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5 Coolest Japanese Cars of Each Decade Since 1960s

China car times - 17 June, 2019 - 14:54

The car industry in Japan was established in 1907 when the first company Hatsudoki Seizo Co., Ltd. open its assembly lines. The venerable company has been defunct since 1951 but is survived by the Daihatsu brand.

Fast forward a century or so, and the Japanese car industry reigns supreme as their cars aren’t only the best-selling models across the globe, but also known to be affordable, practical, and above all reliable. The fact that four Japanese companies (Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and Suzuki) find themselves in the top 10 largest car manufacturers in the world speaks in that favor. Combined, the quartet have sold around 24 million vehicles during 2018 which is roughly one quarter of the entire global car and commercial vehicle production for the year (around 91.5 million).

But let’s not delve any further into this rather complex issue. We’re here to appreciate some of the most iconic Japanese cars of each decade since 1960s when people all over the world generally started noticing the Japanese imports.

Over the decades, they’ve produced a plethora of both some of the coolest and some of the worst cars in the world. Some have remained in production since the sixties and reached immortality like the Toyota Corolla which is officially the best-sold car in history with way over 40 million units sold since 1966. Others, however, have disappeared into obscurity which is a natural order of things in a way.

Of those forgotten ones, some have been rather cool. These forgotten JDM models you probably never knew existed are a prime example. Speaking of JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) cars – there’s a whole global culture dedicated to them and it’s just the tip of the iceberg when the Japanese-made cars are concerned.

One of the reasons behind the Japanese car industry’s success are their capable and reliable engines which have powered some of the most iconic cars in history over the decades. Needless to say, there’s a vast selection of Japanese internal combustion engines that – like the JDM cars – have never left the island(s).

But enough with superlatives about the Japanese cars. Let’s take a look at some of the best examples of their craftsmanship over the recent decades. Here are some of the best cars (or at least most interesting ones) ever to come from the “Land of the Rising Sun.” And, remember: there was only enough room for five models per decade which forced me into making some extremely difficult choices.


Coolest Japanese Cars of the 1960s


The Japanese car industry’s export expansion began in the sixties when their export totals increased almost two hundred-fold. Some of the coolest small-bore cars from the sixties never made it from Japan to the U.S., however. In some cases, there was a limited supply of high-performance engines and a concern that Americans wouldn’t pay a premium for what was then thought of as cheap little cars.

Also by the mid-60s, manufacturers needed to alter their vehicles to meet new U.S. safety and emissions standards, and there was a concern whether the company would be able to sell enough of that model to recoup their investment. In any case, you can find examples of each of these cars at various car shows as enthusiasts have decided to take matter into their own hands and have cleverly imported the cars themselves.

05. Toyota 2000GT

The Toyota 2000GT was first displayed at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1965 and helped revolutionize the public’s view of Japanese cars, then viewed as inexpensive, practical vehicles. As a sleek, two-seat  grand tourer, the 2000GT demonstrated Japan’s auto makers could produce premium vehicles as well.

The 2000GT was manufactured under contract by Yamaha between 1967 and 1970. The engine was an inline 2.0L six-cylinder with the block from a Toyota Crown sedan topped by a Yamaha double overhead camshaft head and three two-barrel Mikuni-Solex carbs. It produced 150 hp.

A five-speed manual transmission, and both a limited slip differential and four-wheel power-assisted disc brakes – a first for a Japanese car – were standard. Only 351 regular production units of the 2000GT were manufactured, 62 imported to the US and sold for about $6,800 (around $50,000 in today’s money).

04. Mazda Cosmo Series II

The Mazda Cosmo was introduced in 1967, but it wasn’t until the Series II was released a year later that it really made an impact. It had a more-powerful 128 horsepower two-rotor engine, power brakes, 15-inch wheels, and a 5-speed manual transmission.

Structurally, the wheelbase had been extended by 15 inches to improve interior space and ride quality ride. The front independent suspension on the Mazda sports car was by unequal-length A-arm with an anti-roll bar, while the rear utilized a De Dion tube, trailing arms and semi-elliptic leaf springs.

10-inch disc brakes were mounted in front with 7.9 inch drum brakes in the rear. There was no power assist. Of the 1,176 made, perhaps six Series II models were initially imported into the United States. Far too few for a sports car of such beauty, if you ask me.

03. Honda S800

Honda was just moving into manufacturing cars and used the S series as an image vehicle to demonstrate their capabilities. Introduced in 1966 to replace the successful S600, the S800 was available as a coupe or a roadster. Honda demonstrated its technical prowess with small displacement engines by powering the S800 with a 791 cc inline four-cylinder that produced 70 hp.

Early examples continued to use the clever chain drive and independent suspension of the earlier Honda 600 in the rear. Soon after that, Honda switched to a solid axle rear end with four radius rods by using a Panhard rod. Part way through production, the front drum brakes were replaced with discs.

In February 1968, the S800M was introduced with flush mounted interior door handles, side marker lights outside, dual-circuit brakes, safety glass, and an engine equipped with a lean burn carburetor. These changes were made for the planned importation of the S800 to the U.S. market, but the program was cancelled. There wouldn’t be another Honda S car until the now-iconic S2000.

02. Datsun Sports 2000 (Fairlady)

The Datsun Fairlady (called the Datsun 2000 in the U.S.) was the final example of a series of roadsters produced by Nissan in the 1960s which competed with the Alfa Romeo Spider, Fiat 1500 & 124, MGB, and Triumph Spitfire & TR6 sports cars.

The line began with the 1959 S211 and continued through 1970 with the SP311 (Sports 1600) and SR311 (Sports 2000) line. In Japan, the SR311 featured a 2.0L SOHC four-cylinder engine breathing through twin Mikuni-Solex carbs that produced 148 hp. Given its light 2100-pound weight and 5-speed gearbox it was capable of 0-60 in the 7 second range.

The U.S. version was limited to 133 horsepower due to emissions regulations but the above-mentioned powertrain was still attainable as a Competition package. Around 14,500 units of the Sports 2000 were reportedly produced between the March of 1967 and April of 1970 – with the early 1967 (around 1,000 half year models) units built in a left-hand-drive config are the most sought-after collectibles nowadays.

01. Isuzu 117 Coupe

The Isuzu 117 was one of the most openly Euro-design inspired cars of the decade. That doesn’t really come as a surprise considering the two-door fastback coupe was designed by none other than Giorgetto Giugiaro.

Unveiled in 1966 and first produced in 1968, manufacturing of the 117 didn’t cease until 1981 by which 86,192 units were produced. Most of those cars were built after 1972 when it went into mass production. Prior to that the cars were virtually hand-built at a rate of about 50 units per months.

The car came with a long list of standard equipment, including leather seats, dashboard trim made of camphor laurel wood, and headrests. The first engine available in 1968 was a 120 hp 1.6L DOHC two valve per cylinder inline-four, and in 1970, an electronic fuel injection unit from Bosch debuted, using the D-Jetronic system. The model fitted with fuel injection was named the EC (for “electronic control”). Suspension was typical for the era: front wishbones, coil springs, shocks, and an anti-roll bar and at the rear a solid axle with leaf spring and trailing arms to control axle movement.


Coolest Japanese Cars of the 1970s


The seventies provided a perfect opportunity for Japanese imports to establish a firm foothold on the U.S. market – one which they successfully guard to this day. The Oil embargo of 1973 and more strict emissions regulations forced domestic manufacturers into downsizing and that was the Japanese home ground, sort to say.

With conditions now becoming more even, the Japanese cars started to thrive. By the middle of 1970s, they’ve started exporting more than 1.8 million vehicles to the U.S. per year which is a staggering improvement compared to 1965 when only 100,000 units got shipped over the Pacific. Some of the best-known Japanese models stem from this decade.

