Whether a critically-acclaimed novel or a chapter in life, it’s unfortunately still true that all good things must come to an end. With word of Akio Toyoda departing from his role as the guy in charge of Toyota, It only feels right to dust off the press photo archives and go over some of Toyoda’s greatest hits. The most astonishing cars made with him in charge, if you will.
The development of Lexus’ only supercar didn’t start under the Akio Toyoda era, but it certainly finished under it. A bespoke V10, an obsession to detail, and incredible sound engineering make the LFA one of the all-time greats. In an age where performance cars are either quieted by turbochargers or entirely silent, a car that sends shivers down your spine with its noises is worth whatever it may cost. It may have been an expensive failure when it came out, but this amazing machine has aged like a fine wine. No wonder that Toyoda raced it.
Whether badged as a Scion FR-S, Toyota 86, Toyota GT86, or Subaru BRZ, these affordable rear-wheel-drive sports coupes get the formula right with a high redline, a limited-slip differential, and massive potential. They’re so popular that several motorsports programs are dedicated to them, and they’re still practical-ish in daily use. They’re the first serious competition the Mazda MX-5 has seen in years, and that takes guts to pull off. Expect pristine examples to pull a premium in fifteen years, as most owners enjoy these cars to the fullest. Perhaps even better news, the replacement Toyota GR86 and second-generation Subaru BRZ are even better than the first smash-hit.
Lexus LC 500
The Lexus LC 500 is a car that shouldn’t exist. A big grand-touring coupe or cabriolet with a five-liter naturally-aspirated V8 isn’t the sort of car you’d expect an automaker to still build in 2023, but this breathtaking machine defies all odds to be the last proper naturally-aspirated V8 GT car ever made. It’s exquisitely-made, surprisingly competent in the bends, and produces a howling note that will haunt your dreams. In an age where we’re bombarded with six-figure luxury cars to the point where they feel dull, the LC 500 is still one to get excited about.
Toyota GR Supra
Akio Toyoda might just sell the best new BMW on the market. Alright, that’s downplaying the role that Toyota engineers played in making the new Supra, but the BMW bones are undeniable. Where Toyota really differed from BMW on the Supra/Z4 project is by focusing on driver engagement, resulting in a car that’s properly spicy. The back end just wants to step out and the ride is very firm, but that’s how I like it. Toyota’s even paired the excellent B58 inline-six with a manual gearbox in the name of driver engagement. The automatic may be quicker, but who cares? Dip clutch, pull big lever, release endorphins, enjoy taking the silky-smooth engine to redline again.
Lexus GS F
The Lexus RC F may be more common, but the GS F is where it’s at. Take the same V8 from the LC 500, put it in a midsize luxury sedan, and tune the chassis to evoke shades of E39 BMW M5. The F10 BMW M5 may have been much faster than Lexus’ hotted-up GS, but the F was secretly brilliant. It’s a shame these cars weren’t more popular, but that just makes them incredibly rare sights today.
Toyota GR Yaris and GR Corolla
The homologation special GR Yaris was a cast iron bathtub dropped on the heads of people who claimed that Toyota couldn’t make a performance car without another marque’s help. From its potent three-cylinder turbocharged engine to its radical bodywork changes to its astounding all-wheel-drive system, the GR Yaris was made to tear up tarmac, gravel, and snow. While Americans won’t be able to own one for quite a while, the GR Corolla is one hell of a consolation prize. Same amazing all-wheel-drive system, same available front and rear limited-slip differentials, same raucous engine. Hell yes.
Toyota Century GRMN
This one’s cheating a bit as it’s a car you can’t buy. However, there’s just something so boss about taking an iconic chariot of Japanese dignitaries and turning it into a bit of a hot rod. Think Alpina B7 but even rarer. Not much is known about the upgrades to Toyoda-san’s Century, but I’m willing to hazard a guess that it’s more than just tough appearance bits.
Toyota Camry TRD and Avalon TRD
Yeah, these two are weird. We haven’t seen anything like this since the Nissan Altima SE-R, but the funny part is that the package actually works on Toyota’s fairly ordinary sedans. Sure, the Camry TRD isn’t as hilariously gutsy as the Hyundai Sonata N-Line, but the TRD exhaust on the Camry is fun and the 3.5-liter V6 makes a raucous note. The Camry TRD and Avalon TRD are proof that if you love cars, you can make any car entertaining with a few tweaks.
Toyota Mark X GRMN
Right as the second-generation Toyota Mark X was about to exit production, its makers went completely mental. Toyota built 350 GRMN examples that packed a 314-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, a six-speed manual gearbox, and a limited-slip rear differential. Tweaked suspension and a bunch of cosmetic alterations rounded out the package, and the result was an incredibly rare 3,439-pound sports sedan in the traditional sense of the genre. Set your alarm clocks to 2044 because this thing isn’t a car you’ll want to miss out on when it becomes legal to import.
