11 Best JDM Cars Of The Nineties

Joe Terrell
08/03/20183rd August, 2018
Filed under Car Guides

We present eleven of the best JDM cars of the nineties and the latest news on their state of the art successors.

jdm car

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The best JDM cars of the nineties

There’s no doubt that car enthusiasts consider the 1990s to be the golden era for Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) cars.

Electric cars were still a distant vision at the tail end of the last decade and the performance vehicles rolling off the production line in Japan’s powerhouse motor industry were still entirely mechanical.

Interested in a JDM car for drifting? Try our best drift cars for beginners article.

At the time, Japan’s economy was booming and disposable income was at an all-time high. With the nation’s car owners facing strict vehicle inspections, drivers concentrated on innovation over durability and frequently updated their cars.

According to French research, a car in Japan travels a yearly average of just 5,800 miles, compared to the UK average of 7,900 miles.

What does JDM stand for?

JDM stands for Japaense Domestic Market. This is a generic term that doesn’t just apply to cars.

Are JDM cars legal in the US?

JDM cars are legal for importation in the United States once they reach 25 years of age or older.

Is Nissan a JDM?

Nissan is a JDM brand. The Nissan Motor Company Ltd is a Japanese multi-national car manufacturer that is headquartered in Nishi-ku, Yokohama, Japan. Nissan sells cars to most western automotive markets.

This allowed the 90’s market to be geared towards petrol heads with Japanese manufacturers prioritising their newly refined technologies and designs for JDM cars before considering the international market.

As these high performance masterpieces begun hitting the streets, little did they know that these cars would maintain a huge cult following across the world to the present day with ever-increasing prices and popularity.

If you are looking for a new car specifically to put your mark on it and tune it to your heart’s content, then check out our best tuner cars article.

With this game-changing history in mind, let us take you back to the glory days as we check out our best JDM cars of the Nineties!

jdm cars mazda rx7

Mazda RX-7 FD

  • Model year: 1991-2002
  • Engine displacement: 1.3 litre twin-turbo
  • Power output: 252-276 bhp
  • Drivetrain configuration: RWD

The FD was the third generation of the legendary Mazda RX7, this stylish front-engine rear wheel drive sports car attracted a huge following due to its sleek design and powerful performance.

The RX-7 was noted for its lightweight construction and unique twin turbo-chargers. It was the first ever mass-produced sequential twin-turbocharger system to come from Japan. The compact rotary engine was housed behind the front axle, which gave the vehicle a 50/50 front and rear weight balance combined with a low centre of gravity.

The car accelerated from 0-62 mph in 5.9 seconds, achieving a top speed of 155mph. The twin rotors gave it a wealth of torque throughout the entire rev range. Its innovative construction made it easy to handle and a joy to drive.

The Mazda RX-7 became a key JDM car because the engine gave a financial benefit to its Japanese owners. As the engine size was below 1.5 litres, this made the annual road tax more affordable whilst still offering more power than traditional inline engines.

In Britain, sales were initially slow but a price drop and word of mouth recommendations led to a surge in interest and the RX-7 became so popular that there were more parallel and grey market models brought into the country than Mazda UK had ever imported before.

Check out Rick’s Tuned RX-7 FD3S

red mazda rx7

Want to see a tuned RX-7 out in the wild? Check out “Rotary” Ricks stunning Mazda RX-7 in this full Drifted feature.

jdm cars honda nsx

Honda NSX

  • Model year: 1990 - 2005
  • Engine displacement: 3 litres
  • Power output: 270-290 bhp
  • Drivetrain configuration: RWD

The first generation Honda NSX bucked the trend of low-budget JDM cars as it was designed to compete against Ferrari’s high performance models of the time and was marketed as the first “everyday supercar.”

This two seater mid-engine sports car was more reliable and exceeded the performance of its Italian rivals more expensive models despite its lower price.

Honda achieved this aim by using the powerful 3.0 litre 24 valve VTEC V6 engine, which incorporated innovative variable valve timing. They also installed titanium connecting rods, which lowered the reciprocating weight and improved the vehicle’s strength.

This allowed an additional 700 rpm, which brought the engine redline to 8000 rpm. The design of the car’s bodywork was based on the inside of the F-16 fighter jet’s cockpit. It was intended to give 360 degree visibility by moving the cabin forward and the long tail enhanced directional stability at high speed.

The vehicle accelerated from 0-60 mph in 5.7 seconds, with a top speed of 168 mph.

The NSX was designed to showcase several of the Japanese manufacturer’s automotive technologies, with many taken from its Formula One motorsports division. Honda had significant developmental resources at its disposal and put them to good use with this model.

Japanese F1 driver Saturo Nakajima and the late Brazilian world champion Ayrton Senna put the vehicle through its paces at the Suzuka race circuit, performing endurance driving to test the chassis tuning.

