8 most reliable Japanese cars

Evaldas Zabitis

Evaldas Zabitis

Japanese cars have a reputation for being among the most reliable. Does that mean you can feel safe buying any Japan-manufactured car on the market? Of course not! All car makers are different, and even the great ones have some disappointments on their roster.

So, if you're interested in buying a new or used vehicle, read on to learn about the most reliable Japanese cars available!

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How we made this list

A reliable car holds up well over time, developing fewer issues. Car owners and mechanics know the downsides of particular models and how complicated their maintenance is. However, the best way to predict the car’s reliability is by comparing data from multiple sources.

We used information from car history reports generated here at carVertical and looked through studies done by Consumer Reports, CarBuyer, J.D. Power, RepairPal, and others to make this list as objective as possible..

8 most reliable Japanese cars

8. Mazda MX-5 Miata

Cherry red Mazda MX-5 Miata
Source: Shadman Samee / Flickr

Budget sports car fans admire all Miata models for their sporty characteristics and outstanding reliability. RepairPal listed the Miata in 8th place out of 21 subcompact cars by reliability, which is very good for a performance car.

While the third-generation MX-5 looks dated, the current MX-5 came out in 2015 and received “World Car of the Year” and “World Car Design of the Year” awards at the New York Auto Show in 2016. The most powerful version features 181 hp, which is enough for a 2,381 lb vehicle to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. You’ll have lots of fun while driving, even at road speeds.

The cabin is tight and only seats two people. Most Miata cars are roadsters, but the current-generation MX-5 is also available as a retractable fastback (RF), resembling a classic targa top. A brand-new MX-5 Miata can be yours for $27,650.

7. Acura TLX

Metallic blue Acura TLX front
Source: Shadman Samee / Flickr

While RepairPal placed the TLX in 1st place out of 31 luxury midsize cars, participants in other surveys complained about engine and transmission issues. The overall reliability of the second-generation TLX is great, only the first generation models manufactured in 2015, 2016, and 2018 should be avoided.

The TLX competes with premium sedans like the 3-Series and the C-Class. This model is more focused on sportiness than luxury. Thanks to the integrated dynamics system and assertive paddle shifting, you can feel this sportiness while driving. Acura even installed aluminum front fenders and moved the battery to the back to obtain a better weight distribution.

The sporty TLX is powered by a 272 hp 2.0-liter VTEC turbocharged engine, while the Type S version comes with a 355 hp 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 assuring 0-60 mph acceleration in 5.1 seconds.

6. Toyota Prius/Prius Prime

Light blue metallic Toyota Prius
Source: Michaela Pereckas / Flickr

The Prius has always been an icon of reliability and economy. It suffered from various powertrain issues in the early 2010s, but recent models seem to go strong without any major problems.

According to the CarBuyer survey, only 6.8% of Prius owners experienced issues during the first year of ownership. Most of these issues were minor and related to electronic stability control and brakes.

Owners praise the Prius for low maintenance costs and smooth engines, while simplified engineering and improved aerodynamics help average 52 mpg. However, the Prius image is one of the least desirable in the world, making it unappealing to younger drivers. The base L Eco models start at $24,625.

5. Lexus NX

Silver Lexus NX front
Source: crash71100 / Flickr

The new Lexus NX is based on the same platform as the RAV4, Camry, Highlander, and other popular Toyota models. Even posh and complicated features don’t make the NX less reliable than the RAV4.

When it comes to possible weak spots, some owners have experienced a few minor issues with the electrical system and engine. Lexus has also issued a recall to fix incorrect programming of the parking brake.

The NX is a good choice for used car buyers – based on our data, only 32.6% of Lexus NX history reports show damage records. This number is close to 50% for all cars, meaning you’re less likely to buy a lemon with a used Lexus NX.

This luxury compact crossover is packed with innovative comfort and safety features. Everything from the carpeting to the ceiling feels premium and the interior styling doesn’t resemble its cheaper relatives. As modern people love sporty esthetics, Lexus included features like sport driving mode, seats with additional side support, and fake exterior vents.

The base NX 250 version starts at $39,425 and features a 203 hp four-cylinder engine that may seem too weak for some drivers.

4. Toyota Corolla

Red Toyota Corolla Hybrid in a showroom
Source: Rutger van der Maar / Flickr

The Corolla is the best-selling passenger car of all time, as it has built a strong reputation over the years, promising safety, fuel efficiency, great value, and reliability.

The 2022 Corolla received a predicted reliability score of 85 out of 100 from J.D. Power. Some owners had issues with the cruise control and body hardware. However, surveys have revealed only several such cases, so there's not much reason to worry.

The 12th-generation Corolla came out in 2018. Durability and great fuel efficiency come together with a roomy cabin and great standard safety features, including LED headlights, automatic climate control, a backup camera, a smart key system, Toyota Safety Sense, and Star Safety System.

You can choose from multiple petrol and hybrid versions, diesel engines aren’t available anymore. The cheapest Toyota Corolla starts at $20,075.

3. Lexus GX

White Lexus GX front
Source: Abdullah AlBargan / Flickr

Huge luxury off-road SUVs aren’t common on lists like this, as they have complicated powertrains and overengineered electrical systems. Despite that, the 2022 Lexus GX received a perfect score in the Consumer Reports predicted reliability survey, meaning owners had no problems with their cars. It should be noted that some drivers of earlier models report loose side mirrors and a faulty remote start feature.

