Review and road test of the Toyota Paseo (1996 - 1999)
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Even the most ardent Toyota fan wouldn't argue with the fact that the Paseo wasn't overly successful in the UK. In fact, sales were decimated by more diverting rivals such as the Renault Megane Coupe. For the used buyer this appeals in two ways. Firstly, residuals won't stand up as well, making this Toyota a relatively inexpensive used buy. Secondly, you will also gain some semblance of exclusivity. Think about it. When was the last time you saw one coming the other way? With all of the traditional benefits of the Toyota ownership package, maybe the Paseo deserves a second chance?
(2dr coupe 1.5 petrol [ST, Si])
The Paseo was a model that had sold reasonably well in other markets, most notably the US. Loosely based on the Tercel saloon, its introduction to the UK coincided with a global restyle, so in effect we were getting a second-generation Paseo. In 1996, traditionally undemanding rivals such as the Honda Civic coupe and Nissan 100NX were being blown out of the sales charts by the Renault Megane Coupe, the Hyundai Coupe and the Vauxhall Tigra. In a sink or swim market, the Paseo rapidly adopted brick-like tendencies. Aimed at younger buyers, the Paseo never had the driver appeal of the Megane, the sexy styling of the Hyundai or the cuteness of the female-friendly Tigra.
Two models were available at launch, both sharing the same 1.5-litre engine, developing an underwhelming 89bhp. The ST was the entry-level model, with the usual budget coupe accoutrements, and there was a slightly better equipped Si model. In 1997 a Galliano Limited Edition was sold between April and October, recognisable by its retina-searing yellow paintwork. The ST model was discontinued at the same time as the Galliano, leaving only the 1.5 Si to plough its lonely furrow until it too met the grim reaper in 1999.
What You Get
The Paseo is a tidily styled, if somewhat bland little coupe. The overall effect is of a slightly sleeker and less butch Rover 200 coupe. Standard equipment was nothing special, and the interiors were the usual Toyota fare of uninspired plastics and trim materials. Electric front windows, removable glass sunroof, twin airbags and an alarm immobiliser were all standard equipment on the ST version. The Si version added a rear spoiler, alloy wheels and a Sony CD system.
Showroom appeal was always a problem with the Paseo, especially with the Hyundai Coupe and Renault Megane Coupe ranges offering better targeted and marketed products. However, the Paseo shares one characteristic with both of these models - the styling has not aged very gracefully.
What to Look For
One area where the Paseo scores well is reliability. It never appealed to the sort of hard-charging driver who'd lust after a Megane Coupe 16v, nor did Toyota's notion of marketing it to a younger audience pay off. Most Paseos were bought by middle-aged 'empty-nester' customers who appreciated reliability and a benign nature. This particular coupe served those particular qualities up in spades. As such it makes a safe used buy. Look for a full service history and buy knowing that somebody else took the financial hit from the Paseo's steep initial depreciation.
(approx based on a 1998 1.5 Si) As one of the lower volume sellers in the Toyota range, the Paseo has some parts prices that are reasonably steep. A new exhaust system is nearly £500, whilst an alternator is around £375. Not the most expensive around, but nonetheless nearing the top of the price range for a budget coupe. Fortunately other parts prices are more affordable. A new radiator or a new starter motor both retail at around £230, whilst a new clutch assembly is about £175. Front brake pads are £40, and rear shoes are about £35 a pair. Those narrow headlamp units are a mere £90 each to replace - a lot cheaper than many more mainstream rivals.
On the Road
Part of the fun of a sports coupe is agile handling, and the Paseo plays the part reasonably well. It is an enjoyable car on a twisting road, and its benign handling characteristics make for added safety in emergency manoeuvring situations. Push harder and the little Toyota starts to show its more humble origins.
Torque steer, often a problem in sporty front-wheel drive cars, is not a problem here due in no small part to the modest power output. Ride comfort is not compromised for handling, and good shock damping, low levels of wind noise, decent soundproofing, and good luggage capacity for two make the Paseo a good A-road cruiser or commuter.
The 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine is a 16-valve unit tuned for torque and flexibility rather than maximum power, endowing the car with a languid nature. Despite this, there was never an automatic gearbox option for UK buyers - this would have made a fine accompaniment to the relaxed Paseo.
It goes without saying that many of the Paseo's rivals hold more instant allure. However, if you're after something that is a bit different, it's a safe and reliable used buy. It also represents a significant saving on new prices, which makes buying a Paseo not such an outlandish option. Just be prepared to put up with blank looks when you tell people what you've arrived in.
Toyota Paseo (1996 - 1999) review by ANDY ENRIGHT