05. Mitsubishi Colt Galant GTO GSR

The designer of the Colt Galant GTO Hiroaki Kamisago had studied auto design in the U.S., and thus incorporated a number of details from American muscle cars including a long hood, short rear deck, rear spoiler, and rounded quad-headlamps. The marketing department referred to its as the “Hip-Up Coupé!”

In regards to hardware, it was much more in keeping with the Japanese trends: The base version was powered by a 1.6L SOHC, two valve per cylinder engine drawing breath through dual-carburetors and producing 110 horsepower. The extremely rare MR version, built primarily for motorsports, carried Mitsubishi’s first DOHC cylinder head and produced 125 hp.

Our pick of the bunch, the GSR (“Grand Sports and Rally”) sported a 2.0L dual-carb four-cylinder setup and yielded 125 horsepower. It was introduced in 1973. Suspension was dead simple: MacPherson struts in the front and a live axle with leaf springs in the rear. The Colt Galant remained in production until 1977.

04. Datsun 240Z

Although succeeded by the 260Z in 1974 and 280Z in 1975 (both ran until 1978), the initial 240Z remains the most coveted Nissan Z car to this very day. It was produced between 1970 and 1973, and during that time, 164,616 right-hand drive units were ultimately made – 148,115 of which ended up in the U.S.

Powered by a 2.4L inline-six engine with dual Hitachi carbs, the 240Z had plenty of grunt for its time. It developed 151 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of rotational force. The U.S. models were backed by a 4-speed manual or an optional 3-speed automatic as of MY 1971. A 5-speed stick was also available with the 240Z, but not in the States.

The beauty of the iconic Fairlady – apart from the fact it featured a timeless design – is in its simplicity. Front suspension was independent with MacPherson struts, coil springs, and telescopic dampers, while the rear suspension sported of Chapman struts. It was capable of accelerating to 60 mph from a standstill in around 8 seconds.

03. Mazda RX-3

Originally part of the Mazda Grand Familia lineup (which included both rotary and more conventional engines), the RX-3 was an import name for the Japanese market Mazda Savanna which was exclusively offered with a Wankel mill under its hood.

The engine in question for the U.S. market was the 1146-cc unit – the same as in the Mazda Capella RX-2, but detuned by 7 horsepower due to a smaller exhaust. In total, it produced 118 ponies and could have been ordered either with a 4-speed manual or a corresponding automatic gearbox.

Interestingly, the small car was available as a pillared 2-door coupe, a 4-door sedan, or a 4-door wagon with last becoming the world’s first rotary-powered wagon in history. Around 50 percent of the RX-3’s production were coupes, however.

02. Nissan Skyline GT-R (C110)

The unlucky C110-generation Nissan Skyline GT-R arrived at the worst possible of moments for high-performance cars. Since it was introduced in September of 1972, its production cycle was cut short after only six months, in March of 1973.

Only 197 cars were produced in Japan and never exported anywhere else although shipments for the Australian market have been planned prior to the oil shock. Also, this would be the last time the GT-R badge would appear on a Nissan product until the legendary R32 arrived in 1989.

The C110 Skyline GT-R was powered by a 2.0L inline-six engine with 160 horsepower on tap which were routed to the rear via a 5-speed manual gearbox. Needless to say, the C110 was a highly capable performer thanks to, in no small part, a semi-trailing ring arm suspension. It also had disk brakes, both up front and around the back. If you think the R32, R33, and R34 are majestic JDM models, then the C110 is a real unicorn as far as the GT-R badge goes.

01. Toyota Celica

The first-gen Toyota Celica can probably be considered as the definitive Toyota sports car of the decade – much like the above mentioned GT2000 was their defining car of the 60s. Unlike the exclusive and expensive GT2000, the A20 Celica was affordable and, hence extremely popular with the masses. Although the Celica wasn’t intended to become a sports car, it would later give birth to the iconic Supra, but more on that later.

The initial Celica models were powered by a 1.9L inline-four engine with a two-barrel Aisin carburetor which yielded a somewhat measly 97 horsepower. However, displacement was immediately increased to 2.0L the very next year and then again to 2.2L after 1974 when the liftback model also joined the lineup. The most powerful 18R-G units with a Yamaha head were good enough for around 135 horsepower, but sadly, weren’t offered in the U.S.

Despite living in the malaise era, the Celica still managed to create for itself a lasting legacy. Something that one of its main rivals – the Ford Mustang II – can’t say for itself.


Coolest Japanese Cars of the 1980s


By the time eighties arrived, Japanese cars felt “at home” all across the globe. They were now available in all major markets, and not only as cheap alternatives to domestic products either. They’ve earned the people’s trust and were getting ready for the next step – crushing all competition that would get in their way.

The 1980s was the period where Japanese manufacturers could bring serious performance cars to the market. This was the start of the period when Japanese home market models (JDM) and those intended for the U.S. started to diverge. With the cost of developing a motor that would meet tougher U.S. emissions standards, many Japanese manufacturers used the same engines in several vehicles and didn’t offer some of the more interesting (like high-output turbocharged, intercooled DOHC motors) to American customers. That would change in tie, but let’s look at the best that was available in the eighties.

05. Mitsubishi Starion

Arguably one of the best Mitsubishi cars ever made, the Starion made its debut in 1982 and bowed down after seven relatively successful years, in 1989. It was never as popular as other Japanese rivals, but it managed to spawn a badge-engineered version called Conquest which was marketed by both Dodge and Plymouth (1984-1986), and by Chrysler (1987-1989). All nameplates combined managed to sell around 75,000 units in the U.S. during that time.

Most of the time, Starion was powered by the company’s turbocharged 2.6L Astron inline-four which delivered between 150 and 197 horsepower depending on year. Overseas, however, the Japanese used a 2.0L Sirius turbo-four until 1987. Although smaller, it delivered similar power (albeit with less torque), but redlined higher, and felt like a better fit.

Underneath, Starion was pretty much what you’d expect from a an import sports car of the 80s, but an optional Sports Handling Package which was available towards the end of the Starion’s run (1988 and 1989), added adjustable front and rear struts and wider wheels.

Our pick would have to be the 1988-1989 Starion ESI-R (and its Chrysler twin the Conquest TSI), powered by a 188 hp 2.6 L SOHC four-cylinder with a hemi-type combustion chamber, turbocharger with intercooler, and a slick 5-speed transmission driving back to a full-independent rear suspension comprised of semi-trailing arms and Chapman struts.

04. Nissan 300ZX Z31 Shiro

By now, Nissan had a problem on its hand. It had built the Z brand on the performance of the original 240Z (and its subsequent enlarged engine versions, the 260Z and 280Z). When its replacement was introduced in 1978, the original Z car fans were aghast. It had gone middle-aged: overweight and more focused on bells and whistles than on pure performance. The problem for Nissan was it sold more 280ZX than it had of the original Z-car series.

With the third generation, Nissan did its best to appeal to both sides. For the masses, there was the standard version. For enthusiasts, the “Shiro” (white) edition which was launched in early 1988.

The electronically adjustable suspension was replaced by higher-rate springs,  Koni shocks, and thicker anti-roll bars. The power leather seats were  swapped for a pair of cloth Recaros, and the digital dash was replaced by a simple 150 mph speedo and a tachometer with white numbers on black faces. The only available transmission was a five-speed manual feeding a a viscous limited-slip diff. Just 1002 were sold in the U.S., but buyers got a car capable of 153 mph – the fastest car from Japan at the time.

03. Mazda Miata (NA)

I’m well aware that the first-gen Miata was a mostly nineties car, but I had to include it here because the 90s section of this list will be packed as you’ll soon find out.

I have to believe that the vast majority of Miata haters have never driven a Miata – especially the first generation models. It’s not a 0-60 car and was never intended to be. But in 1989 when it was introduced (as a ’90 model), few cars carried as serious a set of underpinnings as the MX-5.

