Photo by Salt Water New England

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Japanese Cars?

Photos by Salt Water New England
A Reader Question for the Community:
Love the recent car posts! Could you do a post on Japanese cars? I know Subaru has been mentioned several times on the blog. Would love to see a post featuring some Outbacks and Foresters, but also other notable brands and models that fit in with the NE aesthetic (Landcruiser, 4Runner, LX, Trooper, CRV, etc).












48 comments:

  1. Subaru has a cult-like following in New England similar to Apple and Patagonia. They're known for their ruggedness and outdoorsy appeal. Interestingly, Subaru owners seem to align with the political left. Rarely do I ever see an Outback with a Trump/Pence or Don't Tread on Me bumper sticker. More likely you'll see a COEXIST, Darwin Walking Fish, Bernie, Resistance or Rainbow sticker. Every now and then, a Grateful Dead sticker.
    I'm sure there are old copies of Karl Marx or Bertolt Brecht paperbacks and a well-worn pair of Birkenstocks in their trunk.


    However, I've heard from friends and neighbors that these cars have a reputation for head-gasket failures and oil leakage due to the boxer engine design. The reputation for durability may be over-stated...mostly by Subaru owners.

    Most people know this but when it comes to Japanese cars, there is a clear hierarchy. It's Lexus-Toyota followed closely by Acura-Honda. After these two auto makers, there is a precipitous drop off in quality, reliability and durability.

    If you have the coin and you're into the New England aesthetic, consider the Toyota Land Cruiser. It's the consummate work horse, engineered to travel around the world and maybe fight a few guerilla wars. And yes, it will do just fine picking up your weekly CSA haul from the local farm.

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    1. The original Land Cruiser with its 6-cylinder engine was the death of the Land-Rover in this country for a few decades. The dealer network may have had as much to do with it, though.

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    2. In my region (Eastern Shore of MD), Subarus are definitely favored by left leaning members of the upper middle class. This favor is to nearly the same extent as Volvos. However, I know conservative folks that swear by them as well. I currently drive an Outback and love it to death, but will probably return to Volvo when the time comes. However, knowing how long Subarus last, that could be a number of years down the road. No complaints so far!

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    3. Bumper sticker seen on a Maine Subie Forester: "I'll Be Your Huckleberry." Love it.

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    4. Subaru is what Volvo used to be. Safe and kinda quirky. Had a Subaru in college, one of the most reliable cars I have ever owed. Had a Volvo after college, loved it but not as reliable.

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    5. I have two Subarus. One is a 1999 silver Forester that is the best car I’ve ever had and I love it like a cherished pet. I can’t kill it. It has a Bernie bumper sticker as well as a Sierra Club and various New England stickers on the back. The other one is a 2017 green Forester with no stickers on it yet. But I did name it Bernie.

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    6. Consumer Reports issues annual auto manufacturer reliability rankings. Currently, four of the top ten are Japanese brands (including Subaru, excluding Honda), and three are South Korean, and one (Porsche) is German. Acura ranked 28th out of 30.

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    7. During the 80's, it was a common sight to see Mondale bumper stickers on Jeep Wagoneers even though the election resulted in a biblical humiliation.

      I would take reliability rankings with a grain of salt especially from CR and JD Powers. I would trust college rankings even less. It's glorified advertising for low information consumers.

      Subaru isn't the new Volvo. The new Volvo isn't the old Volvo. It's apples and tupperware. Vintage Volvos were built like tanks capable of performing under impossibly brutal wintry conditions. They were versatile but understated in a gentleman-farmer sort of way that New Englanders all quietly understood.

      The new Volvo is owned by a Mainland Chinese company or state-sanctioned entity of the CCP. This isn't your father's Volvo.

      The Land Cruiser is the car of choice for not only third world militia groups but also the Bug Out community -- a fascinating subculture in the Prepper community focused on survival, end day scenarios, EMP attacks, race wars and Joe Biden.



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    8. @Anonymous @9:53; very helpful and informative post, thank you! I wanted something less blingey and more reliable so the Acura-Honda sounds like the ticket!

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    9. Subaru is a fine automaker and is not a 2nd tier to Toyota or Honda. People should know that Subaru actually produces thousands of Toyota cars every year for the larger company. Subaru has a cult following for simply being excellent.

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    10. I don't mean this as a pejorative but I do believe that Subaru is subpar compared to Toyota and Honda when it comes to overall reliability.

