Top 20: Best Japanese Used Cars

02nd Apr 2019

Mazda MX-5


Japanese cars remain a firm favourite on the used car market because of their immense value and excellent reliability records. With such a large number of Japanese manufacturers making a range of cars that fill just about every market, you will find yourself massively spoiled for choice when having a look through the used car classifieds. Here's the ones you should be looking at.


1. Honda Civic

The Civic has been around since 1972, and now in its 9th generation makes for a great used buy. Reliable, dependable and practical the Civic is punchy and economical too - the pick of the engine range being the 2.2 i-DTEC with 147 bhp.

This power unit propels the Civic to 60 mph from standstill in just 8.2 seconds while managing a fantastic 67 mpg on the combined cycle, meaning the Civic doesn't really take part in the usual performance-economy trade-off. Boot capacity is a class-leading 477 litres and all-round interior space is extremely good, as is the quality of the materials used in the cabin.

Used Honda Civic
Honda Civic

2. Nissan Qashqai

As the king of the crossovers, everybody knows how good the first generation Qashqai is. While the new model is picking up awards left right and centre, savvy used buyers are bagging bargain diesel Qashqais for well under £10,000 in the Evans Halshaw classifieds.

With a high driving position, 5-star safety rating and capable of 57 mpg combined, they may well be the ultimate used family car, especially at this price range. Boot capacity is a very useful 410 litres and the interior quality is there for all to see. Nissan couldn't keep up with demand when building new Qashqais, and it's easy to see why.

Used Nissan Qashqai
Nissan Qashqai

3. Mazda MX-5

The Mazda MX-5 has always stood for one thing - affordable fun. And that is even more true with bargain used MK3 MX-5s available in the classifieds for well under £10,000. With the current generation still commanding a decent chunk of cash, it's never been a better time to get your hands on one of its fine predecessors. Choose from 1.8 and 2.0-litre engines - the latter with a more than respectable 157 bhp that powers the car from 0-60 mph in just 7.6 seconds. There's the traditional soft-top versions as well as the more secure cars with a folding hard-top. Choose from standard trim, SE models or a whole host of special editions, each with their own unique features.

Used Mazda MX-5
Mazda MX-5

4. Nissan Note

Looking for a practical, spacious and easy to drive hatchback? They don't come much more spacious than the Nissan Note. The high roofline makes the most of the compact proportions to generate a more than decent 437 litres of boot capacity.

Engine choices range from 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrols to the most popular 1.5 dCi 88 bhp diesel that manages 67 mpg on the combined cycle and pulls well in all gears. Trim levels include Visia, Acenta and Tekna, as well as the popular special edition N-Tec+ model that includes extras such as satellite navigation, automatic climate control and Bluetooth connectivity.

Used Nissan Note 
Nissan Note

5. Honda Jazz

The Honda Jazz is in a similar class to the aforementioned Nissan Note, a relatively small hatchback with a higher roofline for extra space and ease of access. Interior space is plentiful and the boot has a generous 335 litres of capacity.

Low mileage examples can be comfortably had under £8,000 and that makes it a great used purchase. The most popular engine choice is the 1.4 i-VTEC petrol with 98 bhp, which manages a respectable 50 mpg and low CO2 emissions of just 129 g/km. Trim levels include the S, ES, SE and top of line EX.

Used Honda Jazz
Honda Jazz

6. Nissan Juke

The Juke third Nissan in our list of the Top 20 Used Japanese Cars, and it's perhaps the most distinctive with totally unique styling and characterful design. It's functional too, with a decent 251-litre boot and reasonable interior space.

Economy for the most popular 1.5 dCi diesel model is an impressive 70 mpg combined, and a 0-60 mph time of 10.8 seconds means the Juke feels lively on the road. If you want even more performance you can opt for the 1.6 DiG-T turbo models that with 187 bhp on tap drop the 0-60 mph spring time to an exciting 7.7 seconds. 4WD and automatic versions are available too.

Used Nissan Juke
Nissan Juke

7. Toyota iQ

The iQ is one of Britain's smallest four-seat vehicles, and fits an incredible amount of space into a ridiculously small package. Sitting in the front, it's difficult to tell that you're in a vehicle with such tiny dimensions - it's only really when you look to the rear seats and the "boot" do you get a sense of how tiny this brilliant little city car is.

