The Best AWD JDM Cars of All Time!
Last Updated on July 13, 2022 by E. Lindgren
AWD might not be the first thing to come to mind when thinking of JDM cars. But truth be told, some of history’s greatest AWD cars just happen to come out of Japan. Not only has Japan produced some of the best AWD rally cars, but has also manufactured quirky and unique vehicles such as the Delica Star Wagon.
This list will be not a buying guide for any new-school vehicles. This list solely focuses on older JDM cars from the eighties- nineties, and early noughties.
Rating cars by “greatness” might seem vague. So, to clear things up, we will rate based not only on performance, but the overall impact on car culture, communities, and uniqueness. A car doesn’t need to do everything flawlessly in order to be classified as ‘great’.
These are the greatest AWD JDM cars of all time – enjoy!
Mitsubishi Galant VR-4
The Galant VR-4 is the predecessor to the legendary Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. This model was manufactured in order to comply with the World Rally Championships Group A regulations. The Group A regulations required at least 5,000 sales of the vehicle which should be entered in the Group A rally. Other regulations included maximum engine displacement of 2.0L and four-wheel-drive requirements.
Thus, Mitsubishi developed an engine so good, that it still to this day is considered one of the best engines ever produced – the 2.0L I4 Turbo (4G63T). This compact engine was lightweight and produced a respectable 237hp.
The Mitsubishi Galant VR-4 was way ahead of the competition, Mitsubishi basically showed off their entire arsenal packing the VR-4 with everything from a 4-wheel-steering system (yeah, in 1987) to all-around independent suspension, Dynamic Electronic Controlled Suspension (Dynamic ESC) and all the latest comfort technology available.
Mitsubishi put a lot of money into the suspension and handling of the Galant VR-4 – and that did show.
The VR-4 Was very responsive and agile, and even though the VR-4 was a street version of the rally car it was surprisingly comfortable to be in.
Ultimately, the Galant VR-4 was a huge success – both the street and rally versions. As regulations changed for the WRC the Galant eventually came to be new the Mitsubishi Evolution Lancer.
Toyota Celica GT-4
Alike the Galant VR-4 the Toyota Celica GT-4 was purely manufactured as a homologation special vehicle in order for Toyota to enter the WRC. The Celica GT-4 came in three generations, the ST165, ST185, and ST205 whereas the ST185 had the most success in the WRC.
The Celica GT-4 featured the 2.0L I4 Turbo (3S-GTE) and produced
185HP – ST165
222HP – ST185
239HP (Export) 252HP (JDM) – ST205
The Celica featured a permanent 4WD system and came available with a 5-speed manual transmission.
The Celica GT-4 has become really special for Toyota, but perhaps also on behalf of all Japanese brands. Historically the European brands had dominated the AWD World Rally Championship, and the Japanese brands basically participated just for show – up until Toyota entered with the Celica GT-4.
The Toyota Celica GT-4 was the first-ever AWD Japanese manufactured car to win a WRC. The Celica sat as an example to other Japanese manufacturers that it was possible to beat the European brands. In fact, the Celica GT-4 managed to win four championships and is often considered to be the most successful Japanese rally car.
The Celica GT-4 got disqualified in 1995 due to an illegal turbo restrictor.
Nissan Pulsar GTI-R
Another Group A rival, the Nissan Pulsar GTI-R was Nissans shot at the Group A World Rally Championship.
The Pulsar GTI-R featured the famous 2.0L I4 Turbo (SR20DET) engine producing 230HP. The road-going version received a 5-speed manual and a permanent 4WD ATTESA system.
The Hatchback featured a large hood bulge as well as a large rear spoiler. The GTI-R provided an unchallenged presence on the roads, and it is hard to mistake the GTI-R for anything else than a rally car.
Unfortunately for the Pulsar GTI-R, it was not nearly as successful as its Japanese brethren during the Group A WRC. Finishing in third place as best in the Swedish Rally in 1992. Nissan retired the GTI-R just after nine rallies and Nissan redirected funding from the WRC towards Le Mans.
The main fault for the GTI-R failure in the WRC was thought to be issued to the inefficiency of the engine during hot weather. Also it is thought that the Dunlop tires used by the GTI-R were not up to standard in comparison to the competition.
Although, all is not bad. The GTI-R did see success in the Group N Championship (FIA) and managed 1st and 2nd place in 1992 proving that the GTI-R did have potential.
Perhaps the most famous rally car of all the Impreza has had an impressive rally history with many wins under its belt.
The Subaru Impreza featured 2.0L Turbocharged F4 (EJ207) engine with the homologation version of the Subaru Impreza WRX 555 having around 280hp (300hp). Fitted with a six-speed and Subaru’s famous 4WD system the Subaru Impreza was a riot.
Subaru put a lot of capital into developing the ultimate rally car – and it gave results. The Subaru handled exceptionally well, and thanks to its balanced 4WD system were surprisingly easy to maneuver. The Boxer-4 engine seems to perform slightly better than the competitors ’Inline-4s.
Drivers such as Richard Burns, Per Eklund, and Colin McRae saw great success with the Impreza. Over McRae’s career with the Subaru Impreza, he saw 16 rally victories as well as a WRC championship win in 1995.
The Impreza continued seeing success in WRC up until 2008 when Subaru decided to withdraw from competing in the World Rally Championship.
Nissan Skyline GT-R
Named ‘Godzilla’ by the Australian motoring press, the Skyline GT-R was as some would say “next-level”. Not only was the GT-R powered by the legendary 2.6L I6 TT (RB26DDET) the power was put down with Nissan’s advanced 4-wheel-drive system (ATTESA E-TS).
Although not being used for rallying, the Skyline GT-R entered and won many different circuit races. In Japan, the R-32 GT-R entered the Japanese Touring Car Championship (JTCC), and with the 29 races it entered, it won all 29. This goes to show how insanely good the GT-R was.
Between 1990 and 1992, the GT-R totally destroyed the opposition in both the Group A Championship, winning three times in a row, and the Bathurst 1000 twice. Its own success was what kept it from winning any longer. Due to its clearly superior 4-wheel-drive system, instant power, and low weight, the Nissan GT-R was finally banned from races.
Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon
An oddball to say the least the Delica Star Wagon is a passenger JDM van that is a mid-front engine. The first generation only came with RWD, but ever since 1979 the Star Wagon was available with 4X4.
The Star Wagon has become extremely popular in the states ever since it was allowed to be imported. It’s quirky, and there is no other car like this one. So basically, the Delica is an “off-road van”. Perhaps most commonly being used as a camper or road trip vehicle.
The Delica was available with a range of engine options, including both petrol and diesel engines. The majority were Inline-4 (I4) engines with displacements ranging from 1.1 L (1,088CC) to 2.6 L. (2,607 CC). Different engines were available for different markets, including a 3.2 Liter Inline 5 (I5) Ford Duratorq engine for the Chinese market. The I4 Turbo-diesel model with 80-110 horsepower was the most popular.
You could also select from a number of other transmission options. A 3-speed automatic transmission or a 4-speed manual transmission was available for the second generation. The third generation was available with either a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission. For offroad use, this generation included 4-High, 2-High, and 4-Low gearing.