It may be that a Honda is usually considered “just another car” on our streets, but this Japanese producer has released some fantastic and unique cars over the years – especially on the Japanese domestic market. I compiled a list of 12 of the most outstanding and incredible Honda JDM options ever produced to celebrate the brand’s successes at home. Sure, there may be some madder, faster, or better options out there, but this list features oddballs, fast machines, and even some which belong to the strange segment of Kei cars.
Japanese Domestic Market engines (JDM engines) are engines that were exclusively built for the Japanese market and weren’t exported outside of their home country. While some managed to escape the Japanese islands as grey imports, many of these sensational vehicles never made it to the United States, or are only just starting to appear. These JDM engine powered vehicles have more than a few neat little features than their US-bound cousins pack, and these JDM Honda (Acura too) vehicles are perfect examples of what Japan preferred to keep to itself.
Take your US base model Honda Accord or Honda Prelude, for example. While you’d think that the US model would be identical to a Japanese model, you’d be wrong. A cool 1998 JDM Honda Civic will pack a few more awesome JDM parts imported from Japan than your standard Civic that you might find in the USA, such as the Civic’s awesome SOHC VTEC engine. What about the Acura Integra? Or Acura RSX? There’s no shortage of epic JDM Acura models either. But which ones are our favorites?
Ranking The Coolest Honda JDM Vehicles!
1991 Honda Beat
With a length of just under 130 inches, the 1991 Honda Beat was the epitome of the Kei car segment back in the Nineties. Taking tax advantage of the Kei class of cars, Honda released a small two-seater with RWD and a centrally positioned engine. Sure, this sounds like a winning recipe, but don’t forget that this Honda JDM car is quite tiny. Nevertheless, one cannot help but admire its vigor, heritage, courage, and character. Heck, the Ferrari 488 GTB has a similar basic layout.
See, the 1991 Honda Beat was the last car Soichiro Honda approved for production. The Japanese wanted it to be really good so they gave it a finely styled Pininfarina exterior and a rather advanced naturally aspirated three-cylinder engine. With the capacity of only 40 Ci (656cc) and some smart tech (like a throttle body for each individual cylinder), Honda managed to squeeze 64 hp out of the engine, which was good enough for an electronically limited 135mph.
Granted, the market is limited for this kind of sports car, even in Japan, but the five-year production run saw 33,600 units produced, which are still very much sought after to this day.
1996 Honda CR-V
Please don’t be mad at me for including a classic Japanese crossover on this Honda JDM list. It may be dull, but the fact is that the Honda CR-V, when it appeared in Japan in its first iteration back in the Nineties, was considered a luxury car.
That’s right; the Honda CR-V was the definition of luxury in Japan in the 90’s.
Such luxury, in fact, that it was sold only through premium Honda Verno dealerships. In Japan – CR-V – Comfortable Runabout Vehicle. Elsewhere – Compact Recreational vehicle. For cars produced only in Japan, and only for the Japanese market, the CR-V was quite large. It even exceeded dimension regulations imposed by Japanese governing bodies. Nevertheless, the CR-V did lose its “luxury” momentum later on becoming just a convenient crossover.
As for the first generation, the CR-V was quite advanced. Unibody construction with four-wheel multi-link suspension and Honda Real Time AWD meant that this crossover was zippy and happy on the streets. The first CR-V captured a beautiful dynamic that SUV producers are trying to infuse in their vehicles to this day. With a construction usually associated with cars, the CR-V managed to get plenty of room inside. It was all utilized for convenience – the Japanese Honda CR-V had a lot of storage places, a picnic table, a rear seat folding mechanism, and more.
A two-liter petrol unit with 126 hp and 133 lb-ft of torque. It would not be until 1999 that the CR-V gained a 147 hp motor.
1994 Honda Crossroad
This is the only Honda car with a V8. It is the first Honda SUV, too. AND it was only sold in Japan (with some reaching New Zealand). As far as JDM Honda cars go, this one may well be the most unusual. See, before we saw the introduction of the Honda CR-V, Honda had to rush to introduce an SUV to the Japanese market. They bought rights for the production of the Land Rover Discovery Series I and produced it in Japan from 1993 to 1998.
