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The top 7 JDM cars of the 1990s

Which JDM car from the 1990s is your favorite?

1995 Acura NSX-T
Acura / Acura

Back in the 1990s, long before the era of EVs and hybrid vehicles, the most technologically advanced cars you could buy all came from Japan.

However, the term “JDM car” can be somewhat misleading at times. While initially, it literally meant a car available for the Japanese domestic market, many enthusiasts have morphed its translation into simply a reference to a car that was built by a Japanese company with no regard for the actual market in which it was sold. So, we decided to split the difference and offer up the best seven cars of Japanese descent. With one lone exception, all of these cars were available in both Japan and the United States at one time or another.

It should also be noted that during the 1990s, Japanese automakers had an unspoken handshake deal that sports cars had to have a power cap of 276 hp. Of course, all the companies participated and quoted power peaks that mysteriously all seemed to touch that limit but never exceed it. Yet many of those same cars magically made gobs more power once they made it to our shores with little or no changes to their engines. Read on for the full list!

Mazda RX-7

WikiCommons / WikiCommons

Having existed since the late 1970s, the third FD generation of Mazda’s RX-7 was easily the most dynamic and lusted after by enthusiasts worldwide. Produced from 1991 to 2002 in the Japanese market (domestic production ended in 1995), the RX-7 got its power from a funky 13B-REW Wankel twin-rotary engine. Complementing this unique setup was a set of sequential twin-turbochargers, the first ever mass-produced and exported from Japan.

At its peak, the FD RX-7 produced 276 hp and 232 lb-ft of torque channeled through either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Combined with its sub-2,500-pound curb weight, the RX-7 was a devilish delight to whip around road courses and race tracks.

Nissan R34 Skyline

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Known as Godzilla around the world, the Nissan Skyline had a reputation in the United States long before anyone imported one here. While the debate rages as to which is the best version, the R32, R33, or R34, we chose the R34 due to its technologically advanced setup, shorter wheelbase, and more streamlined (and dramatic) body compared to its predecessors.

Produced from 1996 to 2002, the R34 was powered by a 2.6-liter twin-turbocharged inline-six-cylinder engine that allegedly produced 276 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque. That power was then sent through a six-speed manual transmission before heading out to all four corners via Nissan’s traction-happy all-wheel drive setup.

Mitsubishi GTO/3000GT VR-4

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Known in Japan as the GTO, Mitsubishi decided to go with the name 3000GT VR-4 outside of its home country so as not to draw the ire of Pontiac and Ferrari GTO purists who might not be willing to share. The 3000 refers to the engine’s displacement in cubic centimeters, while the GT refers to the big car’s grand touring driving experience. VR-4 was an acronym for Viscous Real-Time 4-Wheel-Drive, with a nod to the drivetrain’s viscous coupling center differential.

Despite weighing more than 3,700 pounds, the VR-4 was a techno-wonder (for the early 1990s), utilizing all-wheel drive, all-wheel steering, and an Active Aero system (on earlier cars). Oddly enough, the American version used the same 3.0-liter transversely mounted V-6, which produced 320 hp and 308 lb-ft of torque at its peak, while the Japanese GTO somehow only managed, yup, you guessed it, 276 hp and 308 lb-ft of torque.

Toyota Supra Twin Turbo

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Arguably the king of the JDM world, the furiously fast fourth-generation A80 Toyota Supra Twin Turbo was christened as import royalty thanks to its co-starring role with Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. Sold in the States from 1993 to 1998 (with 1996 being the lone exception due to NHTSA issues) and in Japan from 1993 until 2002, the Supra Twin Turbo made 320 hp and 315 lb-ft of torque domestically while strangely making only 276 hp, yet the same 315 lb-ft of torque in the JDM.

But even before its Hollywood stardom, the Supra Twin Turbo was capable of being an apex predator on drag strips thanks to its mythical 2JZ motor. The 2JZ engine sported a supremely stout bottom end capable of handling upwards of 800 hp before any work was needed.

Acura Integra Type-R

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Known as the Honda Integra in the Japanese market, the Type-R was the pinnacle of this model’s third generation. Available in Japan from 1995 to 2001 and in the U.S. market for just its final two years, the Integra Type-R made its power from the (now) legendary 1.8-liter naturally aspirated B18 inline-four-cylinder that made 195 hp and 130 lb-ft of torque while redlining at a dizzying 8,400 rpm thanks to its Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC).

Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo

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Known as the Fairlady Z in the JDM world, the second-generation Z32 may not get the same level of reverence as the mighty Skyline, but sleeping on this Z car was a mistake for any unsuspecting Camaro or Mustang driver. Powered by yet another 3.0-liter twin-turbo that, not surprisingly, made 276 hp and 283 lb-ft of torque in JDM guise while making an even 300 hp and the same 283 lb-ft when it made its way to the United States.

Produced from 1989 to 2000 in Japan and from 1990 to 1996 in the U.S., the 300ZX Twin Turbo offered technological advancements like four-wheel steering that was also speed-sensitive. Packaged with an unmistakable shape and style, this JDM hot rod puts the ‘Grand’ in Grand Touring.

Acura NSX

WikiCommons / WikiCommons

While some may debate the NSX as a true JDM car because of its lofty price tag, it’s almost impossible not to give this amazing car a nod for its sheer excellence. Developed as a supercar that could be driven daily, the Honda (JDM) or Acura NSX was the ultimate offering from Japan for many years.

Honda’s Project NS-X (for New Sports eXperimental) was initially made with a model-specific aluminum block and heads, mid-mounted, 3.0-liter naturally aspirated V6 that made a reasonably impressive (for 1990 anyway) 270 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque. However, it ultimately ended up maxing out with a 3.2-liter V-6, making 290 hp and 224 lb-ft of torque.

Produced from 1991 to 2005, the NSX checked in at about a ham sandwich over 3,000 pounds for most of its life, which for some perspective is nearly one ton lighter than the second generation hybrid NSX that debuted in 2017. Light, agile, and perfectly happy carving up canyon roads, the NSX even offered good fuel economy compared to some of the Italian gas-guzzling tempests it competed with. Though it may have cost more than most other JDM sports cars of its era, the first-generation NSX proved that it was money well spent.

Editors' Recommendations

Lou Ruggieri
A lifelong lover of cars, Lou contributes to Motor Trend, Hot Cars, Auto & Truck Connection, and the PowerAutoMedia Group.
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