It is now that time of year where a toy for the summer starts to pop into our minds, but what to go for? There is no denying that if the main buying motivator is bang for the buck then Japanese cars are hard to beat. If cars from this part of the world are tempting it can be a mine field so hopefully this blog will help with a few of the usual suspects.
Let’s start with the icon, the Nissan Skyline. If this car is on your menu stretch your budget to the “GTR” or not at all. You might be tempted with lower models like the “GTS” but you lose everything that buying a skyline is about. You lose the “RB26” engine which was years ahead of its time. You lose the four-wheel drive system and you lose the looks too in my opinion. The subtle differences in body kit and trim that the “GTR” gets make the car. The “GTS” just isn’t the same animal and mark my words, you will regret not saving a bit longer and sticking to your guns. These cars were designed with owners tuning the cars in mind. For not a lot of money you can easily have 400BHP and this is more than enough to raise pulses. On the flip side beware of cars that have been tuned on a budget as this can be detrimental. Others can simply be too much for the road when tuning companies have got carried away. Great for the quarter mile but not ideal on the A64 in bank holiday traffic. The appeal of all Japanese cars is reliability and performance on a budget. Sure, you don’t get the refinement of the German offerings but if you don’t want to part with £30k for a used M3 then where do you look? Kit car? Caterham? You best have a run around or that love affair will be brief.
If an overdose of plastic in your interior doesn’t bother you then the Mitsubishi Evo range are hard to beat. The catch here is image though. They don’t have the class of an older Porsche but what they lack fitting in at the car park at your local shoot they more than make up for on the back roads. The model to search out is the “FQ360”. They did make an “FQ400” but you can boil a kettle while the turbo lags so avoid those. Top Trumps bragging rights makes it tempting to go for the highest power but stick to the 360. I will admit that around town it is grumpy and lumpy but once you get away from the congestion there are few cars that make you feel as alive and as confident as these. The grip is sensational, the car just wants to go all the time, and this is addictive. Power delivery is smooth after the push comes from the turbo and the handling is second to none. Few cars out there on the roads have such a fun factor as this. If anything, it is as if the car has the personality of a teenager where it sulks when driven normally but gets giddy and fun loving when it is doing what it wants. This is namely testing the laws of physics down a back road which I guarantee you will do more than once! Being a four-door saloon with a big boot, you can even justify it to your significant other too! Bonus.
It saddens me to say this but one to avoid is the Mazda RX7. The rotary engine is pure genius in its design, but they use fuel and oil at a shocking rate. Plus, when the inevitable engine rebuild comes from the rotar tips going you best have £8k lying around or your fun is over. Such a shame as the design is timeless. They are so good-looking heart can rule head but do beware. Oh, and if you are over 6 feet tall this car is off the menu anyway as you won’t get in it.
A great option again from Nissan is the 200sx. Cheaper than the Skyline, great looking, bullet proof and as always very easy to tune and play with. The draw here is the 200sx’s are rear wheel drive which sets them apart from the glut of homologated rally cars like the Subaru and Mitsubishi offerings. The S15 is the pick but if that’s a bit rich the S14a is also a cracker.
There is one big name missing here and I wonder if you have guessed it? Less practical than some due to only having two doors but the Toyota Supra is an absolute hero of the 90’s. Try and get the twin turbo manual again to avoid long term regret. Many are auto and naturally slightly less engaging. Like the RX7 the looks are timeless but where it differs is if done right it should never give you any trouble. Sure, the interiors on all these cars are dated now and literally everything is plastic and flimsy but if you don’t like the sound of that go and part with four times the price at your local dealer for a Cayman or an M4. For those not suffering from champagne taste and beer money these cars are the working-class heroes of the roads. Sure, they suffer from a slight image issue too and again that isn’t for everyone but at the end of the day it should be the machine that dominates the buying motivation not what others think. The 2JZ engine in the Supra is a peach. It makes a great noise, high power levels again are achieved easily and the Supra is just so dam pretty. Dare I say it in my opinion the Supra is the classy one of the bunch when it comes to Japanese cars. A nice set of wheels, some coil-overs and a nice colour. Job done!
There are so many out there to choose from in this section of the motoring market the golden rule, as always applies. Buy from a trusted dealer or specialist. Paying less on the screen price usually means it costing you more in the long run.
These cars are relatively cheap to buy now buy beware as repairs can be dear should something go wrong.
If you own one or you are considering it the best advise I can give is book a track day and go enjoy yourself. You will be amazed at the scalps you can get and you will leave at the end of the day with a greater understanding of your car’s capabilities.
THE AUTO VIP.