      A different comment referenced the popular mechanic Scotty Kilmer on Youtube. His advice and insights are invaluable. He will save you time, money and aggravation. And he warns against owning Subarus mostly because of its flawed engine design. Independent mechanics will tell you the same thing.

      A popular car within certain regions doesn't mean it's an excellent car. It's just a testament of savvy marketing and group think. From time to time, there will be outliers that surpass expectations and I'm guessing this is where the mythology about Subaru originated from.

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    11. This post really struck a chord with me...I spent my first few months salary from my first job (doctor, yes middle-class leftie, so shoot me), on a 11 year old Subaru. My cousin who sells them second-hand said their engines are bullet-proof. It was from another private seller, but I had a guy from the AA check it out and he said if it were him, he would buy it. Well, six months later coming down the M5 it blew its gasket (seemed to have run out of oil without the lamp on the dashboard coming on) and I narrowly managed to exit at the Oxford junction, complete write-off. Just make sure you check the oil before every long journey, perhaps they are bullet-proof otherwise!

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  2. Not as good looking as European cars, but much more reliable and a whole-lot cheaper!

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  3. Looked at Subaru once and never again. The road noise on the motorway was unacceptable same as the uncomfortable seats, absolutely no long distance comfort. On top of that they're notoriously slow verging on being dangerous. The whole experience was below the standard I'm willing to accept in the 21st century, even if the car is reliable. The only thing they had going for themselves were the EyeSight system and the colour choices, hard to find a decent dark green or red these days, though that seems to be over aswell.

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    1. Did you look at the 3.6R? It has plenty of horsepower as well as a leather and woodgrain interior. I have a 2011 and have no issues zipping up and down Route 3 in MA.

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  4. We are a Volvo family, but we decided to purchase a Subaru Outback last year with the intent on it being the kids car - three teenagers. Living in southeastern MA by the ocean, weather can get nasty fast, thus we wanted a car that was safe, all-wheel drive, and the kids could transport their lacrosse, hockey and crew equipment yet wouldn't crack our college savings. This car fit the bill. Yes it does not have the solid feel delivered by an XC70, nor is it luxurious by any means. However, you don't buy these cars for luxury or that robust tank-like feel. One buys these cars because they do what they are suppose to do; get you and your possessions somewhere in New England, on-time, safely in one piece through virtually any weather. Oh, yes I drive it once in a while, why? Quite honestly it reminds me of a Saab 9-5 wagon I owned a numbers of years back. It's fun to drive!!

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  5. Lately I’ve been intrigued by the Toyota 4Runner and it’s Lexus version the GX. The 4Runner seems to have a cult following, depreciate slowly, and is favored by many of the hunting and fishing guides I’ve had the pleasure of learning from.

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    1. In my family, a parent buys a new top-of-the line Land Cruiser or 4-Runner in lieu of a minivan. Drives it for ten years and gives it to a teen for a first car. My only problem with them is at my age and height, they are hell to step into.

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  6. My 2009 Mazda CX-9 is the best car I've owned - compared with various Mercedes, Volvos, and a Jaguar (pretty but not reliable).

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  7. If you have a recent Subaru Ascent, Impreza, Legacy, or Outback, it was made in Lafayette Indiana by American workers. So does that make it a Japanese car, or an American car? Japanese engineering and design, American production.

    For 45 years we always owned two Volvos, one a wagon. We now have one car, a Subaru Legacy Sport. All time 4WD, a great highway car, and the rear seats fold down for almost wagon capacity. And scooting around town the center of gravity is so low with the boxer engine that it's like driving a go-kart around corners. Love the Legacy. I'm old. Nothing but Subarus from here on out.

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    1. Well Dave, I drove a Subaru Outback and kind of liked it's gritty feel. However, I was looking for a cheap car. In February 2018, I bought a 2018 Camry LE for $20500 drive out. I have put 55,000 miles on it in 2 1/2 years. It has a cavernous trunk that folds down It accelerates OK and gets 39 or 40 miles to the gallon. As an older person, I rather like the anonymity of it.

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    2. If you take care of it, it will easy make it to 300 to 350k miles...

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    3. I live in California, so rust doesn't factor in. For longevity and reliability nothing comes close to Toyota. One subtlety is Japanese manufacture, which I believe is the best in the world. Keep in mind Toyota also means Lexus. I don't know if it's cricket to do this, but I strongly recommend a youtube site called Scotty Kilmer. He's a mechanic and he pulls no punches. He's been threatened with lawsuits by manufacturers and they always think better of it...

