One of those cars the world has almost forgotten about but critically important to Toyota. The Carina-E marked their first foray into UK manufacturing and I’ve been spending some time with it…
They say that time passes by quickly as you get older – I’m not even going to expand on that as we all know its so very true. But one thing about being very much on the wrong side of forty, is being able to appreciate just how far we have come in terms of technology and automotive engineering. And yet sometimes, all I want is a nice quiet, simple life – a world away from rubbish like Love Island – back to the days when Leslie Crowther yelled at us to “Come on Down!” and when getting hold of the latest hit record from your favourite beat pop combo required a visit and wait in the queue down at Our Price… for me its the same with cars.
It makes me smile when I overhear folk saying “oh I don’t know how we managed without power steering” or some other remark about modern motoring. I can certainly remember rattling around in MK5 Cortina’s without power steering, a mobile phone or pretty much any other electronic gadget – In those days, we just got on with it. With a small tool kit in the boot, ten fags for emergencies along with a spare set of points and a condenser in the glovebox is how I rolled after passing my driving test in 1989. So surely then, driving around in a 26 year old car today must be a recipe for heartache, misery and an all round test of sanity?
“Tell your chums about your past experiences of Cavaliers, Sierras and Rover Montego’s and the dreaded rose tinted spectacles come out to be worn. Mention the Carina-E and at best you’ll get a glib remark about taxi’s or cash and carry car parks”
Absolutely not… after spending a week in a rather immaculate Toyota Carina-E. Part of their impressive heritage collection and looking resplendant in its shade of varicose vein blue (Atlantic blue according to the official blurb) this early British built Carina surprised and shocked me in equal measures. Despite being by far the most well built and reliable three box saloons of its day, it suffered the fate of soon being forgotten after its demise. Tell your chums about your past experiences of Cavaliers, Sierras and Rover Montego’s and the dreaded rose tinted spectacles come out to be worn. Mention the Carina-E and at best you’ll get a glib remark about taxi’s or cash and carry car parks.
Although the first models of Carina-E came over from Japan, once UK production got underway it soon became apparent that UK workers could build a motor car properly and efficiently and to Asian standards. Compare that to just a few years earlier and think of some of the crud our UK factories used to produce. Stuff like the bloody Marina, early Maestro and dreadful Hillman / Chrysler vehicles quickly come to mind. It took the Japanese to show us the way in terms efficiency and quality – like it or lump it that’s how it is and all the better for it. The Carina-E does prove a point that if you treat your workers right then everything else falls into place soon after.
It was a pretty big car for its time. You notice this the moment you hop inside whereby the Sierra cocooned you with its cockpit layout and your right arm became intimate with the door in a Cavalier, the Carina-E offered superb all round space and comfort, and I speak with experience of the aforementioned rivals having owned many of them in the past. The same applies round the back in the boot – the boot is squared off and huge, the seats fold flat and even the fuel tank holds a mile munching 60 litres – just over 13 gallons in old money. But this is no ordinary Japanese import picking away at the scraps of disgruntled rival brand owners… oh no.
“the seat comfort, despite having material that visually emulates those care-home high backed posturepedic armchairs is both remarkable and relaxing”
The Carina-E was the first fruit of the Derbyshire based Toyota UK assembly plant and was specifically designed and engineered for European tastes – in fact the letter E denotes “European Excellence“. They tell me they benchmarked the BMW 3 series for build quality and its here it really shows. Everything you touch, prod, poke and twiddle feels like little else of the same era – only the Cavalier MK3 comes close in terms of interior build and feel. The driving position is spot on, the gear-lever and switches are all in the right places and the seat comfort, despite having material that visually emulates those care-home high backed posturepedic armchairs – is both remarkable and relaxing.
Fire the 1.6 engine into life and you soon begin to enjoy and appreciate the engineering. Noise and vibration, unless you wring its neck, is remarkably engineered out of the car. Performance is pretty good too thanks to sixteen valve and fuel injection. In terms of power, the engine coughs up a credible 106bhp – that’s 20 more than an equivalent 1.6 Montego and a colossal 26 more than the CFi CVH powered 1.6 Sierra. Around town or owing the outside lane the Carina-E just functions. Very soon it all falls nicely into place at just why these cars were the darling of the fleet manager and the mini-cab driver. Even by todays standards it cruises at speed with an alarming standard of efficiency and refinement.
“body roll is grimacingly there in abundance, complete with a high pitched yelp of protest from its skinny 175 profile tyres to give you an audible reminder you’re driving like a tit. That said, I’d choose ride comfort over cornering any day”
The ride comfort harked me back to an era when you could take a quick swig of water without wearing it. Cars used to be supple, comfortable and relaxing sitting on their punitive fourteen inch rims unlike today with rock smashingly hard ride on 20 inch alloys – totally unsuitable for our current knackered austerity road network. The body roll is grimacingly there in abundance, complete with a high pitched yelp of protest from its skinny 175 profile tyres to give you an audible reminder you’re driving like a tit. That said, I’d choose ride comfort over cornering anyway. It genuinely is a bygone era car you could use today – everyday and never have to worry one bit.
In Xi trim level its really really basic. In terms of bells and whistles it runs out of puff once you’ve taken the central locking and power steering out of the equation. Winding the windows is a cardio-vascular exercise and the standard radio-cassette player doesn’t even feature RDS, but what the hell. One thing does ring true is that we haven’t really progressed that much in three decades. For sure we have technology and safety to thank but in terms of comfort and reliability the Carina-E blazed a trail for all others to follow, these things just never seemed to go wrong – just ask anyone who ran or owned one… they’ll tell you!
My sincere thanks must go to Graham Bothamley and Scott Brownlee at Toyota GB for the loan of this wonderful snapshot of British automotive history.
MODEL TESTED: Toyota Carina-E Xi – part of the Toyota GB heritage collection
BUILT: Toyota UK Manufacturing Ltd Burnaston Derby
DRIVELINE: 1587cc 16v with 5sp manual FWD gearbox
POWER: 106bhp with 137Nm of torque
ECONOMY: 57.6mpg @ 56mph (claimed)
PRICE WHEN NEW: £10,399 on the road in January 1993
WHAT DID I LIKE?
- Top class fit and finish
- Superb space and comfort
- Good performance
- Effortless to drive
AND WHAT I DIDN’T?
- Miserable level of equipment
- Oh so boring colour and seat trim
- Switching on the wipers every time I turned left
COMPARABLE UK BUILT RIVALS:
- Ford Sierra Sapphire 1.6i LX (Dagenham Essex)
- Honda Accord (Swindon Wilts)
- Rover Montego 1.6LX (Cowley Oxon)
- Vauxhall Cavalier 1600i LS (Luton Beds)