Opinion: Praying for a new Japanese performance era

praying for a new era of Japanese performance cars

I love Japan. I love the weirdburger culture; the way manners are taken to the extreme yet there are vending machines in Tokyo unapologetically dispensing used women’s underwear.

If you overlook the fact some Japanese prefer Moby Dick swimming in soy sauce than the ocean, Japan is great.

But I first fell in love with Japan for its cars. My first performance car was a 1986 Toyota MR2. It had a mid-mounted supercharged 1.6-litre engine, so close to your spine it felt like you were wearing it as a backpack, and would happily and swiftly punish messy driving by spinning within its own length. It was terrific fun and an education in driving. I miss it.

Toyota -AW11-MR2I also had an S13 Nissan Silvia with a turbo the size of a bowling ball and nearly 300kW. The interior was full of dog hair from a previous owner, it smelt like damp socks but far out, it was quick. With no ESP or traction control, I considered buying life insurance. To this day, it’s still the most terrifying car I’ve driven.

But what rips at my soul these days is that Japan has lost its way. I love the 86 and BRZ but nearly two years after their on-sale, we’re yet to see any hotter versions. This used to be Japan’s “thing”.

There’s the Nissan GT-R and Lexus LFA, but buggered if most of us could afford either. The 370Z and Mitsubishi Evo X, meanwhile, are ancient.

Lexus -LFAIn its heyday, Japanese car companies were seemingly run by revheads. Before knitting became a popular corporate pastime at Toyota, they sold the Supra, MR2, Celica and in Japan, the Soarer, Celsior and Chaser. Nissan the Silvia, 300SX, Cefiro and of course an entire family of cheap, fast Skylines. Honda, those legends, scoffed at turbos and pushed rev ceilings to the exosphere with VTEC. Subaru championed the WRX and locked horns with the Evo.

Entire communities today worship these cars thanks to the internet. Yet they couldn’t give two shits about the new stuff because the Japanese car makers themselves don’t seem to have their hearts in performance cars anymore. Yet the Germans are churning out fast cars like sausages.

The Subaru STI is still kicking of course, but I can’t help but fight off a feeling of mild disappointment. It looks, well, nothing like the pumped-guard, animalistic concept car we saw at the 2013 New York motor show.

Subaru -STI-ConceptJapan was once the technology leader in performance cars but the STI hasn’t changed much underneath; you can’t get a dual-clutch auto even though they’re almost ubiquitous in fast cars these days.

I realise this is all a bit harsh. The GFC kicked the Japanese car companies right in the gonads. They’re still recovering. I just hope it’s sooner rather than never.

My hope the Japanese will mount a performance-car resurgence clings like a frightened barnacle to one car in particular. It’s not the new NSX or Civic Type R – they don’t do it for me yet, I don’t know why.

Toyota -ft -1-side -profileIt’s the Toyota FT-1, the next Supra, which you’ll see later this issue. All I can say is please Toyota, don’t stuff it up. There are a few million people like me with their eyes closed and fingers crossed.

Get your free weekly report from the world of fast cars - subscribe to the MOTOR newsletter!