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  8. 1. Lexus RX 350
    2. Acura MDX
    3. Subaru Outback

    All excellent.

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  9. I was planning on replying to the BMW post when this one appeared... when I was shopping for my current car I drove the BMW 328 and was very disappointed ... it felt very cheaply built. We already had an Acura RDX (my wife's car that she loved) so I test drove the TDX and was convinced that was the car to buy. We are hooked on Japanese cars

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  10. 2008 Infinity G35S Sedan with a 6 speed manual transmission. Just an unreal car. Great looking, fast and reliable. It is my all time favourite of any car I have owned. Still get to drive it a bit when my son wants my CX9 for a trip.

    We have owned a Nissan Maxima, a Honda Accord, a Mazda truck and a Civic. We have never been disappointed. I had 1 Toyota, a truck in the early 80s. It began to rust when I drove it off the lot. Never wanted a Toyota after that.

    David J Cooper

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  11. Love my 20 year old outback-still rides like a dream. Bought it used and never regretted the decision! Cool pop-out cup holder and nice leather seats. When I picked it up my brother replied that it looked like a Democrat car! I'd never heard of that association and my neighbor told me it looks like it should have a "Feel the Bern" sticker on it! Well, the only thing I have on it is my alumni decal on the rear window and my initials in tiny signal flags on the door. I'll leave the politics to others!

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  12. Honda Element, if you can find one.

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  13. On my second Lexus GX470 (now 460) the fire has lasted 300k miles and is still going. Get pre 2014 when they uplifted the grill. The LX 570 has a longer wheelbase and is the Lexus equivalent of the Land Cruiser. The GX and 4Runner do not share a common platform; they are quite different vehicles.

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  14. Most Daimler and BMW sport utility vehicles sold in the United States are manufactured in Alabama and South Carolina. Acuras are made in Ohio, Subarus in Indiana. Toyota has manufacturing plants in four states. If someone wants a truly “Japanese” vehicle, most Lexus and Infiniti vehicles and Toyota’s 4Runner and Land Cruiser are made in Japan.

    We have had excellent experience with five Toyotas over the years, but we also had a pair of Ford Explorers that each ran well for a decade. We replaced the more recent Ford with a Subaru Outback Touring, which we like a lot.

    Ironically, many of the vehicles discussed above that are sold in the United States, regardless of whether the badge is German or Japanese, are manufactured in the American south or Midwest.

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  15. Japanese cars are great, but I'm still waiting for SWNE to do a segment on Yugos -- justly called "The Worst Car in History" by Car and Driver Magazine.

    In the movie "Dragnet", Dan Ackroyd bragged that the Yugo was an example of "the cutting edge of Serbo-Croatian technology."

    The cars were made in a factory in Communist Yugoslavia that also made machine guns (so that should tell you everything you need to know).

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    1. we rented a yugo from ugly duckling in Red Bank NJ. My wife can drive anything,anywhere, but she could not get this car into reverse...

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  16. I have often instructed on this subject but it appears that my lessons go in one ear and out the other. There are only four acceptable vehicles for those who genuinely, unaffectedly, embrace the New England salt water Wasp aesthetic. Now you are thinking how can it possible be true? Well, some things are just meant to be believed, not proven. The vehicles are: 1) RR Defender, the older the better with a few miles as possible and pasted in the rear with a recklessly extravagant number of beach stickers from Nantucket, preferably dating back to the prior century; 2) any General Motors station wagon with plastic woody styling, the older the better and adorned with several prep school and college stickers (be cautious here, markers from places like University of Vermont are not acceptable-be prudent) and at least three Labradors languishing in the back and rear seats; 3) any Jaguar product built prior to 1986; 4) any Volvo product built during the period when the company was owned and operated in Sweden - here one must eschew all of the new, vulgar SUVs and recent wagon models in favor of a 240, 850 or, if you must, a V70. In the case of the Volvo, please ensure that a variety of prep athletic equipment (hockey, field hockey and lacrosse) is strewn about the inside of the car, along with numerous old athletic socks, jerseys and school books. One or two Pringles are acceptable as well.

    Well, my friends, and others, there you have it.

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  17. I must confess, we have tried honda, toyota, and subaru, and all three were new off the lot lemons!

