Buying into the JDMlifestyle is becoming increasingly expensive, but it’s still not time to push the red button. Thankfully, there are so many great cars that come from Japan, so a select number of them are still hovering at an affordable price bracket, alongside the JDM sports cars that are now worth a fortune.
The used car market is still thriving, and the options that are currently available to you for under $10,000 is incredible. What’s more, Japanese cars tend to be cheap and easy to maintain and repair, which is why there are a number of JDM sports cars that will last you a lifetime.
That’s important, given that the main reason you’re reading this article is that you want something that you can redline without worrying too much about, while having a typically juvenile attempt at learning oversteer and understeer. Here are 10 cars to help you do just that.
10 Mitsubishi 3000GT (Estimated $10,000)
The Mitsubishi 3000GT is a divisive car, there’s no doubting that. On the one hand, it’s (fairly) argued that its curb weight of over 3,000 pounds and heavily tech-driven package make it less engaging to drive. The fact that so many had automatic gearboxes made that argument substantially more valid, too.
But despite you needing to be lucky to find a good example of the Mitsubishi 3000GT for under $10k, there are positives. Its 3.0-liter V6 develops plenty of power, and offers a strong tunability range. Additionally, a few splitters on either side and a spoiler at the back, and you’ve got yourself a Japanese Ferrari. The 3000GT truly is a used sports car bargain.
9 Mazda RX-8 (Estimated $9,000)
No JDM list is complete without a rotary-powered participant, is it? Duly, ours includes the Mazda RX-8: a car which blends a superb driving experience with a high-pitched symphony. It’s even somewhat practical, but that’s not the purpose of it in this regard. The Mazda RX-8 is considered unreliable by many, and that’s a fair point. It has a rotary.
But look past that and keep it well maintained, and you’ve bagged yourself a real JDM star of the 2000s. The scope of possibility is endless, you can literally keep as bone dry stock as you want, or go all out and turn it into a mountain road riot. Various models can be found for well under $10,000, such as a 2006 Mazda RX-8 Shinka Special Edition.
8 Toyota Celica (Seventh Generation) (Estimated $8,000)
If ever there was a gentle touch to the JDM era, the seventh generation Celica might just be it. It’s not as loud or flamboyant as many of the other options available; it just quietly goes about its business while sporting equally subdued looks. But that doesn’t mean it’s boring – far from it, actually. Many even refer to the Toyota Celica GT-Four as Japan’s unsung rally hero.
You can still find slightly more sought after sixth generation Celicas within this price range, but we think the variety of options and the (generally) lower mileage of the seventh generations makes them a much more sensible purchase for under $10k. A quick browse will land you on a number of well-kept 2001 Toyota Celica GTs with 1.8-liter four-cylinder engines.
7 Nissan 300ZX (Estimated $10,000)
It would seem ironic to call it a cult hero, given just how many JDM cars from this era fall in that category, but the Nissan 300ZX truly satisfies the criteria. It has a huge following thanks to its styling quirks, strong 3.0-liter V6 and joyous RWD layout, all of which contribute to making it as enjoyable to drive as it is retro to behold. Arguably, it is one of the finest JDM cars ever built.
If you’ve ever driven one, you’d understand why we say its analog dynamics are such a refreshing experience in today’s world. Much like its fellow premium entrants, finding a 300ZX for under $10k is a challenge, but not impossible if you’re willing to budge on a few modifications.
6 Mitsubishi FTO (Estimated $10,000)
The Lancer Evolution, and even the GTO, may get the vast majority of the attention where Mitsubishi’s JDM options are concerned, but we believe the FTO deserves to be right up there too. Mechanically, it wasn’t anything spectacular, which is why so few examples are actually in circulation. But as is the case with most of the cars on this list, there are a great number of modifications for the Mitsubishi FTO to help you make it spectacular.
Examples do occasionally show up for under $10k with around 100,000 miles on the clock. Slightly better examples, especially those that have been kept rust-free, can be imported from Japan for just over $10k, and may end up being the better option to go for here.
5 Toyota MR2 (Second Generation) (Estimated $10,000)
What is it about the second generation MR2 that makes it so very likable? Is it the silhouette? Or perhaps because it’s a mid-engined sports car that will never let you down? It could even be the T-bar option that comes with many of them. Regardless, all these little characteristics come together to create an extremely fun roadster that wouldn’t tear a hole in your pocket.
But, it must be warned, prices are on the rise. A quick glance over the Kelley Blue Book information page for the MR2 shows the scale of the inflation. What could previously be purchased for around $4,000 is now demanding a substantial amount more.
4 Nissan 350Z (Estimated $9,000)
In terms of the maximum amount of standard performance for the least expenditure, very few cars can offer what the Nissan 350Z does. A superbly handling car with a beautifully balanced weight distribution, and a punchy 3.5-liter V6 engine, the 350Z is a fitting car for the former “Drift King”. While we are upset about the unfortunate demise of his tastefully modified 350Z, we can’t say the same about his own.
Examples are floating for well below the $10k budget discussed, but the tidiest ones will set you close to the limit. You can even opt for a convertible, if that’s what you’d prefer, but you’ll have to compromise on the fleet-footed nature of the hard-top if you do. It won’t be quite as enjoyable to drive, but it does make the general look of the car slightly more appealing. So, it’s a matter of compromise. Regardless, the Nissan 350Z is a great bargain sports car.
3 Mitsubishi Eclipse (Third Generation) (Estimated $9,000)
Ah, yes, the famous 10-second car which led the way for the Fast and Furious franchise to lift off. But the second-gen isn’t the one we’re talking about here, rather, the third. It’s noway near as famous as its predecessor, but as a sports car, it can claim to be just as good, if not better. Certainly from a pricing perspective, it’s a lovely car to express yourself with, given many would argue that the Eclipse GT V6 is a bargain sports car.
Plenty of clean 2009 Mitsubishi Eclipse GS models are lingering on the market at present, and if you find yourself buying one, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a smile on your face. The Eclipse is one of the few cars on this list that may actually look better when left standard, and also looks like it’s worth a considerable amount more than it actually is.
2 Mazda MX-5 Eunos (First Generation) (Estimated $7,000)
There are absolutely no surprises here. Not only is the Mazda MX-5 THE best-selling convertible of all-time, but the first generation Miatas are still going for respectable amounts given how many entered circulation. A slice of JDM history that lit up the early stages of so many gearheads’ earliest automotive memories, the Eunos remains a go-to option for enthusiasts.
You can turn a Eunos into anything you want it to be, given the fact that you’re working with something so simple and back to basics, so this tiny roadster becomes the ultimate affordable means of expression. There’s a reason why even Christian Von Koenigsegg loves his 1992 Mazda Miata MX-5.
1 Nissan 180sx (Estimated $10,000)
The only car on this list which you’d genuinely be lucky to find for under $10,000. If a 180sx shows up and nothing with it looks too dodgy, you’ve simply got to pounce. The majority of immaculate 180sx examples would actually fall under the bracket of JDM sports cars from the 90s you can buy for under $30k.
Of all the cars on this list, the Nissan 180sx is probably the closest thing to JDM perfection and heritage. It’s not like the other cars aren’t, it’s more that the 180sx really captures the 90s JDM flavor. Plenty of perfect examples exist if you’re willing to spend a little more on getting a used Nissan 180sx imported from Japan.