CC Global: “It’s A Honda, Jim, But Not As We Know It” – Car Spotting In New Zealand

Travel genuinely broadens the mind; it adds new facts and information about places, people and cultures, it corrects misconceptions, it can stimulate ideas in both the traveller and the host, it builds relationships and enduring friendship. It is unashamedly a Good Thing. Traveling to a small country may also lead to witnessing influences and experiences from neighbouring areas – USA and Canada or continental Europe in the UK for example. New Zealand offers that, with influences from Europe, Australia, south east Asia and the Far East.

A major source of cars in NZ is imported, used, Japanese domestic market (JDM) vehicles. For someone who has not been to Japan, the resulting traffic can provide a rich source of the unfamiliar, but also the familiar, at the same time. Familiar brands, sometimes model names, sometimes familiar styles and appearance, often not all at once and not as seen at home.

Indeed, NZ new car registrations are outstripped by registrations of imported used cars, by around 150,000 to 100,000 a year. The majority of these cars come from Japan, where right hand drive and kilometres are familiar, as well as the rigorous shaken annual safety inspection. The test itself costs around £1000.00/$1350 and many Japanese cars will be worth little on the domestic market by five or six years old. Continuing to meet stringent emissions controls is a common issue.

So, let’s have a run through some of the cars we saw in New Zealand last January, and specifically those that were not familiar to a British Curbivore, starting with this 2005 Honda Airwave. The Airwave was a station wagon derivative of the Fit/Jazz, with a 1.5 litre engine and a CVT transmission, and like the Fit, has a very flexible five seat interior. Production lasted to 2010; this was imported in 2012.

Next up is another Honda –  a 1999 Avancier, an estate based on the 1999 Accord platform. This was a JDM only vehicle, with a 2.3 litre VTEC 4 cylinder engine and an automatic gearbox. This car was imported in 2003, just as production was ending. Given the increased height over the regular Accord estate, maybe this car was Honda’s take on the raised estate, exemplified in Europe by the Fiat Croma, or the Chevrolet Malibu Maxx.

This Accord is a 1995 model, imported in 2001. It is equivalent to the North American fifth generation CD Accord and was sold in some European markets but not the UK, where a car closely linked to the Rover 600 was assembled, Although this car was imported used from Japan, the model was also assembled in New Zealand by Honda (Honda NZ has a heritage that is traceable to BMC, of all people). In this case, an 1840cc engine and enduring well for its age.

This Honda Integra, never sold in the UK as a saloon, is a 1.6 litre 1997 model, imported in 2005. In the UK, the Integra was always a performance option usually offered as Type R, but not here, clearly.

The most popular brand in New Zealand, perhaps unsurprisingly, is Toyota, and the range seen is much wider than that seen in Europe. This 1997 Trueno Coupe is a derivative of the 1995 on Corolla E110, sold in the US as a saloon only.

The car successfully hides its Corolla origins – indeed I initially thought it was another Acura or Honda – albeit under a cloak of blandness.

More typical was this 2005 Toyota Isis Platana, a minivan/monospace/MPV seating seven. Imported in 2013, this car has the benefit of pillarless access on the passenger side, with the front passenger door and sliding rear passenger door interlocking on each other and the roof, rather than on a B pillar. Access is therefore much easier and added to very flexible seating, passenger and load configurations are increased. This car has a 2.0 litre engine.

Isis may not be a great name now, but it has history, having been used by Morris and BMC for many years. In front is a Mazda Demio, a Ford Fiesta cousin, sold in Europe as the Mazda 2.

In contrast, this Corolla has been NZ registered since 1988. The red car is a 2006 Euro spec Ford Focus Mk 2.

A newer Toyota was this 2006 Toyota Wish (sorry WISH) – when you see this against the Isis you start to realise how complex and wide reaching the Japanese market variations within Toyota’s range are.

For example, this is a Toyota MkII Qualis, not a Qualis MkII, which is a pickup and related compact MPV built mainly for India and Indonesia. This is actually (you will have spotted) a Camry, albeit nudged slightly upmarket. This example dates from 1997 and was imported in 2003.

This example has a 2.2 litre engine, and was also offered as a Daihatsu, presumably to keep us all on our toes.  There was some Camry assembly in Australia, but not for sale in NZ.

This Camry (V40 series) was imported in 2008, and is a 1998 1.8 litre example.

Alongside is 2006 Toyota Premio, also known as the Allion, a car that succeeded the Corona and Carina nameplates, and is related mechanically to the European market Avensis.

Our hire car was a Nissan Tiida, and of course there were many other (unfamiliar) Nissans.

Perhaps the most appealing was the Lafesta. If the Tiida was the Nissan take on the Renault Megane, then the Lafesta was the Nissan take on the Renault Scenic, and indeed shared a platform with the French car.

This is a  2004 car, imported in 2014, and powered by a 2 litre engine. To my eyes, it’s a pretty good example of the minivan/MPV, with a big square profile, sliding doors and big deep windows. You have to wonder exactly why Nissan kept this from Europe, and gave us dreary Almeras instead.

The Nissan Wingroad, seen here in  2007 form, was an estate version of the Tiida and Lafesta. This example has a 1.5 litre engine.

The Wingroad was also available as the Mitsubishi Lancer Cargo and Mazda Familia, and as the Nissan AD van, all vehicles which can be best described as delivery vans with windows. Visually, they match the Wingroad wagon but have a stripped out interior. The Wingroad seems a popular rental car choice, for its space and flexibility.


If, like me, you always think sports car when you hear “Nissan Skyline”, then a Skyline saloon is a bit of a challenge. This is a 2001 C35, the eleventh(!) generation of Skyline, and was sold in the US as the Infiniti G35, and shared a lot with the Nissan 350Z.

In this case,  3.0 litre V6 giving something like 260bhp, and is undoubtedly the most powerful imported car we saw, and one of the more powerful cars we saw as well.

This 1994 Mazda Lantis is a derivative of the Mazda 323F sold in Europe, which came as a five door hatchback with frameless windows. This car was effectively a four door coupe version of the 323F, and in this case has a 1.8 litre four cylinder engine. Imported in 2002.

Mitsubishi Legnum is not a name that is familiar in Europe – the car was sold in the Europe as the Galant, albeit in fairly small numbers by the time this 1997 car was built. Don’t be taken in the bodykit – it has a 1.8 litre engine, the smallest available

Finally, a car with a familiar name but an unfamiliar style – a 1990 Ford Capri.  Capri is one name from Europe that has a history worldwide, with North American use of the name over many years, and this Australian version ticked a box for me. Johnh875 has covered the history of this brave experiment well earlier this year, and it bears re-reading.

Johnh875 makes the point that although this was contemporary to the first MX-5/Miata, it was not really intended to compete with it, being more of a convertible take on the Mazda 323/Ford Laser with just two seats and sharper styling than many cars of that ilk. From the style, it is clearly late 1980s, rather than semi-retro like the MX-5, but also loses something in the proportions. But taking a convertible around the Bay of Islands certainly appeals!

NZ is a great place for a holiday, if you can handle the long flight from the northern hemisphere. The Kiwis are great, friendly people, and the location terrific. See you there one day?