Sports sedan from Toyota

One thing you can say about the new Toyota Cressida sports sedan: The exterior styling is safe -- that is, its modest design is unlikely to upset a Toyota buff, or that great mass of people the Japanese carmaker hopes to turn into buffs. Handsome on the outside and predictably gimmicky on the inside, the Toyota Cressida is after the big bucks of the sports-sedan crowd. It also comes as a station wagon.

For 1985, the Japanese carmaker has gone to flush-mounted headlights and side glass. Yet even with the smoother outside skin, the drag coefficient, at 0.38, is hardly competitive with many of the ultra-slippery cars of today.

As to the indoor gimmickry, this is a Japanese car, right? With the ``monitor system,'' you can even set up to three birthday reminders. On the day of the memorized birthday, a melody will play to get your attention. Not once, but several times you'll be told of the event. Well, why not?

The base price of the Cressida is a bit under $16,000, but that doesn't include the add-ons.

Placement of the car controls isn't bad. To help you keep your eyes on the road, a high-on-the-dash satellite control allows you to adjust the radio and ``indoor'' weather system. The radio, however, seems too complex to operate on the run. You can also control the tilt of the driver's seat by the twist of a knob, and the tilt steering wheel has a ``memory.''

The Cressida engine -- a fuel-injected, twin-cam, in-line ``6'' with iron block and aluminum head -- zips from 0 to 60 m.p.h. in less than 10 seconds. It's the same engine that's used in the Supra.

The car, a 5-seater with a load capacity of 900 pounds, calls for standard 87-octane unleaded fuel. But the car manual advises superfuel 91 octane for improved performance.

With a fully independent suspension, gas shocks, MacPherson struts in front and coil springs in back, plus front and back anti-sway bars, the ride is quite good.

The car did a fine job, for example, on California's narrow, twisty State Route 1 down the Pacific Coast from Monterey to San Luis Obispo and below, but I was driving with all the restraint that the roadway called for. The power was there when I needed it, and so were the brakes. Yet the new Toyota Cressida cannot really claim to be among the top-rated sports sedans in the world. It is not a Japanese BMW, for example. Perhaps the Toyota people never intended that it should be.

Toyota makes it pie-easy to open the driver's-side window and power sunroof. To close the roof, a single push of a button alerts the car's occupants with a beep before the sunroof begins to shut. Before closing all the way, there is a pause so that if, for instance, you still have a hand thrust through the hole in the roof, you have time to withdraw it.

The Toyota Cressida is a nice car for many people, but maybe it needs just a little more refinement if it hopes to vie with the world's upscale road machines.

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