Japan’s cut-price performance car comeback! How the new Subaru WRX STI, Nissan 400Z, Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ will make 2021 feel like the 1990s

Japan is on the verge of a performance car comeback, with the new Subaru WRX and STI, Nissan 400Z, Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ ready to make 2021 feel like we’re back in the 1990s. 

Japan was once the king of cut-price performance, with go-fast product from Subaru, Toyota, Nissan and Honda giving the best from Germany a run for its money. 

The only downside? It was a long time ago – around the 1990s, to be accurate – with things, for at least some of those brands, getting a whole  lot more boring in years since. 

But Japan is on the cusp of turning all that around, with at least five new performance cars expected to launch, or at least be revealed, in 2021. 

So to help guide you through this new and exciting performance revolution, we’ve put all we know right here for you. 

Subaru WRX and WRX STI – October 2021

It feels like it’s been a long wait for a new WRX and WRX STI from Subaru, mostly because it has been, but the clock is finally counting down to the official reveal.

The WRX is likely to appear first, possibly as early as July next year, and reports out of Japan have the iconic performance car set to swap the existing 2.0-litre engine (197kW and 350Nm) out for a new “lean burn” turbocharged 1.8-litre boxer unit that appeared in the Levorg Prototype that was revealed at last year’s Tokyo Auto Show.

Subaru has so far kept mum on the exact outputs of that engine (though reports have it at around 150kW), but if we’ve learned anything from Toyota’s GR Yaris, it’s that huge figures can be squeezed out of small engines.

The WRX’s big brother, the STI, is also edging closer to launch, with Japanese reports now suggesting an October 2021 reveal in Tokyo, which would see Subaru’s hero car in Australia in 2022.

The new WRX STI is expected to borrow a tuned version of Subaru’s 2.4-litre turbo currently used in the Ascent SUV in the USA, where it produces around 190kW and 376Nm.

Solid international reporting suggests the power will be bumped right up to 298kW and 489Nm – more than enough to outshine the current car’s outputs of 221kW and 407Nm. Better still, it is expected to weigh just 1550kg.

To hit those power peaks, Subaru has reinforced the crankshaft and pistons, fine-tuned the valves and intake ports, optimised the timing balance and tweaked boost pressure.

“From what we’ve seen, what Subaru will put together is going to be a fantastic product,” Subaru Australia Managing Director, Colin Christie, told CarsGuide at the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show.

Nissan 400Z – May 2021

Speaking of a long time between drinks, it’s been over a decade since the Nissan 370Z first burst into our lives back in 2009.

But the wait for a new one is almost over, with media in Japan reporting that Nissan’s new performance icon – the 400Z – will be revealed to the world in May next year.

In even better news, it’s set to be a beast, with the newest Z to borrow Nissan’s existing twin-turbo V6 – the one from the Infiniti RedSport product – which could make as much as 298kW and 475Nm.

And in equally grand news, new reports suggest that Nissan is also prepping a budget-conscious little brother for the 400Z, with a lesser Z car to produce around 224kW.

The two-tier approach means there should be a 400Z for every budget, and both should pair with a seven-speed automatic gearbox, or a rev-matching six-speed manual.

It appears the new vehicles is a lock for Australia, too, with Nissan here trademarking the ‘Z’ name here in preparation for its arrival.

Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ – November 2021

The cars that really sparked Japan’s new love affair with cut price performance – the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ – will be updated in 2021, with new models expected to launch in November next year, this time sharing Subaru’s SGP platform. 

International reports suggest the next 86 and BRZ will debut roughly 18 months after the current models are removed from sale (expected to be in July this year).

All the mail points to the performance twins sharing a non-turbo 2.4-litre engine that should produce 162kW and 240Nm – a decent-enough jump from the 152kW and 212Nm of the outgoing model. 

The new models will be offered with a choice of Aisin-sourced six-speed manual or eight-speed auto, which is good news. Not so good is that it appears hopes both would receive turbocharging this time around seem unfounded.