Coolest Import Cars for Canada in 2017

2017 should be another exciting year for Canadian car enthusiasts.  One reason being that cars manufactured in 2002 are now eligible for import!

Canadian vehicle import regulations allow cars manufactured over 15 years ago to be brought into the country.  This means we will have access to cars produced in 2002 that were sold as either 2002 or 2003 models.

We are lucky to see cars like the Skyline GTR (R32-R34), Impreza STI (GC8), Lancer Evo (I-VII) and Lancia Delta Integrale EVO on the road.  Our American neighbours still have to wait 25 years until they can import cars from 1992!

Two guidelines for my selections this year:

  1. The car must not have been available on the Canadian market.
  2. Either be a new generation or a special edition not previously eligible for import

Now time for the list:

1. Mazda RX-7 Spirit R

Mazda RX7 Spirit R - The Ultimate Evolution of the RX7

This one hit me hard.  2002 was the end of the road for the FD3S Mazda RX-7, a lightweight RWD sportscar powered by an unique twin-turbocharged 1.3L rotary engine.

Mazda decided to send the legendary JDM icon in style by introducing the RX-7 Spirit R.  The motor was left alone with the 276hp gentlemen’s agreement still in place.

Focusing on the chassis, Mazda installed stiffer springs with matching Bilstein shocks.  The exterior and interior were also upgraded, highlighted by an adjustable rear wing.  A gorgeous set of staggered forged BBS wheels with sticky tires matches the aggressive styling.

Production of the Spirit R was limited to only 1,504 cars split between three variants:

  • Type A: 2 seater, 5-speed manual, over 1,000 made
  • Type B: 2+2 seater, 5-speed manual
  • Type C:  2+2 seater, 5-speed automatic (why Mazda!?!?)

Mazda RX7 Spirit R - The Ultimate Evolution of the RX7

If I could pick one JDM legend, the Spirit R would be the one sitting in my garage for the rest of my life.

Road & Track did a feature on the only factory LHD RX7 Spirit R in the world which was built for a Mazda North America executive.  What does a guy have to do to get a freaking custom built Spirit R around here???

Photos: Mazda

2. Nissan Skyline GT-R V-Spec II Nür & M-Spec Nür

Nissan Skyline GTR M-Spec Nur (R34)

2002 was also the last year of production for the legendary R34 Skyline GTR.  Named after the Nürburgring, the V-Spec II and M-Spec Nür were equipped with various upgrades that made them even more tuner-friendly.

The V-Spec II is the uncompromising track special with ATTESA E-TS Pro, active rear LSD, stiffer suspension, aero kit, larger rear brake discs and even a carbon fiber hood with NACA duct.

In contrast, the M-Spec is the more civilized and luxury version of the GTR, with ripple-control shocks to smooth out the ride, heated leather seats and a few special colour options.

RB26DETT - Heart of the Nissan Skyline GTR

For the Nür edition, Nissan put in a Super Taikyu N1 spec RB26DETT motor with a larger turbo with steel turbine.  Supposedly this allowed tuners to crank up the boost to make up to 450hp at the crank!

Unfortunately production was limited to only 1,000 cars in total (750 V-Spec II Nür and 250 M-Spec Nür ), making this one of the most desirable and expensive variant of the R34 Skyline GTR.  Recent auctions in Japan start above $100k CAD before import costs!

Nissan Skyline GTR M-Spec Nur Rear

Photos: Nissan

3. Honda NSX-R 

Honda NSX-R

Even though we technically got the revised NA2 Acura NSX here in North America, Honda never blessed us with the ultra lightweight Type R track star.

The NSX-R might not look very impressive on paper, but this car is all about the meticulous attention to details.

Honda NSX-R C32B Engine

At the heart of the NSX-R is a hand-built, blueprinted and precision balanced version of the C32B V6.  The rotating assembly is said to be ten times more accurately balanced than the standard motor!

As you can imagine, an engine built with such tight tolerances will be free-revving with near instantaneous throttle response.  Surprisingly, Honda rated the NSX-R at 290hp, same output as the standard car.  Although I’m a little skeptical of that figure, I don’t imagine the real number being much higher than the base motor.

The main focus of the NA2 NSX-R was weight reduction.  Obsessed with making the car as light as possible, Honda started with the lighter and stiffer hardtop chassis which we never got in North America.

Honda NSX-R Interior

Carbon fiber was extensively used to replace large body panels.  More conventional weight reduction techniques were also used, including the removal of the entertainment system, insulation and A/C.  Even power steering was removed!

After all that, the NSX-R tipped the scale at 2,800lbs, a full 220lbs lighter than the standard car.

The result?  A 7:56.73 lap time around the Nurburgring, on par with the Porsche 996 GT3 (360hp), 996 Turbo (400hp) Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale (420hp) and C5 Corvette Z06 (405hp).  Pretty damn impressive for what was essentially a 15 year old chassis with only 290hp!

