At some point in your life, you'll probably own a Honda Civic, or an Accord. The Civic is the most aptly named car out on the market. It's dutiful, responsible, and perfect for the average civis (that’s latin for citizen). It is also slow. And if the Civic is the standard bearer for responsible driving, it’s got an army marching behind it. Kelley Blue Book’s list of top-selling cars is crowded with Japanese beige-mobiles. Behind the Civic: the Accord and CR-V, Toyota’s sensible Corolla and Camry, Nissan's Altima. They are not cool cars.
But beware of the stereotype that Japanese cars are cheap appliances. The truth is, the Japanese manufacturers build some of the coolest wheel son the road. The four major Japanese brands that would love to sell you a car with a stonking motor in the front, wide tires out back, and a bad attitude throughout. It’s on you if you end up buying a damn Civic.
Here are the better options:
Infiniti Q70, V8
Infiniti’s Big Papa executive sedan offers a weapons-grade 5.6-liter, 420-horsepower V8. And, unlike the handsome-but-safe lines of the Germans, the Infiniti is wrapped in the most hyperbolic phrase ever uttered in the brand’s muscular design language (provided that you pony up $5,200 for the sport package’s lower sills and 20-inch wheels). We welcome you to try and find another car that looks so ready to pounce.
Lexus IS-F, V8
The Lexus IS is a small car by almost any measure. It’s short, low, and light. That’s why, when Lexus stuffed a 416-horsepower V8 under the hood, people paid attention. With a hood-bulge, 5-liter lump, and stacked quad pipes, the F is louder and torquier than a BMW M3 and a whole lot more reliable than a Mercedes C63. It’s a brawling bruiser wearing a school-boy’s uniform, and a dwindling lunch money fund is a fair price to pay for the IS F’s powerful punch.
Nissan GT-R, Twin-Turbo V6
Experts seems to agree: In terms of real-world speed, there’s no car faster than a Nissan GT-R. It’s a few years old, but every year Nissan tweaks the car to keep it at the top of the heap. Today, you can buy a 600-horsepower Nismo version that, off the dealer lot, can do a 7:08 lap of Germany’s famous Nurburgring Nordschleife. The GT-R, more than any rental lot Altima, is an expression of Japanese spirit: super-sonic speed, outrageous style, and a relentless striving for dominance. To us, Kong is just Kong; Godzilla is King.
Subaru WRX STI, Turbo Inline-4
We understand skepticism about any 4-cylinder “muscle car,” but hear us out. The way we see it, a muscle car is any smaller sedan or coupe body stuffed with the most powerful engine a company makes, whether that means Ford stuffing a 7-liter Thunderbolt V8 in its compact Ford Fairlane or Mercedes bolting the 6.3-liter brute from its 600 limousine into the midsize 300SEL. Here, Subaru took its smallest sedan, the Impreza, and installed a rally-sourced, hugely turbocharged 2.5-liter boxer engine to make one of our favorite pocket rockets.
Lexus LFA, V10
Technically, all 500 LFA’s have been sold, but there was no way we could leave this insane performer off the list. The LFA is the antithesis of every boring sedan Lexus has every churned out, but it still benefits from the brand’s trademark obsessive attention to detail. The components - carbon-fiber tub, 550-horsepower V10 with a 9000-rpm redline, ceramic brakes, digital tachometer (an analog version couldn’t have kept up with the rev-happy engine) - are as well sourced as the finest sushi. Consider this a slap in the face to anyone who assumes all Japanese cars are soulless or slow. Wake up.