement, but hear us out.
The 4G63 was great for seeking a lot of power without having to upgrade any of the internals since it featured a cast iron block in comparison to the 4B11T’s aluminum block. But a great engine doesn’t necessarily have to make huge power figures. Still, the 4B11T in stock form could easily handle 350 hp without no issues, and it was much smoother and lighter than the 4G63 too.
Mitsubishi made two one-off Evo’s for the UK market which featured a 400 hp and 440 hp Evolution Lancer X. These were heavily upgraded from the normal Lancer Evo which is why they have a lot more power as well.
The K20A shares a lot of similarities with the B16B except for the fact that the K20A utilizes a 2.0L displacement in comparison to the 1.6L in the B16.
The K20A is part of the K-engine series and was the successor to the B-engine series by Honda. The K20A in question was used solely for Honda’s Type R lineup which featured the Civic Type R, Integra Type R, and Accord Euro R.
The K20A featured Honda’s VTEC technology and with a compression ratio of 11.5:1 achieved between 212-221 hp @8,000 RPM. The rev-limiter is slightly lower compared to the B16B, the K20A rev limit varies between 8,400-8,600 RPM depending on the model.
The K20A has become really popular among tuners. Turbocharging or supercharging is a common modification. And as the engine is built well, many cars can feature upwards of 400 hp on stock internals.
You can’t speak about great JDM engines and leave out Honda’s B16B engine. This engine is part of Honda’s B-engine series which featured a large variety of naturally aspirated inline-4 engines which featured Honda’s Variable Valve Timing and Electronic Control (VTEC) technology.
The B16B engine was developed to be used in the 1997 Honda Civic EK9 Type R. As the name would suggest, the B16B featured a 1.6L DOHC Inline-4 which put out 182 hp and 118 lb-ft of torque (160 Nm). At the time, the B16B had one of the highest horsepowers per displacement for a naturally aspirated engine.
Due to its rather high compression ratio (10:8:1) the B16B had an 8,400 RPM redline but could be pushed all the way to 9,000 RPM where the rev limiter would kick in.
The company Spoon Inc made some significant upgrades to the B16B engine which resulted in over 230 hp and 11,000 RPM from the naturally aspirated 1.6L engine. This engine was in an EK9 Type R used for competing in racing and saw great success.
Arguably the best Civic Type R engine to have come out of Japan.
Another great Honda engine, the F20C was used in the S2000 and featured a 2.0L inline-4 and produced 247 hp in the JDM version and 237 hp in the USDM/European version.
The F20C engine held the record for the highest power output per displacement in a naturally aspirated engine closing in at 125 hp per liter. It held this record for 9 years until finally being beat by the Ferrari 458 Italia in 2009. Considering the Ferrari costs several times more than the S2000, it surely is quite an impressive feat and goes to show that the Japanese know how to make great engines.
Another exciting feature that the F20C is known for is its 9,000 RPM redline. In today’s day and age with all the hybrid technology and turbocharging going on it becomes rarer and rarer with cars surpassing even 7,500 RPM. Thus, it would be a crime to leave out the F20C from this list.
The SR20DET was the range-topping engine in the SR-engine series and featured a 2.0L turbocharged DOHC Inline-4 producing between 202 and 266 hp.
The SR20DET was used in a variety of different Nissan models but is most known for being used in the Nissan Silvia, 180SX/200SX, and Nissan Pulsar GTi-R.
The SR20DET became very popular as it was durable, responsive, reliable, and cheap to maintain while offering great tuning capabilities. A stock SR20DET can very easily handle 350-400 hp without upgrading the internals and this became suitable for the younger crowd with limited money. For a turbocharged 4-cylinder, it sounds good too!
This is an engine that offers great performance at a reasonable price.
It comes as no surprise that the legendary Supra engine, the 2JZ-GTE made it to this list. The 2JZ may perhaps even be the most well-known JDM engine there is, and there are good reasons for that.
The 2JZ-GTE derives from Toyota’s Inline-6 JZ-engine series and was a response to Nissan’s RB26DETT engine. The 2JZ-GTE variant features a 3.0L Inline-6 24-valve double overhead camshaft (DOHC) engine. This air-cooled twin-turbocharged six-cylinder produces about 280 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque (450 Nm) in the detuned Japanese version (due to the Gentlemen’s agreement). The European and American versions had about 320 hp in stock form.
The 2JZ-GTE is notoriously known for being incredibly overbuilt. A bone-stock 2JZ-GTE engine has no issues with getting tuned upwards to 500 hp. There are even a few examples where people have tuned stock engines to over 800 hp. The reason they can do that is because of the very durable cast-iron block. Once you start upgrading the internals there aren’t really any limits to how far the 2JZ can be pushed. There are many examples out there with over 2000 hp+.
Likely the best engine to have come out of Toyota’s manufacturing plant.
Surely the most unique engine on this list, the 13B-REW is a Rotary engine, more specifically a Wankel engine. Unlike an ordinary engine with pistons, a rotary engine utilizes a triangle-shaped rotor that spins around inside the combustion chamber creating combustion.
The 13B-REW utilizes sequential turbocharging whereas the first turbocharger provides a boost up to 4,500 RPM when the second turbocharger starts to work. Even though the 13B engine only had 1.3L displacement the JDM version still put out close to 280 hp in stock form.
The 13B-REW is notoriously famous for its amazing sounding (BRRP BRRP BRRP) idle and high revving engine. And in the hands of a tuner can easily be transformed into a complete powerhouse. Unfortunately, the Wankel engine is known for being quite unreliable and expensive to maintain.
The 13B-REW was exclusively used in the JDM legend Mazda RX-7 FD.
Decades of hard work and experience with 6-cylinder engines resulted in the creation of the RB26DETT. The RB26 is part of the RB-engine series and features variations of inline-6 engines.
The RB26DETT features a twin-turbocharged 2.6L DOHC 24-valve with a cast iron block, equal to the 2JZ engine. On paper, the RB26DETT was rated by Nissan at around 280 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque (353 Nm). But the reality is, that stock engines proved to have more power than that, most stock RB26DETT usually fall in between 320-340 hp.
The RB26DETT was built to be used in the 1989 R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R. But the RB26 proved to be so good, that they reused it for the next generation GT-R and the next one after that until eventually discontinued for the R35 GT-R’s 3.8L VR38DETT engine.
In terms of success, the RB26DETT stands unchallenged. In fact, after the discontinuation of the engine, there was still a huge demand for it, so in 2019 Nissan decided to restart production of this 30-year-old engine.
The RB26DETT engine has had such an impact on the automobile industry over in Japan. It was completely unchallenged in racing form, super reliable, and offered incredible performance. It also indirectly forced Toyota to come out with a response, which netted us the 2JZ.
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