Top 10 Japanese Sports Cars of the ’90s

Top 10 Japanese Sports Cars of the ’90s

Japanese auto manufacturers were at the top of their game in the ’90s.

There seemed to be an unwritten code that every Japanese automobile needed to have performance baked into its design. In Japan, dozens of enthusiast-focused vehicles hit the streets ranging from micro city cars to SUVs. Legends like the Skyline GT-R, Lancer Evolution, Impreza WRX STI and Stagea 260RS were born.

But you won’t see any of those cars on this list, because this is a Top 10 list of Japanese sports cars we actually got in America during the ’90s. True, a lot of the most amazing Japanese sports cars never made it overseas, but we weren’t completely denied. Even if the Celica GT-Four and Civic Type-R never made it to our shores, there were still plenty of amazing Japanese sports cars we could drive during this time period. Their time here may have been brief, and most have since disappeared like the dinosaurs, but like those beasts of old, we remember these legendary Japanese sports cars.

Here are the top 10 Japanese sports cars of the ’90s.

10. Nissan 240SX

It’s a Japanese sports car with 155 HP being sent to the rear wheels. No, this isn’t the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata, it’s the Nissan 240SX. With a relatively low curb weight of 2,700 lbs. for a rear-wheel drive compact coupe, the 240SX came with a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that as of 1991-onward made 155 HP. Although that may seem a bit weak, in the early 1990s most compact cars weren’t making that much power and nearly all weren’t rear-wheel dive like the 240SX.

With excellent handling and natural steering feel, the 240SX was a hit with the budget enthusiast. Twenty years later the 240SX lives on as a darling of the drifter world for its small, lightweight, rear-wheel drive body shell.


9. Mitsubishi Eclipse

Long before the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Subaru Impreza WRX STI made their way to North America, another turbocharged, all-wheel drive Japanese sports car was available – the Mitsubishi Eclipse. Like the Nissan 240SX, there were two generations of the Eclipse in the 1990s.

The first generation Eclipse could be had as an Eagle Talon or a Plymouth Laser as well. The most potent version of the first gen cars came with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 195 HP that could power just the front wheels or all four.

For the second generation Eclipse only the Eagle Talon lived on as its twin and the body received curvier, more modern sheet metal. The most powerful engine was a new 2.0-liter turbo four-banger that put out 210 HP and could once again be had with either front- or all-wheel drive.

8. Acura Integra Type-R

The Acura Integra Type-R may be the epitome of front-wheel drive performance vehicles. Although it isn’t the fastest FWD car ever made, it may well be the rawest and most engaging. With a 1.8-liter four-cylinder that made 195 HP and could scream up to 8,400 rpm, the amount of power produce per liter by the Integra Type R was staggering.

SEE ALSO: Top 10 Honda Civics of All Time

For those serious about performance, curb weight could be kept well under 2,600 lbs. by skipping options like air conditioning on earlier models. With a Helical LSD, less sound deadening, a thinner windshield, strengthened body structure and revised suspension, the Integra Type R was basically a compact race car for the street.

7. Mazda MX-5 Miata

What hasn’t been said about the Mazda MX-5 Miata? Taking the British roadster concept of fun, engaging, open air motoring and adding Japanese livability and reliability, the MX-5 Miata was an instant hit. Starting with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine making 116 HP, the 1990 MX-5 weighed less than 2,100 lbs.

SEE ALSO: Top 10 Best Mazda MX-5 Miata Models of All Time

By then end of the decade, many special additions of the Miata would come ago and the power would steadily increase. By 1999 a special 10th anniversary edition could be had with a 1.8-liter engine making 140 HP, a six-speed manual transmission, a LSD and Bilstein shocks.


6. Mitsubishi 3000GT

The Mitsubishi 3000GT was a technological tour de force. Items available on the big 2+2 sports coupe included all-wheel drive, four-wheel steering, a two-mode exhaust system, active aerodynamics and an electronically controlled suspension.

Through the 1990s, the 3000GT would go through three iterations, although the car’s basic shape style and would remain. Initially, the most powerful 3000GT came with a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 that made 296 HP and 306 lb-ft of torque. By the middle of the decade power had increased to 320 HP and 315 lb-ft. of torque to better match its Japanese competitors.

The biggest issue plaguing the 3000GT throughout its run was weight. Fully loaded, the Mitsubishi sports car nearly tipped the scales at 3,800 lbs. That may not sound that heavy by today’s standards, but in the early 1990s that was quite portly.