Honda NSX-R Nurburgring

Photos: Honda

4. Honda Integra Type R (DC5)

Honda Integra Type R DC5R Canada

Not quiet as exotic as the NSX-R, but the DC5 Honda Integra Type R was also a true driver’s car and a worthy successor to the DC2.

Even though it was still called the Integra in Japan, the fourth gen DC5 was rebranded as the Acura RSX in North America in 2002.

Honda Integra Type R Track

Unfortunately the DC5 Integra Type R was a casualty of the rebranding exercise and never made it to North American shores.  Even though the RSX Type S was no slouch, its 200 hp K20 and sporty demeanor was downright tame compared to the Type R.

Ditching the highly coveted B18C from the DC2, Honda replaced it with the K20A i-VTEC motor making 220hp that screams all the way to the 8,400rpm redline.

Honda Integra Type R Suspension, Brakes & Wheels

Even though the engine is new, the rest of the formula stayed the same.  Mechanically, the DC5 Integra Type R came with four-piston Brembo front brakes, close-ratio six-speed gearbox, LSD, stiffer suspension and weight reduction.

The exterior and interior was also enhanced with 17″ wheels wrapped in sticky tires,  aggressive aero, HID headlights, suede Recaro bucket seats and MOMO steering wheel.

In retrospect, I think Honda should have imported a small number of the Integra Type R to North America.  Judging by the amount of Type R replicas built from the RSX, I think it would have sold out very quickly!

Honda Integra Type R DC5 in Canada

Photos: Honda

5. Subaru Impreza WRX STI Spec C S202

Subaru Impreza WRX STI S202 Canada

Limited to only 400 units, the bugeye S202 was the first GD chassis entry into the S20x series, none of which was imported into Canada.  Starting with a Type RA (Rally Application) Spec-C designed for competition, the car begins its life without any creature comforts like stereo, A/C, power windows or even airbags.  It even has a manual roof vent just like rally cars!

Subaru Impreza WRX STI S202 Upgrades

Being a JDM model, the Impreza WRX STI S202 is powered by the 2.0L turbo EJ20.  Power output is bumped to 315hp with the help of silicone intake inlet hose, titanium exhaust and a more aggressive ECU tune along with an aluminum oil cooler to keep things cool.

Subaru paid a lot of attention to chassis tuning as well.  The iconic pink STI pillow ball lateral and trailing links can be found on the S202, further sharpening the handling along with a quick-ratio steering rack (13:1 vs. 15:1).

The standard Brembo brakes are carried over with slotted rotors and stainless steel brake lines, giving the pedal a firmer and more direct feel.

To further reduce unsprung weight, the S202 bronze 17″ Rays forged aluminum wheels are almost 9lbs lighter than the standard wheels.

Curb weight of the S202 is 1,328kg (~2930lbs), which is about 310lbs lighter than the standard STI!  Very impressive considering the car retains features such as an A/C system and power locks unlike the bare bone Type RA.

Subaru Impreza STI S202

On the outside, a carbon adjustable GT wing replaces the usual tall STI spoiler.  The all black interior is highlighted by the Spec C bucket seats and Momo steering wheel.

As much as I loved my previous North American 2005 Impreza STI, it wasn’t as responsive as I’d like.  From the sounds of it, the subtle changes Subaru made to the S202 would have been exactly what I was looking for!

Photos: Subaru

6. Ford Focus RS

Ford Focus RS MK1 Canada

Today’s MK3 Ford Focus RS is a turbocharged AWD monster that competes with heavy hitters like the Subaru WRX STI, Mercedes Benz CLA45 AMG, Audi RS3 and Volkswagen Golf R.  Flashback to 2002, Ford’s Rallye Sport brand was revived with the introduction of the first gen Focus RS.

Ford Focus RS MK1 Duratec Engine

Unlike the AWD cars that came before it such as the Escort RS Cosworth and the RS200, the Focus RS was a front wheel drive hot hatch powered by a 212hp turbo 2.0L I4 motor.  Ford put in a  mechanical Quaife limited slip differential to help put that power to the ground.

Ford Focus RS MK1 Performance

Having driven a few of the current hot hatches, I feel a lot of them are too refined out of the factory.  The original Focus RS definitely has that old school charm with torque steer, turbo lag as well as turbo noises that manufacturers work so hard to drown out these days.

Ford Focus RS Rear OZ Wheels

It’s a great looking car too, with wide fender flares, 18″ OZ wheels, front splitter and Recaro bucket seats.

As good as the North American SVT Focus was, it was a shame that Ford never imported the Focus RS here.  Now Canadians will get a chance see the car that paved the way for the current Ford Fiesta ST, Focus ST and Focus RS.

Photos: Ford

7. TVR T350

TVR T350 Canada Import

If you grew up playing Gran Turismo, chances are you have a soft spot for British sports car maker TVR.

The company is known for making crazy fast cars that try to kill you.  The T350 sure looks like more of the same on paper: a 3.6L straight 6 from the Speed Six putting 350hp to the rear wheels.  All in a svelte 2,616lbs Tamora body.

