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A 'C'mon, Man!' For Toyota

Looking for something other than a Camry from one of the world's largest automakers.

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.

Ross Chatham May 25, 2013 at 05:34 PM
Wait you're a guy? I'd assumed reading your articles that you were a woman this whole time.. Mischa?
Scott M May 26, 2013 at 12:44 PM
Hehe. Funny story. I hope one of you ricers pull up next to me and my Ram 1500 5.7 Hemi and gimme a rev. I'll flash you a wink and then you can watch my tail-lights disappear down the road.
Chuck May 26, 2013 at 02:16 PM
Mischa, you're right- it's been years since Toyota built a fun car. Lets face it, Toyota builds appliances that people who know nothing about cars buy because they're a safe bet. Nothing wrong with that, but even a run of the mill Honda has more excitement than a Toyota.
Ruth June 28, 2013 at 05:42 PM
@Scott M: Seriously? "Ricers"?? You may be a proponent of "buying American" - which is your right - but could you be any more racist? You might have been kidding but substitute any other racial or ethnic slur in there and see how ha-ha funny it is. And, by the way, I'll take my family's Nissan and Honda - including their reliability, resale value, gas mileage, style, and handling - over your RAM any day of the week; is the "peel out" ability of a street car really important to anyone over 22 who has an ounce of intelligence and maturity?? I sincerely hope that your insurance is paid up and that you stay clear of my neck of Bucks. We can do without racist brainiacs who think that it's awesome to screech away from a red light as quickly as possible.
Chuck June 28, 2013 at 05:58 PM
Hi Ruth, I think you have mistaken a common automotive term as racist when I know there is absolutely no intent to that. Typically the Japanese and Korean automotive products are referred to as "rice burners". That's what Scott was referring to. Hope that helps, Chuck

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