At 32 litres, the boot really is mega-small but pushing down the 50:50 split-folding rear seats gives you decent 251-litres of space, which is the same as a Nissan Juke. Choose from iQ, iQ2 and iQ3 models with varying levels of specification.

Used Toyota iQ
Toyota IQ

8. Mazda 2

The Mazda 2 is a more than credible rival to the likes of the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa, with similar dimensions and low running costs leading the way in an impressive list of credentials. That list includes a decent 250 litre boot, 54 mpg for the most popular 1.3 petrol model, a tight 9m turning circle and low CO2 emissions of just 125 g/km.

Good, low mileage examples can be found from under £3,000 in the Evans Halshaw used car pages, making them great value cars capable of both the school run and weekly shopping trip. Look out for Tamura special edition models, which give you better alloys and a sporty body kit.

Used Mazda 2
Mazda 2

9. Mazda 6

The third Mazda in this list of the best Japanese used cars is the Mazda 6 family hatchback. It's a popular and spacious model with a huge 500 litres of luggage capacity. Mazda know how to engineer an engaging chassis too, meaning you don't have to worry about a mundane driving experience.

With 138 bhp, the 2.0 diesel model performs strongly and manages a respectable 50 mpg on average. It's got pedigree too, having been named as 'Family Car of the Year' in 2010 by the motoring experts at WhatCar? Magazine.

Used Mazda 6
Mazda 6

10. Lexus IS

The sole Lexus and only real 'premium' car in this list, the IS brings a touch of class to the Japanese used car market. 220 diesel models are a little more expensive to buy than the 250 petrol cars, but they make the most sense in terms of running costs.

The diesel engines manage a respectable 44 mpg combined despite a decent 0-60 mph time of 8.6 seconds and good mid-range pull thanks to 175 bhp on tap. Inside you will find a host of quality materials that have been beautifully bolted together to create a luxurious interior that is a joy to spend time in on long journeys. Opt for the later models and you will enjoy silky smooth hybrid powertrains, which will return incredible economy and high levels of refinement in the city.

Used Lexus IS
Lexus IS

11. Suzuki Swift

Suzuki were on to a real winner when they brought out the 2nd generation swift in 2004, and the revised third generation (as featured in the pictures) has been with us since 2010. It retains compact-car proportions and head-turning good looks, and combined with a funky interior and low running costs the Swift makes a good case for being the perfect small family hatchback.

Choose from SZ2, SZ3, SZ4 or special edition SZ-L models. Engines include the most popular 1.2 petrol and the economical 1.3 diesel that achieves 67 mpg combined, making it a decent choice for driving instructors. The latest Swift is also a corker, boasting plenty of technology as standard a raft of new turbocharged engines that make daily driving just that little bit easier.

Used Suzuki Swift
Suzuki Swift Sport

12. Honda CR-V

The third and final Honda in our list of the best used Japanese cars is the practical, reliable and well-equipped CR-V. It's one of the few SUVs where the petrol engine choice remains a popular option, but the smooth and responsive 2.0 i-VTEC engine is so good that buyers love it.

The 34 mpg economy figure isn't the best in class but it's manageable for most buyers, and the 485 litres of boot capacity is very useful indeed. If the petrol isn't for you there's a the 2.2 i-DTEC diesel engine which results in 43 mpg on average and a 0-60 mph time of 9.3 seconds.

Used Honda CR-V
Honda CR-V

13. Toyota RAV4

Toyota were really on to something when in 1994 they unveiled a car-derived, high-riding mid-size SUV which today we call the 'Crossover'. Like the Honda CR-V, the RAV4 has a petrol engine option that is still popular with buyers, especially on the used market where it results in a lower initial purchase price.

Despite the petrol power the RAV4 should achieve 32 mpg on average and the massive 586-litre boot is accessed by a unique side-hinged rear door that also features a rear-mounted spare wheel (on earlier models). Opt for later models and you'll have the option to get yourself behind the wheel of a hybrid, which returns lower emissions and higher fuel economy - win win!

Used Toyota RAV4
Toyota RAV4

14. Nissan LEAF

The Nissan LEAF is proving to be a popular new car purchase, and with European sales up 33% in 2014 it now makes up an impressive 26% of the entire electric car market in Europe. One of the potential downsides of purchasing a new LEAF is the battery hire costs - something that many used examples don't have.