This might sound like a recipe for uncontrollable oversteer.  However, the T350 is supposedly a tame car by TVR standards with a tendency to understeer at the limit.

As much as I love TVRs, I think they’d be headaches here in Canada simply due to the fact that shops don’t have a lot of experience with these cars.  Even if you’re handy, sourcing parts will always be a challenge.

Having said that, buying a TVR is never a logical decision.  These cars have so much character it might just be worth the hassle.  With the company’s revival coming up, I sincerely hope they retain the purity and quirkiness of their original cars.

TVR T350 For Sale in Canada

Photos: TVR

8. Renault Sport Clio V6 Phase 2

Renault Sport Clio V6 Canada Import

The European market has access to the world’s best hot hatches.  In my opinion the most intriguing one of them all would be the Renault Sport Clio V6.  It’s a mid-engine rear wheel drive hatchback among a sea of FF and AWD cars.

In 2003 Renault Sport introduced the Clio V6 Phase 2.   The most powerful hot hatch at the time, it has a 255hp 3.0L V6 sitting between the axles.  Having a MR layout means it can put a lot of power down without the torque steer that plague its FF rivals.

Renault Sport Clio V6 Cutaway

Unfortunately the rear seat and most of the trunk had to be sacrificed to make room for the engine.  This effectively eliminates the practical advantages of a hatchback.

In addition, a lot of structural changes had to be made to accommodate the MR drivetrain.  Its 3,086lbs curb weight is almost 1,000lbs heavier than the standard Clio!

Admittedly I have a soft spot for quirky performance cars that makes me overlook their flaws.  It’s hard to justify buying a Renault Sport Clio V6 as it does not offer any of the expected practical advantages of a hot hatch, but the driving experience must be second to none.

Renault Sport Clio V6 Rear

Photos: Renault Sport

Honourable Mentions

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Evolution VII FQ300

The Lancer EVO VII was eligible for import in 2016.  Now we can get the FQ-300, a special edition offered by Mitsubishi UK.

The FQ-300 is upgraded with a stainless steel 3″ catback exhaust system and high flow air filter.  Mitsubishi claims the upgrades increase output of the turbocharged 2.0L inline four to 305 hp and 300 lb-ft.

It was well known that the 4G63T was capable of much more than 280hp.  I suspect this was a cheeky marketing move by Mitsubishi UK to bump up the specs of the EVO VII to gain an upper hand over the Impreza STI.

Evolution VIII

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII Canada

In 2003, Mitsubishi launched the Lancer Evolution VIII in the US market. Due to a silly difference in front bumper safety regulation, the car was never sold in Canada.  This paved the way for Subaru dominance in the Canadian sport compact car market.

Even though the rule was updated in 2008 to match the American standard, it was too late for us to enjoy the 4G63T era.

To be fair, USDM cars have been legal to import for 8 years now.  2017 will be the first year that we can get the JDM/Euro cars.

Photo: Mitsubishi

Nissan Silvia Spec-R (S15)

Nissan Silvia Spec-R S15 Canada

2012 marked the end of the S15 Nissan Silvia.  Looking back now, it’s very unfortunate that they did not introduce a final special edition.  I would have loved to see something similar to the NISMO 270R based on the S14!

15 years and countless revival rumours later, we STILL do not have a proper Silvia successor.  In my opinion Nissan’s performance lineup is starting to get stale.  This could be a great opportunity to bring back this drift legend with a new RWD sports car!

Photo: Nissan

Subaru Impreza Spec C (2003)

Subaru Impreza WRX STI Spec C Canada

The “blobeye” Impreza was introduced here in 2004 even though it debuted in Japan as an 03.

I’m biased towards the blobeye Imprezas after owning a 2005 Canadian STI for over 5 years.  The original owner had actually put in a full Spec C interior with bucket seats that had significantly better support than the original blue seats.

I don’t know if it makes sense to import one of these to drive.  Part of me wants to pick up a LHD base Impreza shell and swap a JDM Spec C into it!

Photo: Subaru

Toyota Supra (MKIV)

Toyota Supra Turbo MKIV Canada

Another JDM legend that went extinct without a proper sendoff.  Blaming stricter emission standards, Toyota killed off the Supra in 2002 without much fanfare.

Can you imagine if they made a TRD Supra to go up against the NISMO Skyline GTR Z-Tune?  It would have undoubtedly been one of the best sports cars to come out of Japan.

I should note we did get the MKIV Supra in North America.  However, declining sales forced Toyota to pull it from the Canadian market in 1996 and the US in 1998.

Photo: Toyota

Notice anything missing on the list?  Post a comment below!

4 Replies to “Coolest Import Cars for Canada in 2017”

      1. Came out in the fall of 2001, but I’ve only seen 2 come up so far. Should start seeing some more soon, even though they only did 800.

        1. Yeah it’s always rare to see these special editions pop up for sale, let alone imported into Canada. I would think some cars got exported to different parts of Europe as well, I recall seeing some S202s being listed in the UK for example.

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