I keep surprising myself with how many variations on the oxymoronic “pillared hardtop” theme bloomed across the Toyota range in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Well, I say Toyota because we’re looking as a Toyota right now, but most of the other Japanese carmakers were all pretty prolific in this regard – Subaru especially, but also Nissan, Mazda, Honda and even Mitsubishi. Everyone was at it. This body style, if it could be called that, died out in the 2000s. It’s a shame, as they did tend to look pretty good.
Our feature car is a pretty good late example of this species. Compared to a standard-issue Corona saloon, the Exiv looks almost sporty and certainly more driver-oriented. Under the swoopy body though, it’s all like your regular higher trim T190 Corona/Carina or T200 Celica: a 1.8 or a pair of 2-litre 4-cyl. driving the front wheels (or all of them, in 2-litre form only) via a 5-speed manual or, likelier, a 4-speed automatic.
In essence, the Exiv is less related to the Corona than it is to the Celica. Back in 1985, Toyota created a companion four-door hardtop from the new front-drive Celica T160 platform and called the result, somewhat confusingly, 1985-89 Carina ED (ST160, top row). So there was the FWD Carina standard saloon and its Corona twin on the one hand, and the sporty Carina ED hardtop and the Celica on the other. The first Corona Exiv (bottom row) arrived in 1989 as a twin of the second-gen ST180 Carina ED.
The name Exiv is a tortuous portmanteau of “Extra” and “Impressive.” It was included in the Corona family even as the Corona Coupé disappeared and lasted two generations trying to jazz up the aging Toyota nameplate’s image. The ST180 Exiv (1989-93) was an actual hardtop; I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of these as yet, though – nor their Carina ED sibling. The second gen Exiv / third gen Carina ED, as represented by our feature car, took over in October 1993 and lasted through to the very end of 1998.
There are still a few of those around, as although they probably didn’t sell as well as their predecessor (which is impossible to really ascertain, given that the 2nd gen Exiv’s production data are not disaggregated from the overall Corona data), they are known for being solid and comfortable cars, if a tad cramped for a big-ish four-door.
There were four grades of Exiv, starting with the base model TR, which came with only the 1.8 litre engine. Then came the TR-X, which could be ordered with either the 1.8 or the 2-litre, and the TR-R, which was 2-litre only, in 140hp guise. Top of the range, at over ¥2m, was the TR-G, which was exclusively fitted with the Yamaha-headed 180hp motor. For a JDM model, four levels of trim is a remarkable display of restraint. But the the heady days of the economic bubble were gone now.
To emphasize the driver-oriented nature of this model, they designed that dash to be entirely angled towards the driver, à la ‘70s GM. I imagine that must be great from an ergonomics standpoint, but it sure didn’t make the CC hunter’s job any easier. They never thought about us, the peeking public.
Here’s a factory photo to get a better idea of the lay of the land. It’s almost a caricature of an early ‘90s ambiance, isn’t it? Not unpleasant, just very typically grey-plasticky fin-de-siècle.
The rear seats are quite decent, legroom-wise, but according to the Japanese internet sources I’ve been trying to decipher, the main issue with these is the low roof. It’s a tight cabin, just like most contemporary JDM pillared hardtops. That’s the tradeoff for that sexier roofline.
The concept of a four-door Celica could have been a successful one in many markets, given how popular Celicas were in places like North America and Europe. Alas, it was not to be – more than anything else, the trouble of federalizing this design and devising an LHD variant would have been deemed utterly uneconomical.
The trouble with the Exiv, from my perspective, is that it shares no styling cues with the Celica at all. Toyota could have tried to graft the two-door T200’s distinctive quad-eyed face to this hardtop sedan and made the family bloodline stand out more. At least, if they had wanted to export this LWB Celica concept. But within Japan, it seems that would have been superfluous, as those who shopped for cars like these knew what they were getting, most of the time.
The other wrinkle is that the Celica and the Carina ED were sold via the Corolla Store sales network, whereas the Exiv was a Toyopet Store model, like all Coronas. The Carina ED could look like the Celica that was sold at the same dealership, but then the Exiv, a pure badge-engineering exercise, would have looked a bit out of place next to the Coronas at the Toyopet Store. Compromise, compromise.
But this pillared hardtop thing turned into a relatively short-lived fad – certainly at Toyota, in any case. By the year 2000, the likes of the Corolla / Sprinter, the Mark II, the Vista, the Crown and the Majesta, which had all had a pillared hardtop in their respective lineups throughout the ‘90s, and joined the Corona / Carina in scaling back to framed windows and somewhat higher rooflines. It was kind of pointless while it lasted, frankly, but at least we got some slightly racier-looking JDM saloons.
