A few weeks ago I waxed nostalgic about the 90s Japanese Renaissance. In the next few years, we are going to see some truly amazing machinery emerge from the Land of the Rising Sun - the Nissan GT-R and GT-R V-spec, the Lexus LF-A, and the Acura NSX. But as my father constantly reminded me when I was a lad, money doesn't grow on trees. So what's a petrolhead to do?
Sure, when you're charging half a million for a car, it's easy to make it look like a chisel that you can fling around the N??rburgring in less time than it takes for me to eat a sandwich. The LF-A and new Black Benz have enough potential to dislocate the moon from its orbit, but the most daring thing a typical owner will ever do with it is pull up to a valet with his mistress.
I'd wager it's a lot more stressful to be the engineer in charge of something like an EG Civic, where you'd have to make it comfortable and convenient for those looking for A-to-B transportation, yet fun enough so that it's capable of spawning an entire subculture complete with really bad movie. On top of that, it must be fuel efficient, come in at a price point that can compete with the Koreans, and last 300,000km with no major repairs.
The Japanese were once masters of these fun-to-drive lightweight coupes. While the Big 3 was cranking out V8s as if burning petrol could ward off evil spirits, Japan was making cars like the Toyota Celica, Nissan Silvia and Honda Prelude. After the OPEC crisis of the 70s, this class of car practically built Japan, Inc. in the 80s.
Even in the late 90s, as full-blown sports cars like the Supra and RX-7 were slowly being driven to extinction by SUVs, lightweight coupes carried the torch for many a miserly hoon. They may not have had the power of their big brothers, but their reduced mass and lack of complexity made them just as, or perhaps even more, rewarding to drive.
But then, even those began to disappear by the boatload or evolve into bloated, flabby versions of their once-nimble selves: Integras, CR-Xs, Eclipses, MR2s, even weird little buggers like the Subaru SVX, Nissan NX2000 and Mazda MX-3. The list goes on and on. Alas, the evergreen Celicas, Silvias and Preludes couldn't survive the early aughts either.
By the next decade, however, the field should once again be rife with sport coupes. The joint Toyota-Subaru RWD has been likened to an Corolla AE86 successor and should debut in 2011. Nissan will resurrect the Silvia with a four-cylinder and possibly even give us a V6 Infiniti version or a hybrid. The CR-Z hybrid has been confirmed as well, also with the possibility of a hybrid drivetrain.
Yes, the 2010s should be a great year for Japanese car enthusiasts. Let's hope the manufacturers find their footing again and continue to do what they do best.