The best part is that this is just a list of the fast stuff. Not only did Akio Toyoda oversee some amazing performance cars, his tenure also breathed life into the rest of the Toyota range. The current Corolla looks fabulous and rotates well under trail-braking, something I never expected to say. The new Prius is astonishingly sexy and surprisingly quick. The 4Runner is an overlanding icon. The Tacoma still offers a six-speed manual gearbox. Lexus has a proud identity of its own now. Toyota cars are no longer only desired by people who live and die by Consumer Reports, they’re desired full-stop. Now that’s how you craft a legacy.
(Photo credits: Toyota, Lexus, Scion)
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The Incredibly, Jaw-Droppingly Beautiful Lexus LC 500 Is Changing For 2023 Even Though it Doesn’t Need To
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“…and they’re still practical-ish in daily use.”
As a toyobaru daily driver they’d be a LOT more practical-ish with a hatchback.
I’ve always been puzzled by car journalists hailing the Toyobaru twins as being practical. They’re not real world practical at all lol. If you’re single or it’s just you and a partner and you live in a place with nice roads/never put anyone in your car then sure, they’re great.
…but for literally everything else they’re compromised. Don’t get me wrong, I really like them and if I was looking for a weekend or track car they’d be near the top of my list. But as a daily? They’re terrible for like 80% of people.
They’re very cool cars for sure, but I’ve never understood the praise they get for being good all arounders. If you want a good all arounder for 30k a GTI is a much more reasonable choice. Or a Kona N (wink wink nudge nudge) if you’re willing to spend a little more. Hell there’s even the GRC in the same showroom if the market every cools down.
They’re purpose built sports cars, and that’s okay.
“Practical” doesn’t mean “has enough seats for the passengers I want to carry”.
I daily drive an 86. I walk up to it, get in, press a button and drive off. Unless there is 4” of snow it takes no special effort to use it. As a car for two people it’s as practical as my 5-series was, and considerably more practical than my 2CV was.
The 2CV would only de-mist with the engine warm and at high revs. So despite being able to drive it over any terrain it’s wasn’t practical because you can’t see out in cold weather. Plus it would only start if you knew the right things to do with the choke.
I used to have an S1 Elise. Until I get a hard top for it I couldn’t leave it outside in the rain without getting the interior wet. Also you can’t get in or out without using your hands to support your weight. Ice cream in the trunk will melt in 5 minutes. Not practical.
I ride motorcycles, but not when it might be icy, and only after wearing some very niche clothing. Plus if you don’t stick your leg out they fall over. Not practical.
An RX8 does what an 86 does, but if you want to move it off your drive to get another car out it might not start again. Not practical.
I’ve been in a Caterham 7. Despite being made from the distilled essence of sports car it’s a pain to get in and out of, makes you deaf, drowns you when it rains and therefore fails to be practical. Especially if you aren’t tiny. It made my Elise seem sensible.
Mine’s been my DD since late ’15 and it’s just peachy. Not the most comfortable option by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve dealt with worse. Cheap, low maintenance, good on gas, heated seats… Pretty hard to argue with if you’ve got no kids, no snow, and want a sports car.
GR Corolla would definitely be more practical with its hatch, but right now the prices are about 2x what I paid for my BRZ. Before my BRZ I had a WRX hatch and loved it. I still love it. I’ve sent so many emails to Subaru corporate about how much I miss my WRX hatch. I’d trade the BRZ yesterday if Subaru would bring back another WRX hatch. I’m jealous as hell of MCM’s STi Levorg, Subaru could make that, they SHOULD make that.
The BRZ/86 is fine if you never haul around anybody or anything. It’s just me and my wife which is good because it’s essentially a 2-seater. I can get a week’s worth of groceries in the trunk, barely, though sometimes larger items like paper towels will end up in the “back seat”. The missus complains about it though so we usually take her Crosstrek to HEB instead.
I think the folks referring to the 86/BRZ as practical are comparing it to the Miata. Which yes, it’s certainly more practical than the Miata and is nearly as fun to toss around. Of the two, the 86/BRZ is the practical option. Compared to the GTIs and Kona Ns or my old WRX hatch or a GRC it’s not though.
It’s funny because I often give Toyota stans crap and I’ve even given the company a fair amount of crap for how dated a lot of their cars are…but when I look at this list I realize how much some of these cars have captivated my imagination over the years. The LFA will always be one of my unobtainable dream cars…and unlike a lot of people I loved it from the get go.
I remember Clarkson driving one on Top Gear and hearing the roar of that V10. There’s just nothing like it…it’s a musical instrument that you happen to drive. I also appreciate the understated nature of it. Unlike pretty much every other supercar the majority of the people would have no idea what it was if they ran into one in public. It’s a car that’s almost entirely substance rather than show. It does kind of suck that it can only be had with a torque converter automatic but if I had infinite money it would be one of the first cars I went out to buy.
