Home > Car Culture >  

12 Iconic Honda JDM Cars

A Dozen Outstanding Gems From the Wonderful, Weird Honda JDM Lineup

Honda JDM cars - red S800

Usually, Honda is considered “just another car,” but this Japanese producer has released some fantastic and unique cars over the years — especially Honda JDM cars. This list features oddballs, fast machines, and even some which belong to the strange segment of Kei cars. Sure, there may be some madder, faster, or better JDM options out there, but we’re dedicating this article to some of the cool, iconic, and outstanding JDM cars that give this car culture its devoted following. 

The Coolest Honda JDM Cars

Some of the best Japanese Domestic Market engines (JDM engines) were exclusively built for the Japanese market and were not exported outside of their home country. Though some vehicles sporting JDM powerplants managed to escape the Japanese islands as grey imports, many of these sensational vehicles never made it to the U.S. or are only just starting to appear.

These JDM engine vehicles have more than a few neat little features than their U.S.-bound cousins. The JDM Honda and Acura are perfect examples of what Japan preferred to keep to itself.

Take the U.S.-based Honda Accord or Honda Prelude, for example. Though you might think that the U.S. model would be identical to the Japanese model, you’d be wrong. A cool 1998 JDM Honda Civic will pack a few more awesome JDM parts, such as the SOHC VTEC engine, than the standard Civic that you’ll find in the U.S. When you start to look, you’ll find there is no shortage of epic Honda JDM cars. Here are a few of our favorites.

1991 Honda Beat

Just under 130 inches long, the 1991 Honda Beat was the epitome of the Kei car segment back in the ’90s. Taking tax advantage of the Kei class of cars, Honda released this 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 and character. Heck, the Ferrari 488 GTB has a similar basic layout.

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 3-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 135 mph.

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

This classic Japanese crossover may appear dull at first glance, but the fact is that the Honda CR-V, when its first iteration appeared in the ’90s, was considered a luxury car. That’s right, the Honda CR-V was the definition of luxury in Japan.

Such luxury, in fact, that the CR-V was sold only through premium Honda Verno dealerships. In Japan, CR-V stood for Comfortable Runabout Vehicle where elsewhere the crossover was branded as a Compact Recreational Vehicle.

Of 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 simply a convenient crossover.

The first generation CR-V was quite advanced. The unibody construction along with the 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 still had plenty of room inside, all utilized for convenience. This Honda JDM car has lots of storage places, a picnic table, a rear-seat folding mechanism, and more.

As to power? A 2.0L petrol unit was good for 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

The 1994 Honda Crossroad holds the distinction of being the only Honda car with a V8. And it was the first Honda SUV, too. The Crossroad was only sold in Japan (with a few reaching New Zealand).

As far as JDM Honda cars go, this one may be the most unusual—or at least have the most unusual origins. Before the introduction of the Honda CR-V, Honda found itself rushing to introduce an SUV to the Japanese market. So instead of starting from scratch, 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, at the same time, BMW wanted to acquire Land Rover, an acquisition that would happen later in 1998. This led to a termination of the partnership between Honda and Land Rover and the 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. The Crossroad came with the same issue-plagued 3.9L V8 which Honda did nothing to fix. The Honda Crossroad wasn’t a Land Rover with Honda reliability; it was a Land Rover with Land Rover reliability and Honda badging. 

Though the Honda Crossroad returned in 2007, that model was completely unrelated to Honda’s attempt at their “original” SUV. 

1992 Honda NSX-R

The Honda NSX is often hailed as the greatest Japanese car of all time. However, Honda also made a special version of the NSX — a proper Honda JDM offering — called the NSX-R. It was an ultimate version of the  1992 model, produced in 483 units, and focused on on-track performance. Yes, it was roadworthy too, but Honda adapted it for track use as much as possible.

In that regard, the NSX-R lost much of its noise insulation, audio system, air conditioning, and traction control, and gained forged aluminum wheels, kevlar Recaro seats, and a number of other lighter-weight elements. The result was a sports car with a V6 that weighed a seriously trim 2,712 pounds. 

The modifications did not stop there. Honda managed to improve the suspension with stiffer springs, stiffer sway bars, new brackets, stiffer dampers, and other upgrades in that arena. These changes greatly affected weight distribution when cornering and made the NSX-R far more stable and hard-core compared to the stock NSX.

Finally, 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 was an even more outrageous feat of engineering than the original 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 that could be outfitted with a 656cc turbocharged engine, all-wheel drive (via full-time viscous coupling), and even independent suspension.

