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Rob Griffin

The best and worst Japanese cars


Which Japanese manufacturers have produced the best cars and which have failed to hit the mark? Motoring journalist Rob Griffin takes a look.

There is no shortage or prominent Japanese manufacturers in the world of motoring.

Here are just a few of the best and worst cars to come out of the land of the rising sun over the last 30 years.

The best Japanese cars ever made - Mazda MX-5


 What’s not to love about the beautiful Mazda MX-5?

Even though this sporty little number has been around for the best part of 25 years it still catches the eye and makes the heart beat a little faster – especially when the roof is down in the summer months.

Unsurprisingly, there have been a number of incarnations of the MX-5 that have enhanced and refined the original offering.

The latest version will set you back around £20,000 out of the showroom but older models can be picked up for just a few thousand pounds.

The best Japanese cars ever made - Lexus LS 400


Another car whose history can be traced back almost a quarter of a century is the Lexus LS 400.

Having spent most of the 1980s in development, when it finally made its debut it enjoyed an immediate – and positive – impact on the luxury car market.

Top Gear’s Chris Goffey described it as "petrifyingly good" and "amazing value for money" during his road test.

"In terms of ride, handling, comfort and silence, it equals or beats the European opposition," he added.

The best Japanese cars ever made - Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

japanese cars


For sheer seat-of-your-pants driving excitement, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution – dubbed the Evo – is pretty hard to beat.

Now in its 10th incarnation, the Evo first appeared back in the early 1990s and has been thrilling owners ever since.

A stylish and outrageously fast machine, it has forged an enviable career for itself on the ferociously competitive international rally scene

And it has also been used by a number of police forces to help them keep up with fleeing criminals.

The worst Japanese cars ever made - Toyota Model F Space Cruiser

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These days you can barely move for people carriers but it was a different story in the early 80s.

Toyota’s initial foray into this area, however, is best forgotten.

Although it beat Renault’s Espace into the market, its Model F Space Cruiser was little more than a converted van, says Giles Chapman, author of The Worst Cars Ever Sold.

"It didn’t have great handling characteristics and if you chucked it into a corner it would plunge forward on one side," he says.

"It came with seven seats and a sliding door, so had a lot of the things people wanted, but it was just a bit crude."

The worst Japanese cars ever made - Mazda Xedos 9

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The plan was ambitious: to launch a luxury car brand – called Amati – that could challenge industry big hitters such as Mercedes.

Unfortunately, the plan was scrapped due to finances and one of the cars earmarked for the plan ended up being launched as the Mazda Xedos 9.

Aside from the fact that it was pretty ugly, it was also the wrong marque.

Anyone after a prestige car was unlikely to be drawn to a Mazda.

The net result was a lot of money was spent on something that ended up a huge disappointment.

The worst Japanese cars ever made - Nissan Cherry Europe

japanese cars

What do you get if you cross Nissan with Alfa Romeo? The answer: an unmitigated disaster.

For some unfathomable reason a joint venture in the early 1980s combined the Nissan Cherry with an Alfasud engine and drive train.

"They mated one of the ugliest cars in the world at that time with one of the least reliable so nothing was good," points out Chapman.

"Nissan dealers didn’t want it because it didn’t have a Nissan engine and Alpha dealers didn’t like it as it looked like a Nissan."


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