5. Toyota MR-2

In 1990, Toyota’s little mid-engine sports coupe grew up to be sexier and sportier. Now significantly heavier, the MR2 did receive a big shot in power. Base models came with a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine making 130 HP, which wasn’t bad in a well-balanced car weighing less than 2,600 lbs. But those who wanted serious performance could step up to the turbocharged model whose 2.0-liter engine put out a powerful 200 HP.

Known to be a bit tail-happy, the MR2 Turbo could be very fast in the right hands. In a straight line, it was no slouch either as 60 MPH could be attained in around six-seconds. Overall, the Toyota MR2 was a great car for those who wanted an Acura NSX or even a Ferrari, but couldn’t afford one.

4. Nissan 300ZX

Like a lot of Japanese sports cars, the 1990s ushered in a new era for the Nissan 300ZX. Larger, sexier and more powerful, the ‘Z32’ 300ZX as it is referred to could be had with a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 engine that made 300 HP and 283 lb-ft. of torque. Although those numbers don’t quite match the Mitsubishi 3000GT’s output, the Nissan 300ZX was significantly lighter with base turbo models weighing a hair over 3,300 lbs.

The 300ZX could of course come without a turbocharged engine. And like a lot of sports cars of the time, the 300ZX could be had as a hardtop, T-top or a convertible. Unlike a lot of other cars, it could also be had as a pure two-seat sports car or in a four-seat, 2+2 configuration.

With a well-tuned chassis, sport-orientated suspension and active rear steering, the 300ZX was one of the fastest Japanese sports car of the 1990s.


3. Mazda RX-7

Although it was only offered for a few short years in North America, the third generation Mazda RX-7 was something special. The peak of the rotary engine, the 1991 Mazda RX-7 came equipped with a familiar 1.3-liter rotary engine, but now featuring sequential turbochargers that gave it 255 HP and 217 lb-ft. of torque.

SEE ALSO: Retro Ride: 1993 Mazda RX-7 Review

Those numbers pale in comparison against the other super Japanese sports cars, but the RX-7 was substantially lighter, weighing just 2,800 lbs. With a willing chassis, instant response from the rotary engine and balanced weight distribution, the RX-7 was a force to be reckoned with.

Sadly, a high price tag, poor fuel efficiency and horrible emissions doomed the third generation RX-7’s fate on our shores shortly after it was introduced.

2. Acura NSX

The Acura NSX is another car that needs no introduction. Proving that supercars could be had as a livable, everyday driver, the Acura NSX turned the world of exotic cars upside down. Initially available with a naturally aspirated 3.0-liter V6 engine, the NSX made 270 HP (or 252 HP with an automatic transmission).

As the decade rolled on, the NSX received a 3.2-liter V6 engine that upped power to 290 HP. But like the Mazda RX-7 and Toyota MR2, the NSX wasn’t about all-out power. It was a car set-up with amazing chassis response, near perfect steering and a human-machine interaction not found in many other cars.

1. Toyota Supra

It really is a tossup whether the NSX or Supra deserves to be at the top of this list. But with its monstrous 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six engine, the Supra unleashed 320 HP and 315 lb-ft of torque. With power like the Mitsubishi 3000GT but a curb weight more like the Nissan 300ZX, the Supra was one of the fastest cars to come out of Japan in a straight line.

With great weight distribution, grippy tires and a well-tuned suspension, the Supra could dispatch with a corner just as easily. Sadly, by 1996 the Supra turbo monster was only available with an automatic transmission and the car would disappear altogether shortly after.

But while it was around, not much could keep with the Toyota Supra.

  • Cameron Lourenco

    You forgot the Skyline… you remembered it in your intro but forgot it in your list.
    Also, is it just me or is the NSX the only Japanese car that looks great stock? The rest are very blah… which is why the modification scene is so big on Japanese cars!

  • Andy

    Skyline wasn’t sold in NA bro. NSX should have been number one.

  • Sully

    You completely forgot the Lexus SC

  • HyundaiMan

    I agree 100% bro!

  • Nick Benoit

    how do you have a list of best Japanese sport cars and NOT have the Skyline??????? What in the world????

  • thatguy88

    The SC was a great car, but was limited by the V8 not getting the manual transmission offered, and it being severely outclassed (in sports car terms) by its platform mate, the Toyota Supra (in which they shared not only platforms, but the same inline-six engine and transmissions).

  • thatguy88

    Skyline wasn’t sold in the US until the GT-R came out (also, playing it on Gran Turismo doesn’t count). Still a cool car, though.

