CC Capsule: 1985 Toyota Carina (T150) ST – A Square Without Edges

Citroën DS, Edsel Citation, Lancia Flavia, Mazda Cosmo… Some cars courted controversy. They pushed the envelope in terms of styling, technology or marketing, and they pushed it quite far, so they did not leave anyone on the fence. You either liked or loathed them. In the 1984-88 Toyota Carina, we have the perfect opposite of that. Yet this very lack of personality, all smooth and rectangular and signifying nothing, is precisely what makes this car egregiously offensive (to me at least).

Toyota launched the Carina nameplate in 1970, initially based on the Celica platform. The Carina was essentially slotted to be a parallel range to the Corona and sold through the Toyota Store, though some were exported in the ‘70s. After three generations of RWD Carinas, the platform went FWD for the T150/160, which was launched in May 1984.

By this point in time, the Carina had become a JDM-only phenomenon, entirely based on the Corona. But whereas the Corona was still exported far and wide, the Carina was designed strictly for Japanese clients. However, for this transitional generation, only the four-door saloons made the jump to FWD. In pure ‘80s Toyota fashion, the Carina coupé and wagon continued to use the old platform through to the end of the decade.

As such, the FWD Carina was allegedly designed to look a bit sportier than its Corona cousin. It was also a fraction cheaper and had less fancy trim and options than the Corona, so it was chiefly aimed at younger buyers.

I’m sure that “sporty” was the intent, but really, what they managed to do is to design a saloon that looks both blocky and flimsy. I don’t know how they did that. Quite effete, quite a feat.

1987 Toyota Carina brochure excerpt


As per usual, there were a plethora of trim levels on tap, from the bog-standard 1500cc DX to the swankier GTs, which had DOHC 1.6 litre engines. Our feature car is a semi-deluxe ST with the calmer fuel-injected 1.6 OHC, which only provided 100hp to play with. Other engine options included a 1.8 and the 2-litre also found in the contemporary Camry, as well as a 2-litre Diesel for those who thought all this was just too much excitement for them to handle.

Back in 1985, there were still a healthy number of folks who ordered their family saloon with a manual, though that’s the era when automatics really started to become commonplace in JDM cars. Grooviest seat covers I’ve seen in a while – or maybe it shows that T150 Carina owners really have a thing for squares.

For this has to be the squarest ‘80s Toyotas ever. And that’s saying something. One could make a very faithful Lego rendering of this car without difficulty. I know, it was the style at the time. But not all ‘80s designs were as insipid as this.

Of course, this Carina’s boxiness makes it stand out of the crowd today. And there are inherent risks in designing cars with an edge, because you might alienate potential customers. But I’d like to think that, had I been a Japanese person flush with yen shopping for a saloon in 1985, I would have picked something that at least attempted to have a personality. Not an appliance-white flat-plane notchback with the charisma of a garden slug.

But hey, it wasn’t my 1.2 million yen to spend back then. Odorless and taste-free white boxes have their fans here – I see modern versions of this Carina all the time – so one cannot say Toyota didn’t know what they were doing. But did they have to be so aggressively bland about it?