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The Toyota Cressida Story (Part III)


Today we find ourselves in the third installment of Toyota Cressida coverage. The first Cressida bowed in 1978 with curvy European styling influences and was a more luxurious take of the Corona Mark II with which North American consumers were already familiar. After a short run from 1978 through 1980, a second-generation Cressida was introduced for ’81. It pursued a much more traditional three-box sedan shape, and looked quite Japanese despite marketing statements about how it was “European looking.”

Under the conservative shape were a number of whiz-bang electronic features, all applied to an interior that was redesigned solely for the American market Cressida. The second Cressida was more successful than the first, and new tech features like electronic fuel injection made it more desirable. After another short model run from 1981 to 1984, it was time for the third generation Cressida. The new one in 1985 was even more conservatively styled than the two that came before it. Say hello to X70.

Once again the Cressida was a name change on Toyota’s midsize Mark II offering from the Japanese market. There, the new-for-’85 Mark II discontinued its Corona prefix and broke ties with its originator. Toyota stood Mark II up as a luxury car and moved the Corona down a lesser path that would see it continually stripped of features. Corona faded away after 2001, as a Corolla-like front-drive sedan.

By the mid-Eighties, there was more domestic competition in Japan to the Mark II: Longstanding offerings like the Nissan Laurel were joined by new models like Nissan’s Leopard. Toyota competed with the Mark II internally too, as it spawned similar cars in the Chaser and Cresta during this generation. More on that shortly.

Much like the second-gen Mark II, the X70 version had three body styles. All had four doors, in sedan, hardtop sedan, and wagon flavors. As was the common theme of Japanese cars in the Eighties, the Mark II grew larger in its new generation. The wheelbase extended only slightly, from 104.1 inches to 104.7 inches.

The overall length of the sedan grew by about three inches, from 180″ to 183.1″. The width stayed the same 66.5 inches because that was a critical number at the time. Mark II’s 1.68-meter width meant it was just inside the Japanese regulation for a “small size passenger vehicle,” where a max-width qualification of 1.7 meters was determined by the government. Any wider and the Mark II would have moved to the “normal size passenger vehicle” class that had much higher taxation. Height shrunk slightly in this generation, from 56.1 inches in 1984 to 55.7 inches in 1985.

Visually speaking, the X70 Mark II and Cressida were not entirely removed from the X60 generation. Toyota applied the same conservative three-box shape it used in the outgoing model, with slightly more modern proportions. At the front end, the most notable change was the arrival of the composite headlamps other markets used since 1981.

Lamps were flanked by larger corner markers that wrapped further around into the fender, in amber (in the US) as before. Large turn signal indicators decorated the bumper as they had previously. Much of the chrome trim of the early Eighties model reverted back to black in this generation, as Toyota opted for a less flashy look. The facelifted LTD-like grille and its angled slats predecessor were both thrown out, in favor of a simplified egg-crate design. There was a new square Cressida badge in the center of the grille, in addition to Toyota block lettering at the lower right corner. In some markets, the grille was horizontal slats instead but maintained the simpler look.

The additional wheelbase length served to make front overhangs a bit less noticeable, but that view was also assisted by a bumper that was tucked closer to the front end than before. The fenders and side profile of the X70 were both very similar to the outgoing generation.

One notable difference was in the black trim strip halfway up the body, which stood out more than the body-colored trim on the old car. Said trim did have a simple chrome piece embedded in it to make it look more interesting. Though a bit lower to the ground, the greenhouse looked almost exactly as it had in the old car. There were three windows on each side, all surrounded by chrome. Viewed from the side by any casual observer, the new Mark II would’ve looked indistinguishable from the old one.

The rear end fared a bit better in the edits department, as lamps now sported a combination red and amber design with larger integrated reverse lamps. The X70 did away with the separate amber indicator lenses at either end, as well as the black rubber gasket that separated the lenses. The new rear end looked cleaner and made a bit better use of its limited chrome. Bumpers were updated here too and stuck out less like a shelf. However, the addition of a thick black trim strip on the rear bumper meant the rear end lost some of the upscale looks of the prior generation.

