CC Capsule: 1987 Toyota Vista (V20) 4WD – The Alternate Reality Camry

It’s always a learning experience to be CC hunting in Japan. I’m still baffled by the amount of variants that Toyota used to have of the same thing, with names I do not readily recognize. For instance, “Vista” is not a nameplate I would have associated with Toyota – more with Oldsmobile, if anything.

How crassly ignorant of me. The 1986-90 Toyota Vista V20 is, as I’m sure many of you know, a Camry V20-based faux-hardtop sedan, confusingly also called Camry Prominent on the JDM. These were also rebadged and mildly facelifted as the first generation Lexus ES (1989-91), which I’m pretty sure were only for North American consumption. The Vista name disappeared in 1998, so there are still a few about, but it took this older model to bring it to my attention.

When we moved to the US in 1987, the first car we had there, for over a month, was a rental Camry. So I remember that era of Camrys pretty well – or at least, the US market version, with those dreadful automatic seatbelts. The Camry genes on this Vista were less visible for the outside, but on the inside, things looked a bit more familiar. The seat fabric in this one though – wow!

I never knew that these Camrys were available with AWD, but then I never thought much about these in general. Apparently, the AWD badge means that this Vista is necessarily powered by just the 2-litre DOHC 4-cyl. producing 120hp in JDM-spec. None of the various flavours of 4-cyl., V6 or Diesel available on the FWD Camry/Vista could be had with the AWD drivetrain.

This Vista is a lot more attractive than the V20 Camry saloon I remember from my youth. The airier greenhouse, the slimmer bumpers and that red velvet upholstery are quite fetching. Still, this does not really get my juices flowing – it’s all a bit too late ‘80s for me. But it’s the missing link that ties the Lexus ES and the Camry together, so it’s worthy of some CC exposure, if only from a genealogical perspective.