The speed limit remains, though. Even so, JDM cars are punchier than ever before. We've put together a list of the 20 most powerful in production today, and – quite remarkably – the 19th vehicle in the ranking is only 8 metric ponies shy of the 280-ps limit imposed by the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association between 1989 through 2004. How times have changed, huh?
For the sake of diversity, we haven't included every variant of a given model. That's why the R35 is listed only in its most powerful specification. Had we included the base variant as well, the GT-R would have ranked second and first, respectively. Despite being sold in right-hand drive in the Land of the Rising Sun, the MKV Supra isn't featured either because it's not assembled in the country that gave us the quartz watch, the personal cassette player, and – believe it or not – emojis.
That being said, let's kick this off with plug-in hybrid sport utility vehicle that's also available in the US.
20. Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV – 252 ps
That's why the Outlander on sale today is hardly a Mitsubishi under the skin. The only exception is the PHEV, for it sports a Mitsubishi-developed powerplant instead of a Nissan engine. The only variant available in Japan for the Outlander, the plug-in hybrid combines two electric motors with a 2.4-liter NA I4.
It's not the most powerful plug-in hybrid on this list, yet 249 horsepower and 332 pound-feet (450 Nm) are solid numbers for a compact utility vehicle. The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates a total driving range of 420 miles (676 kilometers) on the combined test cycle, whereas EV mode offers a driving range of 38 (61) thanks to a 20.1-kWh battery pack.
19. Toyota GR Yaris RZ – 272 ps
It's also the only Yaris of the XP210 series with three doors rather than five. A homologation special with Gazoo Racing DNA, this cutesy machine flaunts trailing double wishbone suspension out back instead of the torsion beam of the regular five-door Yaris.
Powered by a three-cylinder lump with 1.6 liters to its name, the all-wheel-drive GR Yaris RZ retails at 3,960,000 yen (27,085 dollars). The entry-level GR Yaris RS sports front-wheel drive and a sticker price of 2,650,000 yen (18,125 dollars) in its domestic market.
18. Subaru WRX S4 – 275 ps
It's a little torquier, though, and it's not available with a manual. Kind of shocking, but alas, CVTs are hugely popular in this part of the world because of kei cars. Rated at 271 horsepower – just like the WRX for America – the S4 offers 277 pound-feet (375 Nm) as opposed to 258 pound-feet (350 Nm) in the US of A.
Sadly, there will be no STI variant of the WRX. Back in March 2022, Subaru made it clear that it's focused on electrification at the present moment. The Tokyo-based marque is exploring opportunities for the next WRX, including electrified powertrains, albeit not on the Subaru Global Platform of the VB-generation WRX.
17. Nissan Elgrand V6 – 280 ps
The four-cylinder QR25DE is standard, whereas the 350 prefix of a given trim level stands for the six-cylinder VQ35DE. A venerable powerplant that was also used by the 350Z sports car, this mill belts out 280 ponies (make that 276 horsepower) and 254 pound-feet (344 Nm).
With front-wheel drive, this well-appointed minivan starts at 4,827,900 yen or 33,025 dollars for the 350 Highway Star trim level. Opting for all-wheel drive increases the retail price to ¥5,117,200 or $35,000.
16. Toyota GR Corolla RZ – 304 ps
Gifted with two additional doors over its B-segment sibling, the GR Corolla sports the same GR-Four AWD system as the subcompact hatchback. The torque split can vary from 60/40 to 30/70, whereas Track Mode splits torque equally between the front and rear axles.
Similar to the GR Yaris, a six-speed manual will have to make do. Frankly speaking, that's the gearbox you want in a car developed exclusively for driving pleasure rather than lapping a given track faster than everyone else.
15. Toyota RAV4 PHV – 306 ps
Instead of a conventional AWD setup, Toyota employs an electric motor out back for electric all-wheel drive when the situation calls for it. There's also a second electric motor up front, as well as a naturally-aspirated 2.5 running the efficiency-oriented Atkinson cycle.
What's utmost uncanny about the RAV4 PHV and its North American cousin is that it's sports car quick. Despite being equipped with a continuously variable transmission, the stint from zero to 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour) takes an estimated 5.7 seconds.
14. Lexus NX 450h+ – 309 ps
Over in the United States of America, the EPA-estimated range is 37 miles (60 kilometers) in all-electric mode. As for the Japanese specification, its electric driving range is 54 miles (87 kilometers) under the unreasonably optimistic NEDC that European countries replaced with the slightly better WLTP in September 2018.
