We’ve discussed the original mini-Cordoba Cressida a while back, but today I want to talk about the later version. While the 1976-80 Cressida was very much a 3/4-scale LeSabre or New Yorker, the 1981 model set the stage for the rest of the nameplate’s run–a Japanese W124.
The 4th-gen Cressida came along in 1989, and in addition to being a bit larger than the outgoing 3rd-gen, had much more flowing lines than the Volvo-like 1984-88 version. But Volvo looks aside, these cars always reminded me of a Mercedes-Benz, either a W116 or W126. As a child I had a butterscotch-colored W116 toy car by Yat Ming, and I actually thought it was a 2nd-gen Cressida, due to the less-than-accurate checkerboard grille! So I always associated these with Mercs.
Even now, they do remind me of one. Though not as big as a W126, the 4th gen does have quite similar proportions. And like the MB, they were restrained yet elegant. Maybe not as glamorous as a 1989 Brougham d’Elegance, 560SEL or 740 Turbo Sedan, but a solid choice.
As you’d expect of the top-of-the-line Toyota, interiors were plush, with standard velour or optional leather. Despite all this, they were still very Toyota-like; the wood trim and gathered leather door panel gingerbread came later, on the Lexus ES300, which effectively replaced the Cressida in 1992.
Despite its refinement with its smooth 190-hp 7M-GE 3.0 inline six, A340 four-speed automatic and comfortable ride, the Cressida was a ultimately a goner. Toyota was out to make a name for themselves–ironically, with another name: Lexus. The Cimmaron-ized Camry, the ES250, and the luxy V8 LS400 spelled the end for the luxury Toy, and the last ones were built in 1992 in the States, through the car itself carried on another four model years in the Middle East.
I was happy to see our featured car a couple of months ago–on the same day as the Vanagon, matter of fact. Despite the rust just beginning to make inroads along the rocker panels, this car still looked pretty decent for a near-25 year old Midwestern car. And I bet that straight six still runs nice and smooth.
After 1992 there was no Toyota sedan above the Camry in the lineup, but the “Japanese Impala” 1995 Avalon filled most of the void. Indeed, the current Avalon is quite a looker despite the odd double-grille–especially in black cherry metallic. So perhaps the Avalon is really the 2013 Cressida. However, one thing still grates–I wholeheartedly believe “Cressida” is a better name. Avalon sounds like the name of an overpriced, holistic health resort–not the premium Toyota!
I’ve always been a fan of these as well, so solid and smooth. For some reason I think they are more solid (well, they felt that way on the road anyway) than the Lexus ES, probably due to the RWD. Nice find!
Sometimes a company would be better to stick with it’s roots. Something about me does not want a Lexus but would certainly consider a toyota.
Toyota sold most of the US Lexus models in Japan as Toyota’s where they are the dominant brand but where in the US might be hard to justify the price and luxury image. Now Lexus has expanded beyond US and back in Japan.
Cressida was never a huge seller as people associated Toyota with competent but barebones cars.
I always thought these, like their ES300 successors, looked too much like the contemporary Camry, especially from behind.
We had an ’82 or ’83 Cressida, and I thought the boxy styling worked. It at least looked distinctive within the rest of U.S. Toyota lineup. It was a bit too small inside for the family-hauler duties we gave to it, but behind the wheel that smooth, quick-revving inline six and sharp handling suspension were a revelation compared to the gasping 260 V8 and floaty ride of the ’79 Cutlass I learned to drive on.
I had about forgotten about this generation of Cressida. I never really saw many of them. Today, however, one of these would be just the thing, particularly if I could find a nice low-mile little-old-lady version.
I just love these for some reason, especially the boxy late-80’s versions. For some reason the 90’s rounded cars look too short (wheelbase).
I always wonder why Lexus got a fancified Camry and Crown but no Cressida. This would’ve made more sense as the Lexus GS than the Aristo which ultimately became the donor. (Don’t get me wrong: The 1st-gen GS has a wonderfully sci-fi design… which is why I think a Cressida-based GS would’ve been a more popular car in America.)
Unfortunate that they never did a special version w/ the Supra’s turbo engine [7M-GTE]. Would have been awesome.
I still hold out hope in finding a mid80s cressida wagon 5MT. this will almost certainly never happen, but I’m a dreamer 🙂
Probably best they didn’t. The GTE in the MKIII Supra ate head gaskets faster than cops ate donuts.
get out of here w/ your logic and reason! this is about RWD, straight six, turbo goodness!
[i agree with you, by the way]
It’s funny that you mentioned this; I just checked Seattle CL and there is a 1991 for $1100 which “needs new head.” One of the pictures shows the engine compartment and the head is conspicuously missing.
It entertains me to no end what people think that their in-need-of-repair stuff is worth!
Nice cars, but the stranglematic shoulder straps are a dealbreaker for me . . .
Sorry for the double-comment, but after not seeing (or noticing) one of these in forever, I just saw this car’s identical twin while out at lunch. The CC effect is stronger than ever.
Lexus the nonexistant brand designed to fleece Americans and it worked there is a belief that makes like Lexus Acura and Infiniti actually exist not so we have all these alledged makes here ex JDM in their original badging. Cressida was only a blinged 4banger Corona in some markets so no real cachet as a luxury express.
It was a bit more than the car – the dealership experience also quickly came into play, at least in SoCal. While some of the local Toyota dealers were famous for their indifference, my Lexus-owning friends and family were more than happy with the new level of coddling – flowers on birthdays, espresso machines, precisely timed appointments, and the like. I’m on my fourth Nissan product but the first one with the Infiniti branding and have found the dealership experience to be largely superior to Nissan in this area.
