Japanese Cars That Don’t Suck!

Japanese Cars That Don't Suck

by Mike Kojima

 

I pissed a lot of people off with my Japanese Cars Suck article a few weeks ago, where I expressed dismay at the boring state of the Japanese car industry. Japan Inc. seems to be producing either the uninspired transportation device or the trying too hard, over the top stuff that seems like something out of the Fast and the Furious or Transformers franchises.

I lamented the Japanese cars from the 80's, 90's and early 2000's. These were enthusiast drivers' cars that changed the automotive world with class leading performance, quality, and even pricing. The Japanese cars of this era woke up the American and European car manufacturers, forcing them to improve or die. Because of their response to the Japanese juggernaut of that time, they are enjoying a renaissance of good products at this moment. 

All is not lost for the Japanese; there are a few cars that are currently being made that are legendary, industry changing, or practical value and fun. We will name a few here and have some honorable mentions that I think are almost great cars and why. You might notice that some of these cars are some of the very same ones I poked fun of in my last story. I will explain why and how I think they could be done better. 

 

Ugly but fast! The early production CBA GT-R's were fast but crude and clunky with an unrefined and noisy drivetrain, coupled with a harsh ride. In 2012, the minorly facelifted DBA GT-R came out like this model shown here. The DBA was much improved with many refinements, better power, brakes and improved suspension. Many GT-R aficionados feel that the 2012-2015 GT-R is the best of them all and that the later cars were heavier, slower and softer.

The Nissan R35 GT-R

The R35 GT-R is a car that will go down in automotive history as a game changer. The R35 was introduced in Japan in 2007 and the US in 2008. I have poked fun at it because it is a big, heavy, and in my opinion, ugly car. The GT-R is in many ways a case in excessiveness. It is huge, about the size of a large sedan. It is earth crushing heavy at over 3800 lbs. Its styling is inspired by Japanese Gundam. If you are not an Otaku, that is a giant robot that can usually change configurations into other modes common in Anime Sci-Fi. This makes it not a beautiful car, a least to me. It is complicated, with a 3.8-liter twin turbo engine with 565 hp, AWD with a rear mounted semi-automatic twin-clutch transaxle with two driveshafts and a whole bunch of other high tech crap crammed into the bulky body- the tech requiring a large body to fit it all in! 

What is appealing about the GT-R then? It is as fast as hell! When you drive the GT-R, you feel kinda detached and the car actually feels slow because it is so composed and fairly isolating. What is really going in is all that tech is containing and controlling a lot of violence! Like a modern fly-by-wire, computer stabilized, 3rd generation air superiority fighter plane, the car hurls its self down the 1/4 mile under ideal conditions in the high 10's. It turns blazingly fast lap times around most tracks. It is even ok at Autocross, which is amazing due to its heft. Somehow, the GT-R defies physics. 

I criticize the GT-R a lot, but I have owned two of them: an early 2008 and currently, a 2014. Why, might you wonder? At an industry track day, a certain egotistical tuner (who is no longer in business), who considered himself to be a pro driver, and who was really quite terrible, was busy trying to run me and the Dog Car (my faithful SR20 powered Sentra race car) off the track. I was getting pretty pissed and he was not having his ubertuned Porsche turbo getting passed by a lowly Sentra. He was driving super dirty, doing anything not to be passed. I ended up just pulling over because I did not want to get black flagged with any racing type antics on a fun track day. 

Later, I was out again and a new R35 GT-R flew past me. Now it is pretty rare for a street car, no matter how expensive, to be able to pass a well-developed race car.  At the end of the session, I was amazed to see the same driver exit the car. Wow, I thought, the GT-R has to be amazing to allow HIM to go so fast. 

At another fun track day, I was once again out in my race car laying down some decent lap times when I got passed by 3 GT-R's being driven by wealthy, Chinese college students. Following them before they rocketed away, I was amazed at the horrible lines and sketchy driving techniques of these beginner students that were still turning decent times in the advanced group. They seemed almost out of control but the GT-R still guided them quickly and safely around the track at a rapid clip. 

I had also been involved in chassis tuning various GT-R's for top speed and drag events and was amazed that you could have an 8 second GT-R that could also tool around town with no complaints. A few years ago, that was Pro-Stock times, and you can bet an old Pro-Stocker would not do well on a grocery getting trip! I had to get one of these cars! 

 

For the 2017 model year, the GT-R has undergone another facelift. The latest GT-R has more refinements to make it smoother and quieter.

The GT-R has always been criticized for clunkiness, and I feel this has been overplayed by the wine and cheese, big book auto media. I mean, after driving and riding in many current supercars, I feel that they are less refined and noisier than a GT-R! The wine and cheese types call this a mechanical symphony or use other heavily biased and mellifluous adjectives when an Italian, German or English supercar makes these noises. The quiche eater set calls the same kind of NVH out of a GT-R as “noisy as a trash truck”.  WTF dudes- this is a sports car, not an Accord.

The 2017 GT-R, has not been liked as much by the GT-R aficionados because it is softer and slower than previous versions, despite having more power. However, the Nismo edition and Track Package are still less compromised, and Nissan wanted to have more differentiation between the models. So, I kinda get it and am happy I have a 2014!

 

Hard Core. The Nismo edition offers more power at 591 hp, harder suspension, better brake cooling and a Williams designed aero package. In my opinion, it's sorta ugly but so are all GT-Rs.

 

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