Curbside Classic: 1995 Toyota Cresta (X90) Super Lucent – Highly Nielsen-Rated

It just couldn’t be JDM ‘90s Week without a good old RWD Toyota saloon, could it? In the mid-‘90s, the number one Japanese automaker still had a lot of those in their massive lineup. Your various grades and types of Crown, the Comfort taxi, the Celsior, the Aristo, the Century of course… Aside from the taxi, the smallest RWD model still in the range was the Mark II / Chaser / Cresta – three slightly different shades of reasonably-priced executive cars.

The heyday of the Mark II / Chaser / Cresta triplets corresponds to the height of the economic bubble, which started to implode in 1992. Being that the model we’re looking at here is the X90 Cresta, sold between October 1992 and September 1996, it’s a post-bubble car. Though with such fulsome and rounded styling, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was still hailing from an era of plenty.

The thing is these were designed right when the Bubble Economy was at its peak, so JDM Toyotas of this period are renowned for being bigger and more stuffed with gadgets than the generations that came before and after them. Case in point with this Cresta, which was deliberately designed to be over the “regular car” size limit, and thus subject to a higher tax band. The X80 generation (1987-92) Cresta’s somewhat lithe and athletic profile was discarded for a heftier, mini-Lexus (or rather mini-Celsior) appearance.

The usual two dozen trim and engine combos make the Cresta range a tad complicated to decipher, even when the names are written in Latin script. Basically, trim levels went SC (base model), Suffire (deluxe), Super Lucent (deluxe plus), Super Lucent G (deluxe with extra cheese), Super Lucent Exceed / Limited (top notch) and Tourer V / S (the sort-of-sporty model). Engine options comprised three straight-6s (2.0, 2.5 and 3.0 litre), a 2.4 litre turbo-Diesel and, for the base models, a 1.8 litre 4-cyl. – just to emphasize that this was still clearly below the Toyota Crown.

Our feature car is a Super Lucent – no displacement is indicated, so most likely a 2-litre. It’s a post-facelift car, with a touch more brightwork on the grille and a new set of taillight clusters. I’m still at a loss as to what the Cresta logo is meant to represent. I’m going with origami crane (as seen from the front), or possibly a 16th Century samurai helmet. Either way, there is something distinctly Japanese about it.

The person who ordered this car thirty-odd years ago manifestly preferred to spend their hard-earned yen on toys rather than a big engine or leather seats. The latter is par for the course in Japan, where animal hide is very rarely seen. In terms of gadgetry though, this car tops most Jaguars or BMWs by having a dash-mounted LCD TV set.

The quadruple Sony aerials on the rear are the tell-tale external sign that this car is wired for TV. I’ve seen this on several older saloons here – typically Nissan Cedrics, Mazda Sentias or Toyota Crown Majestas. I think the first time I saw this specific system was on this Century limo I caught back when I lived in Rangoon. You rarely see it fitted on something as modest as a 2-litre Cresta, but then there is a precedent of this T190 Corona having those little antennae, so I guess anything was possible. If I ever see them on a Starlet, that will warrant another CC post.

The Japanese obsession with watching fitting cathode tubes in Toyotas seems to pre-date the ‘90s by quite a few decades, if the above is any indication. Interesting that they picked a T20 Corona (an ancestor of the Cresta, in essence) for this advert.

Whatever gizmos and baubles could be thrown into the mix did not help the Cresta from falling, quite noticeably, from the public’s fickle favour. The X90 managed about 160k sales (all of them in Japan, as far as I know), which was a respectable score in absolute terms, but a 50% drop compared to its X80 predecessor. The same precipitous collapse took place with the Mark II and Chaser, but the Mark recovered a bit with the X100 generation, unlike the other two. But that’s a story for another day.

The Toyota Cresta wasn’t alone in undergoing a growth spurt (mostly on the sides) while losing favour in the ‘90s, even as the economy slowed demand for big cars. A very similar phenomenon took place in the upper strata of the Mazda, Nissan and Honda ranges. Some nameplates recovered, others did not, especially if they were JDM-only. Toyota, to their credit, hedged their bets very capably by launching more modern FWD equivalents (Windom, Avalon) and RWD ones as well (Progrès, Verossa) during that troublesome era. With or without TV, the Cresta and its siblings were no longer prime-time material.