Here's Why Nineties JDM Classics Still Beat The Class Of 2018

JDM classics were pulling so-called 'modern' party tricks 20 years ago, and Dan Trent reckons they're still better than any equivalent you can buy new today
Here's Why Nineties JDM Classics Still Beat The Class Of 2018

I was lucky enough to spend some time with the Hyundai i30 N the other week. Very much my kind of car it was too, combining useful stuff like rear doors, five seats and an exploitable on-road footprint with an explosively turbocharged 2.0-litre engine good for 270-odd horsepower and a clever electronically-controlled diff able to send it to the wheel best placed to use it.

And strut braces. Strut braces are always cool, especially when they turn up in unexpected places. Like the boot of a Hyundai i30. This is a subtle but important sign of the engineering priorities that went into the car and flashes a huge clue about the way it drives. Which is to say brilliantly.

The i30 N is a great modern hot hatch. But the 20-year-old Evo is already at the next corner...
The i30 N is a great modern hot hatch. But the 20-year-old Evo is already…

Then my brother turned up in his absolutely gorgeous Evo IV, a car I have coveted from the moment he went out and bought it a few months back. And I thought, hang on, that’s got rear doors, five seats, an exploitable on-road footprint, 270-odd horsepower and a clever electronic differential too. And it had all that – not to mention four-wheel drive and a sod-off rear wing – 20 years ago.

I’ve talked previously of my mum’s current-shape 1.5-litre MX-5. Great car it is too. Personally I think the fact Mazda has matched the size, weight and character of my 1993 Eunos is an incredible achievement given all the extra kit it’s had to include to meet modern-day crash regulations and customer expectations. But the point remains that the template set down in my 25-year-old rattlebox is as relevant now as it was then.

Mazda has returned to the template it set a quarter of a century ago and there's no harm in that
Mazda has returned to the template it set a quarter of a century ago and…

There are obvious caveats that shouldn’t really need addressing, but I have to anyway because this is the Internet and, if I don’t, somebody will call me out on it. Yes, an Evo basically needs a full service after every journey. Yes, as a Eunos owner I’m fully aware 90s JDM cars rust away to nothing if you don’t look after them properly. They don’t have CarPlay, blind spot warning sensors, configurable driver modes, adaptive dampers or any of the other paraphernalia we now expect in even a hot Fiesta. And it goes without saying that if I was going to be in a crash in an MX-5 I’d rather it was in my mum’s and not mine, no matter how awkward the phone call was afterwards. Because at least there would be a reasonable chance of there being an afterwards.

Whatever Japanese manufacturers were on in the 90s was clearly good stuff
Whatever Japanese manufacturers were on in the 90s was clearly good stuff

There are various reasons those of us afflicted by the 90s JDM habit have it so bad though. Gran Turismo is obviously one of them. But out here in the real world I continue to be amazed at just how in tune with what proper drivers want out of cars these modern classics still are. This purple patch in Japanese performance car development gave us a generation of machinery packed with character and technology perfectly suited to driving conditions literally half a world away.

Sure, I’d love a retro Porsche, a ‘90s M car or an original Mercedes E500. They’re lovely. But they’re also geared for three-figure Autobahn blitzing irrelevant to what you can do over here, and they’re ridiculously expensive to buy and run. Even with a reasonable recommissioning budget my brother’s Evo cost him a chunk less than what you’d pay for an E36 M3 of the same vintage. Even so, the way it tears apart a British B-road in conditions fair or foul remains an absolute revelation. Laugh all you like at the plasticky interior, lack of gizmos and comedy bodykit. Plenty in the family have. But as a machine to drive there’s nothing in the market today to equal its mix of size and punch.

If it's this or a 911 of the same vintage, JDM rules for half the price! Image: Jacob Ashworth/Torque GT
If it's this or a 911 of the same vintage, JDM rules for half the price!…

Earlier this year I was writing elsewhere about an FD RX-7 Spirit R for sale with one of the glitzier importers for £30,000. See how far onto the 90s 911 ladder that would get you and all of a sudden the engine rebuilds seem a lot less scary. That car was way, way more beautiful, more interesting to drive and more technically fascinating than anything the Germans were doing at the time. And for the true tech nerds let’s not forget the Mitsubishi GTO, a car packing four-wheel drive with differentials of all flavours, electronically adjustable dampers, active aero, switchable exhaust system, four-wheel steering and a hard-hitting six-cylinder twin-turbo engine. All kit the latest Porsche 911 Turbo sells for six figures as being the absolute cutting edge of sports car technology. Hmmm.

Tech to make a modern 911 Turbo S blush... sorry about the tiny image, though
Tech to make a modern 911 Turbo S blush... sorry about the tiny image,…

OK, with the best will in the world even I’d confess that I’d struggle to choose a GTO or 3000GT over a modern 911 Turbo. But the point is there – the 90s and early noughties were a period of incredible creativity and innovation in Japan and the cars that came from it deserve every bit of the fanatical love they get.


