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1993 Toyota Corona


Japanese used imports have figured strongly in many New Zealanders’ driving lives over the past 20-odd years.

One has played an important part in my life for around half of that period.
I’m just a few thousand kilometres short of racking up 100,000, generally enjoyable, kilometres in my day-to-day office hack, a Japanese used import 1993 model Toyota Corona.

It’s a 1.8-litre EX Saloon, complete with power-sapping automatic gearbox and a 180km/h speedometer. It’s painted that “fetching” iron grey metallic paint scheme that makes it look like an off-duty cut-price taxi – what is it
with the Japanese fascination for this colour which can be found on myriad imports, chiefly Toyota and Nissans?

It seems to me to be scarcely the most attractive colour option.

The EX Saloon is a sort of Lexus of the Corona range, with such niceties as folding and de-icing exterior mirrors, power windows, air-conditioning, factory alloy wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel, factory-fitted carpet-protecting mats, and an outstanding factory sound system – cassette only – which is hampered only by the narrow Japanese radio reception band (the retro-fitted band-expander proved short-lived).

I had few expectations of the Corona when it came into my possessionaround 10 years ago, I was no great Toyota fan, and the prospect of driving an 1800cc auto didn’t excite me.

But our Corona appeared to be a straight, sound enough car and showed
signs of regular maintenance (which we’ve kept up religiously).
The only change we made was to fit some Kumho tyres to replace the mongrel blend of brands and quality that was insulting the alloys.

But the chassis really didn’t come alive until I was persuaded to try the directional, Indonesian-made GT Radials – the brand promoted by Australian motor racing great Allan Moffat.

They proved to be like a suspension kit in a tyre, sharpening turn-in to corners and improving steering accuracy. We’re now on our second set of GT Radial front tyres and wouldn’t change. They suit the Toyota perfectly.

One thing about Coronas and tyres, Toyota NZ said its testing had shown the Corona was best on 195 tyres, even though it fitted 185s to NZ new Coronas as original equipment. Certainly the 195 GT Radials seem better
on the Corona than the 185 Kumhos did.

The Corona EX1800 performance is no more than reasonable. It will accelerate rather than incrementally increase speed, but it’s no fireball.
If you make judicious use of the overdrive button on the gear shifter, and manually shift down for steeper hills, the car will cope just fine, even on Auckland’s daunting Zoo Hill which it will steam up at 50km/h on a
light throttle in second gear.

The EX1800’s handling is nothing to write home about. It’s Japanese domestic spec, tuned more for ride comfort than sportiness. There’s a fair amount of bodyroll, and the car is now starting to get wallowy as the shocks near the end of their life.

But you can still have fun with the car – getting driving enjoyment out of any car is more to do with your state of mind, than with the car’s handling perfection.

The Corona will go virtually anywhere on the open road at an average speed in the 90s, in comfort, and without making your passengers carsick. It’s all a matter of driving as smoothly as possible and taking into account the car’s soft suspension and propensity to understeer.

I can’t say I don’t hanker after a set of good suspension in the car, which would add the cream to what has generally been a satisfying driver/car relationship.

Though the 100,000km have been generally enjoyable, and the car has – touch wood – been largely reliable, it hasn’t been trouble-free.

The air-conditioning pump bearings failed some time ago and it wasn’t
judged economically viable to do the repair, estimated at around $1200.
The head gasket blew, and the transmission played up.

Relatively small-engined cars carrying as much weight and equipment as the EX1800 can’t be expected to be fuel economy champions, and in its early days I struggled to get more than 420km out of a tank, or much more than 20mpg in largely city running.

But a change of driving style with smoother and less frequent braking and light throttle use, combined with the directional tyres, has yielded a dramatic improvement.

On the subject of braking, it’s amazing how much less braking, and therefore subsequent accelerating, you do in city traffic if you follow the two-second rule and keep a good gap between your vehicle and the car in front.

I can now squeeze almost 600km out of the Corona’s $92 a fill-up tank in mostly city running. Fuel use has dropped to an average of around 27mpg, and on the last fill-up I managed 29mpg in 520km of which around 480km were in city, 50km/h speed limit running. And that was taking the
risk of bearing seizure and running the air-conditioning: in winter with the air-con off, the Corona’s windows fog up quickly.

Before I had the Corona, I hadn’t been much of a Toyota fan – I’m still not, really. But the 1993 Corona is a soundly-engineered, intelligently-designed car – the four-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel has a perfect diameter and rim width and is better than most you’ll find in any current car.

And the 1993 car is just as good as the just-superseded Camry four-cylinder, at a fraction of the cost. It’s getting long in the tooth, it’s getting baggy and it’s now worth more than $10,000 less than its original asking price of $14,500.
But it’s a good example of the quality and dependability you can buy into at a competitive price if you choose your Japanese used import carefully.

Sure I’d prefer to drive a Chris Amon-tuned NZ new Corona with its superior chassis dynamics and 2.0-litre engine. But I’m more than satisfied with my EX1800 auto, even after almost 100,000km.

It’s been through thick and thin – the daily traffic grind, the fast, long open road trips (where I reckon I could almost get 40mpg now), and has hammered along gravel roads and seldom put a foot wrong; and I can get it to do things most folks would never believe a car of this spec could do. Familiarity is said to breed contempt: as far as I and the Corona are concerned,
it has built respect. 

Auto Trader New Zealand