The best Japanese cars

Japanese cars have many common traits, including reliability, efficiency and comfort. Read on to find out which ones are our favourites.

Sam Naylor
Sep 21, 2020

Japanese car manufacturers are some of the biggest brands in the world, and there are plenty of good reasons for that. Companies such as Toyota, Nissan and Honda produce a huge amount of cars that fulfil the needs of car buyers all around the world - and there’s bound to be a model that suits you.

Japan’s car industry is huge and there’s loads of choice, yet the country’s cars do share some personality traits. The most important one, and the most famous, is their reputation for reliability. Japanese cars are almost always built to a very high standard, typically above that of other world manufacturers at the same price points - so there’s less chance of a costly breakdown.

Yet this also means the companies often spend a bit less on providing car interiors with real feel-good factor, meaning cheaper-looking interior plastics and sub-par media systems in many cases. If these aspects don’t bother you, though, Japanese cars often get the more important aspects such as comfort and ease of use just right.

Read on to find out what our picks for the best Japanese car are, covering a wide spread of manufacturers and body types including SUVs, hatchbacks and sports cars. With petrol, electric, plug-in hybrid and diesel models available, you should be able to find a car to suit your needs.

Best Japanese cars

1. Lexus RX

Best for luxury and practicality

Our pick Lexus RX 450h 3.5 Luxury 5dr CVT
Used deals from £29,950
Monthly finance from £422

Sturdy build quality is one of the Japanese car industry’s best traits and the Lexus RX personifies this. You only need to hop inside to know how well put-together this car is, and the 2017 model we’ve picked combines that with very high-quality materials, so it’s a great place to spend time.

The ride is super-smooth too, and the hybrid petrol-electric set-up means that at low speed, the car can use electric power only. Yet even when the large petrol engine does fire up, it’s extremely quiet. There’s loads of space inside too, so the RX makes a great family SUV.

It’s let down slightly by an atrocious media system, but mount up your smartphone instead and you can avoid using it altogether. It’s great value next to rivals from brands like BMW or Audi and should be much more reliable, too.

LEXUS RX BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Mazda MX-5

Best for fun

Our pick Mazda MX-5 1.5 Sport Nav
Used deals from £13,098
Monthly finance from £206

There’s no question about it; the Mazda MX-5 is one of the best sports cars ever. It’s certainly the biggest-selling, with over a million sold - and the reason why is that it’s great fun to drive while also being incredibly affordable.

All you need is the basic 1.5-litre model in convertible form - the 2.0-litre car is faster but no more fun. It’s the Mazda’s sharp handling around corners that’s the star of the show here, along with the wind-in-your-hair thrills of the soft-top. A 2018 model with around 10,000 miles is less than £250 per month, too.

We love the MX-5’s comfortable suspension set-up as it’s smooth over rough roads, yet still fun to drive. The manual gearbox is satisfying to use and the gearstick perfectly placed in the cabin, combining with a low-slung driving position to make the car feel really sporty. If you love driving, the MX-5 is a top choice.

MAZDA MX-5 BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Toyota C-HR

Best for style and economy

Our pick Toyota C-HR 1.8 Hybrid Dynamic
Used deals from £15,995
Monthly finance from £198

The Toyota C-HR is a crossover, which is one of the most popular types of car at the moment. Its stylish looks are its main selling point, yet you couldn’t accuse if of being all mouth and no trousers - the C-HR is a great car underneath.

It’s fun to drive and comfortable, so it will be a great car to spend a lot of time in. Then there’s the hybrid engine, which uses electric power where possible to take pressure off the petrol engine to save fuel and keep the noise down. Around town it runs in near-silence, so it’s great for commuting - and the low fuel bills will appeal there, too.

It’s not the most practical SUV as the rear seats can be a bit dark - you can blame the small windows for that - but with sat-nav, climate control, adaptive cruise control, heated seats and 18-inch alloys, the Dynamic model we’ve picked out is really well equipped.

TOYOTA CH-R BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Best for commuting

Our pick Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 4H
Used deals from £21,800
Monthly finance from £324

Mitsubishi brought the Outlander PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) to the UK with a splash, as it sold at the same price as the diesel model, yet offered huge company car tax savings. The Outlander PHEV makes a good used buy as well, as it brings a taste of plug-in motoring without having to dunk straight into the lifestyle of a fully-electric car.