When the T200 line appeared, Toyota’s sales projections were 4,000/month for the EXiV and another 4,000/month for the Carina ED. Whether they actually achieved that is a harder question to answer, but if nothing else, it probably serves to set some ballpark figures for the outgoing T180 toward the end of its run. (When the latter launched in 1989, the projections were 7,000/month for each hardtop.)
One likely reason Toyota didn’t make these look more like the Celica: The FWD Celica was mostly an export product whose total JDM sales only once cracked 30,000 units a year.The initial JDM projections for the T200 Celica only 1,500 a month, which also proved optimistic after the first year. The four-door hardtops were mostly, maybe exclusively, home market products, and Toyota anticipated that they would sell much better than the JDM Celica. Not much point deliberately creating a family resemblance to the least-popular sibling.
If the T180 hardtops were really selling 150,000+ at home, you can see why Toyota bothered. That’s really not bad for a JDM specialty model, especially one based on a widely used platform.
“Not much point deliberately creating a family resemblance to the least-popular sibling”
True. The irony here was that the 1994 introduction of the sixth generation Celica was the most successful the line had been since 1979, and it is interesting to note they did the inverse for the reintroduced coupe body style of that generation “Celica” with the Curren, which clearly has similar appearance to this Exiv. I’d be curious to see the sales figures of that car before I decide if this was a wise move or not:
Certainly a clean series of surfaces that flow quite nicely. To my jaded eyes, far superior to the overworked, but underdone origami forms that clad current Toyota products. 🙂 DFO
The featured car looks somewhat like a concurrent model Mazda 626, and if my memory is working correctly, even the dashboard is similar to the Mazda’s.
Unusually for your photographed cars, the front and rear wheels of this car don’t match. Both sides have the same ” look ” of the mismatch.
I would love to have a car like this just to confuse other car nerds but I cant figure out what you’d call it when asked about it. Is it Exiv like a word? Xseev? Or is it a lettered designation like XSiV?
Exiv was a contraction for extra impressive. I’m not kidding (ED in the concurrent Carina stood for exciting & dressy).
Toyota advertising and press materials said you were supposed to pronounce it as a word: “Eck-siv.”
Maybe it is just personal preference, I often find today cars with a large pillar (often black color) are very ugly. I understand it is much to do with safety, but can we make it a better looking? So I find vehicles with thin pilar, even like the featured vehicle with a thin exterior pilar, are beautiful. Even better design is pillar-less design in today’s Mercedes E-series and S-series coupes. In actuality, the pilar-less vehicles were very common until 70s in US and 80s in Japan.
The concept of a four-door Celica could have been a successful one in many markets, given how popular Celicas were in places like North America and Europe
The Celica had a very clearly established sporty coupe identity. To introduce a four door version would have clearly contradicted that image. It would have been like Ford bringing out a four door Mustang (back then). Anathema. Same with the Camaro. It would have diluted the image and brand.
Acura’s Integra did have both coupe and sedans, but they did so from the get-go.
Also, the Acura-badged Integra was sold in separate showrooms from the Civic, Prelude, and Accord, so there were fewer existential contortions about how they were supposed to fit together. Selling a four-door Corona EXiV in Toyota showrooms, whether badged as a Celica or not, would have had people thinking it was intended to somehow split the difference between the Corolla and Camry, although given the exchange rate issues of the time, the Japanese-built Corona would likely have cost MORE than the the U.S.-market Camry. Just an all-around marketing headache.
The Celica was always a Corona in a sports coat right from day one, these Corona EXVI were quite common used imports here but as with all old models the ranks are thinning now even regular Coronas once NZ’s best selling car are getting rare strange because the local assembly cars were fully galvanised against rust and should have lasted forever, NZ new cars had a vastly different suspension tune 4 wheel disc brakes wider wheels and actually drove really well I had a 93 2.0 the only engine option here.
I like the concept of these cars, even in pillared hardtop form, but the T200 seems a step down from the T180. The T180 Corona EXiV is handsome for a four-door of its vintage, let down a bit by a rather bland grille; it’s a much more pleasing effort than the T180 Celica, which is too lozenge-like, especially in lower-trimmed versions. The T200 is hardly hideous, but it really does look like the Mazda Capella/626, which isn’t that special.
Also, the Capella had the advantage of the sweet K-series V-6s, which didn’t have any great advantage in power over the Toyota S-system four, but was a lot more pleasant subjectively. The 3S was always on the buzzy side, and taking it out to 2.2 liters for the 5S-FE we got did not help its manners any.
which also had the sweet K-series V-6s. (One of the downsides of the T160/T180/T200 Celica is that the S-system fours are on the buzzy side, which enlargement to 2.2 liters on U.S. cars did not help any.)