Inside, the new Mark II relied on the same basic interior design as the old one. There were additional niceties like an electronic equalizer instead of a manual array of levers, and the climate control gained automatic air mixing but maintained its manual temperature control. The dashboard leaned into its mid-Eightiesness via an optional digital dash cluster, all the rage at the time.

The digital speed display was flanked by various trip computer information. Fuel and RPM information were now displayed via horizontal bars, in well-lighted green and teal. Even the temperature sensor was a horizontal bar. Warning lights were separated from the main gauges and moved to their own small clusters on either side of the wheel. Seats were still of a brougham type, extra tufted and covered in ribbed velour or shiny leather.

We’ll keep most of our styling commentary to the sedan version here, as the Cressida was not imported in its more sporty hardtop guise. That one was a frameless window design, which was generally more aggressive-looking than the sedan. The Cressida wagon was based upon the sedan and shared most of its looks. One difference was at the wagon’s rear end, as it didn’t receive any modernizing like the sedan did. It kept an older-looking tailgate and dual rear wipers.

X70 buyers experienced a dizzying array of engines dependent upon the market. Engines numbered 11 in total and ranged from a base 1.8-liter inline-four through several inline-six mills of different displacements. The smallest I6 was a 2.0-liter, and the largest was again a 2.8. There were also two diesel engines from the same 2L engine series as before, in either naturally aspirated or turbocharged guises. Transmissions varied by the market as well and included two different four-speed automatics, one three-speed auto, and manual transmissions of four and five speeds.

Reserved for markets outside North America was the most exciting engine in the Mark II, the twin-turbo version of the 1G inline-six. A 2.0-liter, the 1G-GTE had dual overhead cams and managed 182 horsepower. It was a considerable power advantage over the normal 1G engine, which produced only 133 horses.

For Cressida purposes, the North American customer was entrusted once again with the 5M-GE 2.8-liter inline-six, with dual overhead cams and EFI. Notable changes to the engine in the new Cressida were limited to a knock sensor that helped with fuel management. Horsepower remained at 143 initially, but small improvements were made over the years. By the end of the generation, the 2.8 produced 161 horses. All third-generation Cressidas were automatic and four-speed, save for a select run of 1986 examples that were offered with a five-speed manual.

Other advances with the new car included optional TEMS (an electronic shock absorber control system), the aforementioned digital gauges, and a CD player. Secondary controls for the stereo were found on a new pod of buttons mounted high on the dash next to the instrument binnacle.

1988 Toyota Cressida

Once again with Cressida for ’85, Toyota created a different interior for American market cars. Other left-hand drive Cressidas had a different dashboard design, no electric shoulder belts, and a different steering wheel. As before, the Cressidas available in Canada had a different interior to U.S. examples.

The third Cressida had a short run, much like its predecessors. Changes were few over the years and included the entry and removal of a manual transmission option in 1986, and a revised four-speed automatic for 1987. That year was also the last for the slow-selling Cressida wagon, as Toyota spared themselves the trouble of selling a luxury wagon to North America. That particular Mark II wagon had a very long life and remained in production through 1997.

Toyota expanded its Mark II-like products with this generation, as it spawned a new generation Chaser at its 1985 debut. A four-door hardtop sedan, Chaser looked like the Mark II but was slightly smaller. Successive generations of the Chaser would hone in on its sporty image, and it lived through 2001 as a well-equipped and sporty hardtop sedan.

The Cresta was also a Mark II offspring and continued on its Mark II platform for a second generation in 1985. Cresta was more expensive than the Mark and occupied the midsize slot below the very expensive Crown. Starting with the X60 generation, Cresta gradually converged with Chaser and moved a bit downmarket, until it was canceled alongside Chaser in 2001. Both Chaser and Cresta existed prior to the X70 Mark II, but were consolidated onto its platform and became more similar to it in 1985.

The third-gen Cressida was on sale from 1984 through 1988 and cemented the model’s reputation as a conservative and reliable (if a bit staid) luxury sedan. Toyota gave it one more go in 1989, as the Cressida was squeezed out from above by that all-new brand with the L logo. More next time.

[Images: Toyota]

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