One of the first things that will strike you if Japan ever ends up on your destination list, is all of the odd little cars that still sport the Japanese badges you know from back home. They may bare little resemblance to anything you’ve ever seen in the states, but sure enough, every automaker from Mazda to Toyota has a flotilla of cars that are made exclusively for the land of Japan. We’re not talking about unique chassis codes either, but exclusive, limited run colors, seats, instrument clusters, and engines as well, many of which are impossible to buy anywhere else in the world.
It doesn’t stop with the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) either, as many auto manufacturers have opted to spread the wealth globally via the carefully planned marketing of various cars to target audiences in varied locales. There are boatloads of choices out there too, with endless trim options and powerplant configurations causing many of us to wonder why Americans have been denied almost all of them.
But before you go claiming that the Japanese have kept all the good stuff for themselves, and are nice to everyone else but us, know that North America gets unique versions of the Honda Odyssey minivan, Toyota’s Tundra (which isn’t even sold in Japan), and Nissan’s soccer mom monolith, the Armada. Again, there are key buyer demographics within every market, and vehicles like a 1.0-liter micro-compact are more than likely to fail here in the states when positioned next to a Tacoma pick-up. Just look at what happened to the Scion iQ and you’ll see what we mean.
So in order to keep things streamlined we have opted to make this a brand-specific cheat sheet, focusing on the multi-talented powerhouse known as Honda, a company that has denied Americans access to quite a few cars over the years. Sure, things look promising now, what with the turbocharged Civic Type-R finally heading our way, but we still remain puzzled as to why America never got this performance variant in the first place, even when potential buyers clamored for it with wild abandon. But that’s another qualm for another day, and I don’t feel like getting hot under my collar right now. Instead, let’s look the following six Hondas over and ponder a very pertinent question: If these cars were available in America tomorrow, how well would they sell?
1. Brio (Thailand, Indonesia, and India)
Featuring a 1.2-liter engine that undoubtedly came off an over-sized weed-eater, all while reminding us of the styling cues of the Toyota Yaris, the Honda Brio is about as pedestrian as it comes in Asia. While it may seem like a lackluster for most, we totally dig the surprisingly roomy cabin it adopts from its big brother, the Fit. The Brio also comes with power folding mirrors for safer street parking, and since a base model costs just about seven grand out the door, it remains a very good economy car for the money.
2. Civic Tourer (U.K.)
This next offering is basically a Civic wagon with a British birth certificate. The Civic Tourer has proven to be quite formidable in Type-R racing format over the years as well, and for the Honda Yuasa BTCC race team this means kicking ass all season-long while causing competitors to contemplate how they just lost to a station wagon. On street-prepped models, this sloped roof estate car has all of the features we love in the Fit, but with a bit more room and an available diesel engine for more efficiency and torque. Our only issue with this car is that a base model with a 1.6-liter engine runs a whopping $30,000, which is in stark contrast to the aforementioned Brio, with its surprisingly meager starting price.
3. N-ONE (Japan)
Reminiscent of the Honda’s of yesteryear, the N-ONE is this adorable little ball of retro fun, and we don’t give a damn if it only has a three-cylinder engine that’s the size of a bowl of ramen. A blatant homage to Honda’s long-gone Kei cars from the early 1970s, the N-ONE offers retro styling, halo headlights, and an interior that serves as both a throwback collage and as a touchstone for the compact cars of the future. Since its launch in 2012, the N-ONE has surprised buyer and critic alike with its popularity and practicality, and to this day remains a huge hit for the Japanese automaker due to its modest $10,000 base price.
4. S660 (Japan)
Just by looking at it you would think we were starting to get into the performance side of things now, and that we had a real Nissan GT-R ass-kicker on our hands. But that is certainly not the case today folks, as this little two-seater only has 127 horsepower and a Type-R configuration still has yet to emerge.The Honda S660 is a car that fits into the Kei car category, and prefers to offer drivers exceptional fuel economy and drivability, instead of high performance and practicality. With the trunk space of a train station locker, and the torque of a snowblower, this mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive convertible still looks like a lot of fun for the money. Hell, with a starting price that tips the scale at just over $16,000, I would be tempted to buy one and have it shipped over to America in order to perform a supercharged V6 Acura engine swap!
5. Acty (Japan)
In America, truck buyers typically tend to opt for pick-ups that can overpower a Panzer tank, and if it just so happens to have a crew cab that can hold a team of lumberjacks you’ve got a guaranteed winner. But back in Japan, farmers and fishermen choose to utilize miniature work trucks in the rice paddies and fish markets because there’s no need for all that brawn. There’s a reason why Honda’s Acty truck has been a best seller for several decades, as it offers buyers a basic work truck configuration on a frame that is small enough to navigate the maze-like paths that spiderweb across Japan’s prolific rice paddies. With its flat nose, and clever bed that folds down on all three sides, we feel that this little pick-up is a tip of the hat to tractor trailers of yesteryear, and starting at only $6,500 we would pick one up for yard-work in a heartbeat if it were available.
Okay, so the overtly abbreviated title for this car is a bit overkill, but for $18,545 who cares that it isn’t a wagon or that it doesn’t have a step anywhere to be seen? The Honda Stepwgn is the mid-sized minivan of Japan, and next to the Odyssey it is an excellent choice for larger families. This thing is crazy roomy too, with interior conversion options that rival the now defunct Element, and package options that borderline on being Acura-grade. It also has one of the craziest rear hatch configurations imaginable, and if you go to Honda’s webpage you will see exactly why we would be thrilled to have some of these design cues incorporated into various models over here in the states.