(first posted 11/1/2014) A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece about the Compadre, neé GM BTV. In comparison to that little project, the Kijang is considerably less ambitious in scope, only being sold in Indonesia and Brunei. But it has one crucial difference over the BTV, Toyota actually invested some money to keep developing it, right up to the present. But you’d never recognize it as the successor to this primitive little truck.
Car manufacturers have a really nasty habit of taking very coveted brand names and making them ever more available to the consumers while at the same time eroding away. The Chevrolet Bel Air for instance, started as the top of the line, most exclusive Chevrolet that you could buy in 1949 and ended up as the lowly fleet-only model that you could only get as a rental car or police special in 1976. This sort of brand dilution is the bane of storied brands and a day to day occurrence to manufacturers and the daily bread of marketing departments, whether they realize it or not. But what if your brand starts from the bottom? Well, as they say, there’s nowhere to go but up.
The BTV and the Kijang had very similar goals, a small car that would transport people or haul cargo as cheaply as possible and using as much of the local resources as possible. To that end it was once again built as cheaply as possible, the body is similarly deprived of curves, they even went to the point of using stickers instead of badges. And the engine was cribbed from somewhere else. Except that instead of using an emaciated 38HP Bedford van engine it had the much sweeter Toyota 3K engine. That alone puts it miles above the BTV in my book, even if the Toyota 5-speed phenomenon wasn’t quite there yet. Another key difference is that Toyota fully committed to the Kijang, even doing a fairly comprehensive restyle just three years after it was launched.
Now, I will admit it is not the most beautiful car to ever grace a street. It rather looks like the result of me trying to describe my Tercel wagon to someone over the phone, but it still represents an upgrade over the original model. It now had either 4K or 5K power under the hood, that latter one meaning it actually had more power than the 3A-Powered Tercel of the time; and badges instead of stickers over it. A four-speed was the only option again and you could get it as a two or four door wagon as shown above, or as a pickup truck like the first Generation.
There must have been a problem with the original three-year cycle because the Kijang’s refresh cycles only got longer, the second generation one lasted from ’81 to ’85 and the following generation lasted the rest of the eighties and the first half of the nineties. This is where it was decided that the Kijang was to move upmarket.
First things first, it stopped looking like a seven year old attempting to draw a Tercel; instead, it now looked like if someone threw a 4Runner and an FJ70 Land Cruiser into a spin dryer. I would make a note about the so very ‘90s graphics, but as we all know it was a requisite for every work-oriented Toyota to come with a set of those. Available in both short and long wheelbase models, other luxuries that found their way into the option list included air-conditioning, power steering, power locks, leather seats and…a five speed gearbox as well as an automatic? What foul sorcery is this!? I want my carburetor! Wait…oh, it still comes with the 7K-C carbureted engine? Oh…tally ho then!
The fourth generation was a natural evolution of the new direction that the Kijang was taking, getting ever more comfortable on the inside while sticking with the tried and true mechanics that served as a remainder of when the measure of a car’s luxury was how reliable it was. The styling went a bit sour again but the engine compartment got a lot more interesting, as the legendary 2L Diesel made its way there. Which means that now the Kijang was certifiably unkillable by anything short of an IED strike. The four speed was finally put out to pasture in 2000.
Now, I should stress at this point that for all my talking about air conditioning and automatic gearboxes, it was still a pretty basic car. The base model had roughly the same level of equipment that a Nissan Versa base had. And it was still designed to be rough and durable, just a bit easier on the passengers. With that said, the 2004 Toyota Kijang Innova.
Yup. That’s definitely a car that moved upmarket. Airbags, USB connectivity, dual-zone climate control, six speakers. It has a touchscreen for pete’s sake. At the moment I can’t think of any car that started as the lowest of the low in the brand’s values and climbed through the ranks, though I’m sure someone in the comments will be delighted to let me know that there was another one. The Kijang went from something you bought to carry loads of ingredients to make Babur ayam into something that looks like a sensible alternative to the Toyota Yaris if you wanted something that was rear wheel drive and that won’t crack a bumper if you fall on a particularly heinous bump.
The car is now based on the underpinnings of the current Toyota Hilux and it shares engines with it. It also made the pickup variant redundant. In the ten years since it was it has gotten even more stylized front and rear designs and even more equipment. The only reason that I’m not calling it a modern day equivalent of the original Toyota 4Runner is that one of those already exist in the shape of the Toyota Fortuner.
There is, however, one thing missing. With the Kijang moving upmarket, that leaves a gap for the lower ridges of the market, fortunately Toyota is not dim-witted, they have launched this.
Meet the Toyota Avanza. It’s less well equipped, conservatively styled and has a range of very small and frugal engines. It has taken over the Kijang’s status as the car to buy on a budget. Expect a neo-brougham in 2035 or thereabouts.
Related reading: CC: Toyota Avanza