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
Jul 25, 2022

Japanese car manufacturers are some of the biggest brands in the world, and there are plenty of decent reasons for that. Companies such as Toyota, Nissan and Honda produce and sell a huge amount of cars that fulfil the varying needs of car buyers all around the planet - and there's bound to make at least one model among them all 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 arguably 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 should be less chance of a costly breakdown.

However, this also means the companies often spend a bit less elsewhere, particularly the interiors, 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, mild hybridplug-in hybrid and diesel models available, you should be able to find a car to suit your needs.

Used Japanese cars

1. Lexus RX

Best for luxury and practicality

Our pick Lexus RX 450h 3.5 Luxury 5dr CVT
Used deals from £27,500
Monthly finance from £412*

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 post-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 a disappointing 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.


2. Mazda MX-5

Best for fun

Our pick Mazda MX-5 1.5 Sport Nav
Used deals from £15,000
Monthly finance from £264*

There’s no question about it; the Mazda MX-5, over its 30-year lifespan, 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. There is no easier way to get your hands on a hugely capable sports car.

All you need is the basic 1.5-litre version of the current model in convertible form - the 2.0-litre car is faster but it's no more fun despite being more expensive to run. It’s the MX-5'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.

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 thanks to the gearstick being 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.


3. Toyota C-HR

Best for style and economy

Our pick Toyota C-HR 1.8 Hybrid Dynamic
Used deals from £18,306
Monthly finance from £293*

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 it 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.


4. Toyota Camry

Best for commuting

Our pick Toyota Camry 2.5 Hybrid Design
Used deals Limited stock

The Toyota Camry is a byword for reliability in markets such as the USA, where a massive number of older examples with very high mileages are still in daily use. While previous generations of the model have been sold in the UK, this is the first new Camry to go on sale here after a 14-year hiatus.

Fortunately, Toyota hasn’t forgotten what makes the Camry so popular. While it isn’t a particularly exciting car, it is a solid one that will effortlessly transport you over the longest of distances in comfort and without a great thirst for fuel. This latest Camry goes a step further on the fuel saving as it is now only available with a 2.5-litre hybrid petrol engine. This means that not only will you save money on fuel, but there are road tax and Benefit-in-Kind savings to be had, too.

There are two trim levels to choose from, the Design and Excel, but our chosen model comes with plenty of features as standard including smartphone integration, heated seats, adaptive cruise control, automatic headlights and wipers, lane departure alert and voice control - plenty to aid you on your commute, even though it’s the lower-spec option.


5. Nissan Note

Best for compact practicality

Our pick Nissan Note Acenta Premium
Used deals from £6,995
Monthly finance from £195*

The Nissan Note isn’t a particularly 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 park and drive as a supermini, yet has loads of space inside and is very affordable, too, the Note is well worth considering.

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. It's rather a unique style of car, but if you like the look of it, you should also consider the Honda Jazz (also Japanese).


6. Suzuki Swift

Best for value

Our pick Suzuki Swift 1.0 Boosterjet SZ-T 5dr
Used deals from £7,450
Monthly finance from £141*

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 around £200 per month.

The Swift is great fun to drive, thanks to typical supermini traits - its small size and light weight mean 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.


7. Mazda 3

Best for affordable luxury

Our pick Mazda 3 2.0 Skyactiv-G MHEV Sport Lux
Used deals from £15,999
Monthly finance from £241*

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.


8. Honda e

Best for tech lovers

Our pick Honda E 35.5kWh Advance
Used deals from £27,500
Monthly finance from £481*

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.

*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

48 monthly payments of £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.


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