My car’s rear seats don’t fold down. They did on my previous car, which was a coupe version of my current car, but my car’s first owner didn’t pony up the money for the cold-weather package … so now I’m stuck with a small trunk and no headlamp washers.
First world problems, I know.
And because my seats don’t fold down, whenever I want to go skiing, or surfing, or just carry a long stick in my vehicle, I’ve got to run to my mother. She drives a 2001 Toyota RAV4. It’s cavernous, can plow through 2 feet of snow with its gas-guzzling, always-on 4-wheel drive system and 70-series tires, and is probably the slowest vehicle I’ve ever driven. I’m always welcome to drive it when I need to take a tortuous trip to Ikea and I love it.
But, being a red-blooded American guy, I’ve always been more interested overall in a car’s speed and agility rather than its ability to haul antique furniture. So I was surprised when I read a road test for the then-updated 2006 RAV4 V6. The surprise? At the time, it was the fastest thing in Toyota’s lineup; according to Car and Driver, the 269-horsepower RAV scooted to 60 mph in a scant 6.3 seconds. While this is cool for the RAV4 faithful, it begs the question: What’s going on with Toyota?
Lately, Toyota has been the brand that you recommend to a family member. Staid, reliable, relatively slow and largely forgettable. But this hasn’t always been the case. Growing up in the ’90s, I remember lusting after a few Toyota products. Remember the super-rare Celica All-Trac or the Ferrari-inspired MR-2? Both of them had a 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and a manual transmission. The 1994 Celica was a looker as well, and who could forget the fourth-generation, 320-horsepower twin-turbo Supra? That car, with its ridiculous rear wing, is so iconic it’s synonymous with a catch phrase: “More than you can afford, pal.”
Is Toyota making anything iconic now? I mean, the aging IS F was interesting, and the LFA supercar (of which 500 were made) was pretty cool, but none of those cars is ever going to have a movie line attached to it. The last fun car I can remember Toyota offering was the Celica GT-S with its 180-horsepower Yamaha engine ... but that's been gone for years.
The closest thing Toyota has to a sports car right now is the Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ. It’s good looking, lithe and reasonably quick … but slower to 60 by a tenth than the 7-year-old RAV4 V6 according to Car and Driver. I know straight line numbers aren’t everything, and call me childish, but I don’t want to own a car that looks fast but will lose “Grand Prix du Stoplight” to a cute-ute.
Toyota has branded itself as a conservative car manufacturer. That’s fine, but the company is selling these milquetoast cars like hotcakes. According to the Wall Street Journal, Toyota makes four of the top-20 best selling cars in the country. It sold almost 32,000 Camrys … in April. And, according to CNN Money, Toyota has been jockeying with GM for the title of world’s largest automaker for the past several years. Each is selling about 9 million cars annually, and Volkswagen Group is a close third.
When you sell 9 million of anything, you’d think there would be a budget for some … fun. Funnel some of that money that now goes to devising new shades of beige paint into some new designers and a wind tunnel or something. Why not revive the Celica nameplate? What about a Corolla All-Trac? How about rolling out a new GT-R-fighting Supra?
GM and Volkswagen Group are selling millions of cars too — and many of them are boring. But GM has its CTS-V and ZR1, and Volkswagen Group has its Aventador and Veyron. You’ve got to have an emotional car in your lineup, and Toyota doesn’t have anything.