Controversy surrounded the whole endeavor as just at that time, BMW also wanted to acquire Land Rover, which would happen later in 1998. This led to a termination of the partnership between Honda and Land Rover and eventual discontinuation of the Honda Crossroad.
And a strange partnership it was. The Land Rover Discovery of the time wasn’t what you’d call reliable; in fact, it was just the opposite. In the simplest of terms, the Honda Crossroad wasn’t a Land Rover with Honda reliability: It was a Land Rover with Land Rover reliability and Honda badging.
The engine was the same 3.9-liter V8 that Land Rover had a bunch of issues with, which was left unchanged for the Honda Crossroad.
The Honda Crossroad would return in 2007, though that model was completely unrelated to the unholy marriage that resulted in the conception of the original contraption.
1992 Honda NSX-R
We all have read stories about possibly the greatest Japanese car of all time – the Honda NSX. However, I reveal to you that there was one special version of the NSX – a proper Honda JDM offering – called the NSX-R. It was an ultimate version of the machine revealed in 1992, produced in 483 units, and focused on on-track performance. Yes, it was roadworthy too, but Honda wanted to adapt it for track use as much as possible. In that regard, the NSX-R lost much of its noise insulation, its audio system, air-con, and traction control, but gained forged aluminum wheels, kevlar Recaro seats, and a number of other lighter elements. The result was a sports car with a V6 and mass of 2,712 lbs. Seriously low.
Changes, however, did not stop there, as Honda managed to improve the suspension with stiffer springs, stiffer sway bars, new brackets, stiffer dampers, and other upgrades in that arena. Changes greatly affected weight distribution when cornering and made the NSX-R far more stable and hard-core on the tracks compared with the stock NSX.
As one of the final works, Honda managed to mesh the gears closer making the NSX-R quicker off the line (but slower at the top end) compared with the NSX. All in all, the Honda JDM NSX-R managed to become an even more outrageous car compared with the stock NSX.
1999 Honda Vamos
Translated from Spanish, Vamos means Let’s Go! It’s no wonder, then, that such a happy name was attached to a small Honda JDM Kei van. The 1999 Honda Vamos is a cute, sub-134-inches-long van which could be outfitted with a 656 cc turbocharged engine, all-wheel drive (full-time viscous coupling), and even independent suspension.
Honestly, this sounds amazing, fun, cute, and incredibly appealing. Although it was limited to a maximum power output of 65 hp, I imagine it would be a blast to drive a Van like this. The Vamos was imagined as a small personal transportation, with the Vamos Acty filling the commercial vehicle niche.
Sure, I could have included a number of interesting Honda Kei cars here, but I found the Vamos really interesting. Heck, the Japanese even offer a number of awesome body kits for it. Some have even been made to resemble iconic American-style van features like this one below:
I am in love.
1966 Honda S800
We’re going more than 50 years into the past for this one, and for good reason. The 1966 Honda S800 was the pinnacle of the Honda sports car design of the time. I am not really sure if the Americans had even an inkling of the Japanese Domestic Market at this time, but the Honda S800 was a proper JDM machine. One which, along with the S600, served as an inspiration for our sweetheart, the S2000. In some sense, the S2000 was its successor.
Now back in the day, the S800 was the fastest one-liter car in the world and the only one that could top out at 100 mph. It was also the first Honda to break 100 mph. Quite impressive for a car with just a one-liter motor and 70 hp.
70 hp? Sure it doesn’t sound like much, but we’re talking about a car that weighed 1,700 lbs and could rev up to 10,000 rpm. Hell, Honda was mad.
Making the most of the S800 layout, Honda introduced front disc brakes during its tenure. Also, the second year production saw a change from chain drive to a conventional drive-shaft.
Honda produced 11,536 units from 1966 to 1970.
1993 Honda Avancier
Perhaps you have not heard about this car; it is the Honda Avancier, and it is based on top of the Accord platform. It was available only as a wagon from 1993 to 2003. Interestingly enough, we may consider it to be a full-sized wagon of the time, as it did use large engines and feature rather comprehensive equipment.
As a Honda JDM vehicle, the Avancier could be equipped with Intelligent Highway Cruise Control (IHCC). This technology allowed it to automatically maintain distance from the car up front. A rather impressive technology we only started to see in cars of this size a few years later.