The GX is a proper off-road vehicle, which copes even with the harshest terrains without breaking a sweat, so don’t compare it with fuel-sipping crossovers you can find all over the cities.

It has body-on-frame construction, 6,500 lb towing capacity, a limited-slip center differential, and a multi-terrain select feature to help you out in the wild. At the same time, triple-beam LED headlights, a 10.3-inch navigation system, voice control, the Lexus Enform Remote, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and numerous other standard features keep the GX civilized for daily driving.

2. Lexus ES

Dark blue Lexus ES parked by the side of the road
Source: Rutger van der Maar / Flickr

Lexus ES is closely related to the Toyota Camry because of the platform, engines, and transmissions these models share. While it’s always been among the most reliable Lexus cars, the ES cars manufactured from 2010 to 2015 had issues with the dashboard quality, oil leaks, and malfunctioning electrical windows.

Some 2.5-liter engines in newer models were prone to coolant leaks, but Lexus has already addressed this problem and issued a recall.

The 7th-generation ES was introduced in 2018. It’s available with four-cylinder and V6 engines that produce up to 302 hp. This is the first generation of ES that also comes with the optional all-wheel drive system – a nice touch that most luxury car manufacturers offer.

Even the standard ES comes with pedestrian and cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, and automated emergency braking. Unfortunately, the starting price of $40,800 is pretty steep.

1. Toyota Yaris

Source: Kārlis Dambrāns / Flickr
Source: Kārlis Dambrāns / Flickr

The Yaris received a 100% reliability score from What Car? in 2018, RepairPal ranked it 1st out of 21 cars in the subcompact category and revealed the annual maintenance cost of the Yaris is only $333.

While older models had a few common but minor issues, owners of the latest models are satisfied with their low maintenance costs.

The Toyota Yaris is a supermini B-segment vehicle, competing with the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo, and Renault Clio. The fourth-generation Yaris is only available as a four-door hatchback, leaving the two-door version for the performance-oriented GR Yaris.

This model is available with three-cylinder petrol engines, averaging 30 mpg, and a single hybrid version, which stands among the most reliable vehicles in the world. Although the Yaris is less than 4 meters long, it still provides comfortable seating for four people. You won’t find a more trouble-free car for city driving.

Why are Japanese cars so reliable?

Improving reliability would bring more sales for American, British, and German automakers, so you can’t help but think why these manufacturers aren’t nearly as reliable as Japanese manufacturers.

Everything is based on the company’s image and roots. If Germans focused more on reliability, they would have to ditch some of their best-selling systems, replan the whole manufacturing process, and even risk their image. On the other hand, Honda, Toyota, and other Japanese manufacturers have been focusing on reliability for many years.

Competing with well-developed public transportation

Japan has a strong public transportation system, meaning people can easily manage their lives without owning a vehicle. Most vehicles don’t make sense in this environment, so people need cheap and reliable Japanese cars.

Orange Honda Beat next to a regular-sized car
Source: FotoSleuth / Flickr

One of the answers to this problem is kei cars – the smallest cars eligible to use on motorways. Kei cars like the Honda Beat and the Suzuki Cappuccino are light and powered by tiny two-stroke and four-stroke engines, ensuring the lowest taxes and insurance costs. The Honda N-Box, Suzuki Spacia, Nissan Dayz, and other modern kei cars are wildly popular in Japan.

Prioritizing product quality after WW2

Japanese brands struggled to recover after WW2 because many manufacturing plants were destroyed. Then an American quality guru, William Edwards Deming, arrived in Japan to help the government rebuild the country’s infrastructure.

He advised adjusting some car manufacturing techniques to prioritize product quality. From that point, major Japanese car makers began borrowing ideas from Western manufacturers, finding and sorting out flaws and building stylish, affordable, and robust cars.

Kaizen principle

Toyota, Honda, and other well-known Japanese car manufacturers use the “kaizen” principle, encouraging all workers to address and solve every problem they discover. This approach requires more time and money because manufacturers usually offer bonuses for those addressing problems, but everything pays off in the long run, as cars develop fewer issues and gain more trust.

Every automaker has its ups and downs, so sometimes even the least trustworthy manufacturers build problem-free cars. Read here to find out more about the most durable cars in the world.

Bad history negatively affects the car’s reliability

Japanese car manufacturers are famous for their long-lasting cars, but even their well-engineered powertrains and electronics fail under unusual wear and tear that’s caused by car accidents and irregular maintenance. Therefore, every used car buying process should include a thorough inspection at the repair shop and a vehicle history check.

Toyota's report by carVertical

While repair shop workers can warn you about ongoing mechanical and electrical problems, a history report will reveal past car accidents, titles, mileage records, and other valuable details warning you about potential risks.

To get this report, simply enter a car's VIN number (often found on the dashboard and visible through the windshield on the driver’s side of the vehicle) into the carVertical's VIN decoder and learn everything there is about the vehicle you're planning to purchase.

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Evaldas Zabitis

Article by

Evaldas Zabitis

Evaldas has been writing since middle school and has had a passion for cars for as long as he can remember. Right after getting his driver’s license, he spent all of his savings on shoddy cars so he could spend time fixing, driving, and selling them. Evaldas is always interested in automotive technical innovations and is an active participant in automotive community discussions.