It featured a peppy DOHC four-valve per cylinder inline-four (common now but still rare then), a slick gearbox out of Mazda’s big cars from Japan (further improved by a very short throw shifter), available limited slip differential, and a beam that ran down the center of the car that connected the front suspension, engine ,and transmission to the rear differential and rear independent suspension, making for a an incredible responsive package.

As I said, this car’s not about 0-60, it’s about the huge smile on your face after you spend some quality time with it on twisty, challenging roads.

02. Toyota Corolla GT-S AE86

Take one standard (but rear-wheel drive) compact coupe and add a legendary race-bred engine (1.6L 4A-GE tuned at 112-hp) and you create a legend. The Corolla GT-S of 1984-1987 was the first real small performance car from Japan since the Datsun 510.

The engine was incredibly responsive – it would rev almost telepathically with a touch of a throttle (like a race engine, for which the motor saw much action) and the handling nicely-balanced. And at 2,200 pounds, it didn’t need much more of a motor.

The solid rear axle did easily trigger trailing-throttle oversteer, but that’s about its only vice. The real fun was driving it in the winter with four snow tires mounted up. Every trip to the grocery store became an opportunity to drive a stage on the Swedish Winter Rally.

01. Nissan Skyline DR30

One of the most distinguished of Japanese performers form the 1980s stems from the “people’s” R30 Skyline which sold more than 400,000 units between 1981 and 1990. The DR30 was anything but a conventional people’s car, however.

Initially known as the 2000RS, the DR30 Skyline made its debut in late 1981. The stripped-down lightweight racer featured the FJ20E 2.0L naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine with 148 horsepower and tipped the scales at only 2,491 pounds. Needless to say, the DR30 (which was designation for all FJ20-powered models) naturally received a turbocharged FJ20ET version of the engine in 1983. Now it produced 188 horsepower (202 hp as of 1984).

Together with additional power came beefier front brakes and a number of interior upgrades like air standard conditioning, power windows, power steering, etc. This, on the other hand, increased its weight to 2,723 pounds. Exterior was revised too, and that’s probably the most distinguishing detain of the Skyline DR30. Completely new frontal fascia nicknamed “Tekkamen” (iron mask) really did its trick in separating the performance car from the rest of the bunch.

The Nissan Skyline DR30 would go on to become one of the most famous Japanese cars of all time and probably the most-deserving one to be credited for the resurrection of the GT-R badge that succeeded it.


Coolest Japanese Cars of the 1990s


The nineties were stacked with iconic Japanese cars of which it was extremely hard to pick five. Most sports cars that started their journey in earlier decades have become monstrously powerful during the 90s (I think that Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla is a fitting comparison). At the same time, a number of most popular Japanese manufacturers gave birth to their luxury divisions which would quickly become the number one luxury badges in the U.S. in terms of sales.

05. Mazda RX-7 (FD)

Although the first-generation RX-7 started out in late 1970s and second-gen models carried over through the entirety of 1980s, it wasn’t until the third-generation that the RX-7 finally got the respect it always deserved. The FD generation arrived in 1992 and remained in production for 10 years, earning the RX-7 a reputation of one of the best Japanese cars ever made, over the years.

Powered by a 1.3L twin-turbo twin-rotor Wankel mill, the FD RX-7 proved there actually was replacement for displacement. It generated as much as 276 horsepower in the most powerful models – probably more, but the “Gentlemen’s agreement” reached between the Japanese manufacturers forbade them to officially produce (read disclose ratings) engines more powerful than that. Curb weight of between 2,700 and 2,950 pounds also played a role in RX-7’s performance.

The best performers among the RX-7 models were the limited Type RS and its rare lightweight sidekick dubbed the Type RZ. These came with standard 17-inch wheels, Bilstein suspension, more efficient turbochargers with abradable compressor seals, beefier brakes, a 4.30 ratio differential, and many more upgrades.

04. Toyota MR-2 (W20)

The MR-2 also started out in the eighties, but is now remembered as one of the ultimate 90’s sports cars out of Japan. It was a tough choice to make between a lighter, more nimble, and more driver-focused Mark 1 and the gorgeous, more powerful, but also heavier and more expensive Mark 2, but it simply had to be made.

The second-generation Toyota MR-2 first arrived in 1989 but the U.S. market only got them a year later. As it was usually a thing with the Japanese sports cars, the base version only made 130 horsepower through a naturally aspirated 2.2L inline-four. However, one might say that the real W20 MR-2 was actually the turbo version which sported a 2.0L engine capable of putting up 200 ponies.

Differences between the models weren’t just in their respective engines or power outputs. The MR-2 Turbo also came with a number of cosmetic details (fiberglass engine lid, wider wheels and tires, decals, etc.) which clearly showcased its supremacy over the base models. They also had larger brakes, a different exhaust system, and a sturdier 5-speed manual gearbox among others.

The U.S. models ran quarter-miles in high 14s and accelerated to 60 mph in around 6 seconds, while the Japanese market GT-S units ate a quarter-mile of pavement in 13 seconds, beating much more illustrious opponents in the process.

03. Honda/Acura NSX

The iconic first generation of the NSX was available throughout the entire 1990s. Beyond the nineties in fact, considering its production run spanned between 1990 and 2005. Built in order to take the fight to the Italian powerhouses such as Ferrari and Lamborghini, the NSX came through, and more. It wasn’t just a better performer than the Ferrari 328 and its successor the 348 (both V8-powered), but also a more affordable and reliable car.

The most important contributor to the NSX’s above mentioned success has to be its dual-overhead cam 3.0L VTEC V6 engine with 270 hp and 209 lb-ft of torque. Interestingly enough, the NSX wasn’t supposed to get this – at the time revolutionary – engine but then-president of Honda Motor Company, Tadashi Kume demanded it does. In 1997, the engine was replaced with a 3.2L unit which then generated 290 horsepower and 224 lb-ft of torque.

The Honda/Acura NSX was and experimental car in more ways than one. Aside from its name (New Sportscar eXperimental) and aforementioned use of the VTEC-equipped engine, it will be remembered as the first production car with an all-aluminium semi-monocoque frame and extruded aluminium alloy suspension components. Inside the engine, titanium connecting rods allowed the NSX to redline at 8,000 rpm, while the NSX also featured a first for Honda electronic throttle control.

02. Toyota Supra (A80)

The iconic Supra badge made its debut as part of the Toyota Celica lineup in 1978 and has since spawned four generations of extremely successful performance cars with the fifth one finally beginning production as 2020-year models. The Mark 4 models produced between 1993 and 2002 (pulled from the U.S. market in 1998) are arguably the most iconic of them all.

Again, the Japanese sports car came in two forms but both used the same iconic 3.0L 2JZ inline-six engine. The base models used natural aspiration and developed 220 horsepower, while the GTE units utilized dual turbochargers for a whopping 276 ponies at first and 326 horsepower later on (after the above mentioned gentlemen’s agreement was dissolved). While the former utilized a 5-speed manual gearbox, the turbo models relied on the new 6-speed Getrag units. Both, however, were offered with an optional 4-speed auto.

The fourth-gen Supra turbo was more than capable of accelerating from a standstill to 60 mph in around 5 seconds and crossing a quarter-mile mark in mid-13s or better. It utilized aluminum in front crossmember and forged upper suspension A-arms in order to save on weight. It also used a magnesium-alloy steering wheel, and a plastic gas tank for the same purpose.

Today, you should be happy to find a pristine condition Mark 4 Supra for less than $100,000. Many of them have been used for heavy tuning which, although appealing to majority of the “Generation X” and “Millennial” car enthusiasts, wasn’t exactly the “Baby Boomers’s” cup of tea.

01. Nissan Skyline GT-R (R32)

As mentioned above, the GT-R badge did make a comeback in 1989 after 16 years, and what a comeback it was! The R32 put the badge back on the map and more. It started the modern GT-R legacy which continued with the R33 in 1995 and R34 in 1999. In fact, the currently available Nissan GT-R itself is practically a continuation of the iconic trio, although it’s a different kind of a beast.