The Avalon was the successor to the Cressida (although there was a time gap between the two, if memory serves.) The first Lexus ES was based upon the smaller Camry, and I think that the Lexus raised the cush factor up a notch compared to what the Toyota brand was offering.
I remember driving the Cressida during that era, and they felt like tanks, in a good way. Not very exciting, but you could sense the build quality. The styling isn’t exactly timeless, but they were very impressive cars for their day.
Yea the Avalon came out in the fall of 1994 as a MY95 the Cressida died after MY92, although according to Wiki, they managed to sell 322 in 1993, 5 in 1994, and 2 in 1995. To whom, I wonder… Maybe just leftovers…
In an interesting turnabout, while the RWD Cressida was made in Japan and exported to the US, the Avalon was made in the Camry factory in Kentucky, then RHD versions were produced there and exported to Japan.
In the beginning, the Cressida always seemed like a bit of an anomaly as the early Corollas, Coronas were relatively tiny compared to today and usually bare contented vehicles, and then you had this relatively plush model that accounted for about 5% of US sales.
One could make the argument that the Lexus GS model was more of a direct Cressida replacement (even though it was branded as a Lexus in the US but sold as Toyota in Japan) in the same size class, RWD, inline 6 mid level executive car. The Avalon carries the Toyota name directly but of course there was no Lexus for most of Cressida life. It does seem rather convoluted considering Toyota’s marketing scheme – Lexus was created to give Toyota a platform to sell premium cars away from the cheapo image while in Japan Lexus did not exist until MY 2006. The Cressida and Lexus GS are related to the Crown while the Avalon is just a stretched Camry that happens to occupy the senior price point for the Toyota brand in the US. Although the Avalon is probably marketed closer to how the Cressida was than the GS.
The Cressida was a nice car and that last generation of them was attractive and comfy to drive. The sad part is that like the Supra, the engine was prone to headgasket issues. It was a not an if but a when as all of them if kept long enough would blow the headgasket. This was because Toyota did a GM type move and changed the headgasket material(the original was asbestos lined) with new material which changed the torque setting but did not bother notifying the factory and every Supera and Cressida left the factory with under torqued headbolts. The repair was easy enough but if you did not catch it right away then the bearings got rotted out by the coolant and the engine had to be replaced. This usually happened around 70,000 to 100,000 miles. Not many around anymore due to this so that car is a rare one
I prefer the elegant looks of the JDM Mark II hardtop twin so much more…
I’m more of a fan of the Volvo generation. I just loved that tall, flat hood and those squinty headlights. The chrome overkill on the side window moldings was distinctive and classy. The car had a unique shape and you could spot one from the corner of your eye.
This 4th gen Cressida was the first to start the generic-look trend that continues today for Japanese sedans. Seriously, does it not look like a modern Corolla?
These were total tanks and overbuilt like a Supra. There was an electric sliding cover to right of the steering wheel to cover the “unsightly” HVAC controls. You don’t see fat budgets like that any more.
I hope you all are sitting down for this….
I would give up a Brougham for one of these!!!
Back in 1989 we were living in Florida and my mother took a job with a Chiropractor that we went to church with. He had just bought is wife a new Cressida. If this one had came with leather it would have been identical to it. Anyways, I was all of fourteen years old, and on more than one occasion the good doctor’s wife would let me take the car for a spin! Yes, my first time behind the wheel of a Toyota was a most memorable one. That car was soooooo smooth and quiet! You would turn the key to start it and you COULD NOT hear the engine running! It was so luxurious. Everything felt premium. After that, Toyotas began to really catch my eye, mainly because I saw then just what they were truly capable of.
It’s too bad that on the rare occasion that you do come across one of these they seem to be beyond trashed, at least that’s how it always is for me.
The last time I saw one of these was 2003 or 2004. It was immaculate and practically showroom new. And, yes, I very much like these Toyotas. Rode in one on several occasions and was duly impressed.
Except for the annoying shoulder belts, that interior looks surprisingly modern.
I remember being bitterly disappointed when these came out – they were so bland looking after the elegant previous few series. Probably much better cars, but so completely forgettable. We got the V6 Camry soon after, and that pretty much took over the Cressida’s role.
The Cressida was RWD, while the Lexus ES was a gussied-up version of the Toyota Camry and thus a front-driver.The rear-drive Lexus GS series might be a better successor
But can you imagine a Cressida with the turbo and suspension settings from the Supra? That wouldbea heckuva sleeper.
This model has always been of interest to me. I have always liked it’s looks. No nonsense and clean design. I find it interesting how even though it was technically a different product line at the time in terms of it’s drivetrain layout etc. You can see the early evolutions of what is the Avalon today in the Cressida. Of course the Avalon is a larger car by far and has a different layout etc, but you can see the flagship details in this car that evolved over time. I have always thought it was pretty cool how some automakers can incorporate their own “DNA” so to speak over time in their designs and how you can see the visual relations to designs of the past.
I think the visual relations are especaially strong in the front ends of the Gen 4 Cressida and the first 2 Generations of Avalon.
The ’89 Cressida has got one thing on my 2004 Avalon XLS and that was the telescoping steering wheel. I think thats a cool feature still.
I know that Lexus serves it’s purpose well. But there has always been something honest and inviting about the Toyota Flagship to me. Cressida and Avalon both always very much appealed to me, even as a kid. Our across the street neighbor had a 1987 Cressida Sedan in black. I was in love. Same goes for the Land Cruiser. To me they are the ultimate expression of Toyota goodness in an unpretentious non-Lexus package. Always been a fan of them all.
I know the Avalon can be seen as a car with no personality by some, but it has absolutely been a dream to me. Everything I had hoped it would be. Other than routine maintenance, no faults to speak of.