The Outlander PHEV can be plugged in at home or at a public charger, allowing you to top up the small battery and use pure electric power for around 30 miles. That’s enough for the average British commute, meaning with regular charging you may never have to visit a petrol station.

Yet if you need to make a longer trip, you can fill up and head out without worry - just be aware that once you've depleted the batteries the petrol engine has to work harder than normal lugging around the extra weight of the electric motor and batteries, so you can expect mediocre fuel economy. The Outlander could be more comfortable, but it’s good enough in this area, and there’s lots of room inside, so it’s a decent family car as well.

MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER PHEV BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Nissan Note

Best for compact practicality

Our pick Nissan Note Acenta Premium
Used deals from £5,500
Monthly finance from £111

The Nissan Note isn’t a common sight, yet it could be the perfect car for a number of drivers. If you’re after a model that is as easy to drive and park as a supermini, yet has loads of space inside and is very affordable, too, have a look at the Note.

Its 1.2-litre petrol engine is pretty economical and works well around town, where the Note shines. There’s lots of rear legroom and the 411-litre boot is great for carrying plants home from the garden centre or a couple of folded-up buggies.

It’s not an exciting car, but not everyone is interested in that sort of thing. Pragmatic buyers will find that the Note is cheap to purchase, cheap to run and more spacious than most other superminis. Our chosen model has very few miles on the clock, so should feel pretty new even at a few years old.

NISSAN NOTE BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Suzuki Swift

Best for value

Our pick Suzuki Swift 1.0 Boosterjet SZ-T 5dr
Used deals from £7,764
Monthly finance from £130

Ask a typical person to list car manufacturers and many will forget Suzuki, but don’t make the same mistake. The Japanese brand’s superminis are hidden gems, with the Swift being the best of all - and you can get into one that’s almost brand new for just £180 per month with a small deposit.

The Swift is great fun to drive, thanks to typical supermini traits - its small size and light weight means it’s nippy and has sharp handling. The 1.0-litre petrol engine is strong and willing too, despite being rather frugal if you drive carefully.

There’s room for a family inside, and the Swift is comfortable as well. All of these traits means it’s a brilliant supermini and as it’s so affordable, it’s a great choice. That’s why it’s one of our favourite Japanese cars.

SUZUKI SWIFT BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Mazda 3

Best for affordable luxury

Our pick Mazda 3 2.0 Skyactiv-G MHEV Sport Lux
Used deals from £16,660
Monthly finance from £231

The latest version of the Mazda 3 hatchback is by far the most luxurious - in fact, it’s one of the most upmarket Japanese hatchbacks ever built, eclipsing even the equivalent Audi and BMW models. That’s thanks to its sharp exterior styling and expertly-crafted interior.

The build quality here is up to Japanese standards, yet with the type of materials you’d find in far more expensive cars. This is all without even mentioning how good the 3 is to drive: its comfortable ride and fun handling mean it’s a fantastic all-rounder.

There’s all the tech you could want, with a superb media system and sat-nav, plus a clever 2.0-litre petrol model with fuel-saving technology. Mazda says it has the economy of a diesel but the emissions of a petrol - and while the economy in our experience isn’t quite as good as a diesel, it’s certainly a good compromise.

MAZDA 3 BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Honda e

Best for tech lovers

Our pick Honda E 35.5kWh Advance
Used deals from £26,450
Monthly finance from £371

The Honda e is by far the newest model on this list, and it’s the only all-electric car here too. Honda has long been a company that isn’t afraid to innovate, yet its electric car is years behind rival Nissan (which innovated with the Leaf). However, it makes up for that with a superb design.

The Honda e looks great inside and out, and is packed with tech. OK, it has a short all-electric range of around 135 miles, but that’s more than enough for the daily commute of the vast majority of UK workers.

It’s a bit pricey at the moment, but this isn’t uncommon for recent electric cars, and few electric models have the charm and high-tech appeal that the little Honda has in spades. If you want a Japanese electric car and can afford to stretch beyond the Leaf, the Honda e should be on your shortlist.

 

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