The R32 was produced in order to homologate the new Group A Racing car which would replace the Skyline GTS-R. Not only did the new R32 replace it, but it took the competition by storm and dominated Group A from day one until, like many unbeatable champions before it, the R32 GT-R finally got banned from competing. It was just that good.

The R32 GT-R was powered by the iconic 2.6L DOHC twin-turbo RB26DETT inline-six which generated 276 horsepower (surprise, surprise) and was backed by a 5-speed manual transmission which routed all that power to all four corners. A number of iterations were made over the years, and many were even more extreme than the road-going cars. There was the homologation special Nismo model without the ABS, or the even rarer Japanese market N1-spec which also deleted air conditioning and sound system among other things.

In total, close to 44,000 R32 GT-R’s were ultimately produced and since they’ve finally come of age (over 25 years), you can now easily import them into the States. If you can afford them, that is, since their prices are soaring. Even better, the R33’s will soon be cleared for importing as well, but they aren’t any cheaper either I’m afraid.


Coolest Japanese Cars of the 2000s


By the time the millennium arrived, Japanese car manufacturers and their respective vehicles were already dominant all across the globe. They’ve gone a long way since the early “cheap-car” days, and are now as diverse as they can be. The Japanese will still sell you an econobox if that’s what you’re looking for, but their SUVs, crossovers, hybrids, luxury cars, pickup trucks, sports cars, and pretty much anything else you can think of are all among the best in their respective classes.

05. Honda S2000

One of the go-to affordable sports cars out of Japan between the late 1999 and 2009 – the Honda S2000 is sorely missed nowadays. Known for its nimbleness, high-revving, and superlative driving dynamics, the 2-seater has become one of the quickest cars in history in achieving a cult-like status. Even though things weren’t that rosy for the roadster back then.

The heart of the S2000 was its DOHC 2.0L VTEC inline-four which yielded between 237 and 247 hp depending on the market (Japanese models weer the most powerful). Incidentally, that was, at the time, the highest specific rating for any naturally aspirated production engine in history. The engine boasted a 11.0:1 compression ratio, redlined at 9,000 rpm, and enabled the roadster to hit 60 mph in under 6 seconds.

In 2004, the F Series twin-cam engine was stroked by additional 6.7 mm and displacement was increased to 2.2L. Redline had, however, dropped to 8,200 rpm, but the car got another 9 lb-ft of torque, putting the total at 162 lb-ft.

A Torsen-style limited-slip differential was standard throughout the S2000’s run, and so were the independent double wishbone suspension and the electrically assisted steering. A 6-speed manual was the only transmission available and we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

04. Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII MR FQ-400

The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution line started out in early nineties, so in order to squeeze in all of the above cool Japanese models onto the 90s list, I had to forget that generations I through VI ever existed. This means that some of the greatest Evo’s like the famous 1999 Tommi Mäkinen Edition which accelerated to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds and did quarter-miles in low-13’s had to be overlooked.

The first Evo offered in the U.S. was the VIII (2003-2005), but sadly, the high-performance special editions like the MR-spec FQ300, FQ320, FQ340, and FQ400 were exclusively offered in the U.K. These left-hand drive beasts were the most powerful Lancers money could buy, with the FQ400 squeezing 405 hp and 355 lb-ft of twist out of 4G63 2.0L turbo-four mill shared with the rest of the lineup. The most powerful U.S.-spec Evo at the time had 271 horsepower, for comparison.

The MR FQ-400 also came with Bilstein shocks for improved handling and a number of other distinctive upgrades. Its tuning was courtesy of British tuning houses Rampage Tuning, Owen Developments, and Flow Race Engines. The most powerful MR-spec Evo VIII accelerated to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and did quarter-miles in 12 seconds.

03. Subaru Impreza WRX STi S201

There is no Mitsubishi Lancer without its arch rival Subaru Impreza and vice versa. Similar with the Mitsu, I also had to omit mentioning what’s arguably the single best Impreza WRX ever built. So, with heavy heart, I’m now giving it a honorable mention – the one and only (actually, there were 474 made in total) 1998 WRX 22B STi with 276 hp and a larger 2.2L engine.

Now when this injustice has been slightly alleviated, let’s move on to what might be the best Impreza WRX of the 2000s. It was introduced as early as in 2000 and only 300 units were ever produced. Needless to say, they were never available in the U.S. Being exempt from the “Gentlemen’s agreement” rule, they boasted 296 horsepower thanks to a recalibrated ECU, more turbo boost, a higher-capacity air-to-air intercooler, and a larger, free-flowing exhaust (the engine was a 2.0L Flat-four).

The S201 was fully loaded with features and sported a unique wide-body kit with a massive tri-planar wing and a corresponding front splitter. A limited-slip front differential, height-adjustable suspension, and 17-inch RAYS wheels were also part of the setup.

02. Acura Integra Type R (DC2)

As one of the launch models for then all-new brand in 1986, the Acura Integra represents one of the most important models in Honda’s lineup at the time. The performance-oriented Type R first came stateside in 1997 and remained available until 2001 (with the exception of 1999). Again, I’m simply trying to undo the injustice done to this immaculate 1990s car by putting it in the 2000s section. After all, it was available for couple of years of the millennium’s first decade.

Powered by the legendary DOHC VTEC 1.8L B18C5 four-cylinder mill, the Integra Type R generated 195 horsepower thanks to a 10.6:1 compression ratio. The engine boasted high-pressure die-cast aluminum pistons in order to achieve that. Backed by a 5-speed manual trans, it redlined at 8,400 rpm. Thanks to all that, the car was capable of doing mid to high-14 quarter-miles and accelerating to 60 mph in little over 6 seconds.

To this day, the Acura Integra Type R is widely regarded as one of the best (if not “THE” best) front-wheel drive performance car out of Japan.

01. Nissan Silvia (S15)

Available between 1999 and 2002, the S15 Silvia is also the last S platform car built by the Japanese manufacturer and also the last Silvia produced to date. Although exclusive to the Japanese domestic, Australian, and New Zealand markets, the Silvia can be seen in other parts of the world as a gray import.

The last generation of the Nissan Silvia sported a 2.0L SR20DE(T) inline-four engine with or without the turbocharger. The former made 247 horsepower while the latter developed 163 hp. Initially, there were only the Spec-R and Spec-S models to choose from with former being backed by a 6-speed manual and latter using a 5-speed unit. However, both could have been ordered with an optional 4-speed auto.

The S15 Nissan Silvia wasn’t only more powerful, but also smaller and (in some cases) lighter than its predecessors, making it the best performer of the range. It’s one of the most popular cars among drifting crowds and extremely open-minded towards tuning.


Coolest Japanese Cars of the 2010s


With the second decade of the 21st century almost at its end, it’s safe to say that we probably won’t be seeing too many better candidates for this list than what’s a;ready available out there. So, to wrap things up, here are the best Japanese cars of the 2010s.

05. Nissan GT-R Nismo

As already mentioned above, the GT-R is a whole different kind of animal than its Skyline-based spiritual predecessors. It’s been available since 2007, but the range-topping Nismo edition only arrived in 2014.

Powered by a powerful 3.8L twin-turbocharged VR38DETT V6 engine, the GT-R by far exceeds everything that Nissan has ever done in terms of performance. At least when production cars are concerned. It started out with 479 hp and now provides 565 hp. The Nissan GT-R Nismo, on the other hand, develops 600 ponies and gallops to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds.

Aside from more power, the Nismo model sports plenty of carbon fiber bits, special aerodynamic package, and a racing style rear wing. Needless to say, suspension is also differently tuned, and brakes have been enlarged as well.