  • Mike Schlee

    Agreed. I left it off the list as it was a Grand Touring coupe at best. The SC 300 and SC 400 in North America were kind of lame, especially since the Soarer had the 2JZ turbo overseas.

  • Nelson Moreira

    EVO V/VI?
    Impreza 1st gen?

  • Nick Benoit

    List is titled top 10 Japanese sport cars of the 90’s. Doesn’t matter if it was sold in America or not. Should be the top of the list. No question.

  • thatguy88

    Therein lies the issue, though. Not a lot of people here in the states (or even Canada, where this site also caters) could drive the Skyline until recently (unless they traveled to Japan). So ultimately, it’s not only based on reviewer opinion, but also customer appeal based on customer experiences within their regions (again, video games, movie culture like the Fast Furious Franchise, and anime culture like Initial D don’t count). The title didn’t make that clear, but Mikw commented below this one stating exactly what I just said. He was referring to vehicles sold primarily in North America (hence why the Lexus SC didn’t make the list; it paled in comparison to the Supra in which it was based, as well as the Japense market Toyota Soarer).

    So like I said, it’s appeal outside of actuall driving it and owning here in the states doesn’t make for whterh or not a car makes this list. So yes, whether or not it was sold here in the US actuall DOES make a difference. Also, comping from a personal perspective, even I’m not a fan of the Skyline considering it wasn’t sold here. Had it been sold here (up until the GT-R came here), I’d be a fan. The NSX, in my opinion, should’ve been number one, with Nissan 300ZX being 2nd, and the Toyota Supra being 3rd.

  • Roger Carr

    Celica GT-Four did make it to US shores, from 88-93 sold as the All-Trac. First year of the 2nd Gen is 1990, we just didn’t get the third gen.

  • Codyr4

    Supra had a 6 speed manual or auto on every turbo option, all years, 98 was last year in U.S. Made til 02 pretty much everywhere but U.S.

  • Codyr4

    Nsx is great and a rare site but with tuning alone one can nearly sneeze 500hp to the wheels of a supra or a turbo sc for that matter,being an owner of one may make me bias, but I wouldn’t have bought it thinking otherwise, just my .02, and agreed that skyline and Impreza should be on the list…

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  • thatguy88

    Fuck off.

  • thatguy88


  • andygoblue

    Except that there were no commercially available Skylines available in the US, and the only Imprezas you could buy were the low-power 2.5RS version. The WRX didn’t make it to American shores until 2002, and the STi later still.

  • andygoblue

    And if you’d decided to read past the headline, you’d know that “…you won’t see any of those cars on this list, because this is a Top 10 list of Japanese sports cars we actually got in America during the ’90s. “

  • andygoblue

    No, it’s just you. I think the Integra Type-R, FD RX-7, and 1994-1995 MR2, in particular, look fantastic stock.

  • andygoblue

    Not available in the US until the 2000s. Author actually mentions those as cars we didn’t get.

  • ElKrisO

    The NSX is by far the most connected car I’ve ever driven. I want to own all of these cars.

  • Killer B

    I owned a new 280 ZX, but always wanted a new 300 ZX twin turbo. Never happened, as I got married 3 yrs. later….

  • Jerry Lor

    I believe the 88-93 (thanks to the WRC regulation at the time we even got the Celica All-Trac) Celica Turbo All-Trac should of been there instead of the eclipse. As it was first to market in the US and it was a limited production car. In other words extremely rare compare to all of the cars on the list.

  • DoctorLarry

    The 96 Supra was exported to the US ONLY with the auto. 6-spd models did not pass USG regs.

  • DoctorLarry

    Except that the Supra beat in all performance categories when they were tested head-to-head. Looks are subjective but performance is not.

  • McCheeseFist

    Except the 3000Gt always beat the Supra in actual track “Best Motoring” shootouts… so this article is wrong… I won’t even go into how absurd the 3000gto was in “gran turismo”…

  • McCheeseFist

    except it didn’t… 3000Gt beat it on the track, not until the 3000GT brakes started to fade could it even keep up…

  • McCheeseFist

    Want more proof? the supra wasn’t that good…

  • zedhex

    No it didn’t, it had the 1JZ turbo. Still a great motor though – I have a Soarer, It has the same performance on the road as a Supra without the ricer style rear wing. Its a proper wolf in sheeps clothing.

  • zedhex

    The problem with the 3000GT was that it is not so tunable. If you even do a BPU you will hit reliability problems. The Toyota JZ series and Nissan RBs engines were all detuned to meet japanese power agreements, so are very easily tuned to ridiculous levels of horsepower with little effect on reliability. The 3000GT isn’t in that category.