The Japanese domestic market continued to set trends as the Honda NSX was the first production car to feature an all-aluminium semi-monocoque unit body, which included a revolutionary extruded aluminium alloy frame and suspension components.

Using aluminium instead of steel saved nearly 200kg in weight in the car’s body alone, while the aluminium suspension arms saved a further 20kg in weight. This lightweight construction made the NSX easy to handle and a pleasure to drive.

Other innovations included an anti-lock brake system and electric power steering. These features meant the Honda NSX was durable and offered great value for money and quickly became one of the most popular JDM cars. This in-turn forced Ferrari to up their game, making its cars more reliable and easier to maintain.

jdm cars toyota supra

Toyota Supra MKIV

  • Model year: 1993 - 2002
  • Engine displacement: 3 litres
  • Power output: 276-326 bhp
  • Drivetrain configuration: RWD

The fourth generation of the Toyota Supra was a major departure from its 1980s counterpart. The previous boxy styling was replaced by a sophisticated curvaceous look and a large rear wing.

The car was redesigned to place a greater emphasis on performance and featured the legendary twin turbo-charged 2JZ engine. The twin turbos worked sequentially, boosting the engine and enhancing torque. The vehicle accelerated from 0-60 mph in 5.1 seconds, with a top speed of 156 mph.

Toyota went to great lengths to reduce the weight of this new model. Aluminium was used extensively and other measures included hollow carpet fibres, a magnesium-alloy steering wheel, a plastic petrol tank and lid, gas-injected rear spoiler and a single pipe exhaust.

Despite having more features than its predecessor, such as dual airbags, traction control, larger brakes, wheels, tyres and additional turbo, it still weighed in at 91kg lighter. This made it heavier than the Mazda RX7 and the Honda NSX, but it was still featured fantastic handling.

The Toyota Supra is one of the most sought-after JDM cars in the aftermarket scene and had a big effect on the counterculture, featuring in video games such as Gran Turismo and Need For Speed and The Fast And The Furious films.

jdm cars nissan skyline gtr

Nissan Skyline GT-R

  • Model year: 1989 -2002
  • Engine displacement: 2.6 litres
  • Power output: 276 bhp
  • Drivetrain configuration: AWD

The Nissan Skyline GT-R was initially produced between 1969 and 1973 as a touring car, with the later models known as the legendary “Kenmeri”. The model was revived in 1989 due to the brand’s desire to dominate motorsport.

Three generations of the vehicle were made and quickly became flagship Nissan performance cars.

The R32 model was designed to compete in Group A racing, the R33 updated the vehicle’s styling and the R34 lured enthusiasts partly because of its in-depth on-board analysis system and great looks. The vehicle showcased many advanced technologies such as the ATTESA E-TS all-wheel drive system and SUPER-HICAS four-wheel steering.

This product was the culmination of a decade’s worth of motor racing knowledge which cemented the model’s status at the forefront of JDM cars. The Nissan Skyline GT-R has become an iconic sports car, being named by Top Gear “as the only true Japanese contribution in the line of super cars” and by Jeremy Clarkson as “one of the best cars in the world.”

You can learn more about getting your hands on your own Skyline here: Why are Nissan Skylines illegal in the United States?

jdm cars subaru impreza

Subaru Impreza WRX STI

  • Model year: 1992-2000
  • Engine displacement: 2 litres
  • Power output: 247-276 bhp
  • Drivetrain configuration: AWD

The performance-orientated Subaru Impreza WRX STI was designed to compete in the World Rally Championship. (WRX stands for World Rally eXperimental). Innovative technology such as an all-wheel drive drivetrain, stiffened suspension and a turbo-charged engine made it a rallying legend.

The Subaru Tecnica International (STI) models were exclusive JDM cars and were not available outside Japan. They were upgraded from the standard WRX vehicle with performance-tuned engines, transmissions and suspensions.

The STI was very successful in rallies and popular with street racers. It even found fame on the big screen after featuring in Edgar Wright’s cult heist film Baby Driver.

jdm cars mitsubishi evolution

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI

  • Model year: 1999-2001
  • Engine displacement: 2 litres
  • Power output: 276 bhp
  • Drivetrain configuration: AWD

This sports sedan was the Subaru Impreza’s arch rival. It featured turbo-charged inline four-cylinder engines and a five-speed manual gearbox. The sixth generation was updated to improve cooling and engine durability.

It received new bodywork and the huge fog lights were reduced in size and moved to the corners for better airflow.

The Tommi Makinen edition was named after the Finnish racing legend, after he won four World Rallying Championships for Mitsubishi.

This version came with 17 inch Enkei white wheels, a faster-spooling titanium turbine, a lower ride height and quicker steering ratio.

All these improvements meant that the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution was now stronger and more impressive than ever.

