CC Capsule: Just How Am I Related To You?

Meeting distant family members can be fascinating… or awkward.  Sometimes a long-lost relative can seem like your own sibling, while at other times you quickly calculate just how much DNA you could possibly share with this stranger.  These three Toyotas – all from different decades – seemed to be having their own impromptu family reunion.  Toyota is a mighty big family, so there must have been a lot of catching up among this trio.

The cars here are a 1985 Corolla, a 2003 Celica and a 2012 Camry – not just three separate decades, but three vastly different types of vehicles.  And three different faces of Toyota.

In North America, the 1980s were likely the pinnacle of the Cheap Japanese Car, and the Corolla was on top of its game.  This was the go-to car for anyone looking for reliable, fuss-free, affordable transportation.  Toyota spent the 1970s cementing a place for the Corolla on buyers’ shopping lists, and when the 5th generation Corolla was introduced for 1984 (the first Corolla with front-wheel drive), it had a head start on the competition.

When I entered my car-buying age, in the early 1990s, these Corollas were ubiquitous among young drivers in my age cohort.  They were known as excellent values on the used car market, and the first bit of advice that many first-time used car buyers would receive was something like “You can’t go wrong with a Corolla.”

In contrast to the mid-1980s Corolla, which led a popular market segment, the 7th (and final) generation of Celica found itself in a vastly different predicament.  Sports coupes were about a decade past their prime when this model was introduced for 2000, and it would have taken a phenomenal product to bring that market back to life.  That the Celica went out with a whimper after this generation isn’t surprising, but it was at least a legitimate effort to stem what was becoming a rather stodgy image for Toyota.  This car certainly appealed to a young crowd; if anything, the styling erred at trying too hard to be edgy, and ended up looking immature.

Sales may have been tepid when new, but Celicas such as this continue to be popular with a younger crowd.  My guess is that out of our three featured Toyotas, the modified 2003 Celica GTS has the youngest driver.

And finally we have the Camry.  For many people, this car comes to mind when they hear the name “Toyota.”  Whether that’s a positive or negative association is up for debate, as Camrys epitomize the Modern Antiseptic Car.  Uninteresting but successful, about 400,000 Camrys were sold in the US during 2012, when the black SE in the lead photo was produced.  And there’s a reason for that success: This car does exactly what it set out to do, which is to provide comfortable and reliable transportation in the shrinking but still significant mid-size sedan market.

I’ve never driven this generation of Camry, though I found the previous generation pleasant enough to consider buying one, and should I need a new car in the next few years, a Camry would almost certainly be on my shopping list.  Maybe I’ve become antiseptic too, but comfortable and reliable sound pretty good to me sometimes.

None of these cars alone tell the complex story of Toyota, but that’s part of what is great about large families.  These cars are as different as 3rd cousins who sit next to each other at a family reunion.  Though if this was a genuine family reunion, one of these cars would be embarrassing the other two.  I wonder which one that would be…


Photographed in Annandale, Virginia in March 2019.