Honestly, the Vamos sounds amazing, fun, cute, and incredibly appealing. Although it was limited to a maximum power output of 65 hp, the point of the Vamos wasn’t out to win any speed races. The Vamos was intended for small personal transportation, with the Vamos Acty filling the commercial vehicle niche.

In the world of Honda Kei cars, the Vamos stands out as an interesting miniaturized take on the passenger vans of its day. The Japanese even offer a number of awesome body kits for it. Some Vamos owners have even outfitted their vans to resemble iconic American-style vans for an even more memorable look.

1966 Honda S800

The 1966 Honda S800 was the pinnacle of Honda sports car design of the time. The Honda S800 was a proper JDM machine. One which, along with the S600, served as an inspiration for the American sweetheart, the S2000. 

Back in the day, the S800 was the fastest 1.0L 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 70 hp.

Sure, that doesn’t sound like much power, but we’re talking about a car that weighed 1,700 pounds and could rev up to 10,000 rpm.

Making the most of the S800 layout, Honda also introduced front disc brakes during its tenure. The second-year production also saw a change from chain drive to a conventional driveshaft. Honda produced 11,536 units from 1966 to 1970.

1993 Honda Avancier

The Honda Avancier is a JDM car based on top of the Honda Accord platform. It was available only as a wagon from 1993 to 2003. Interestingly enough, the Avancier could be considered a full-sized wagon for its time, as it did use a large engine 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 in front of it. At the time, this was a rather impressive technology that was implemented in cars of this size a few years later.

The entry-level version was propelled by a 2.3L, 150 hp engine. However, the high-end version used a 3L V6 that made 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 in the manufacturer’s lineup for that time.

1994 Honda Today

The sheer number of Kei cars in Japan is amazing. However, few are as conveniently packaged as the Honda Today — a car which, in its second-gen, featured a 5-door version (along with a 3-door hatch) and an option for all-wheel-drive with the top trim package.

The most notable feature about the Today was its light weight of 1,650 pounds. Coupling that with an engine sourced from the Honda Beat, and the Today was fun to drive, too. Also, it marked Honda’s comeback to the cool market of Kei cars.

2015 Honda Step WGN

If you’ve ever wondered what a modern Honda MVP looks like, this may be the only answer you will ever need. The Honda Step WGN 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.” 

The Honda Step WGN managed to survive for five generations as a proper Honda JDM people mover. The latest generation employed 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 U.S. The EK Civic Type R always was a Honda JDM dream for fanboys, and some did find their way to U.S. soil, mainly thanks to fans who outdid themselves to import one into the country.

The Civic Type R of this generation was one of the most outstanding hot hatches out there. Its 1.6L motor was a high-revving VTEC perfection delivering 185 hp. That’s enough to push the 2,400-pound car to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds. 

Acquiring numerous hardware touches from the famed Integra, the Honda Civic Type R EK9 gained a closed ratio gearbox and limited-slip diff and was much lighter compared with the standard model. Honda actually removed some of the sound deadening insulation and other luxuries to make it more suitable for track use.

The Momo steering wheel, red seats, and other red accents were the most notable changes to the interior, which made the Civic Type R rather cool among car enthusiasts’ communities.

Honda S2000 F20C JDM

When outfitted with Bridgestone Potenza tires, a 6-speed manual transmission, and Torsen limited-slip diff, the Honda S2000 quickly became one of the most outstanding sports cars of all time.

Later, when Honda introduced an independent double-wishbone suspension and put the 2.0L, 240-hp engine after the front axles, it quickly became apparent that the 50:50 weight distribution made the S2000 an even more competent street sports machine. 

However, there was an even more powerful version produced from 1999-2003— the Honda JDM king called the S2000 F20C JDM. The engine made 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. 

Honda DC2 Integra Type R

Arguably the best Integra DC2, the Type R variant was introduced all the way back in 1996 for the Japanese Domestic Market. This machine got some major changes compared with other Integra cars, right down to the headlights. The Honda JDM Integra cars were equipped with 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 1.8L, 200 hp engine. 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.

The Type R 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 one of the favorite Honda JDM cars among enthusiasts.

About Safet Satara

I do not have spare time. All there is is car time. 12 years and counting. I am a Central European gearhead, but you are probably thinking - aaa a disposable Borg drone! Well, actually, I like to dress up like James Bond too. The only thing I need to be him is an Aston Martin (and I love DBS more than DB5 because, reasons). That's something I guess.