The passion for speed and performance cars is universal, but the passion holds a particular prominence in Japan. Over the years, legendary track-burning cars have come from shops bearing the names of Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Honda. Even Subaru, a brand that goes out of its way to emphasize its family-first vehicles, has delivered a road scorcher or two only worthy of the fast lane.
Things came full circle in September 2013 when a Nismo notched the record time for volume production cars at Nurburgring. It didn’t surprise many that the automobile was a product of the Land of the Rising Sun. In fact, many of the fastest affordable cars in the world are Japanese. Where they lack muscular stances, they compensate for with sleekness and spectacular aerodynamics.
In this list, rounded up the cars that have been record-setting or in the running for most powerful car produced in Japan. For the sake of encouraging variety, we did not include former generations of the same vehicle — for example, the earlier Nissan R34 GT-R, since it evolved into the GT-R we know today. This way, the list is not dominated by one or two brands but instead showcases some of the fastest vehicles from all of the Japanese manufacturers; further, modified cars were left out, so each of the following was available from the factory. Here are ten Japanese cars that have been in the race for fastest ever.
10. Mazda RX-7 FD (252 hp)
The third generation of the Mazda RX-7 “FD” took the U.S. by storm in 1993. It was Motor Trend’s Import Car of the Year, and Playboy also named it the year’s best, declaring it better than the new Viper. Critics and fans were so impressed by the charge out of the twin turbo engine that could produce 252 hp on in its initial showing. By the time the RX-7 FD ended its production run, Mazda was delivering a model capable of 276 hp for American audiences. Its most powerful model could burn at top speeds over 155 mph and go from 0-60 in 5.3 seconds.
9. Honda/Acura NSX (270 hp)
Between 1990 and 2005, Honda served up the thrills with the NSX, a car that has recently been spotted at auto shows as a new Acura concept car. For the original, Honda engineers included so much aluminum that it kept the weight down about 500 pounds for the V6 capable of 270 hp (290 hp in its 3179 cc variant). Those specs allowed drivers to jump from 0-60 mph in about 5 seconds. When it arrived, a Motor Trend editor gushed the NSX was “far better than any Ferrari or Lamborghini ever built; it makes the Corvette ZR1 look like something contrived under a shade tree.” It was a monumental debut for a Japanese speed demon.
8. Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X (291)
One of the favorite cars for aftermarket upgrades, the 2014 Lancer Evolution X is no slouch in its factory configuration. Sporting a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine, the tenth-generation Evo can serve up 291 hp at 6500 rpm and 300 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. Its power and weight distribution allow it to go from 0-60 in under 5 seconds. This is a legacy in the making, however; the original Lancer Evo (1992) could produce 244 hp.
7. Subaru WRX STI (305 hp)
Subaru’s 2015 WRX STI packs a turbocharged Boxer engine capable of 305 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque. Motor Trend took a less capable STI model to the track in 2008 and hit 0-60 in 4.8 seconds. Based on that mark, the tester of the 2015 model considered Subaru’s estimate of 5.1 seconds a standard on which drivers could improve. In any event, there are thrills aplenty in this very fast yet humble car.
6. Toyota Supra Mark IV (320 hp)
Merely mentioning the Toyota Supra is enough to get vintage auto enthusiasts excited. In the new FT-1 supercar, Toyota fed directly off the influences of the Supra and Celica to craft its new scorcher worthy of “shock and awe.” The Supra that has earned so much fame over the years is typified in the 1993 Mark IV model packing a turbo engine capable of 320 at 5600 rpm horsepower and 315 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. This fourth-gen Supra was capable of flashing from 0-60 in 4.3 seconds, and in the 1990s, it was a beast on American roads.
5. Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4 (320 hp)
Hailed as one of the great sports cars ever produced at a modest price point (it debuted at $30,000 in the U.S. in 1991), the most powerful Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4 delivered 320 hp and 315 lb-ft of torque from DOHC 24v V6 turbo engine. It could launch from 0-60 in about 5.0 seconds, which was a thrill-per-cent considering its price.
4. Nissan 370Z (332 hp)
In its latest roundup of statistics from years of road accident data (ending in 2008), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that the Nissan 350Z was involved in the most driver fatalities (proportionally) for any car on the road. Its successor, the 370Z, is another blisteringly fast sports car made for regular roads — and hopefully drivers will exercise more caution when dealing with it, as it’s more powerful than it lets on. The 2014 370Z base model offers 332 hp and 276 lb-ft of torque with a MSRP at $29,990. A 370Z coupe can gun from 0-60 in 5.0 seconds and achieve a top speed over 155 mph, making it a worthy successor in a long line of proud Z models dating back decades.
3. Lexus IS-F (416 hp)
Sports car enthusiasts who don’t want a vintage model or budget speed demon will gravitate toward one of Japan’s modern beasts, the Lexus IS-F. Edmunds has called it the best Lexus available outside of the LFA supercar, and its power specs don’t disappoint. The IS-F packs a 5.0-liter V8 capable of 416 hp (at 6600 rpm) and 371 lb-ft of torque (at 5200 rpm), allowing for a 0-60 sprint in 4.6 seconds. Top speeds are governed at 170 mph.
2. Lexus LFA (552 hp)
Speaking of the Lexus LFA, this car was designed and tested with the Nurburgring track in mind. In fact, the LFA has an optional Nurburgring Package to enhance the performance of its F1-derived 4.8-liter V10 engine. Capable of going from idle to 9000 rpm in 0.6 seconds, the LFA can produce up to 552 hp at 9700 rpm and 354 lb-ft of torque at 7800 rpm. This car can launch from 0-60 in 3.6 seconds, and reach a controlled top speed of 202 mph. Its record of 7:13.92 at Nurburgring was one of the major achievements for the Toyota brand.
1. Nissan GT-R Nismo (595 hp)
Only one car can hold the record time for Japanese cars at the Nurburgring course. For now, that car is the Nissan GT-R Nismo, also the fastest volume production car on the planet. A GT-R with track options made the Nordschleife circuit in 07:08.679 in September 2013, and this same car is available to buyers who want a piece of the fastest Nismo of all time.
The GT-R uses a 3.6-liter twin turbo V6 to produce 595 hp and 481 lb-ft of torque. It can blast from 0-60 in 2.7 seconds, and hit top speeds north of 200 mph. This Japanese monster is capable of doing battle with the fastest cars in the world. For now, it can leave the competitors of the Land of the Rising Sun in its dust. Expect a response from Lexus in the near future.