Best JDM AWD Cars – What Are The Top Models?
Interested to know more about the ultimate picks on the JDM AWD car market? We’ve got you covered with this guide.
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Car enthusiasts always searching for the best JDM cars in the United States. Why Japanese domestic market cars? Well, mainly because JDM cars are (arguably) far cooler than regular USDM models.
JDM cars often provide the holy grail models and pack all the goodies that Japanese enthusiasts enjoy. Plus, you’ll certainly stand out in the US by sitting on the “wrong” side with the right-hand-drive layout!
Until recently, importing an RHD car into the US was a pain. But recently, more and more people have been importing cool Supra and Skyline models directly from Japan to America. Once a car reaches 25 years old, it’s eligible for importation to the US.
But, in this case, you’re probably not looking to import any JDM car. You are specifically interested in the lesser-known JDM AWD cars.
So, what is AWD?
AWD stands for all-wheel-drive for people who are not into cars. All-wheel drive is a special system that allows all four wheels to activate and allow you to experience the improved handling and performance of these cars.
Frankly, AWD cars handle like a dream on those twisty roads, and will often leave you feeling like you’re on rails. There is simply no comparison between your regular RWD car and an AWD model. For this reason, we decided to create a list of the ultimate JDM AWD cars that you can get right now.
We listed the most popular models, starting from the cheapest ones to the more expensive models that you can purchase, and we’ve no doubt that there’ll be something for everyone on this list.
So, let’s get started.
JDM AWD Cars - Our Top Picks
Now that we introduced ourselves to the topic. Let’s move on to the list of the best JDM AWD cars you can get right now.
On our list, we will share the six most popular AWD models you can get right now.
We will share some of their specs and our honest thoughts on their performance. It’s not often we say this here at Drifted, but there are no rear-wheel drive (or front-wheel-drive models for that matter) on this list!
Now, let’s jump to the first pick.
1. Mitsubishi Galant VR-4 (1996 – 2002)
Let’s begin our list of JDM AWD cars with something unique. And this model is the Mitsubishi Galant VR-4. So, what is the Galant VR-4?
The Galant VR-4 model is a top-of-the-range model of the standard Mitsubishi Galant. In general, this was a high-performance model.
The standard eighth-generation Galant came in two versions – a 4-door saloon, and a 5-door hatchback.
The VR-4 model based on this generation was the most desirable and produced a ton of horsepower.
This was the case because this model came with a powerful 2.5L twin-turbo V6 engine. This engine produced 280 horsepower and 272 lb-ft of torque.
The Galant came with two transmissions, a 5-speed automatic transmission, and a 5-speed manual. Also, as you probably guessed by now, it also came with an all-wheel-drive system installed.
It’s the AWD drivetrain that made the Galant one of the best-handling cars at the time. Because of its power, it was banned in Europe, as well as in the US.
Since it is a forbidden model, it developed a cult following, just like the Nissan GT-R. But nowadays, it can reportedly be imported as a gray import.
2. Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VII (2003 – 2005)
Another exciting addition to our list of JDM AWD cars is the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VII. So, why this Evo specifically?
We honestly think this model is the way to go considering the age and price factors.
Even though the Evo IX is close and very similar, it is still more expensive. And they still pack the same powertrain under the hood.
They are both based on the same seventh generation of the Lancer.
The engine under the hood is the 4G63 2.0L inline-4 turbo. This engine creates incredible horsepower. More specifically, about 276hp and 295lb-ft of torque.
The model comes only with a manual: more specifically, a five-speed manual and a six-speed manual transmission.
A special version is also sold in the UK, the FQ-400. This is the most powerful version, producing up to 405hp and 355lb-ft of torque. This is apparently the fastest Evo ever built, with a top speed of 175 mph.
The Evo is one of the best JDM AWD cars, which has earned it a huge following in the likes of drag racing and rally disciplines.
In fact, this model, along with the WRX, is used on many rallies and hill climbing races and is still raced to this day.
There is also a USDM model from this generation. But with slight tweaks. Namely, all US models had A/C and bulkier rear bumpers.
In general, the US model was a very stripped-down version of the JDM Evo. The Japanese models perform far better.
So if you’re looking for the ultimate Evo, JDM is likely the way to go (unless you can get your hands on the FQ-400!)
3. Toyota Celica GT-4 (1989 – 1993)
Let’s cover another fantastic AWD car on our JDM AWD cars list – the Toyota Celica.
Not Scotty Kilmer’s Celica, but the one before it. More specifically, the ST185 model.
This Celica was used and abused on dirt tracks around the world. And became a true benchmark when it comes to WRC racing.
Carlos Sainz Senior won many races with this car between 1990 and 1992. Both Sainz and Juha Kankkunen repeated the same success in the following years.
Powered by a 2.0 liter 3S-GTE turbo inline-4 engine, this incredible powerplant had an output of 222hp and 224lb-ft of torque. Those are pretty healthy numbers, we must admit – especially considering that the chassis is very lightweight.
Once again, the American (USDM) version of the Celica came underpowered compared to the JDM model.
The US model only had a power output of 200hp and 200lb-ft torque, which is a big difference in performance – a whopping 22 hp loss for the US model.
