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Have the Japanese brands found their mojo?

Hi, my name is Paul and I am a car-aholic. I love cars in all their weird shapes and forms and am as happy tootling around the shops in a 1976 Fiat 500 as I am trying to delaminate the tyres on an Audi S3 as it rapidly descends the Col de Braus. I have a problem though, and it is one that can be traced to my youth.

My journalism youth that is; my arrival in automotive journalism came via the tuning world, which means my head is full of chassis and engine codes for the most random collection of Japanese performance cars that were my bread and butter work. It was an amazing time, a time filled with Skyline GT-Rs, Supras, RX7s, S2000s and the slugfest that was the Evo and WRX battle.

The thing about all these cars is that, by and large, they are from the 1990s and it was well into the noughties when I came to write about them. The Toyota Supra had long been cancelled; the Mazda RX8 never really lived up to its predecessor; and while the Honda S2000 did persist into the 21st century it probably hung around longer than it should.

Somewhere along the way Japanese manufacturers got the idea that buyers did not want sports cars. Yes Nissan went ahead and built the R35 GT-R and Lexus the LFA but they are anomalies.

The economic crash certainly didn't help as the Japanese manufacturers reined in all sports car 'halo' projects to focus on bread and butter stuff like the Prius or Tiida that could be churned out to keep money in the coffers. While worthy cars (ok maybe not the Tiida - that really was a woeful turd) they were A to B cars, appliances for people who just want to get to work; certainly nothing that car enthusiasts, the kind of person who will go for a drive just for the sake of it, could sink their teeth into.

Then the GT86/BRZ twins happened!

The story goes that Toyota was so busy churning out Prius and Auris that it could not build the car itself so subcontracted the job out to Subaru. Whether true or not the resultant car(s) ignited the embers that had smouldered in the pits of enthusiasts' stomachs worldwide and was met with rave reviews by nearly everyone who drove them.

The reaction to these first Japanese sports cars in a generation could not have been missed in boardrooms all over Japan and at the recent Tokyo Motor Show we got our first hint that the brands have found their mojo.

Alongside the NSX successor (which is going through a gestation period that would make an elephant wince) Honda unveiled the S660 Concept, a modern day Beat with a 660cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive. Days before the event Honda also announced details of the new Civic Type R, a car that will aim straight for the top of the hot hatch pile when it arrives in 2015.

Over on the Subaru stand was a shooting brake (or estate) version of the BRZ and as any journalist will tell you the only thing better than a sports coupé is a sports estate. And while the open top version of the related GT86 was canned the last we heard Toyota wheeled out a new concept to whet our appetites.

Tokyo served as the location for the production car debut of the Lexus RC Coupé too, a car that seems to have the BMW 4 Series and Audi A5 squarely in its sights, but the biggest news was over on the Nissan stand. While we had expected a new generation Z car, Nissan wowed us all with the IDx Freeflow and Nismo concepts - cars that hark back to the days of the Datsun 510. Whereas the Freeflow is more day-to-day with talk of a 1.2-litre engine, the Nismo has a 200hp turbocharged 1.6-litre engine that sends power to the rear wheels.

In marketing speak these cars are seen as 'green shoots' of the Japanese manufacturers coming out to play in segments that have been dominated by European marques of late and perhaps they are a sign that in 20 years' time my son too will have his head full of chassis and engine codes for random Japanese sports cars. All I know is that I want an IDx Nismo and I want it now...

My working week: Dave Humphreys

Monday November 25

Even though we are in the privileged position of getting to drive all the latest cars, every so often there's one that you really don't want to give back. This was certainly the case with the BMW 518d that I was testing last week. Even though the car wears a smaller number than most expect to see on a 5 Series it lacked none of the luxury. To compensate, I find myself collecting the latest Volkswagen Golf GTD in its place.

Tuesday November 26

My working week: Paul Healy

Monday November 11

As always on a Monday the first task of the day is to return the car I have been driving for the past few days. Today that's the Volvo V40 Polestar. You likely have not heard of Polestar cars as its marketing is not the highest priority for Volvo Ireland, but Polestar is the racing team that runs Volvo's World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) entrants and also acts as the in-house tuner for the Swedish brand. In the case of the V40, Polestar spices up the 1.6-litre T4 model by way of an ECU re-flash that gives…

My working week: Dave Humphreys

Monday November 18

This week is shaping up to be slightly quieter than last week, and just as I head out the door to drop back the Volvo V60 I'm met by a Red Bull MINI on my driveway with a rather substantial delivery of fluids that should keep me going for a very long time! Once loaded up I head over to Automotive Team (the folks who make all of our lives run more smoothly on Mondays) and pick up a BMW 518d. The smaller badge number is deceptive, as…