  • Supra <3

  • McCheeseFist

    wrong …

  • Goberdeen

    what no subaru svx???

  • Craig

    It definitely was NOT a toss up between the NSX and the Supra. The NSX was in an entirely different league. Faster doesn’t mean better. Without question – the NSX is number one.

  • Chris Barnes

    So… no 32 GTR? Let me guess, this was written by some American who is salty because they can’t really get them over there? (up until very recently) Technically it came out in 89, but there are 91/92/93/94 models. Could have also slapped the 33 GTR on there too… it’s not the best, but it’s MILES ahead of some on the list.

  • Effilya De

    I had a 82 280ZX turbo automatic that with a bunch of HKS bolt on parts managed a 13.65@104.5 traction limited quarter mile (225/60-15 rubber). It was a fantastic car, reliable as the day is long, even after the mods, and faster than any of these. I put over 400,000km on that beast before I sold it.

    that car was so under tuned in stock form.

  • tre916

    CRX SiR?
    Even just the Si should have been honorably mentioned.

  • Jr J Giliberti

    Where’s the Subaru SVX?

  • Christopher Ladd

    And where is the Nissan Skyline! I agree NSX is first. GTR should be second and Supra 3rd. I am also glad the eclipse is on the list. 89-98 is where mitsubishi was at, the new eclipses were terrible. I still own a first-generation and I’ll love that car till the day I die

  • david

    I drive a honda integra 2004 in new zeland and I do not care if it the fastest and slow. .my baby is a eye opener and a magnetic for girls. .dark blues with matching recaro and sound you can lesson to all day..blessings. I wouldn’t swop for any wrx crap or any other..she handle the roads and cornering is a breeze. .2 integra..hope in futhere honda decide to produce honda integra type again…I do not like the us A..integra..looks out of place…David. Wellington new Zealand. ..18 July Saturday. .

  • Tony

    With the exception of the NSX, Supra, ITR, AND 300ZX the 97-01 Honda Prelude is better than any other car on this list.

  • Richard Jameson

    You are on drugs. The Honda Prelude is Front-Wheel-Drive garbage. Have you ever driven a front-wheel-drive car in twisted roads? They are a weight-distribution joke. Clumsy. A physics nightmare. And I have owned a 1997 Honda Prelude. The VTEC was kinda cool but it was more “subtle” than expected, Honda fanboys need to chill with that stuff.

    The RX-7 is the best car here IMHO. Rear-wheel-drive, good power, cat-like handling. Lightweight (compared to the Supra, 300ZX, 3000GT, etc). It did have reliability issues however with the Rotary engine, people didn’t know how to maintain it. The NSX is cool, but I don’t like Mid-Engine cars, they are dodgy, especially when they spin out. If you lose it, in the rain for example, the car becomes like a spinning top lol.

  • Get_at_Me

    I agree with the top 3, but im biased toward rotaries. Id rank the rx7 #1 bc it was unique and imo, has timeless styling (and it inspired the design of the nb miata which is another car on the list). The Supra is the equivalent of a Japanese muscle car and the NSX is awesome as well. Kudos to Honda for using a N/A v6 when most other big league cars relied on turbos.

  • Get_at_Me

    I agree about the rx7. They list the integra (not the prelude) here, but i get your point about fwd in general. The integra type r in particular was special bc of its high output and fwd. Not in the same league as some others on the list, but you gotta respect the honda for putting that engine in such a practical car. They couldve created a rwd car with the similar engine and priced it higher (and they later did with the s2000).

  • Get_at_Me

    The Skyline is iconic for sure, but it wasnt available in the US (all other cars on the list were). Thats prob why it didnt make the cut.

  • Get_at_Me

    No need bc the integra type r is on the list. Its like a crx on steroids. The pinnacle of fwd performance in the 90’s.

  • Get_at_Me

    Great car, but not iconic like the others on the list. At face value, the US spec 240sx is nothing special but the drift scene today has injected new life into that car.

  • tre916

    I know the Integra took its design from the CRX but there is a big difference between the two cars. The CRX is more more go-cart than car…

  • mark

    Celica ST205 gt4 should be on the list and Skyline GT/R should be # 1

  • andygoblue

    You do realize that the intro refers to Japanese cars that were actually available in the US. Neither the ST205 GT4 nor the Skyline GTR were available stateside.

  • Lampros

    Rx7 is the fastest of in this top 10 chart as my experience ,i do drag races with sone frie da stock rx7 and i beat em an r34 vspec 2 and a supea rz nice n easy