Freddie Skeates

£30k shows that their value, a classic attribute of Japanese sports cars, is worsening.
3 years ago you could’ve got a good spirit-r for £12k tops, and non-R NSX’s are breaching £100k now.
Even Miatas are escalating- non-rusty ones are like £5k+, where 4 years ago they were an easy £2.5k
Still, not quite as bad as 911 993 prices I guess

07/28/2018 - 14:35 |
50 | 0

Gabor Szedlak if you ever want an S2k again you might want to start thinking now because the 00’s are next!

07/28/2018 - 14:38 |
0 | 0

One thing to think about: several years ago, muscle cars from the ‘60s and early ‘70s suddenly crashed in value because buyers thought they were going for far too much. And while they’re worth quite some cash, they’re only increasing in value slightly, if not staying even. My point? If this happens to ‘90s Jap performance cars, in won’t be too surprised.

07/28/2018 - 14:49 |
11 | 0

factor in “drift tax” and 180/240sx and miatas are just not worth it to buy over here in NA. theyve either been driven to the moon and back or bashed to hell. :(

07/29/2018 - 06:20 |
0 | 0
🎺🎺thank mr skeltal

The biggest issue I have with those 90s JDM sports cars (or any other 90s turbo 4 cylinder car on that matter) is that back then people only cared about peak power. So while the Evo VI might make 280hp, it only does so above 6500 RPM, before that there is nothing. Don’t get me wrong, a bit of turbo lag feels real nice, but some of the stuff Japanese manufacturers pulled off in the 90s is excessive and almost undrivable. I mean, I don’t hate these cars or anything, but I prefer a smooth power delivery over insane peak power with massive turbo lag.

07/28/2018 - 14:35 |
14 | 0

you basically described the 930 turbo there tbh lol

07/29/2018 - 19:21 |
1 | 0

Made in Japan =/=JDM
The car has to be for their market.
A UK spec isn’t the same as Jap spec.

07/28/2018 - 15:24 |
31 | 8
Chad Fischbeck (Corvette squad)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Why is this getting downvoted? You’re correct.

07/28/2018 - 22:40 |
9 | 2

Pandering to the children, are ye?

07/28/2018 - 15:57 |
6 | 6
Tomislav Celić

In reply to by [Flux]

Why is this downvoted?

07/28/2018 - 17:35 |
2 | 2
AAA Insurance

In reply to by [Flux]

this was my first thought tbh lol

07/28/2018 - 22:14 |
0 | 0

the best thing about these cars is the community that comes with them. 1000s of online support forums, car meets full of regular joes who love just love cars. More people have stopped me on the street to talk to me about my 5000$ miata than of most other cars I’ve owned.

07/28/2018 - 16:36 |
4 | 0

Thats why I’m saying Japanese cars went downhill since 90s

Look at Toyota - not a single interesting car in production apart from ageing GT86 (Supra has been teased for ages now and still no sign of production)
Nissan - apart from clearly outdated 370Z and GT-R nothing interesting

etc etc

Just buy German stuff they only get better each year

07/28/2018 - 16:42 |
12 | 2
Chewbacca_buddy (McLaren squad)(VW GTI Clubsport)(McLaren 60

In reply to by DL🏁

What about the LC500/RCF/GSF?

07/28/2018 - 16:48 |
1 | 0

Using only the sports cars as a way to measure a brand is very stupid, sorry. While Toyota and Nissan don’t make the kind of sports cars like they used to, their normal “boring” passenger cars are a million times better than they were in the 1990s. No sane person would say that a 1990 Toyota Corolla is better than a modern Toyota Auris.

And as for the last sentence: I firmly believe that the “lease it for three years and then it’s not our problem anymore” mentality of the German car makers - especially Mercedes-Benz - has caused them to go downhill since ever since they stopped producing the W 123. The interior quality and the tech is excellent, but the reliability and service costs are a just a bad joke nowadays.

07/28/2018 - 16:52 |
24 | 0

“No sign of production.” Dude, if you kept up with their social media posts, they emphasised that it’s going into production in early 2019.

07/28/2018 - 17:48 |
2 | 0

You meant Korean stuff. Kia Stingers and i30Ns are getting better than their German counterparts most of the time.

07/29/2018 - 08:03 |
0 | 0
Chewbacca_buddy (McLaren squad)(VW GTI Clubsport)(McLaren 60

The things the Japanese manufacturers were on is an economic boom which means more money to develop cool stuff

07/28/2018 - 16:47 |
1 | 0
Tomislav Celić

I’ve read the article

And nope, nope nope nope and nope


07/28/2018 - 17:36 |
3 | 1

You lost me at this, sorry…

07/28/2018 - 17:38 |
1 | 1

DSM especially was a gem that nothing similar to them will ever be seen again unfortunately

07/28/2018 - 20:39 |
3 | 0

Who is Dan Trent? And ThatElementGuy wants to know why he speaks in third person.

07/28/2018 - 20:41 |
0 | 0
Chewbacca_buddy (McLaren squad)(VW GTI Clubsport)(McLaren 60

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

The irony lmao

07/29/2018 - 02:13 |
0 | 0



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