Ten terrific Toyotas
The best Toyotas ever?
Shahzad Sheikh – AKA Brown Car Guy – is an automotive journalist with three decades of experience on various titles including the Middle East edition of CAR Magazine and Used Car Buyer.
Toyota is one of the biggest car manufacturers in the world, trading the top slot with Volkswagen depending on whether the public has bought a few more Golfs than Corollas that month. So it's only fitting to start a new series, highlighting some of the greatest cars from a single manufacturer, with the Japanese giant. And while we won't be delving into the earliest days of its 83-year history, these are some of the most significant cars from recent past.
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1. 1967 2000GT
Japan's Jaguar E-Type, and probably the sexiest car ever to made in the Land of the Rising Sun, with a credible endorsement from the epitome of suave sexual potency, James Bond himself. Although Toyota did have cut the roof off when the car appeared in You Only Live Twice, as Bond actor Sean Connery couldn't fit in it. Current Bond Daniel Craig has said it's his favourite Bond car of all time (bet Aston loved him for that) and values of the rare beauties (only 351 were made) can be up to a cool million dollars.
2. 2012 86, GT86, FT86
An homage to another car that also features on this list, the 86 looks like a mini-Maserati and drives like a thoroughbred little sports car. It has a charismatic boxer engine thanks to its development with Subaru, a sweet shifting manual gearbox, delightful steering, accessible dynamic abilities and superbly balanced handling. You can drift it if you know how to do it the Japanese way, balancing momentum and mass, rather than just relying on a throttle stomping power-drift. And if you don't know how, you'll just crash.
3. 1989 Celica
Frankly, this is the next Toyota that should be brought back. Not just because it started out as the Japanese Mustang, but because it developed into a serious performance and motorsports player, culminating in the fifth-generation car winning four World Rally Championships (1990, 1992, 1993, 1994), beating the legendary Lancia Delta Integrale.
4. 1984 Corolla AE86: Corolla Levin/Sprinter Trueno
The Corolla is the world's best-selling car, period. Two Toyota Corollas are sold every minute across the globe. But for the version held in most esteem and affection you have think of the 86 - otherwise known as the Corolla Levin or Sprinter Trueno, which was the last to remain a rear-wheel drive Corolla, while the rest of the range had gone front wheel drive. This made it a drift icon, thanks in part to Initial D (Google it). An honourable mention must go to the fourth-gen car (Toyota's BMW E30 moment) and the third gen Liftback (because my uncle had one, and he was a driving god).
5. 2006 FJ Cruiser
A motor show concept car made real. Pretentious? Overstyled? Impossible to see out the back of? Terrible turning circle? Maybe. But its retro-cool looks captured the imagination of an off-roading generation and in the wild it could go anywhere and do it all and more, thanks to Land Cruiser Prado underpinnings. It was particularly competent at jumping dunes, I'm, er... reliably informed. Odd suicide-style rear doors that couldn't open till the fronts were, and a massive speaker just on one side in the back all contributed to its unique style.
6. 1980s Toyota Hilux
Who could ever forget how much abuse Jeremy Clarkson and James May gave an already well-worn 1988 diesel Hilux, with nearly 200,000 miles on the clock, back in the Top Gear days? The phrase 'takes a licking and keeps on ticking' could have been coined for the Hilux. Crashing it, drowning it, burning it, and collapsing a building under it still didn't kill it. Wars don't kill the Hilux. And post-nuclear apocalypse when the 'roaches have evolved and inherited the earth, they will be driving the Toyota pickups the human race left behind.
7. 1990s Land Cruiser
As the saying used to go: if you want to go into the bush you can take a Land Rover, but if you want to come back, take a Land Cruiser. Toyota's full-sized off-roader is utterly undefeatable. It's still around, and frankly getting on a bit, but the best of the Land Cruisers would definitely be the 1990s versions up to about the early 2000s. Renowned ability, supreme space and comfort, legendary status. People bet their lives on this thing. Enough said.
8. MR2 (all)
This was Toyota ripping off the Fiat X1/9's playbook - do a mid-engined supercar but smaller, more affordable and, of course being Toyota, more reliable and useable. There were only three generations, each with a very distinct style. The wedgy original was pretty much a tracing-paper copy of the Fiat. The next one stepped up and took its influence more than a little from Ferraris of the era. And then the last edition was like a Porsche Boxster, but more justifiable.
9. 2016 Prius
It's regarded as the progenitor of all hybrids - the car that really brought uniquely efficient and clean motoring to the masses. The first generation wasn't great to drive, and the second and third gens weren't visually much more appealing, despite the cachet of driving the same car as several A-list Hollywood celebrities from Leonardo DiCaprio to Tom Hanks, and Cameron Diaz to Julia Roberts. The latest edition is the most evolved and, whilst still polarising in style, certainly the most striking and statement-making. Regardless, the Prius' place in automotive history is confirmed.
10. 1993 Supra
The Supra is back as an all-new car, but it comes from a solid lineage of sensational sports cars. Each one is brilliant. A personal favourite is the 1981-1985 A60 second generation car (because I had one, and Lotus had worked on the suspension and handling). However, the awesome A80 (1993-2002) version raised the bar, not just for its predecessors, but the genre in general, with macho looks, meaty performance and a thrilling drive. Compared to its predecessor it looked engorged with potency. It was, of course, immortalised by the very first Fast & Furious movie and has been an icon since.
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*Possibly with fewer actual cars made.