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The Return of Japanese Muscle

The Return of Japanese Muscle

Back when I first got into cars, I had an almost unnatural fascination with three Japanese cars; The Mitsubishi Evo IX, the Subaru Impreza and the Honda S2000. They had a certain “everyday enjoyment” about them. They were built to go round corners with zest and verve as well as take you to work and back day in, day out. Gradually the Evo IX and the Impreza were replaced , the S2000 ceased production and my interest in Japanese performance dwindled.

The Japanese have a great history making performance and great-handling vehicles. Cars like the Supra, MX-5, the Skyline and the RX-7 and the NSX were just some of the many highlights of Japanese automotive history. However, things over the last few years have gone rather quiet. The major Japanese manufacturers, particularly Toyota and Honda, seem to have lost their way and have resorted to making affordable, well-made but dreary machines. Now however, it seems that  samurais have re-sharpened their blades and are ready to re-take their status as makers of all things fast and fun.

Toyota began their renaissance with the GT-86. When it came out, I have to admit, I was not interested in the car. Part of the reason for this was because of the many concepts they created on the same car. A Motor Show would not go by without a “new” GT-86 concept to show off. By the time the GT-86 came into production, I was less than remotely interested in this car.

Beside that, the car just did not set my pulse racing. It is not an ugly car by any stretch of the imagination, and its not a slow car either, but it is neither a fast car nor a particularly good looking one. The GT-86 just is not an inspiring car, it brings nothing new to the table, but rather aims to take a tried and tested formula, in order to gain praise from journalists. The Alfa 4C, or Peugeot RCZ R intrigue me more.   However, in March 2014, Toyota created a concept car to tempt even a thoroughbred Europhile such as myself; the FT-1 Concept.

Ft1 front
A video game personified?

It is not graceful. It is not elegant. Its a collaborative design between Toyota’s California’s design Centre and the Sony Gran Tourismo game designers. It certainly looks like it should belong on a video game with its outlandish lines and exaggerated splitters. As of yet, its still a concept, but Toyota execs want to make this car a reality. Rumour has it, Toyota are co-developing a hybrid powertrain with BMW which shall be utilised in this FT-1 and the next generation BMW Z4. I say scrap the hybrid powertrain and put in a twin-turbo V6 to make it compete with Nissan’s GTR.

Next up in the Japanese arsenal is a personal favourite of mine, the Honda NSX. This one has been a long time coming, two years since the concept arrived if memory serves me correctly. The original is still a highly revered car by enthusiasts. The great Ayrton Senna had one.  The new car is claimed to have a twin-turbo V6, with an electric motor kicking around somewhere,with no manual transmission available. It is 2014 after all.  The targeted kerb weight is 1400 kg, through the use of aluminium and carbon fibre. Details are still exceptionally sketchy. But just look at it!

honda-nsx-concept-2
I bet in white it will look like a Storm Trooper.

Last time I wrote about the NSX , I claimed it could be the new Audi R8. I stand by that claim. Its design has not aged at all, in fact it looks better than ever.  There is even talk of making a convertible version.

Now we turn to Mazda. What is Mazda remembered for? Ah yes, the RX-7. The good ol’ days of the Wankel Rotary engine. This thing is still a hit  with car enthusiasts even today. In the mid-2000s, Mazda tried to reinvent the RX brand with the RX-8, which, compared to the RX-7, was a bit of a flop. The car itself was great, but it didn’t capture the imagination of petrolheads quite as well as the RX-7 did. These days Mazda admits it screwed up with the RX-8 and want to bring back the magic of the RX-7. The rumours are that Mazda want to retain the rotary engine, but make it a hybrid rotary powertrain. While as such nothing has been mentioned by Mazda, the rumours are coming from authoritative  sources who don’t usually get such claims wrong.

A fan sketch, but a cool interpretation for 2014.
A fan sketch, but a cool interpretation for 2014.

A car worth mentioning, which is a bit of an old school approach, is the Subaru WRX STI. A classic rally special. An easy setup; 2.5 litre turbo four-pot producing 305 bhp , four-wheel drive a six-speed manual gearbox and a limited-slip diff.  The specs are not important. The important news is that the WRX is back to being a saloon and the horrid hatchback is finally dead.

Scooby is back!
Scooby is back! 

Finally, the car which has been carrying the torch for Japanese performance for these past few years; the Nissan GT-R. This bad boy has gone through many stages of modifications, making it a little lighter, a little faster and a whole lot more technical.  Its powered by a non-hybrid (there is a god) twin-turbo V6 producing about 545 bhp in standard form.  There are various factory upgrades can get than number up to about 600 bhp, and some aftermarket add-ons to hit a billion horsepower probably. The amount of times I have read of GT-Rs hitting extraordinary horsepower figures is almost inconceivable. This engine seems to be able to take quite a beating.

Godzilla.
Godzilla.

These are the Japanese titans to take on the world. However there are a  few other Japanese sportscars that I would like to see, such as a new Honda S2000, a new Mitsubishi Evo, and definitely a new Nissan 370Z.  Those cars would definitely complete the set, taking Japanese cars back from being boring and sensible to being completely unhinged. Deservedly so.