Poll: Automotive Icons – Japan

It’s polling time. Step into the booth, draw the curtain and vote for your most iconic Japanese car!

I listed my five nominees a few days ago. They are:

  • Datsun 260Z
  • Honda NSX
  • Subaru Impreza WRX
  • Mazda MX-5 (Miata)
  • Toyota Prius

From your nominations, I’ve added the following vehicles to the poll:

  • Toyota LandCruiser – here in Australia, they used to say you’re either a Patrol man or a Cruiser man. That’s all marketing, of course, but the Cruiser has broken the back of every rough-terrain country in the world. Bernard said this in comments – “As an African friend explained to me in the 1980s, the 60 series wagon is the real-life equivalent of a Ferrari myth: the fastest way to get from point A to point B on four wheels.”
  • Mazda RX-7 – I included the MX-5 over the RX-7 in my nomations because of the lasting impact it’s had over a prolonged period of time, virtually re-creating a type of car that could have been lost forever. There’s no doubting the appeal of the RX-7, however, and its role as the main user of the Wankel engine has confirmed its place as the car for the rotary anorak. I lusted after one of these in the 80’s. Metallic blue, thanks.
  • Nissan GT-R – The biggest oversight of my nominations list and for that, I must apologise. I allowed my soft-spot for the 260Z to blind me. An obvious contender because it packs so much punch for the money, has endured for a long period of time and has always been a genuine supercar for the masses.
  • Honda Civic – it was either this or the Toyota Corolla and Toyota have enough nominations 🙂 . I think Mallthus said it best in comments: “Like the Corolla, it’s become an icon of boredom and mediocrity, but, again like the Corolla, it transformed most peoples’ idea of what a car ought to deliver, day in and day out.”
  • Toyota 2000GT – I was hesitant about adding this one. Still am. I’m not sure that it’s well known enough to be identified by the average punter as a Japanese car (an icon should be instantly identifiable). Regardless, it’s a magnificent machine and it gathered a lot of nominations, so it’s in.

Your poll is below. Please cast your vote!


[poll id=”9″]


Our contenders in pictures:

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  1. Is it just me, or do I have NO interest in cars from Japan. Yep, I just have no interest.

    In spite of the fact that some of them are cool, and I have had good ownership experience with them, they just tell me nothing.

    1. Many of us had the childhood dream of driving the Escudo around our local streets… if only this was an obtainable goal 🙁 Damn you Gran Turismo!!!

  2. The Honda NSX is stunning. Not only beautiful, but fast. Perhaps because Ayrton Senna helped tuning the car. 🙂
    The problem with Toyota 2000GT is that the most famous one is the Bond car, the convertible. With only one built. But it *is* beautiful. They should have built more.
    Datsun 240/260 are among the most beautiful cars ever built in my opinion, a japanese, slightly more modern, E-type.
    I love the Subaru. I love the Sound it makes (capital “S”), as it sounds like my old tuned Saab V4. 😉
    I don’t “love” the Prius, but I acknowledge its status as a milestone.
    But I can’t ignore the little car that changed the view of what a sportscar can be; the MX-5 “Miata”. I haven’t driven one myself (yet), but I have friends who have. And they love it. It is a small, nimble, humble little car which also offers something small sportscars never offered before; quality. It works.

    My vote goes to … [opens envelope] … Mazda MX-5 “Miata”.

  3. So, you have to vote for the Civic if you think Corolla is the most iconic? (which it is). This poll is rigged 😉

    1. The problem with the Civic and the Corolla is that they aren’t consistent. They’ve spanned categories over the years (the current Civic is bigger than the original Accord), and aren’t even the same model in different markets. For instance, the Australian market Corolla seems like a fairly attractive compact hatchback. The North American Corolla is a nasty ugly sedan that is years behind the competition in terms of features and handling (it handles so poorly that I find it scary to drive). Are we supposed to lump these two models together, and perhaps also the AE86? The only thing they have in common is the branding.

      1. Yes, sorry about that. When I talk about Corolla I mean the original RWD that was pretty much the same for 15 years between 1966-81 and started the whole Japanese car invasion, at least here.
        I’m sure you had those in N.A. too?

        1. We had those. A friend in high school had a third gen (according to the Wikipedia nomenclature), and my first car was a fourth gen SR5 Liftback. Nice cars (for the time), but they didn’t have much staying power here in the rust belt. I haven’t seen one in almost 20 years.