04. Nissan 370Z Nismo

Available since 2009, the latest iteration of the Z car is nearing its climax. The special Nismo version was available from the get-go and still is if you’re willing to provide 50 percent over the base car’s MSRP.

The 370Z draws breath from a 3.7L VQ37VHR V6 engine backed up either by a 6-speed manual or a 7-speed automatic gearbox. The NIsmo badge adds only 18 horsepower over the base models (332 hp vs. 350 hp), but the torque curve is much flatter here, giving the 370Z Nismo more torque at lower rpm.

The Nismo-tuned suspension is standard here, and the car also gets stiffened springs and stabilizer bars. Speaking of suspension, the 370Z’s fron suspension uses a double wishbone pattern with forged aluminum control arms, while at the back multi-link suspension with forged aluminum upper control arm, lower arm, and radius rod does the trick.

03. Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ

The Japanese sports cars have almost disappeared from the U.S. market during 2010s. But, while one by one were waving their goodbyes, Toyota and Subaru decided to join forces and introduce a new one.

The Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ are essentially the same 2-door coupe sports cars powered by 2.0L four-cylinder engines. While the 86 utilizes a 4U-GSE designation, the Subaru engine is designated FA20. Both are of Subaru’s flat-four boxer design and develop 200 horsepower with a 6-speed automatic or 5 ponies more with the corresponding 6-speed stick.

One of the biggest advantages of having a horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine is a low center of gravity the car gets out oft. This immensely improves handling and the 86/BRZ duo are among the best at that out there.

02. Honda Civic Type R

The compact car was one of the first to receive the Type R badge and and so far the car with the most Type R-labeled models to show for. However, the latest generation of the Civic Type R raises the bar significantly and rightfully finds a place on this list of the best Japanese cars of the 2010s.

Introduced in 2017 and based on the tenth-generation Civic, the latest of the Type R iterations generates a whopping 3o6 horsepower. Incidentally, this is also the first Civic with the red Honda badge slapped across its grille. Paired with a 6-speed manual transmission, the performance-oriented Civic does a quarter-mile in mid 13’s range and accelerates to 60 mph in under six.

The engine isn’t its only focal point in term of upgrades as the Civic Type R also boasts a radical body kit, together with special suspension and larger brakes.

01. Lexus LFA

Arguably the most illustrious performance car to come out of Japan during this decade (not counting the second-gen Acura NSX), the LFA is also the most ambitious car the Toyota’s luxury division has ever assembled.

The Lexus LFA was in production between late 2010 and late 2012 during which time the Japanese had created exactly 500 units. Powered by a 4.8L even-firing V10 with 553 horsepower, the LFA is unlike anything the company has ever produced. The sexy 2-door coupe could accelerate to 60 mph from a standstill in 3.6 seconds.

not content with the stock version, Toyota also offered an optional Nürburgring Package which added another 10 horsepower to already insane ratings, re-calibrated transmission, stiffer suspension, a new front splitter, lightweight wheels, track tires, and a huge rear wing.

15 Best Sleeper Cars (and 10 Cars That Aren’t as Fast as They Look)

China car times - 11 June, 2019 - 15:11

Imagine, if you will, a Friday night festival of speed at the local drag strip. It’s test-and-tune followed by grudge matches, and all the local players are there. Hot imports, domestic muscle cars, street bikes, and of course the dedicated track monsters with two feet of sticky rubber on each rear wheel. Some kid with an electric blue Acura RSX pulls up next to a group of late ’90’s & early ‘00’s Mustangs and Camaros and starts talking some smack. A few other import drivers join him. The Motown muscle crowd pulls in some reinforcements of their own.

Moments before the inevitable fight breaks out, both camps spy a pair of average-looking machines – an SUV and a four-door sedan – staging at the tree. Jokes and laughter erupt almost immediately: What, no book club tonight? Is there a class reunion or something? Look…the real housewives of the drag strip!”

On green, however, both suburbanite specials jump with a squeal and pick up a surprising amount of speed. The sedan just keeps pulling smoothly, but the SUV occasionally bobs up and down with the telltale motion of someone feverishly rowing their own gears. It crosses the timing lights with a slight advantage over the sedan, but both go home with elapsed times very deep into 14-second territory. The laughing and jokes from both sides subside quickly as the reality sinks in. Those two mom-and-pop cars just ran as good – if not better – than a majority of the dedicated performance machines in either of the warring groups.

If this has happened to you, don’t be ashamed. The last 30 years have given rise to many unsuspecting stealth bombers, and for proper gear heads, it’s simply a matter of time before you either fall victim to – or fall in love with – the sleeper.

This time we are reflecting on some of the best sleeper cars from recent years and decades past alike, and some other models that sure looked fast but failed spectacularly when asked to prove their merit.

15 of the Best Sleeper Cars 15. Chevrolet SS

We can now safely say that the SS had found itself out of favor in the contemporary Chevrolet lineup the moment it arrived to the U.S. Available between 2013 and 2017, it was basically a rebadged Holden Commodore (VF) that’s still available in its home Australian market.

The U.S. Chevy SS version was powered by a 6.2L LS3 V8 engine taken from the C6 Corvette. It generated 415 horsepower and a corresponding amount of torque which propelled it to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds. Its family car look (most people probably mistook if for Malibu) was highly deceptive considering the 4,000-pounder was able to put up such numbers but then again, that’s the definition of a sleeper car.

Fewer than 13,000 buyers in over four years and the fact that its Australian role model was downsized to a smaller platform have consigned the Chevy SS for discontinuation. The fact that its price was dangerously close to the $50,000 mark probably didn’t help either.

14. Ford Taurus SHO

Throughout its years, the Ford Taurus mostly had a reputation as a rental-lot special. It’s always had a fairly thrifty engine, enough room for the family, and a price that was friendly to rental companies. However, the Taurus had a split personality, as Ford periodically offered a performance-oriented SHO model.

In its earlier generations (1989 through 1995), the Taurus SHO used a Yamaha-built V6 engine that produced as much as 220 horsepower. The SHO continued into the bloated third-gen Taurus with a 3.4-liter V8 that produced 235 horsepower.

The Taurus SHO took a break that began in 2000 and lasted until 2010 when the latest version of the sleeper arrived. This model made use of a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 to produce 365 horsepower and 360 pound-feet of torque, accelerates to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds,  and is set to bow down at the end of 2019, alongside most of the Blue Oval’s car lineup. It’s price is currently set at around $44,000 so be quick to snag one while you still can.

13. Buick Regal GS (Fourth Generation)

Those who say Buick kissed performance goodbye with the demise of the legendary Grand National and T-Type haven’t driven the 1997-2004 Regal GS. Honestly, that’s not necessarily a big deal, because the GS is something of a softy in the ride and handling department. That’s fine if you’re traveling down the East Coast for work, but it does nothing to inspire taking the roads less traveled. For that fact, neither does the numb steering or the sloppy four-speed automatic. And even with a slightly sporty GS trim package, the Regal’s styling is still better suited for AARP conventions as opposed to SCCA track events. In other words, it’s a perfect sleeper.

What many people don’t know is that this nonchalant sedan packed the same supercharged 3.8-liter V-6 from Pontiac’s Grand Prix GTP. That’s 240 horsepower in a 3400-pound car, and that translates to high 14-second quarter-mile times bone stock.

Regal owners swear their cars are a touch lighter and faster than the GTP, but it really doesn’t matter because that pushrod six-pot is legendary for its ability to handle aftermarket power. Significant gains are just a pulley and a tune away; studies have shown – and we’re not making this up – that it’s literally harder to blink your eyes than put a supercharged Regal GS into the 13s. Now you know why granddad always wants to come over for a visit, and why he’s smiling when he arrives.