Which brings me to my attainable dream car…the LC500. My love of GT cars in general is well known around these parts, as is my obsession with the LC. I just think it’s perfect. It’s one of the most elegant automotive designs of the 21st century. The thing is art on wheels. Couple that with a an equally beautiful interior and a bombproof naturally aspirated V8 and you have perfection. I get that other cars are faster, handle better, etc….but what Akio led Toyota understood like no one else is how cars are an experience.
You don’t drive a stat sheet, and ludicrous performance in the absence of emotion leaves you wanting more. The LC500 is all emotion. The look. The sound. The feel…it’s a car that appeals to your feelings and senses rather than your logic. And at the end of the day that’s what makes it so brilliant. I don’t get excited when I see an M2, 911 (even though I love them), high end Corvette, et cetera on the road…but I still get excited every time I see an LC500 in the wild.
There’s just nothing else like it…and I will continue to save money in the hopes of picking up a used on in a few years. It sure would be nice if the values on them dropped just a little more but I get why they probably won’t.
Anyway, these are some special cars. Hell I started the process of getting a GRC but pulled out when I realized what an unmitigated disaster the process was going to be. I may well double back when the hype dies down…but probably not, because an LC remains the ultimate goal.
Just watch this and you’ll love the LFA story even more, I did.
As awesome as all of these cars are, I really feel that modern day Toyota and Lexus are more often than not, barely missing perfect. Ignore the infotainment system in Lexus’ for a moment and look at the IS F, GS F, LC 500, and LFA. The V8 and V10 motors are exceptional, the interiors varying degrees of great, practical (in IS and GS form) and reliable, and powerful! All these cars are cut short by their dreadful transmission. I’m not saying they needed to manual or DCT (minus the LFA, that really needed a DCT), but even the torque converter autos could have been far better. For whatever reason, Toyota went Aisin on their 8 speeds and the ratios and behavior fall so short of the 8HP used globally by competitors. Coupled with economy-focused rear axle ratios and the dynamics are sapped out. The GX and LX were also very close to perfection but cut short for different reasons. For that, the infotainment and dated interiors were totally unacceptable given the price. I love Lexus and Toyota. I really hope the GR Corolla is an indicator that they are getting so fun streaks running through the company.
Outside of super high end stuff (GTR, LC500, etc) none of the Japanese manufacturers have a good automatic. It just isn’t something they prioritize for some reason. Most of them are Aisin transmissions that would be right at home in 2008 or CVTs.
I’m really not sure why this is but it makes a lot of their higher end performance cars less desirable. The IS500 would be unreal with a ZF8…but instead it’s apparently clunky. Why take that when you can have a DCT or ZF8 in the German competition…or the Ford/GM 10 speed or legit manual in the American?
The DCTs in the GTI, Ns, etc have roughly a 50% take rate but neither Toyota nor Honda is willing to develop a decently responsive torque converter, let alone a DCT, for their more affordable fun cars. The only auto is the clunky ancient Aisin 6 speed in the Toyobaru twins and honestly if that’s the direction you’re considering going in just skip that car altogether because it’s no longer worth it.
I think it’s an oversight on their part to be honest, but Toyota and Honda are going to keep milking manuals as a selling point until it doesn’t work anymore, and that’ll never happen…so I guess they don’t have much of an incentive to develop something new. In the sporty compact realm it doesn’t harm them, but only having lazy torque converters in the fast luxury game is a huge hindrance.
Dont forget about the Lexus ISF!!
I’ve never seen a GSF in person, that looks like a fun car.
They’re pretty rare and very desirable. Nice examples run in the 60-80 range and even ones that were ridden hard and put away wet will still fetch 50k or so because they’re Toyota products. 100k on that powertrain is basically 50k on a normal one.
If you’re ever interested in owning something with that V8…and frankly you should be, the best bet is an ISF or an RCF. The ISF is old enough now that you can find them at reasonable ish prices and the RCF gets dinged because it’s always gotten bad reviews from the automotive press and the fact that it’s a coupe.
As much as I’d love a GSF, IS500, or LC500, I just don’t think they’re ever going to depreciate much unless gas prices go through the roof. RWD, uber reliable, great sounding, fairly practical, NA V8 cars that rev to 7300 are pretty safe bets to remain desirable until the end of time.
But we’ll see…as I mentioned below I really would like an LC500 one day and would be happy to compromise with the wife on something more practical with the same engine, so I am hoping the values come down a little bit.
Everything I’ve seen and read about the GR Yaris makes me want one. But I can’t have one.
If you’re willing to wait a year or two you can probably get a GR Corolla….just don’t try right now because the markups are absurd
Assuming the new CEO doesn’t immediate kill the car.
The incoming CEO is the current head of Gazoo Racing lol…that would be like cutting his nose to spite his face. The GR products are extremely safe. Why would he just step into a new role and kill something he’s been working on for years?
Chairman of the board will likely quash the killing off of his projects during their production cycle.