JDM - General

These Are the 5 Best JDM Starter Cars

Purchasing your first JDM car is as exciting as Christmas eve when you’re 6 years old, or when you could legally purchase booze at your local supermarket. However, excitement can very often lead to bad purchases. While most JDM cars are really great and unique in their own way, some of them are very expensive to own and maintain (I’m looking at you *insert rotary-powered car*). The good news is that on the other half there are many great JDM cars that are very suitable as a starter car. We will go through some of them, as well as go through some cars to avoid.

The cars on this list will be considered to be used as daily drivers, and thus will not take into account any significant aftermarket modification made. If you tune your car to twice the factory hp and it breaks, it is not the car’s fault and should therefore not be considered “unreliable”.

Five Excellent JDM Starter Cars

Mazda Miata

The most common, and perhaps the greatest JDM car of all time considering the vast assortment of aftermarket parts, reliability, and performance.

Although the Mazda Miata prices are steadily increasing this is still an excellent first purchase for somebody wishing to get themselves their first JDM car. And anybody not agreeing with this likely hasn’t driven one before.

The Miata is a RWD coupé and or roadster which is powered by a naturally aspirated inline-four producing anywhere between 116hp to 181hp depending on the year of the model, and engine choice.

The Miata is most famously known for its lightweight and incredibly good handling. It is not uncommon to see these cars be used for track-driving, hill climbs, and drifting (even in stock form).

Honestly, you can never go wrong with a Miata as a starter car. These cars are already great from the factory, but if that is not enough there is an endless sea of aftermarket opportunities available.

Nissan 240/200 SX (S13, S14)

Likely the first car which comes to mind when thinking of an entry-level JDM coupé fit as a starter car. The first Nissan 240/200 SX to be exported to Europe and the U.S. is the S13 iteration. And depending on the export market came with a different engine (hence the name).

The U.S. got the shorter end of the stick and ended up with a naturally aspirated 2.4L KA24E and KA24DE producing 140 hp and 155 hp respectively.

Europe received the turbocharged 1.8L CA18DET engine producing about 169 hp through the rear wheels which were actually quite good at the time considering the relatively light weight of 1220 kg (2690 lbs.).

The S14 iteration of the 240 SX kept the same 2.4L KA24DE engine, but Europe finally received the 2.0L turbocharged SR engine.

These S-chassis are quite reliable and are easy to work on. There is an abundance of aftermarket parts and upgrades, but the fact remains, that it is likely harder to find an unmodified S-chassis than one with aftermarket parts.

The earlier models, the S14 and more specifically the S13 can be had for quite cheap. Especially the U.S. versions which received the KA24DE.

If you are unhappy with the powerband you can always purchase a turbo-kit or do an engine swap. But there is always the opportunity to find one of the SR models since many of these models have now been imported to both the U.S. and Europe (although in RHD layout).

Honda S2000 AP1

Perhaps not the cheapest car on this list, but certainly one with character. The S2000 came either as a roadster/convertible or as a coupé. The S2000 is powered by the incredible 2.0L F20C Inline-4 and produces about 241 hp for the export markets. And at the time held the record for highest horsepower per liter for an impressive 11 years before finally getting beat by the Ferrari 458.

The way it held those high numbers was the high compression rate combined with an astonishing 9,000 a RPM redline.

The S2000 came only with rear-wheel-drive (RWD) layout and a manual transmission.

As having driven an S2000 myself I just have to say the handling is fantastic, and the manual gearbox is amazing (but we all knew Honda made great manuals). The drive itself is precise and accurate, and the noise is just an eargasm in itself.

A side note worth mentioning is just that the S2000 is somehow incredibly reliable, even considering the high compression rates. This is Honda at its peak, if you take care of the regular maintenance this car will last you a long time. If you have the cash, this is a fantastic first JDM starter car. It looks good, it sounds good, it’s fast, and there is not much which can go wrong.  

First Generation Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ

With the release of the second generation GT86 the first generation just keeps looking more and more like a bargain. At the time of release, the first generation 86 received a lot of slack for lack of power (200 hp). And although it could have used a few more ponies, it was an exceptional driver’s car.

I’d like to see the 86 as a faster Mazda Miata. It has the same principle as the Miata, although in a slightly larger shell, and a few more ponies. Arguably it looks better as well, but that depends on who you ask.

Prices have been driven down now for a time, and although the used car market is kind of on steroids, the 86 can still be had for a reasonable price.

The reliability for the 86 is quite good, and unless you totally dip out on the maintenance and treat it like douche, then you’ll have no problems.

If you’re looking for a great handling car, and a car that isn’t a Miata but that comes quite close to it, then the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ is the perfect JDM starter car for you.

Nissan 350Z

Perhaps the most common JDM starter car on this list. And a good reason for that, it is cheap, has a great sounding V6, RWD layout, and looks good.

At first glance, the 305 hp V6 in the relatively small chassis looks like it could pack some punch, but on second look, the 350Z is quite on the heavy side. Weighing in at anywhere between 3,188-3,602 lbs. (1,446 kg – 1634 kg) it is no light car, and that is immediately reflected in the handling department. Still, it is the only car on this list that came with over 300 hp as standard.

The thing with the 350Z is that it really doesn’t have any strong parts. It is not great at anything specific, it is just “quite good” at many things. Which is totally fine, especially for a JDM starter car. Perhaps the strongest part with the 350Z is that you can thrash it pretty hard since the VQ35DE V6 can take a beating quite well. So, if you’re a rev-happy fool (like many of us) then the 350Z might not be such a bad choice. And the V6 does sound really good. They are a common first choice for heading into drifting.

There are quite good aftermarket parts available, but less so for the engine and more so for the exterior and suspension. Upgrading things such as the exhaust will not only slightly increase power, but also reduce weight. Purchasing some aftermarket wheels is also a common modification in order to lose a few pounds.

All-in-all a really good JDM starter car, it has no real strong, or weak points it is just an overall good car.

Which Cars to Avoid and Why

While most JDM brands are known for their reliability, there are some specific models which the same can’t be said for. These cars are some of the most atrocious JDM cars when it comes to reliability and is really complex to work on.

Mazda Rotary

Forget any Rotary vehicle from Mazda you come across. The RX-series is like Taco-Bell. It is a lovely experience until the day after when you have to do number two. The same goes for the RX-3/RX-7/RX-8 but instead of visiting the bathroom, you visit the mechanic. The rotary Wankel engine is atrocious for being incredibly unreliable. And it drinks fuel as a drunk drink’s beer. They are also very complex engines to work on.

Nissan 300ZX

The Nissan 300ZX might at first glance look like an excellent first starter car. But beneath that hood lies an infinite complex maze. The engine department of the 300ZX is known to cause trouble, and it is extremely cramped. Unless you want to spend 10 hours changing some injectors, then you’d need a lift. And some modification even requires you to completely drop the engine, not something you’d want in a first car.

E. Lindgren

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