JDM Envy: 5 Pieces of Forbidden Fruit From the Japanese Market

There was a time during the 1990s when the Japanese domestic auto market was exploding with exciting cars that were never imported to the U.S. Whether it was turbocharged Silvias, Lancer Evolutions, powerful rear-drive sedans from Toyota or the almighty Skyline GT-R, the difference between home market Japanese machines and those for the U.S was stark.

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Things have changed now. With increasing globalization of the car market and the shift towards fuel economy and electrification, there aren't nearly as many great Japanese cars that are forbidden to American buyers.

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But that's not to say the Japanese automakers don't still keep some of the cool stuff for themselves — or at least choose not to import to the states. Here are five exciting current JDM models we wish were sold in the U.S.

1. Subaru Levorg

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Back in the day, there were few things cooler than a WRX wagon, but it's been a long time since Subaru has produced a wagon variant of its AWD rocketship. In Japan, however, one can buy a Subaru Levorg, which is essentially a stretched, wagon version of the Impreza.

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Why it's cool:

Like the WRX, the Levorg can be had with Subaru's turbocharged FA20 flat-four engine. While it's not offered with a manual transmission, the idea of a turbocharged, AWD Subaru family wagon with WRX DNA is easy to get behind.

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Will it come to the U.S.?

Doubtful. Subaru's sales are strong thanks to high-riding crossovers like the Forester, Outback and Crosstrek. So it's unlikely that the brand would start selling a lower riding station wagon in a market that's become dominated by SUV-like vehicles.

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2. Mazda6/Atenza Wagon

Mazda has built a station wagon version of all three generations of the Mazda6/Atenza but only the first generation wagon was offered in the U.S. Many people agree that the current third-generation Mazda6 sedan is one the most attractive vehicles in its class, and the same goes for the wagon.

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Why it's cool:

Not only does the Atenza Wagon look great, it also shares the same great driving character of the sedan and is offered with a choice of different gasoline or diesel engines, has optional AWD and can be spec'd with a manual transmission.

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Will it come to the U.S.?

Having been on sale since the 2014 model year, the third-generation Mazda6 is due to be updated or replaced soon. But despite its niche appeal, it's unlikely the Mazda6 Wagon returns to the states. As with Subaru, Mazda is doing quite well with its CX-3, CX-5 and CX-9 SUVs, and they likely forecast little demand for an old school station wagon in the lineup.

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3. Toyota Mark X

The last rear-drive sedan that Toyota sold in the U.S. was the Cressida, which lasted until 1992. But Toyota never stopped selling FR sedans in Japan. Replacing the popular Mark II in 2004, the Mark X combines the roominess of a mid-size sedan with the classic front engine, rear-drive layout.

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Why it's cool:

Depending on how you option it, the Mark X can be a pretty potent sport sedan and it can be had with Toyota's powerful 3.5-liter V6. A couple years back, Toyota's Gazoo Racing division even offered a limited production version of the Mark X GRMN is equipped with a six-speed manual transmission and other track-ready bits.

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Will it come the U.S.?

It's very unlikely Toyota would import the Mark X or a variant of it to America. Not only would it potentially cannibalize sales from the Camry and Avalon, but it would also start stepping on the toes of Lexus and its line of luxury-oriented rear-drive sport sedans.

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4. Nissan Note e-POWER NISMO

Nissan already sells the Versa Note in the American market, but in Japan there's a version of the Note unlike anything offered in the US. Called the e-POWER, it's a hybrid where a small three-cylinder gasoline engine powers an electric motor for an EV driving experience without the limited range and need to constantly plug in.

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Why it's cool:

While the Note e-POWER is an interesting concept on its own, Nissan also offers a NISMO version with special motor calibration, upgraded suspension and NISMO-specific interior and exterior treatments. It's a car that explores the idea of enthusiast-oriented electric/hybrid motoring of the future, and all at attainable price of about $25,000.

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Will it come to the U.S.?

While Nissan hasn't said whether the Note e-POWER will make it to the U.S., it's been a runaway sales hit in Japan, so there's reason to think it could be offered in America as an alternative to more traditional hybrids. With recent news that the NISMO brand will be expanded, we hope this version makes it here as well.

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5. Honda S660

The Honda S660 is a mid-engine kei class roadster designed to be a modern version of the Honda Beat from the 1990s. It went on sale in Japan back in 2015 and with its micro size, it makes cars like the Mazda Miata look large by comparison.

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Why it's cool:

It's an open-top, mid-engine sports car. The S660 is powered by 660 cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine to adhere to the kei car regulations, and that means both light weight and an extremely small and nimble chassis. It's not fast, but it's a whole lot of fun.

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Will it come to the U.S.?

Not in its current form. Although there's been speculation Honda would bring the car to the states, it would certainly need more power to draw American buyers. Even so, the idea of a new Honda sports car being offered in the U.S. is interesting, especially with the void left when the S2000 was discontinued.

While the level of JDM envy certainly isn't what it used to be and we are quite glad to have cars like the WRX, GT-R and Civic Type R, chances are as long as Japan is making cars, there will always be at least a few models that will be lusted after by their friends across the Pacific. Here's to hoping at least a couple of these make their way across the Pacific in the future.

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