12. Dodge Omni GHLS

And now to get really silly, we hark back to our favorite decade of ridiculousness to see the hot hatchback which arguably set the standard for the turbocharged pocket rockets of today. The Dodge Omni and its badge-engineered Plymouth Horizon sibling were, for lack of a better word, crap cars. They were born out of Chrysler’s first bankruptcy, as evidenced by their stellar record of reliability and show-stopping personality. But then, Chrysler got turbo happy and decided to stick one on just about every car they made (more sleeper candidates perhaps?), including the Omni. The GLH-T (Goes Like Hell) was born, and with 146 horsepower in a car weighing just over a ton, it was among the quickest American performance cars of the day (a minute of silence, please).

Of course, that wasn’t enough for the racing legend Carroll Shelby, who’d been involved with the go-fast version of the Omni from the beginning. The final run of turbo Omnis went to Shelby’s new facility in California, where they received a host of upgrades to become the GLHS (Goes Like Hell S’more). With Chrysler’s 175-horsepower 2.2-liter Turbo II engine and a five-speed manual tranny, the Omni GLHS blitzed to 60 in about 6 seconds and tripped the ¼-mile lights in the mid-to-high 14-second range. At the time, it outran pretty much everything else on the road, save for a few notable supercars from across the pond.

Unlike the most other rides on this list, the GLHS wasn’t just a stoplight-to-stoplight screamer. A spine-busting suspension destroyed the Omni’s ride quality but turned the GLHS into a cornering wizard. Adjustable Konis, big sway bars and fat 50-series rubber allowed this hot hatch to hang with some serious sports cars back in the day. Granted, its sleeper status could be questioned because it didn’t exactly blend in after Shelby was done with it. But lest we forget – the 1980’s were all about appearance package wannabes with racing stripes and body kits, backed with all the power of a flat beer. Not only did the little Omni GLHS shame every other small hatchback on the market, it shamed most of the big boys as well. And for us, that’s what being a sleeper is all about.

11. Volvo 850 R

It was a good day when Swedes decided to spice things up (which they should be doing more often if you ask me) after their limited 1995 850 T-5R achieved unexpected success. Unlike the 243-horsepower T-5R which was jointly built with Porsche, the 850 R delivered 240 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque with an automatic or 250 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque with a manual transmission.

They were only available in 1996 and 1997 when they also received the all-wheel drive system (only in Europe and Canada, though). At least it’s the proof that Volvo’s boxy wagons weren’t only about dull practicality and squeezing as many bags of vegetables, cereals, and house cleaning products in their boots. The 850 R had some major swagger about it. Plus, you could have always opted for a sedan.

Being overtaken by one while pushing your Porsche to the limit was humiliating but that’s another thing we love about sleeper cars. And this particular Volvo accelerated to 60 in around 7 seconds.

10. Mercury Marauder

It took the FoMoCo a while before they finally gave the long-retired Mercury Marauder renewed life and some much-needed bite but it’s better late than never. Sadly, the most powerful post-muscle car era Marauder (actually, the only one since the nameplate was brought back for the first time after 1970) didn’t survive for long. It was discontinued in 2004 – only a year after being resurrected and some 11,000 units sold.

The millennium Marauder was built upon the potential-oozing Panther platform which also underpinned the in-division Grand Marquis and stablemates such as Lincoln Town Car or Ford Crown Vic from which it borrowed suspension and brakes – the police interceptor, of course, not the conventional one. Powered by a 302-horsepower 4.6L V8 mill paired with a 4-speed auto, the last of the Marauders was capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 in 7.7 seconds. Not bad for a car that heavy.

However, there was a more secretive version of the Marauder tuned by the VT Competition which was capable of doing the same in as little as 5.1 seconds. It had a larger 5.0L engine and an optional Paxton blower but larger wheels, dual exhaust, and finally its sound gave it away. The stock Marauder’s sleeper status, however, can’t be disputed.

09. Chevrolet Impala SS (Seventh Generation)

1994-1996 Chevy Impala wasn’t the first to receive the bow-tie brand’s iconic SS badge, but it sure was the sleepiest, if I may say that. Although it was discontinued before managing to make a more meaningful impact on the market (alongside the entire B-body fleet), the Impala SS has secured its legacy as one of the best sleeper cars of the 90s regardless.

Available exclusively in black during its inaugural year, the unsuspecting Chevy truly worked undercover among the much more expressive crowd. In 1995, Dark Cherry Metallic and Dark Grey Green were added and these colors too seamlessly blended among the working class of family sedans of the day.

Yet, with 260 horsepower from the 5.7 small-block LT1 V8 that it shared with Camaro and Corvette, the Impala SS was anything but an ordinary car. The only difference between the sedan and its much more illustrious relatives is that it sported cast-iron cylinder head instead of aluminum one and a camshaft built for low-end torque. That and the fact it had fewer horses on tap, of course.

Still, the seventh-gen Chevrolet Impala SS’ 0 to 60 time of 7 seconds was commendable for the period. Moreover – like the Mercury Marauder – the Impala too had a hard-core tuned version called Callaway Supernatural SS which made 404 ponies and accelerated to 60 mph in under 6 seconds.

08. Saab 9-2X Aero

What do you get when you cross a Japanese upstart performer with a Swedish sedan that epitomizes middle-class all over the world? You obviously get a great car and a sleeper at that. The Saab 9-2X Aero combined all the best from both automakers in a package that ultimately flew under the radar.

Available only during 2005 and 2006, the rebadged second-generation Impreza WRX STI hatchback managed to sell 8,514 units in its first and 1,832 units in its second year, putting the total at 10,346 cars. The end-product was much more upscale than the Subaru with special attention paid to interior materials and sound insulation. The Swedish company also reworked its suspension but their middle class customers still thought the car was beyond them.

Engines and mandatory all-wheel drive were, of course, provided by the Japanese. Although the base 9-2X Aero cars had the naturally aspirated 2.5L flat-four, the turbo models boasted much more horsepower in what was essentially the same visual package. In 2005, the car used a 2.0L turbo four with 227 hp, while in 2006 it switched to a 2.5L turbo four capable of producing 230 hp. Both accelerated to 60 mph from standstill in around 6 seconds.

07. Subaru Forester XT

As a whole, the Forester is pretty much an uninspiring crossover that simply gets the job done for families. However, there is one version of the Forester that stands out from the crowd in terms of performance. I am talking about the XT trim level.

This potent crossover was launched in 2004 as the Forester 2.5 XT, and it made use of a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produced 210 horsepower that subsequently increased to 224 ponies. This resulted in a reported 5.3-second gallop to 60 mph, making it as quick as the Porsche Cayenne Turbo that same year.

Today, the XT badge is pretty much gone although, for a while, it soldiered on as the Forester 2.0XT. While this newer model’s engine produces 40 more horses than the 2004 model, it was one second slower to 60 mph. However, 6.3 seconds to 60 mph wasn’t something to turn your nose up at. Only if the modern-day Subaru Forester was that peppy.

06. Dodge Caliber SRT4

The Dodge Caliber – the replacement for the popular Neon – was not a very popular car, mostly due to its funky design and iffy performance. In an attempt to boost interest, in 2006 Dodge released the SRT4 version of the funky hatchback that used a turbocharged 2.4L four-cylinder. This four-pot cranked out 285 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque, which resulted in a 6.2-second 0 to 60 sprint.

In addition to the extra power, Dodge also retuned the Caliber’s suspension, giving it larger sway bars, ZF Sachs dampers, and 225/45R19 Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber to handle the corners. Unfortunately, the Caliber SRT4 never really caught on, and Dodge discontinued it following the 2009 model year. Around 5,500 units were apparently sold by the time Chrysler dropped the performance-oriented SUV – fewest of all SRT-4-badged cars.

05. Lotus Carlton

We don’t get the Opel/Vauxhall Omega here in the States, but the German automaker’s flagship sedan used to be pretty popular in Europe during the nineties. So, what does Lotus have to do with it? Well, they upgraded the original car and turned it into an ultimate sleeper in the process – a sleeper that maybe could have been distinguished by its yellow and green badge, but was otherwise completely unsuspecting on the outside.