These models quickly became significant JDM cars as they were originally limited to Japan, however, specific demand from grey import markets led to them being sold in the UK, Europe and USA.

jdm cars honda integra type r

Honda DC2 Integra Type R

  • Model year: 1995 - 2001
  • Engine displacement: 1.8 litres
  • Power output: 200 bhp
  • Drivetrain configuration: FWD

The Honda DC2 Integra Type R was introduced exclusively to the Japanese domestic market and is widely acclaimed as one of the best front-wheel drive cars ever created. The Type R variant had a standard 200 PS engine and was equipped with a close ratio five-speed manual transmission and a helical limited-slip differential.

It was a significant upgrade from previous Integra models and boasted improved performance and handling.

The extensive changes included a strengthened chassis, reduced weight (this was achieved through using reduced sound insulation, a thinner windscreen and lighter wheels), more power, a hand-built engine, revised intake and exhaust systems and suspension upgrades. The VTEC technology allowed the engine redline to boast an impressive 8500 rpm.

The Type R was updated again in 1998. The main changes were a re-designed rear bumper, 16 inch wheels, bigger brakes and higher gear ratios. A further update in 2000 included a revised intake camshaft and more finely balanced drive shafts.

Honda lost money on every DC2 Integra Type R sold because of increased manufacturing costs due to its hand-finished production. The DC2 was critically acclaimed due to its legendary handling and high-revving engine and took its place amongst the best JDM cars of the Nineties.

jdm cars nissan silvia

Nissan Silvia

  • Model year: 1989-2002
  • Engine displacement: 2 litres
  • Power output: 133-247 bhp
  • Drivetrain configuration: RWD

It was an instant hit in Japan and won the nation’s Car of The Year Award in 1989. This two door sports coupe also made a huge impression on the drifting scene as owners modified it to compete in competitions or on the touge.

The first 90’s model was originally introduced as the Silvia S13, featuring the CA18 engine which was later updated with the SR20 which also featured in the later S14 and S15 models.

Owners had a choice of turbo-charged or naturally-aspirated 1.8 litre engines for CA engines and 2 litre for SR’s. Consumers had the option of a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic gear ratio.

A six-speed manual was also added for the S15. A limited-slip differential was also available with some models, which offered drivers the ability to drift the car right out of the showroom. The Silvia is remembered as a low-slung sports car that helped to bring an incredible affordable chassis to the masses.

It is a now a firm favourite amongst fans of JDM cars from their Nineties heyday.

Check out the Kazama Auto built Nissan Silvia S15

kazama auto silvia s15

Japanese tuners have been pushing the envelope with the Silvia S15 for years, this Kazama Auto built Silvia is one of my favourites.

jdm cars nissan 300zx

Nissan 300 ZX

  • Model year: 1989 – 2000
  • Engine displacement: 3 litres
  • Power output: 300 bhp
  • Drivetrain configuration: RWD

Nissan continued their emphasis on the Japanese domestic market with the 300 ZX. They utilised the Cray-2 supercomputer and a form of CAD software, making it one of the first production cars to be designed using this tool. It was a whole new design, with a rounded body and fewer hard edges.

This second generation model retained the turbo-charged V6 engine of its predecessor but was more upmarket, being faster, larger, more capable, more advanced and much higher-priced. On the twin-turbo models, four-wheel steering was available under the name Super HICAS (High Capacity Actively Controlled Steering).

It was also offered without the turbo-charged engine and as a hard top, T-top or convertible, like many sports cars of the period. It accelerated from 0-60 mph in just over 5 seconds, with a top speed of 155 mph, making it one of the fastest Japanese sports cars of the 1990s.

As well as impressive speed figures, due to its well-tuned chassis, sport-orientated suspension and active rear steering it was classed as an impressive all-rounder. It was a leading exponent of JDM cars and featured a number of trim variants that were not available on the international market.

These included the “Version R” with Recaro front seats, leather rear seats in the four seater and larger side skirts.

jdm cars honda civic type r

Honda EK9 Civic Type R

  • Model year: 1997 - 2001
  • Engine displacement: 1.6 litres
  • Power output: 182 bhp
  • Drivetrain configuration: FWD

This is the highest performance version of the Honda Civic and it was at the forefront of JDM cars because it was unavailable outside Japan. It is a three door hatchback with a lightened and stiffened body, specially tuned engine and upgraded brakes and chassis.

The model was designed on sporting lines with the interior featuring a wealth of red fittings and a stylish leather-wrapped steering wheel.

A red badge was used to accentuate this distinction and differentiate it from other Honda models. This emphasis on sporting success continued in 1998, when the Motorsports edition was released. It featured steel wheels but no air conditioning, power windows, power steering or radio and the standard Type R interior.