The entry-level version was propelled by a 2.3-liter 150 hp petrol engine. However, the high-end version used a three-liter V6 with 215 hp. With real-time all-wheel drive, a V6, automatic transmission, and fine luxury equipment, the Avancier was one of the most luxurious cars featuring a Honda emblem.
FYI, the Avancier name is also used for the Honda SUV sold in China from 2016.
1994 Honda Today
The sheer number of Kei cars in Japan will amaze you. Just google them. However, few are as conveniently packed as the Honda Today – a car which, in its second gen, featured a five-door version (along with a three-door hatch) and an option for all-wheel drive with the top trim package.
The most notable feature about the Today was its super low weight of 1,650 lbs. Coupling that with an engine sourced from the Beat (the first on our Honda JDM list), the Today was fun. Also, it marked Honda’s comeback to the cool market of Kei cars. Sure, the Beat is similar in size, but it is a mid-engined sports car whereas this is a small city dweller. Something not much bigger than a Smart ForTwo, but a whole lot more convenient.
2015 Honda Step WGN
If you ever wondered what a modern Honda MVP looks like, this may be the only answer you will ever need. It is called the Honda Step WGN, and it is both rather long at 185 inches and rather narrow at 67 inches. Sure, a car like this would look somewhat strange on American roads, but as James May once pointed out, “we do not have a problem with the road length, but road width.” This MPV definitely tries to handle the issue.
The Honda Step WGN managed to survive for five generations as a proper Honda JDM people mover with the latest one employing technology such as a direct injection VTEC turbo engine and a functional cabin arrangement that maximizes comfort and practicality.
1998 Honda Civic Type R
This car was (tragically) never imported into the US. The EK Civic Type R always was a Honda JDM dream for fanboys, but some did find their way to U.S. soil. Mainly thanks to fans who outdid themselves to import one in the country.
Nevertheless, the Civic Type R of this generation was one of the most outstanding cars out there. Its 1.6-liter motor is a high-revving VTEC perfection developing 185 hp; it’s enough to push the 2,400-lb car to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds. A hot hatch indeed.
Acquiring numerous hardware touches from the famed Integra, the Honda Civic Type R EK9 gained a closed ratio gearbox, limited slip diff, and was much lighter compared with the standard model. Honda actually removed some of the sound deadening insulation and other luxuries making it more suitable for track use.
A Momo steering wheel, red seats, and other red accents were the most notable changes in the interior, which made the Civic Type R rather cool in car enthusiasts communities.
Honda S2000 F20C JDM (1999 – 2003)
Bridgestone Potenza tires fitted as standard, a six-speed manual transmission, and Torsen limited slip diff ensured that the Honda S2000 would be one of the most outstanding cars of all time. Then, Honda introduced an independent double wishbone suspension and put the engine after the front axles, contributing to a 50:50 weight distribution. Obviously, these are the main ingredients for making a competent street sports machine, especially considering it is powered by an engine with the highest specific output. Two liters and 240 hp.
However, there was a more powerful version: the Honda JDM king called the S2000 F20C JDM. The engine in this one developed 247 hp at 8,300 rpm and 161 lb-ft of torque at 7,500 rpm. The main change compared with the American or European version was a compression ratio of 11.7:1 compared to the 11.1:1 ratio we got in our cars.
Honda DC2 Integra Type R (1995 – 2001)
Arguably the best Integra DC2, the Type R variant was introduced all the way back in 1996 for the Japanese Domestic Market. It is a machine with some major changes compared with other Integra cars. First of all, the Honda JDM Integra cars received long headlights instead of the round units found on cars sold outside Japan.
More importantly than that, the DC2 Integra Type R came standard with a 1.8-liter motor developing 200 hp, which was more powerful than units in other cars. The close ratio gearbox, helical limited-slip diff and major weight savings corresponded with other Type R cars of the time. The chassis and the frame were additionally reinforced and improved thanks to extra welding spots and a firmer suspension setup.
This car was praised for its handling, exceptional acceleration (some clocked it at 6.1 seconds to 60 mph) and obvious sports car potential. It was named as the best handling FWD sports car by journalists and definitely remains to be one of the favorite Honda JDM models among car enthusiasts.