Under the hood, however, it came with a 3.6L Opel’s twin-turbo straight-six engine capable of making no less than 377 horsepower and 419 lb-ft of torque which allowed it to top 177 mph and sprint from 0 to 60 in only 5.2 seconds. No small part was played by the 6-speed ZF manual transmission. The same tranny found in the C4 Corvette ZR-1 at the time. Not bad for a large saloon car.

A large 4-door sedan that was the fastest in its class back then and is all but forgotten now. The latter doesn’t come as much surprise considering only 320 examples were made between 1990 and 1992 due to economic recession at the time. The Germans themselves managed to sell additional 630 Omegas, but even that was still below their initial expectations of making 1,100 cars in total.

04. Mazdaspeed 6

In the early 2000s, Mazda impressed us with the likes of the Mazdaspeed Protégé and the Mazdaspeed Miata. Then, in 2006, it went a little mental and added the “Speed” tag to its mid-size 6 sedan.

This sedan was understated from the outside, but it was all business under its hood, as it made use of a 2.0L four-cylinder engine  that injected 274 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. This power was routed through an all-wheel drive system that helped launch it to 60 mph in just 6.1 seconds.

Unfortunately, Mazda only offered the Mazdaspeed6 in 2006 and 2007. A bit over 10,000 were sold in the U.S. during that time. It’s interesting to note that a number of units never made it stateside due to the capsizing of the cargo ship “Cougar Ace” which was carrying them. The ship didn’t sink but the Japanese still decided to disassemble all 4,703 cars on board (not all of them were Mazdaspeed 6’s), considering them “compromised.”

03. Audi RS 6 Avant

The RS 6 is the most hard-cove variant of the A6 and is an unsuspecting member of the sleeper club in its own right. The Avant or wagon version if you will, has even greater chance of leaving you in a cloud of dust should you meet with one.

As far as wagons go, the Audi RS6 Avant is one of the insane ones. And with wagons giving way to crossovers just like they yielded to minivans a while back, there’s nothing to compare it with at the moment. Its twin-turbo V8 (4.2L between 2002 and 2004, and 4.0L between 2013 and 2018) or a 5.0L V10 shared with the Lamborghini Gallardo between 2008 and 2011, Quattro all-wheel drive, fantastically subtle RS body kit, and a “stealth finish” clearly make it a wagon of every enthusiast’s dream.

597 hp in the Performance version launch it almost into supercar territory. The Audi RS6 Avant will tackle anything off the line and probably beat it. Germans might have discontinued it fro the moment but it’ll come back. It always did before, anyway.

02. Volvo V60 Polestar

The Volvo V60 is a sort of a station wagon, but something altogether different in reality. The cargo area increased by that much as compared to the sedan version, but it’s not its carry capacity that’s of concern to us. This is Volvo’s performance contribution to the mid-sized vehicle category.

Motivating power used to come from a turbocharged 3.0L six-cylinder engine good enough for 350 horses. And just importantly, the Polestar modifications are more abundant in the interior hence the exterior differences might not be apparent on the road. The Volvo V60 Polestar registers a 0-60 time of 4.9, which most definitely earns its place on our list.

The car also had extensive upgrades to suspension ( Öhlins dampers) and brakes (Brembo pistons), and had special sway bars. Introduced in 2014, the performance wagon is still available for purchase even though the Polestar division has since become an automaker of their own. The new models, however, will boast 415 ponies as of 2020 thanks to a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0L 4-cylinder engine and dual electric motors, Volvo likes to call T8.

01. Cadillac CTS-V

The 15-year old veteran is singing its swan song in 2019 but we’ll never forget it. Mostly due to its performance “V” model which shared an engine with the most powerful Corvettes (Z06) and Camaros (ZL1) at the time.

The engine in question is (at the moment) a 640-horsepower 6.2L LT4 supercharged V8, but previous generations used similar LSA, LS2, and LS6 mills from the present to the past respectively. In spite of all its power, the CTS-V doesn’t really differ from the regular models but commands a $35,000 premium. Grab one while you still can in spite of its hefty $87,000 price tag is all the advice I can give you.

The latest-generation models are capable of sprinting to 60 mph from a standing start in 3.6 seconds and maxing out at 200 mph in spite of their 4,150 curb weight. And they’re naturally stacked with luxury gear, being Cadillacs and all. What else do you need?

10 Cars That Weren’t as Fast as They Looked 10. DeLorean DMC-12

Not only did the DMC-12 look like something straight from the future (back in 1981 at least), it was also the automotive star of the “Back to the Future” trilogy. This futuristic look also made it look a hell of a lot faster than it really was.

Under its hood was a 2.7-liter V6 engine that mustered up pathetic 130 horsepower. This low power output made the DMC-12 far slower than it looked, as it took 10.5 seconds to hit 60 mph and topped out at 109 mph. That explains why Marty always needed so much road to reach that magic 88 mph barrier…

09. Mitsuoka Orochi

The Mitsuoka Orochi was likely one of the most polarizing cars in the world, as its insane looks were either loved or hated – nothing in between. There was, however, no denying that its looks oozed supercar, but looks are often very deceiving.

The Mitsuoka Orochi’s 3.3L V6, which it shared with notorious performance models like the Toyota Camry and Toyota Highlander Hybrid, produced just 230-ish horsepower. To make matters worse, the Orochi tipped the scales at a flabby 3,400 pounds, giving it a power-to-weight ratio similar to that of the Toyota Solara and a 0 to 60 acceleration of 6 seconds which most sedans from above would beat with ease. It still achieved a respectable life cycle which spanned between 2006 and 2014.

08. Pontiac Fiero

The Pontiac Fiero was one of many potentially quick cars that GM built in the 1980s but never realized its full potential. Sure its V6-powered GT trim was decent, but the majority of the Fieros still on the road have the 2.5L four-cylinder that produced as little as 98 horsepower.

This horrifically low output resulted in 0 to 60 sprints (more like limps) that took more than 10 seconds. The fiery Fiero does have a legacy of its own nowadays, but it has nothing to do with its fiery speed.

07. Honda CR-Z

The CR-Z launched in 2011 with a marketing campaign talking about how sporty this hybrid was. As with many ad campaigns, this was nothing but a hyperbole, as its 1.5L engine and electric motor combined to produce just 122 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque.

Its sporty, CRX-like look added fuel to the fire that this would be a quick little hybrid rig. Well, that was a lie too, as it took more than 8 seconds to hit 60 mph. The addition of an optional supercharger towards the end of production spiced things up a bit, but the base model was still far slower than it looked.

06. Porsche Cayenne

In its debut year, the Porsche Cayenne came with two V8 engine options, keeping its performance in check with the badge on its nose. In its second year, however, Porsche added a 3.2L V6 to the mix. This engine produced just 247 horsepower, putting the Cayenne on the crap list of many Porsche fans.

This terrible (in terms of performance) V6 engine resulted in an un-Porsche-like 9-second 0 to 60 time. The 3.6L V6 that replaced it wasn’t much better at 8 seconds to 60 mph. In recent years, the base Cayenne and the Cayenne Diesel both have performance numbers that don’t quite match Porsche’s performance history, but they aren’t nearly as bad as these early models.

05. Plymouth/Chrysler Prowler

The Plymouth/Chrysler Prowler will continue to turn heads for many years as it looks like it would be one of the fastest cars of its era. Under its hood, however, is a completely different story, as it originally came with a 3.5L V6 that produced just 214 horsepower. In 1999, the Prowler gained a new 3.5L V6 that turned the juice up to 253 horsepower, but even that still didn’t match its outrageous open-wheel looks.

With the higher-output V6 in tow, the Prowler could hit 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, but it looked a hell of a lot faster than that.

