The term “Japanese car” is globally recognized for the pinnacle of engineering, design and cutting-edge technology. The latest and upcoming 2021 models not only meet the high standards set by their predecessors, but often surpass them.

NX 350 AWD Price: TBA | 275 Total System Horsepower | In-Line 4 Engine | 2.4 Liter | 0 – 100 km/h: 6.8s

1. 2022 Lexus NX

Slated for release in the fall of this year, the newest version of the Lexus NX series is best described as “promises of the past kept, promises of the future made.” Part of Toyota’s “Lexus Electrified” plan to have 20 all-new updated Lexus cars that embrace electrification out by the year 2025, these plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) are an exciting first step in that direction.

The car is a list of many exciting and cutting-edge firsts. The 2022 NX series will include the Lexus Safety System+ 3.0, the Digital Latch with Safe Exit Assist, the Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with Curve Speed Management, and, most excitingly, the Lexus Interface. This brand-new multimedia system features a 14-inch touchscreen capable of streaming music, YouTube videos, news and much more. Able to update automatically over the air, the Lexus Interface allows drivers to connect to their unique Lexus profiles.

Advanced technology should not take away from the fact that the new Lexus NX is a beast of a car. Simultaneously luxurious and powerful, it is a futuristic force of nature that will undoubtedly leave its mark on the automobile world.

15S Sunlit Citrus Price: ¥1,969,000 | Engine: SKYACTIV-G 1.5

2. Mazda2 Sunlit Citrus

The third generation of the popular subcompact/supermini Mazda2 is a lot of car in a small package, with its powerful 4-cylinder SKYACTIV-G 1.5 gasoline engine delivering the perfect balance between high performance and fuel economy. Available since 2020, the special-edition Sunlit Citrus model was just rolled out this June in Japan, and will be made available abroad in the fall.

The updated model most noticeably features a gold strip in the middle of its greige seats, with the same color scheme repeated in the floor mats and key fob. But the Sunlit Citrus is not the same Mazda2 car with a splash of color. It retains the same qualities that made the White Comfort, Smart Edition and Black Tone Edition Mazda2 cars great while adding a few cherries on top. Most notable is the 6.8% improved engine performance thanks to the added Diagonal Vortex Combustion technology, making the Mazda2 Sunlit Citrus a heavyweight in its class.

NX 350 AWD Starting Price: ¥5,000,000 | Battery Capacity: 65 – 90 kWh | Top Speed: 160 km/h | Estimated Range: 450 – 610 km | 0 – 100 km/h: 7.5s

3. Nissan Ariya

Released in June, with the B6 limited edition becoming available to Japanese customers in winter, the Ariya is an electric crossover SUV with plenty of power underneath the hood. The exterior is a prime example of what Nissan calls Timeless Japanese Futurism (an elegant blend of traditional Japanese simplicity and advanced technology), but it’s the inside where the model really sets itself apart.

The spacious interior is enhanced by a panoramic glass roof, and together with the premium Nappa leather and a BOSE 10-speaker sound system, the Ariya feels more like a luxury hotel room on wheels. Appropriately, the model also comes with a kind of valet service in the form of the ProPILOT 2.0, the newest installment of Nissan’s driver assistance technology. During optimal conditions, the ProPILOT can take over certain tasks like lane changes, lessening the driver’s workload. And with the ProPILOT Remote Park, Ariya owners can also guide vehicles into tight parking spaces from outside the vehicle, a feature that anyone who’s driven in Japan will appreciate.

Aqua B (2WD) Price: ¥1,980,000 | THS II with Reduction Gear Hybrid | System (M15A-FXE 1.5-liter Dynamic Force Engine) | Fuel Efficiency: 35.8 km/l

4. Toyota Aqua 2021

Named after the Latin word for “water,” the full hybrid electric Aqua is meant to convey a sense of “clean transparency” while contributing to Toyota’s mission of carbon neutrality. Since the series’ launch in 2011, close to 2 million Aqua units have been sold around the world, preventing millions of tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere. The new model, which became available in July, will continue that trend, boasting a 20% higher fuel efficiency.

Though the new Aqua features a dynamic exterior and high-tech features like the Comfort Pedal, which allows for smoother braking, it is ultimately a compact car. It’s definitely not the most powerful or fastest model out there, but it still has immense mass appeal. Unassuming at first glance, it’s one of the most popular car lines in the world, proving that what most people ultimately want out of their rides is reliability and efficiency, with a touch of luxury. That is the new Toyota Aqua.

This article was published in the Sep-Oct 2021 issue of Tokyo Weekender. To flip through the issue, click the image below.