The NX 450h+ starts at 7,295,000 yen (49,895 dollars) for the L trim level and 7,535,000 yen (51,535 dollars) for the better-looking F Sport. By comparison, the NX 350h self-charging hybrid is ¥5,470,000 ($37,415).
13. Lexus RZ 450e – 313 ps
The RZ and technically similar bZ4X and Solterra leave much to be desired in many respects, beginning with pricing and range. As if that wasn't bad enough, Toyota recalled over 5,000 examples of the bZ4X and Solterra worldwide due to wheel hub bolts that may loosen to the point where the wheels can detach while driving.
Worse still, Subaru issued a second recall over this very problem in February 2023 due to a third-party repairer that overtightened the bolts. Given this information, you're better off giving other EVs a chance over the RZ 450e and its lesser twins from Toyota and Subaru.
12. Mazda CX-60 e-Skyactiv PHEV – 327 ps
Before going any further, care to guess which is the most powerful series-production Mazda ever made? That would be the 3.3-liter gasser in the CX-90, which produces 340 ponies at full chatter. In second place, the plug-in hybrid setup mentioned earlier is officially rated at 323 horsepower with premium unleaded gasoline.
By comparison, the twin-turbo 13B rotary of the FD RX-7 Type R is good for – at least on paper – 276 horsepower. Based around a 2.5-liter four-pot, the e-Skyactiv PHEV option is available stateside as well, with Mazda charging $47,445 for the CX-90 PHEV as opposed to $39,595 for the silky-smooth 3.3-liter I6.
11. Honda Civic Type R – 330 ps
Not even the 325-horsepower Acura Integra Type S can equal the crankshaft rating of the Civic Type R for Japan (and Europe). Manufactured at the Yorii plant alongside the Civic e:HEV five-door hatchback, the FL5 comes exclusively with an auto rev-matching stick shift.
The Civic Type R is the most expensive Honda in Japan, for it starts at 4,997,300 yen (34,180 dollars) at the moment of reporting. The second most expensive is the poor-selling Honda e, a small EV that will set you back 4,950,000 yen (33,855 dollars) at the very least.
10. Toyota Crown Crossover RS – 345 psLand Cruiser and Tacoma.
Equipped with a six-speed automatic, the Crossover RS blurs the line between a sedan and a sport utility vehicle. Based on the Camry's front-biased platform, the Crown will soon be available in three other body styles.
These are called Estate, Sedan, and Sport. Said variants are due to launch between fall 2023 and fall 2024 for the 2024 through 2025 model years. The Crown Sport RS – or whatever will be called – surely packs a bigger punch than the Crown Crossover RS, meaning that we'll have to update this ranking when the cat's outta the bag.
9. Lexus RX 500h – 371 ps
From the practicality of an SUV to the sharp exterior design, quality interior, and varied powertrain choices, it does tick all the right boxes. The 500h stand tall with 366 horsepower under its belt, 91 more than the combustion-only 500.
The NiMH battery living under the rear seats provides electricity to a couple of electric motors. One of them is located between the naturally-aspirated I4 engine and six-speed automatic transmission, whereas the other drive unit powers the rear wheels when necessary.
8. Toyota Land Cruiser 3.4L V6 and Lexus LX 600 – 415 ps
The full-size Land Cruiser has also lost its naturally-aspirated V8 in the switchover from the 200 to the 300 series. The J300 comes with a grand total of three non-electrified powertrains, of which the V35A-FTS is the most powerful. It's the same engine Lexus offers in the LX 600, a twin-turbo V6 that's often marketed as a 3.5-liter despite displacing 3,445 cubic centimeters.
As expected from Toyota, said motor combines direct and port fuel injection for maximum efficiency and power. On full song, it cranks out 479 pound-feet (650 Nm) between 2,000 and 3,600 revolutions per minute. The old V8 made 401 pound-feet (544 Nm) at 3,600 revolutions per minute while drinking more fuel.
7. Nissan Skyline NISMO – 420 ps
Introduced in 2014, the V37 is called Nissan Skyline in Japan or Infiniti Q50 in the United States. We're all aware of the 400-horsepower Q50 Red Sport 400, but on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, the Japanese automaker has tuned the VR30DDTT to 414 ponies.