What’s interesting about this model is that it has a 4WD system. This means that whenever the driver wants, he can engage the 4WD system and have power on all four wheels, which is a fantastic feature known as the All-Trac system.
Now let’s move on to the next JDM AWD cars.
4. Nissan Pulsar GTI-R (1990 – 1994)
Another fascinating model on our list of JDM AWD cars is the Nissan Pulsar GTI-R.
The Pulsar GTI-R was Nissan’s weapon of choice for the WRC championship.
The GTI-R was based on the standard Pulsar. More specifically on the N14 model that was introduced in 1990.
The Pulsar was an FWD model, but the GTI-R was turned into an AWD version because of Nissan’s desire to enter the WRC under the Group A rules.
This model was produced between 1990 and 1994 and was homologated.
For the JDM market, the car was sold as the Pulsar, while in Europe, it was sold under the name Nissan Sunny.
Unfortunately, we never got the chance to see the Pulsar GTI-R here in America, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get your hands on one now that the 25-year ban has been lifted.
In terms of powertrain, this model implemented the 2.0L SR20DET turbocharged engine. This engine produced about 227hp and 210lb-ft of torque. Performance-wise, this car is on the same level as the Celica we covered previously.
The model featured the ATTESA AWD system, often found in Skylines. The car’s body was, to a great extent, shared with the N14. The main differences were the big rear wing and the hood scoop.
The acceleration was pretty good for the Pulsar GTI-R. The model was able to accelerate from 0 to 60 in only 5.4 seconds, and the model was able to cover ¼ mile in only 13.5 seconds. The top speed was rated at 144 mph.
The Pulsar, unfortunately, was not as successful in racing as its Toyota counterpart that we covered previously.
Now let’s move on to the next JDM AWD cars.
5. Subaru Impreza WRX STi (1994 – 2000)
Next on our list of JDM AWD cars is the Subaru Impreza WRX STi.
You are probably aware of the current WRX model. But up until recent years, the Impreza and the WRX were the same. So, there wasn’t any WRX standoff version.
Subaru created this model to diversify its lineup and consider the WRX a separate model. Even though actually, the model is still an Impreza.
But the thing for which the Impreza WRX is known is WRC racing. The WRX model from this era and the following generation are probably among the most successful racers ever. So, a list of JDM AWD cars without this rally car would not be complete.
This model has a considerable advantage compared to other contemporary models because it implements a boxer engine.
This engine has a low center of gravity, and the weight distribution is nearly perfect. Making it a very capable racer.
The WRX STi packed a potent engine. This engine was the 2.0L turbocharged boxer engine. The EJ20 engine produced 247 horsepower, significantly more than the Celica and the Pulsar we previously covered.
The power numbers in later years were bumped up to 271 horsepower. And the most potent models were produced in 2000. This model was known as the S201. 300 cars were produced from this version, and they implemented an engine that produces 300hp and 260lb-ft of torque.
Also, the weight of this model was impressive, at just 2,800 lbs.
This helped the STi crush the competition both on and off the track. Now let’s move on to the last JDM AWD cars.
6. Nissan Skyline GT-R R32 (1989 – 1994)
And the best model is the last on our list of JDM AWD cars. This is the R32 Skyline, also known as the Godzilla.
This model is the most widely acclaimed GT-R along the R34, but everybody knows and talks about the R34. So, that’s why we picked the R32.
This model created the concept that most people associate Skyline with. The following two models are built upon the R32.
The R32 was the big revival of the Skyline GT-R model that was canceled in 1973. And honestly, when Nissan makes cars, especially performance-oriented vehicles, they never make mistakes.
This model was also created to compete in Group A rallies worldwide. So, this is why they created the model with AWD. More specifically, the ATTESA E-TS AWD system.
This was a similar system to the one found in the Pulsar GTI-R.
But overall, the GT-R is much a better car than the Pulsar, in our opinion.
The 2.6L RB26DETT twin-turbo engine powers this model. The base spec of this model was 276hp and 260lb-ft of torque. And this engine was paired with a 5-speed manual transmission.
There was also a Nismo version of the GT-R. The Nismo is a step above the standard GT-R. This model implemented a lot of performance and aerodynamic upgrades with a focus on weight saving and reliability to maximize performance. So, the Nismo was about 67 lbs lighter than the regular GT-R.
The sad thing is that this JDM model was never imported into the US. It was banned, and there was no USDM version.
Luckily, in 2014, the law allowed for vehicles above 25 years old to be imported. And many car guys grabbed the chance to get a JDM GT-R.
Now that we learned about some of the finest JDM AWD cars available on the market, let’s conclude this article.
We went through our list of JDM AWD cars and now let’s share our impressions with you.
What is worth noting is that we did not include some of the cars that most people expect.
Usual cars that you expect to see, such as the Toyota Supra, Honda Civic, Honda Integra, Mazda RX-7, Nissan Silvia, Integra Type R, Honda NSX, and other legendary models, are not included simply because they are not all-wheel-drive (AWD) models – they are either FWD or RWD.
Regarding our personal favorites, we would say that the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo is probably one of the best cars you can get for the money. And also one of the most capable AWD vehicles ever made.