Best Japanese modern classic cars you can afford

From rally car brawlers to elegant luxury limos, Japan is the source of some quirky and hugely desirable modern classic cars

Think of Japanese modern classics and you’ll probably have visions of legendary sports cars like the Nissan Skyline GT-R, Mazda RX-7, Honda NSX and Toyota Supra. In reality there's an abundance of Japanese classic cars you can pick up now that could prove to be a shrewd investment. 

Japan has given us some fantastic cars down the years and many charismatic models from the 1990s and 2000s are looking very attractive these days. Whether they entered the UK by official means or via the once flourishing ‘grey import’ route, there are some great options out there. Just be sure, as always, to do your homework and understand exactly what you’re buying.

We've managed to whittle down a list of Japanese modern classic that are sure to rise in value in the future. There’s some rally prestige on offer with the Mitsubishi EVO X - the last of the breed of Lancer Evolution which will surely tug at the heartstrings of any rally enthusiast. There's also some Japanese luxury in the form of the LS 400 - a car that catapulted Lexus into the premium car market thanks to it's mix of reliability and comfort. 

What's more, Toyota's GT86 and the Yaris GRMN are proof you can pick up a nearly-new car that will be great to drive everyday and offer legendary Japanese reliability and build quality. 

Check out some modern classics from some other countries here

Lexus LS 400

  • Typical price: £3,500
  • Engine: 4.0-litre V8, up to 290bhp
  • Years produced: 1990-2000
  • Rarity: ★★★☆☆
  • Maintenance: ★★★★☆
  • Investment: ★★★☆☆

The Lexus LS400 is probably the ultimate modern classic for long-distance cruising, or even just commuting in comfort. It’s a true luxury car, with a super-smooth V8 engine, supple suspension and loads of creature comforts in the cabin, but even a good example still costs less than Britain’s cheapest new car. If that’s not a bargain, what is?

One thing that used luxury cars usually suffer from is high running costs, but while the Lexus LS400 is pricey to service, it’s known to be highly reliable, so there’s not the kind of huge risk you might expect with something like a BMW 7 Series from the same era.

Toyota GT86 / Subaru BRZ

  • Typical price: £9,500 
  • Engine: 2.0-litre flat-four, 197bhp
  • Years produced: 2012-2020  
  • Rarity: ★☆☆☆☆
  • Maintenance: ★★★★☆
  • Investment: ★★☆☆☆

The GT86 and the BRZ are essentially the same car, and both offer exciting handling, modern comforts and smart looks at a very reasonable price. The Toyota has only just been discontinued, so there are plenty around depending on your budget – early cars cost less than £10,000 – and while there is potentially still some depreciation left in them, prices have stayed steady for several years. 

The GT86 is a true driver’s car thanks to its naturally aspirated engine and playful handling, plus it’s ripe for tuning if you’re into modifying your car – and you might even call it practical.

Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X

  • Typical price: £20,000
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, up to 440bhp
  • Years produced: 2007-2016
  • Rarity: ★★★☆☆
  • Maintenance: ★★★☆☆
  • Investment: ★★★☆☆

The Mitsubishi Lancer is another car that earned legendary status on the stages of international rallying, but it never quite matched the popularity of the Subaru Impreza in the UK. 

It’s enjoying proper cult status now, though, and well looked-after examples of every version are now both rare and valuable. The Evo X is the most grown-up and modern-feeling of the lot, and while it didn’t deliver the thrills of previous Evos, it makes an interesting buy now as a modern classic for everyday use. It’s also the last Evo – it doesn’t look like there will ever be an Evo XI.

Toyota Yaris GRMN

  • Typical price: £18,000
  • Engine: 1.8-litre 4cyl, 209bhp
  • Years produced: 2017 
  • Rarity: ★★★★★
  • Maintenance: ★★★★☆
  • Investment: ★★★★☆

Currently the Toyota Yaris GRMN is overshadowed by the GR Yaris that brings four-wheel drive and some impressive engineering, but it’s certainly not one to ignore. It arrived in 2017 in very limited numbers, and more importantly the Yaris GRMN was fantastic to drive. Its chassis was brilliant for B-road blasts, but the engine stole the show. The four-cylinder supercharged unit also appeared in the Lotus Elise, so it thrives on revs and has a character totally unlike that of other contemporary hot hatches, such as the Ford Fiesta ST. 

Lexus IS F

  • Typical price: £22,500
  • Engine: 5.0-litre V8, 417bhp
  • Years produced: 2008-2012 
  • Rarity: ★★★★☆
  • Maintenance: ★★★★☆
  • Investment: ★★★★☆

The Lexus IS F never shone as brightly as the BMW M3 or Mercedes C63 AMG when it was new, but as a modern classic the Lexus brings more to the table. 

It’s rare and the 5.0-litre V8 engine is both exciting and reliable, an uncommon combination. The engine dominates the car, and it’s a rush every time you take it beyond 4,000rpm – when its V8 burble gives way to a NASCAR howl – yet the chassis is excellent too. This isn’t the ultimate driver’s saloon, but it’s hugely enjoyable, practical and relatively affordable.

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