Vintage R&T Review: 1983 Toyota Cressida – The Proto-Lexus

Toyota’s history with upscale cars in the US is fascinating. It really struggled for years to get a proper toe hold in a segment of the market that was booming, for the European imports. But Toyota’s image was too downscale, and the Crown failed after selling modestly for some years. And the Cressida that that replaced it was more pragmatic and a bit less ambitious, but it still started out as mostly a car for Corona and Corolla buyers who really wanted a bigger Toyota, and not an aspirational car for American other import brand owners.

But that all started to change in the mid-’80s, starting with this revised version of the boxy Cressida that now had the silky smooth and powerful 2.8 L DOHC six from the Supra, as well as independent rear suspension (I presume from the Supra as well).  Toyota was getting serious about the Cressida, and the subsequent generation became the closest it ever got to a Japanese BMW or such.

The 2.8 L six was tuned a bit more modestly than in the Supra, here making 143 hp, which shaved almost two seconds off the 0-60 time (10.2 compared to 12.1).  Teamed up with Toyota’s electronically-controlled four speed automatic, it made for a very pleasant and refined power train. And one that would come to be known for its durability too.

Despite the changes, the Cressida still showed some weaknesses at the limits of its handling envelope. The suspension was just tuned too soft for genuine sporty driving, but then its clientele undoubtedly favored that. And let’s keep in mind that the Cressida was essentially Toyota’s proto-Lexus, with all of that brand’s qualities already on display, including the ride and handling.


The Cressida’s long suit was its interior, called “sumptuous” by the testers. Comfortable seats upholstered in high quality cloth, and a sense of quality on display everywhere. The classic Japanese upper-middle class sedan, a formula that took a while to win over Americans, but once they got on board, it was a revolution.