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  18. I currently own a Volvo XC70, but the Subaru Outback with the punchier 3.6R trim was a close second for what I was looking for (a long roof wagon with capable AWD). The Volvo edged it out with its tank-like build and comfortable seats. On top of that, we wanted this to be a "buy it once" vehicle that would both last and age well. Though we're generally happy with the Volvo, the Subaru had great features and more of a playful character. It was a tough decision and I'd love to rent an Outback for a couple of days to compare.

    In the spirit of "buy it once," our second vehicle may be a Toyota Land Cruiser. I've generally always thought European makes had more character and soul, but the older I get, the less and less fun it is to deal with the compromise of soul vs. reliability. The Land Cruiser seems to be a wonderful exception - it feels special to drive due to its rich heritage, and of course has legendary reliability. It may be pricey, but what other make today will last hundreds of thousands of miles and decade(s) of service? Seems to fit preppy sensibility.

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    1. Mr. Todyoda's instructions for the Land Cruiser was that it should easily last 30 years....

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  19. Nobody builds a better mass-produced engine than Honda. Hr. Honda was an engine guy through and through, and the company continues to reflect his dedication to power and efficiency under the hood.

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    1. Honda started with motorcycle engines, which is great. So did Yamaha which makes all the engines for Toyota and Lexus....

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  20. I agree with much of the above. The only correct Asian vehicles are the Outback and Land Cruiser.

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  21. We owned a GX460 in the past and it was and excellent SUV. When it came time to replace it we considered a Land Rover but we had concerns with their reliability... We ended up purchasing a Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited instead (which actually been very reliable). Next time though, when it comes time to replace one of our daily drivers we will be looking a GX or a 4Runner.....

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  22. In Virginia I know quite a few folks that understand the value of Toyota. Of course there are still many volvo wagons and sedans driving around but not nearly as many as I remember in the 90s. Those looking for a reliable Japanese sedan may lean toward the Toyota Avalon or its Lexus equivalent. (If only Toyota made a wagon version for the states. They would likely compete well with Subaru.) In my city it seems 7/10 cars are Subarus. Lots of foresters, crosstreks, and outbacks. I imagine they are built well to be so popular but am not keen on their ubiquity.

    There’s no question however that the Toyota Land Cruiser is (King/Queen).

    JM, VA

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  23. I love my 2012 four door Toyota Tacoma truck!

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  24. We've always had a Outback. Only traded up to get the new safety items - back up camera, etc.

    The only problems we've encountered is that you can only get NPR stations, and the car has a tendency to automatically turn into cross country ski areas.

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    1. LOL! NPR stations and cross-country ski areas! I wouldn't have a problem with either one of those so it sounds like the car for me!

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  25. I live out here in what I assume is the West Coast version of a New England small coastal town. About 15 years ago it was joked that owning a Volvo was a requisite for residency. In the last 10 years that has become Subaru and various hybrids. I spent 10 years going to auto auctions and selling cars in this particular market. Subaru has come a long ways since the gutless, noisy wonders they were in 1990's. Every generation gets a little more refined, a little more powerful and comfortable. They still haven't cured the head gasket demon, which is baffling. I bought and sold a metric ton of Volvo 850/S70 and gen 1 V70. All fantastic save a few minor foibles in the tradition of the old "red block" 4 cylinder models. 2001 and later, not so much.
    Having bought and sold roughly 1000 cars in this category, I would say Toyota is unsurpassed. Honda and Subaru are close, but Honda has had dark period of transmission problems and Subaru has head gaskets (still). The only constant I have seen with Toyota is Catalytic converters, which in non-CARB states is no huge deal.
    Land cruisers are the cats meow for solid ride, off road prowess and status, but I honestly think many buyers would be at least as well served by a 4 Runner or Highlander. Cruisers make pretty inefficient use of their interior space and have horrendous MPG. Of course, if you actually take it out in adverse conditions, a triple locked cruiser just can't be beat!
    Oh and Land Rover are fun to buy and sell. With most makes, you learn the problem areas and do your due diligence. Not so with Rover, since everything can break (head gaskets, trannies, differentials, cooing system, hardware, electricals, exhaust manifolds......ugh).

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  26. I am loyal to Land Cruisers. I have owned two. The first one I drove until it was 27 years old. The current one is more than 10 years old and I suspect will give me another 15 years without much problem based on the record thus far.

    Toyota = kaizen

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