04. Porsche 914

If there is one black-eye on Porsche’s record, other than the original Cayenne V6 that I mentioned earlier, it is the 914. This two-seat targa model saw life between 1969 and 1976, and it looked like a good performer. Its powertrain, however, told a different story, as it maxed out at 107 horsepower.

This most-powerful version of the 914 resulted in an 8.7-second cruise to 62 mph. The slowest version of the 914 was the 1,679 cc model that strolled to 62 mph in a lethargic 13.3 seconds. Things were improved when the flat-six-powered Porsche 914/6 entered the fray in 1970, but the now-collectible model only stuck around for years, hence a vast majority of sold 914’s were the 914/4’s.

03. Ferrari Mondial 8

Ah, the prancing horse. A logo that exudes sportiness and outrageous performance. Well, the 1980 to 1982 Mondial 8 was an exception to this rule, as it was the more “practical” Ferrari – that with a 3.0L V8 engine that produced just 214 horsepower and four seats.

This V8 engine could muster up just enough oomph to get the Modial 8 to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds. Even Ferrari couldn’t avoid the power drain that the 1980s put on the automotive industry. To this date, the Mondial is remembered as one of the worst Ferrari cars ever – some would even say “the worst”.

02. Hofstetter Turbo

The Hofstetter Turbo was a car that seemingly had all the prerequisites for being one of world’s fastest cars. Wedge looks, gullwing doors, and even the “turbo” bit in its nameplate were there. The only lacking bit was the actual performance.

The Hofstetter was a Brazilian wannabe supercar inspired by the fabled Alfa Romeo Carabo, produced between 1986 and 1991. Only 18 examples were ever made and maybe that’s for the best. It was conceived through a necessity as taxes for imported cars in Brazil amounted to nearly 50 percent. That move by the Brazilian government yielded an influx of domestic car manufacturers but they overlooked one thing. Nobody could guarantee the newly established car makers would be worth their salt.

Beating under the Hofstetter’s midsection was initially a Volkswagen-sourced 1.8L 4-cylinder backed by a Garrett turbocharger. The setup was good enough for 140 ponies and a 0 to 62 time of 9.3 seconds despite the car tipping the scales at only 2,470 pounds. Things were improved in 1988 thanks to a 2.0L turbo four mill which bumped the ratings to 210 ponies but that was still too low for a car that looked as mean as the Hofstetter.

01. Opel GT

The iconic Opel GT lacked in performance what it had in abundance in its looks. A beautifully designed 2-seater remained in production between 1968 and 1973 but failed to take advantage of the muscle car scene that was in full swing in earlier part of that time span, for instance.

The small sports car was initially powered by a 67-horsepower 1.1L inline-four engine which gave it a lackluster 0 to 60 time of 15.6 seconds. Only 3,573 cars equipped with this engine were made and, interestingly enough, they’re highly sought-after collectibles nowadays.

An optional 102-horsepower 1.9L 4-cylinder engine (rated at 83 hp in the U.S. due to reduced compression) was a much more popular option resulting in production of 100,000 units. 10.6 seconds to accelerate to 60 mph was still too slow for a car that looked like and, more importantly, was advertised as a sports car.

Cars.com plans to restructure sales operations, cut staff amid investor pressure

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Cars.com, one of the auto industry's largest online shopping sites, is restructuring its sales operations and eliminating more than 100 positions amid pressure from an activist investment group.

FCA to idle Ontario minivan plant for 8 days, union says

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Fiat Chrysler Automobiles plans to idle its assembly plant in Windsor, Ont., for two weeks in the new year, according to the union representing workers there.

Brazil court grants Ghosn access to Rio apartment

Automotive Business Review - 12 December, 2018 - 20:19
A Brazilian court decided that ousted Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn or his daughter should have the right to access a contested Rio apartment to retrieve personal belongings, Reuters reported.

BMW logistics get boost from U.S. grant

Automotive Business Review - 12 December, 2018 - 19:51
A $25 million U.S. transportation grant supporting the expansion of an inland port for containers will directly benefit logistics operations at BMW in South Carolina and other manufacturers in the region.

Cadillac XT6 crossover slated to debut at Detroit auto show

Automotive Business Review - 12 December, 2018 - 18:11
The large three-row vehicle will slot between the XT5 midsize crossover and the Cadillac Escalade large SUV -- white space the brand has needed to fill for some time.

China considers delay for tech-dominance plans amid trade war, report says

Automotive Business Review - 12 December, 2018 - 16:54
China is considering plans to delay some targets in its strategy to dominate high-end technologies and to put more focus on shaping industry standards, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg.

Financing concerns weigh on auto dealers in Q4, Cox survey finds

Automotive Business Review - 12 December, 2018 - 16:53
Alongside affordability challenges, high interest rates and difficulty obtaining credit for customers have clouded dealers' typically rosy outlooks, according to Cox Automotive's Dealer Sentiment Index survey.

Audi's Schot appointed CEO on permanent basis

Automotive Business Review - 12 December, 2018 - 15:54
Audi marketing expert Bram Schot will become the luxury brand's CEO on Jan. 1, making permanent a role he has held on an interim basis since June.

Renault tells Nissan not to contact its board members, report says

Automotive Business Review - 12 December, 2018 - 15:04
Renault has told alliance partner Nissan not to contact its directors ahead of a Renault board meeting on Thursday, a source told Reuters.

VW expects new EV platform to give it an edge over rivals

Automotive Business Review - 12 December, 2018 - 13:59
Volkswagen says the MEB platform that will underpin its I.D. electric-vehicle family will be even more scalable than the MQB architecture used for 80 percent of the group's combustion engine cars.

Ghosn seen as liability as French president battles elitist image

Automotive Business Review - 12 December, 2018 - 13:54
As Renault's largest shareholder, the French government might be expected to stand up for Carlos Ghosn as he fights charges in Japan that he underreported tens of millions of dollars.

Nissan spells out allegations on Ghosn to Renault

Automotive Business Review - 12 December, 2018 - 13:35
Nissan took the first comprehensive steps to share details with Renault about allegations against Carlos Ghosn in a move that may help ease a climate of suspicion that has clouded their partnership.

Nissan expands Ghosn probe to European affiliates

Automotive Business Review - 12 December, 2018 - 13:15
Nissan is poised to widen its probe into Carlos Ghosn to investigate possible misconduct at its alliance joint venture entity with Renault and a host of subsidiaries, people familiar with the matter said, in a move that could trigger more criminal...

Hyundai promotes former BMW exec to randd chief in management shake-up

Automotive Business Review - 12 December, 2018 - 13:09
Hyundai Motor appointed Albert Biermann, a former BMW executive, as its first foreign head of research and development, raising expectations of a smooth transition of power at the family-run business empire.

VW Passat to remain on old platform, update styling, tech for 2020

Automotive Business Review - 12 December, 2018 - 12:00
The 2020 Volkswagen Passat will receive new exterior styling, more standard safety equipment and an updated instrument panel but it won't land on a new platform or feature a new powertrain as the automaker, citing the shrinking midsize car market,...

GM pressed by 2 Senators to build all EVs for U.S. stateside

Automotive Business Review - 12 December, 2018 - 00:56
Two U.S. senators from Ohio on Tuesday asked General Motors CEO Mary Barra to commit to building all future electric vehicles for U.S. buyers at home and to provide more details of plans to cut back on car output in North America.

Ex-Ford Argentina execs convicted in torture case

Automotive Business Review - 11 December, 2018 - 23:50
An Argentine court convicted two former executives of a local Ford plant of involvement in the torture of workers during the country's dictatorship in the 1970s, victims' lawyers said, adding they may sue Ford in U.S. federal court.

Vroom collects $146 million in latest funding, eyes expansion with new hires

Automotive Business Review - 11 December, 2018 - 22:24
Upstart online used-car retailer Vroom said it raised $146 million in its latest round of funding, including a previously reported $50 million from AutoNation Inc.
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