          My mechanic had a customer who was still running one in the mid-1990s. The customer let me take it for a short ride down memory lane. The two madeleine memories from that day were the feel of the shifter (there was no linkage per-se, the shifter came straight out of the transmission), and the fact that the car could be put sideways at will, in spite of the listless engine. That last bit was entertaining as a one-off, but it wore very thin in the rain or snow, or even in a strong breeze.

  4. This for me has been the hardest poll so far. Not because the cars are all so iconic, but becasue they are not. I don’t know what it is about Japanese cars but they have always left me cold.

    The Japanese make great cars. They are generally the most reliable and incredible well made but they just have no soul for me. Maybe its because Japan is so strogly associated with electronics etc that I feel this relates to their cars as well and as such all they are are commodities. Who knows.

    They also seem to take great designs from European makers, copy them and apply their great manufacturing quality to them. Perhaps that why they leave me cold. Their designs don’t seem original and therefore lack any real soul or substance.

    Having said that, they have made some great cars some of which are on the list so my vote goes to the Mazda MX5.

  5. For me, out of that list, it is the Land Cruiser… though I’ll be the first to admit its iconic status is limited to a certain subset of the driving population and it is more ‘legendary’ here in Australia than in most other markets.

    I can think of other, much cooler cars… Honda S600/S800, Toyota AE86 (and its modern incarnation), etc. but these are too obscure/niche to be iconic. For better or worse, Japan is known for reliable, affordable and mostly dull cars. The Corolla, the Civic and dare I say the Datsun 120Y therefore are probably the most ‘iconic’.

  6. In line with others, I too have very little knowledge of Japanese cars and I feel quite indifferent about them. I don’t know why, but it could be that the history of the Japanese car companies are not that well-known to me compared to European or North American brands. As MariusGTV points out, it could also be a design thing. I can’t connect a brand with a design theme or general idea, because to me they are always all over the place trying to please everything and everyone. I thought about my experience with Japanese passenger cars, and I have hardly ever driven one. I think a few km:s in a late 80s Honda Civic is all! Earlier this year I thought really hard about what Japanese car (available in Sweden) I would go with if I just had to buy one. I ended up with Mazda6 and Honda Accord Sedan. Then I looked at pictures of their interiors, and I was actually blind for several hours after that.

    Iconic… Has to be what I think most people in general (not just car nerds)think of regarding Japanese cars, and that is probably reliability and just-getting-the-job-done. I also think that an icon should also set the benchmark and only be an “me too” thing. So I have to go with the Toyota Land Cruiser.

    1. And of course I meant ‘…and *not* only be an “me too” thing’

      Swade, will there be an Edit-button under the Christmas tree this year…? 🙂

  7. Tough choice, but in the end I went for the MX-5.

    My reason is that the MX-5 has, in my opinion, the strongest claim to being original and blazing a trail that others from Japan, Europe and elsewhere followed. What I am talking about is the retro-modern style that would eventually see the Beetle, the MINI, the 500 and loads of other iconic designs from long ago reborn and rebooted. It has been a key design trend, not just in cars, over the past 20 years – and the one that started it all in my opinion is still the original and best – the Mazda MX-5. There is perhaps some irony in the fact the first gen MX-5 looked like an homage to the 2000GT and 220/40/60 series, which where themselves to an extent ‘copies’ of European sports cars. The term ‘post-modern’ surely comes into this somewhere: a copy of a copy that ends up being totally original and then is itself copied – in principle if not actual design – ad infinitum.

    (I am told it’s also great to drive but alas I have yet to try one myself.)

    1. … I know the MX-5 looks more like a classic Lotus Elan than the Japanese sports cars of the 60s/70s I mentioned, but I guess what I mean is the MX-5 in broad terms harks back to the way in which Japanese manufacturers copied (perhaps ‘copied’ is too harsh a word) the designs of Europe and America in the 60s.

  8. In previous interactions, I think that we agree that Japanese cars are not especially enduring nor memorable in design. It stands to reason that this poll will not be definitive.

    I chose the 260Z mostly by default. I wanted to choose the RX-7 because of its difference (rotary power and clean design), but the 240/260/280Z were so popular in their day I thought it most ‘iconic’.

    I agree with the Miata/MX-5 as a good choice, but I really feel that the overall concept is so English in origin that I can only give the Japanese credit for a well-executed copy.

  9. Mildly surprised that there wasn’t a Toyota pick up on the list. It’s sad that a country’s automotive output would potentially have such a workaday, mundane example as a potential icon, but it’s real.

    1. Actually, that’s a bloody good call. The Hilux is a far more global vehicle than the Land Cruiser, and one that truly typifies the Japanese automotive image of reliable, dependable vehicles.