Home Cars We Drove Them All. Here’s Our Pick of the Best Japanese Cars

We Drove Them All. Here’s Our Pick of the Best Japanese Cars

by Chris Butsch
2019 Acura MDX

Sometimes when I receive press cars, I’ll play a little game with myself. I’ll hide the pricing sheet, and at the end of the week, I’ll guess what it costs.

Typically I’m within a few grand, but I hugely overestimated the RDX’s price. Since it’s exceptionally well-styled, bursting with tech, sporty, and overall exudes a true premium feel, I guessed this loaded-up one would go for ~$55k. Instead, it’s closer to $45k.

In typical Japanese fashion the transmission and handling aren’t as razor-sharp as German competitors, but the RDX is also $10k cheaper than a similarly-loaded Merc, Audi, or Bimmer.

2019 Lexus UX 250h is Lexus’ “The Starry Night”

Lexus us 250h

Lexus’ steadfastness to their polarizing design language has resulted in what I think is the best-looking crossover ever produced.

Vincent Van Gogh grappled with insanity for years before producing “The Starry Night.” The designers at Lexus must surely empathize.

Lexus have drawn criticism for their extreme, angular styling since 2014. Five years later, I feel their steadfastness has finally culminated in the best-looking crossover they, or for that matter anyone, has ever made. The UX is sharp yet stunning, elegant yet intimidating: it’s Lara Croft in a cocktail dress.

Visuals aside, the UX is simply a brilliant car. Lexus’ baby crossover boasts 41mpg, an exquisite interior with perfected ergonomics, and though tight, it still offers more space than a sedan.

2019 Toyota 86 is a side of fries on wheels

Toyota 86 sports car

The 86 puts the “Toy” in “Toyota.”

French fries have no nutritional value. They don’t last long. They’re messy. So why do we love them? Because they’re able to satisfy the deepest of cravings with just three simple ingredients: salt, fat and a crunchy texture.

Similarly, the Toyota 86 offers little “nutrition” – it lacks safety equipment, storage or any family-friendly features. However, with three simple ingredients: a six speed manual, rear-wheel drive and sharp handling, it elicits the widest of smiles.

Toyota’s french fry is priced like a side dish, too: just $27k starting. If you’d like a Miata with four seats, look no further.

2019 Nissan Armada is an affordable family tank

2019 Nissan Armada

The Armada is named after a fleet of warships for a reason.

Many three-rows are becoming sleeker, sportier and more efficient at the expense of comfort and cargo space. The Nissan Armada isn’t one of them.

The Armada is named after a fleet of warships for a reason; it’s massive, intimidating and sometimes difficult to command. But where it lacks in driving dynamics, this Japanese tank makes up for in cargo, comfort and luxury. Even in base trim, the Armada offers a nicely appointed interior with cloth seats virtually indistinguishable from real suede.

If you’re seeking an affordable hauler that stands out from the Tahoes and Yukons on the road, look no further.

2019 Toyota Camry TRD is the spicy Camry we’ve been waiting for

2020 Toyota Camry

Starting at just $32k, the Camry TRD (Toyota Racing Development) may be Toyota’s first truly practical sports car.

Throughout high school and college I drove a 2001 Camry. Though safe and dependable, that beige bucket of memories was hardly sporty. In fact, Consumer Reports called the ’01 Camry “less exciting to operate than a toaster oven.”

Imagine my shock, then, when a Camry appeared in my driveway with a wicked spoiler, red brake calipers and 73 more horsepower than a VW Golf GTI. It’s like my frumpy high school pal discovered CrossFit.

I love the Camry TRD because it addresses all of my qualms with the Toyota 86. It’s fast, cavernous, comfy and unafraid to appear aggressive, yet tasteful.

2019 Lexus LS 500 continues a 30-year-old Japanese tradition

Lexus LS 500

The “Japanese S-Class” is closing the gap performance-wise with its German rivals.

In 1989, Toyota shocked the world by unveiling the first Lexus. The LS400 confidently sought to beat the reigning Mercedes S-Class on reliability and price and has largely succeeded.

The LS has never been as agile and sure-footed as the S-Class (especially in AMG forms), but Lexus are closing the gap. The newest iteration offers rear steering, adaptive dampers and a 0-60 time of just 4.5 seconds. Plus, Lexus’ religious dedication to comfort and dependability shines through as always; the LS is a 416-horsepower cloud.

Consider also that you can fully-load an LS for the starting price of an S-Class.

2019 Mazda6’s upgrades are a double-edged sword

2019 Mazda6

I predict that the conservative-yet-handsome styling of the Mazda6 will age much better than some of its competitors.

Mazda’s mid-cycle upgrades to the Mazda6 are a double-edged sword; they make the 6 more enticing, but also highlight its non-luxury features.

The 250hp turbocharged engine offers delightful torque without sacrificing efficiency. The interior is both luxurious and minimalist: a delicate balance even luxury automakers struggle to find. Perhaps most amazingly, a thoroughly well-equipped Grand Touring model is yours for under $30k.

On my wish-list for the next-generation 6 are meatier door handles with touch-sensitive locks, better standard tires for less understeer and torque steer, and a sleeker, sizier infotainment system. Until then, however, the 6 is still a bargain.

Chris Butsch, The Travel 100 contributor, has test driven hundreds of cars. He is a member of GAAMA, the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association.

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