Like its counterpart, the Integra Type R, the Civic was modified to fit Honda’s vision of a car capable of high performance on the racetrack. Other similarities between the two vehicles were the omission of sound-deadening and other weight-reduction measures, a hand-ported B16B engine, front helical limited-slip differential and a close-ratio five-speed manual gearbox.

These made the model more stable and reduced wheel spin while racing. The B16B engine generated one of the highest power outputs per litre of all time for a naturally-aspirated engine, with 182 bhp. In a further innovation, for the first time a strategically seam-welded monocoque chassis was used to improve the car’s rigidity.

If you could tone down the paint and styling, a tuned civic could make for an excellent street sleeper.

jdm cars nissan pulsar gtir

Nissan Pulsar GTI-R

  • Model year: 1990 - 1994
  • Engine displacement: 2 litres
  • Power output: 186-227 bhp
  • Drivetrain configuration: AWD

This fourth generation Pulsar shares many characteristics with the Nissan Skyline GT-R, such as its hardcore all-wheel drive and turbo-charged ethos. It is a triumph of substance over style – it’s certainly not the prettiest car out there!.

What it lacks in style, this small pocket-rocket makes up for in sheer power and driver enjoyment.
The Nissan Pulsar (its name refers to a pulsating star) built up an enthusiastic following in Japan.

Its cult status developed despite little promotion from the manufacturer. This unpretentious five seater hatchback was specifically produced to enter the World Rally Championship. It accelerates from 0-60 mph in 5.4 seconds, with a top speed of 144 mph.

What future JDM legends are on the horizon?

These classic JDM cars are now being upgraded and modified by the next generation of petrol heads who get to enjoy it all over again.

jdm cars toyota supra a90

Toyota Supra (A90)

Meanwhile, as time advances, the brand new A90 Toyota Supra will be released next year, following its debut at the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed.

It is one of the most eagerly-anticipated performance car launches of 2019 and the Supra promises to be an uncompromising vehicle.

The model is rumoured to offer up to 330 bhp and 450 Nm of torque (and an additional 50Nm available with overboost) from a 3.0 litre turbo-charged in-line straight six engine. It will sprint from 0-62 mph in just 3.8 seconds.

The dimensions are: 4.38m in length, 1.86m wide and 1.29m tall with a 2.47m wheelbase. The six cylinder version is said to weigh just under 1500kg.

Toyota describe the Supra as a “pure sports car” and potential owners are likely to modify it to fit their own specifications. The provision of an automatic transmission or a manual gearbox is still under discussion.

Toyota’s new Gazoo Racing team will play a big role in the development of the new vehicle, with the Supra set to be entered into competition. Insiders claim that the new model will come in four variants: The basic Supra, Supra GR, Supra GR Sport and the Supra GRMN.

nissan silvia s16

Nissan Silvia (S16)

The long-awaited Nissan Silvia S16 has also been rumoured to be released in 2021. The model was discontinued in 2002, so aficionados of JDM cars will undoubtedly rejoice should this day come to fruition!

It is expected to be a worthy successor to the Silvia lineage and cement the vehicle’s reputation for quality and drive-ability.

Nissan are expected to develop a bespoke platform for the S16, which will be relatively lightweight. The end result should keep with the ethos of being a lightweight rear-wheel-drive sports car with almost 50:50 weight distribution.

The car is rumoured to be receiving a new generation 2.0 litre turbo-charged in-line four cylinder engine, which should deliver in excess of 300 bhp. You can read our complete Nissan Silvia S16 guide right here.

jdm cars nissan gtr

Nissan GTR

The new generation Nissan GTR is a supercar that lives up to its name. It is fitted with a 3.8 litre twin-turbo V6 engine and horsepower and torque have both increased from the previous model, now standing at 565 bhp and 637 Nm with a whopping top speed of 196mph.

The model features enhanced aerodynamics with greater downforce and improved body rigidity for more stability and better handling. This new Nissan GTR is on sale now. You might also want to check out our new Nissan 400Z guide.

Want more JDM cars?

Now that you’ve read our JDM cars primer, are you ready to start drifting? Then check out our best drift cars for beginners feature.

Do you own a JDM car from the nineties? If you do, chances are your headlights suck! Try our best headlight bulb guide to help modernise your cars night driving capabilities. Chipped windscreen? Check out this excellent windscreen repair guide.

Turbocharger Vs Supercharger – What’s best? Find out the answer in our turbocharger vs supercharger guide.

New to drifting? You’ll be wanting our 101 Drifting guide.

If you’re a lover of 90s JDM cars, you need to check out our kei cars guide.

Photography credits

Drifted would like to extend thanks to the following sources for use of their images:

author avatar Written by Joe Terrell Drifted.com founder, motoring journalist and all-round car enthusiast. Read more about Joe and the Drifted team on our about us page.

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