They make good sense as a day-to-day car if you don't have too far to travel as they're comfortable, nippy off the line thanks to instant torque and have a top speed of 89 mph which is plenty. Maximum range on 2013- models is 124 miles, while Nissan claim the most recent LEAF can achieve up to 239 miles (based on WLTP cycle).

Used Nissan LEAF
Nissan LEAF

15. Nissan Micra

A favourite in the UK since 1983, the Nissan Micra has a world-renowned reputation for being reliable, cheap to run and easy to drive. They're great value on the used market too, with plenty of generation 3 (like the one in the picture) and generation 4 models available, many of which have super-low mileage thanks to owners who simply use them for occasional trips to the shops and pottering around town.

Petrol options are the most popular as you can imagine, with diesel engines only being introduced into the humble Micra a few years ago. The 1.2 petrol engine is more than adequate for the little Micra, although the 1.5 dCi is essential if you intend on doing more than 10,000 miles a year since they are kinder on the environment.

Used Nissan Micra
Nissan Micra

16. Toyota Yaris

Toyota showed the world how it was done when they unveiled the original Yaris in 1999, replacing the Starlet in their small car line-up. These cars are much-loved by owners, and you can find plenty of first generation and second generation versions in our classifieds, as well as some third generation models too.

The one pictured here is a second generation 1.3 VVT-i TR that has 85 bhp and manages 47 mpg on the combined cycle and CO2 emissions of 147 g/km. Later 1.33 VVT-i models improved these figures to 99 bhp and 54 mpg thanks to revisions to the engine and a slick six-speed gearbox. If you fancy something that's a little bit more mental, then the GRMN boasts a supercharged 1.8-litre petrol engine that puts 210bhp through a limited slip differential. Who said the Yaris was purely for older people, hey?

Used Toyota Yaris
Toyota Yaris

17. Suzuki Alto

Another excellent Japanese city car has made the list, this time in the form of the Alto, which has been a big success for Suzuki in the UK. The Alto is incredibly affordable to buy, and they come with a respectable amount of equipment for their sticker prices too. An Alto with under 50k miles can be comfortably had under the £4,000 marker, which is insane value for money.

Buyers enjoy the low running costs, decent specification (on SZ3 and SZ4 models in particular) and a great reputation for reliability. All Altos come with a 1.0 petrol engine capable of over 60 mpg combined and low CO2 emissions of just 103 g/km.

Used Suzuki Alto
Suzuki Alto

18. Toyota AYGO

The final car to make the list of the Top 20 Best Used Japanese cars is the Toyota AYGO, sister car to our very own Citroen C1 and Peugeot 107. All three of these models have been extremely popular with UK buyers since their 2005 launch.

Originally the AYGO came in just AYGO, Plus or Sport trim but a second wave in 2008 brought about the Black, Blue and Platinum special editions which different features that proved popular with buyers. A facelift in 2012 refreshed the AYGO's appearance before an all-new model was launched in 2014, along with a brand-new Citroen C1 and Peugeot 108. The latest generation AYGO is certainly a sharp-looking car, and really distinguishes itself from the rest of the crowd - it drives surprisingly well, too.

Used Toyota AYGO
Toyota Aygo

19. Mitsubishi Outlander

Although the Outlander has been around since 2001, you'll most likely think of the sleek-looking plug-in hybrid that rolls young families around the town and into the countryside. Mitsubishi bucked the trend with the more recent Outlanders, because they prioritised the marketing of the plug-in hybrid version, meaning you see more of those around.

Weirdly, Mitsubishi claim the Outlander can achieve between 38 and 160 mpg, which is certainly broad. However, it shows they have been realistic with their figures, meaning you can get excellent mpg if you drive accordingly. The interior is spacious and well-equipped, while the Outlander is unlikely to let you down thanks to it being a Mitsubishi. With so many SUVs on the road, this could be one of the best for you.

Used Mitsubishi Outlander
Mitsubishi Outlander

20. Toyota Prius

On the grand scheme of things, it's hard to imagine a world without the Toyota Prius, because they are literally everywhere! There's good reason for that, too. They offer all the luxuries and practicality of your usual everyday family car, but they also offer incredible fuel economy and reliability levels that are typical of Toyota. Thousands of taxi driver who use them as their cars can't be wrong, can they?

The 1.8-litre plug-in hybrid engine may not be the most potent, but it still delivers decent real-world performance, as well as the all-important high levels of refinement and economy in the big city.

Used Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius