Driving the Coolest '90s Toyota That the U.S. Never Got: Review
It’s a common phrase—“the grass is always greener on the other side.” It can apply in all aspects of life—personal, work, and family—then again, it also rings true in the car world. Meet the 1990 Toyota Sera. Sold exclusively in Japan from 1990 to 1996, the quirky Sera has long been the envy of North American fans…well, at least me. Why, you ask? Scroll below and you’ll find an economy car shape with odd-ball butterfly doors. You certainly don’t see that everyday on U.S. roads. But to my disbelief, last week I did. This Toyota Sera recently hopped the pond, traveling from Japan all the way to the East Coast, and landed on Craigslist. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I asked to get a closer look at the hen’s teeth Toyota, to see if my love for the Sera was really a case of “grass is always greener.” It certainly was not. RELATED: See More Photos of the 1990 Toyota Sera
If anyone else out there gets a chance to drive a Sera, do it. I guarantee you’ll have a smile plastered to your face for the next 24 hours. It isn’t that the Sera is some million dollar supercar—it’s based on the Toyota Paseo, which was sold in the U.S.—it’s just that the Sera is a fun place to be.
Hopping into the Sera is an event. The butterfly doors lift easily enough, and if in a public place, you’ll most certainly catch the eyes of everyone around you. It’s simply a happy car…and visually not far from the Toyota AXV-II concept car that spawned it.
Outside and in, it’s clear that the Sera is a product of the ‘90s. Hard plastics are always within reach and occupants are bathed within a sea of grey, beige, and dark grey. That said, the styling is clean and has aged well in the past two and a half decades. The bolstered seats are actually quite comfy too.
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What you won’t find in other Toyotas of the day is the glass canopy overtop. Admittedly it can be a bit greenhouse-y, but thankfully air-conditioning came standard and Toyota fitted pull-out roof panels for blocking out those rays when unwanted.
On the road, this Sera zips along thanks to a 1.5-liter four-cylinder and four-speed automatic transmission (a manual gearbox was optional). If you’re looking for a drag strip star, this obviously isn’t it. The Sera does keep up in traffic however and feels nimble enough in the bends. Just don’t expect the exhaust to bellow like you’d find on other butterfly window-equipped cars. Here’s looking at you, McLaren F1 and Ferrari Enzo.
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I’ll admit, one of the things that originally attracted me to the Toyota Sera was the options list, which included such novelties as “Super Live Surround Sound” and an “AirFantasy Fragrance Control System.” This model had neither sadly, but it did show a tantalizingly low 47,780 miles on the odometer.
All things considered, the Toyota Sera excels in that it’s an economy car with the spirit of something much more. It’ll never make a Porschephile eschew their 911 or BMW devotee snub their M3, it just isn’t that kind of car. But in terms of having fun, it’s a rare and delightful winner.
Engine: 1.5L Inline-4
Extreme rarity in the U.S.
The ability to plant and keep a smile on your face
Cramped rear seats
“Is that a kit car?” — You’ll have to explain this car to bystanders for the rest of your life.
Got a weird car with some interesting history? Let us know about your rides!