Buyers' Guide: NZ's favourite Japanese imports
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It’s not just sushi and sake that the Japanese are renowned for — they’re also behind names like Swift, Serena and Sylphy — all cars that thousands of Kiwis consider when buying a new used import.
For those who aren’t in the know, a Japanese secondhand import is a car sold new in Japan before being imported into New Zealand as a used model.
Because their periodic vehicle tests known as Shaken tests are stringent and expensive, Japanese consumers often sell their cars while they’re still relatively new, leaving us with what feels like a never-ending stream of imports.
Last year saw a 4.8 per cent drop in import sales but 140,590 total vehicles sold is still a significant chunk and used imports makeup around 30 per cent more than new passenger vehicle sales.
Here are New Zealand’s five most popular used imports of 2019.
1. Mazda Axela (7342)
The naming Axela is a combination of “accelerate and excellent”, and its used sales are impressive. In fact, more used Mazda Axelas were sold last year than Toyota sold of its popular Hilux model.
You won’t find the Axela name on a NZ-new model as Kiwis call it the Mazda 3. The first generation of these models began in 2003 as a replacement for the long-running 323 and Familia range.
The models produced for the JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) came in three flavours, 1.5, 2.0 and 2.3 litre.
The second-generation engines use SkyActiv technology with direct injection for improved economy and added a new six-speed automatic transmission, making the later Axelas even more appealing.
2. Honda Fit (6719)
The Honda Fit is now in its fourth generation and a large number of the JDM models on our shores are second generation. Most possess CVT transmissions, but you can still find manual and conventionally automatic transmissions on the market. One of its best features is its multi-mode seating and cargo configurations.
In 2010, the Honda Fit Hybrid joined the team and added improved fuel economy over the older 1.3 and 1.5 i-VTEC pure petrol options.
A Honda Fit is a good option if you need a flexible cargo area and good handling.
3. Suzuki Swift (6106)
Third is the Suzuki Swift — or as they say in Japanese “Suifuto”. First launching in 2000, the original Swift looked more like a pencil sharpener, and it wasn’t until 2004 that the inspiration for the current Swift started to be seen.
It was an attractive and affordable city car and they’re the reasons that it was the third most popular import of last year. The more popular engines are found in the second generation and range from 1.3-1.6 litre. They come with either a five-speed manual transmission or four-speed automatic.
CVT transmission options started in 2010 with the JDM XE and XG model.
4. Nissan Tiida (5604)
The name Tiida is from the Okinawan language and means sun, linking nicely to the manufacturer’s historic Sunny models.
First produced in 2004, the Tiida was available as a five-door hatchback or four-door sedan. This model was also sold new in NZ and made a bit of a ruckus here when a controversial commercial with actress Kim Cattrall was withdrawn after complaints for being too sexual.
Customers are attracted to its large cabin. All engine variants have four-cylinders, and range from 1.5 to 1.8-litre engines. Transmission options include six-speed manual, four-speed automatic or the JDM-spec CVT.
5. Mazda Demio (5323)
The Mazda Demio is essentially the smaller sibling of the Axela and is similar in many ways to the later generation Mazda 2.
In its fourth generation it was awarded the 2014/15 Japanese Car of the Year award.
The Demio is a basic compact hatch, and comes with either a 1.3 or 1.6-litre, paired to either a CVT, four-speed automatic or a five or six-speed manual transmission. The Mazda Demio is a great compact choice for the more frugal buyer.