Enter the Skyline NISMO, the most expensive Skyline in production today. Only 1,000 units will be made, plus a further 100 of the Skyline NISMO Limited. To whom it may concern, these bad boys are priced at ¥7,880,400 and ¥9,479,800 ($53,900 and $64,840), respectively.
6. Nissan Fairlady Z NISMO – 420 psZ NISMO has the same output numbers as the Skyline NISMO. It's as if Nissan didn't even try to hide the relationship between these two sporty automobiles.
Known as the Fairlady Z NISMO in Japan, the coupe-bodied sports car isn't available with a manual transmission. A nine-speed automatic will have to make do, namely the 9G-Tronic-based JR913E that JATCO manufactures under license from Mercedes-Benz AG.
At press time, you can get in line for the Fairlady Z NISMO as long as you're prepared to spend 9,200,400 yen (62,930 dollars). At the other end of the spectrum, the Fairlady Z grade with either the six-speed manual or nine-speed auto is 5,398,800 yen (36,925 dollars).
5. Lexus LS 500 – 422 ps
The 2018 model year LS 500 premiered the V35A-FTS engine that Toyota uses in a wide variety of vehicles today, including the Tundra pickup truck and Sequoia utility vehicle. It develops a respectable 416 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 442 pound-feet (600 Nm) at 1,600 to 4,800 rpm, making it punchier than the old LS 460.
Unfortunately for Lexus, this generation of the LS doesn't sell particularly well. Only 2,679 units of the LS 500 were delivered in the United States last year, plus a further 78 examples of the free-breathing LS 500h.
4. Toyota Century – 431 ps
Codenamed G60 (just like the eighth and current generation of the BMW 5 Series sedan), the Century actually produces 425 horsepower because it's a hybrid by default. Based on the rather archaic N platform that Toyota replaced with the TNGA-L back in 2018, the Century slots above the Lexus LS for obvious reasons.
Think of it as the Rolls-Royce of Japan, an institution in and of itself. There are no trim levels to speak of. Instead, a single well-equipped grade is listed on Toyota's Japanese website at a staggering 20,080,000 yen. At current exchange rates, that means $137,345.
3. Lexus LC 500 – 477 psnaturally-aspirated V8 as of September 2023, and said engine sounds like a muffled NASCAR racing engine.
One has to wonder why Lexus couldn't make a case for the 2UR-GSE in the LS 500, but thankfully, this free-breathing V8 is also used in the IS 500 and RC F. Both are tuned slightly more aggressively, which begs the question, why did Lexus hold back with the LS 500?
The most straightforward answer is that Lexus didn't create a sports car. This intricately styled machine is a grand tourer by definition, a long-distance cruiser that's also selling rather poorly in the day and age of 600-plus-horsepower M8 Competitions and the likes. Last year in the US, only 1,387 examples were delivered. The V6-engined LC 500h totaled a rather disappointing 19.
2. Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance and Lexus RC F – 481 ps
The IS 500 and RC F are unique in their segments as well because of said engine, which is connected to an eight-speed automatic whether you like it or not. Although there are manual transmissions out there capable of taking 395 pound-feet (535 Nm), Toyota didn't give the IS 500 and RC F a manual because it wouldn't have improved their sales volumes anyway.
It's a bit of a shame these high-performance vehicles don't get the attention they deserve, especially now that everyone and their dog is focused on electrification. In a few years' time, when naturally-aspirated V8 powerplants will be restricted to full-size pickups and the Mustang, we'll surely miss the IS 500 and RC F.
1. Nissan GT-R NISMO – 600 psNISMO was introduced in 2013 for MY15, which makes it 10 years old in 2023.
Let's rewind back to 2013. That's when Thrift Shop and Blurred Lines reigned supreme on the Billboard Hot 100, the year that saw a scantily-clad Miley Cyrus get on a wrecking ball while holding on to a chain. It was pretty wild, indeed. Wilder still, the 2015 model year GT-R NISMO lapped the Nurburgring Nordschleife in 7:08.679 on September 30th, 2013.
Seriously impressive, innit? Nissan originally sold the GT-R NISMO at $149,990 in the United States. Care to guess how much it costs today? It's hard to fathom a Nissan going for $149,990 so many years ago, and it's even harder to accept that the 2024 model is an eye-watering $220,990 excluding taxes and options. For a 10-year-old design, that's a bit cheeky on Nissan's part.