Rare Rides Icons: The Toyota Cressida Story (Part IV)

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

We’ve come to the end of our Cressida journey, and the short-lived fourth generation. Conservative and staid as ever, Cressida’s final entry was squeezed out of the lineup from above and below: The crushing weight of Lexus came down upon the late Eighties Cressida shortly after its introduction, while Camry smashed it from below. Put on your Urban Sombrero and let’s go.

After its first outing set an unusual European-themed styling tone in the late Seventies, Cressida returned in 1981 as a traditional three-box sedan with JDM styling. It stuck with that recipe for the remainder of its days. Its second and third generations were very similar-looking, but as the end of the Eighties approached Toyota had to make a few styling adjustments: Aerodynamic appearances could no longer be brushed aside.

The sixth-generation Toyota Mark II (X80) became the final Cressida for the North American market. It entered production late in 1988 in Japan, and once again all examples were produced at Toyota’s factory in Aichi prefecture. But things were immediately different for the Mark II, even in its home market. It was only the flagship sedan at Toyota’s Toyopet Store sales channel for a very short time, as in October of 1989 it was eclipsed by the full-size Toyota Celsior (which you’d know as the LS 400). That made it less desirable.

Body styles on the Mark II were two in its X80 generation; four doors as sedan and pillared hardtop sedan. Once again the Mark II was the foundation of the very slightly differentiated Chaser and Cresta models, all three of which played in the same midsize sedan segment at home. Gone from the new lineup was the wagon. Because it was a slow seller, Toyota continued making the X70 Mark II wagon through 1997.

In most international markets the introduction of the X80 Mark II meant the X70 wagon went away, but Japan was an exception. There, Toyota continued to sell the wagon on its 1984 platform through the late Nineties with only minor alterations and updates. As the model aged, the Mark II wagon made a name for itself as an affordable and reliable delivery hauler. When it was eventually replaced for 1998, the Mark II wagon became the Mark II Qualis, a version of the XV20 Camry in wagon format.

Dimensions didn’t change much in the transition from X70 to X80. Wheelbase increased from 104.7 inches to 105.6 inches, and overall length saw the same marginal increase: from 183.1 inches to 184.6″. The X80 was sleeker than its predecessor, and lost a little overall height. 54.1 inches instead of 55.7″ the year prior. Though it was almost the same size, the X80 was quite a bit heavier as Toyota added larger engines and more luxury equipment. Weight increased from 2,822 pounds in 1988 to 3,263 in 1989.

As far as looks were concerned, the X80 heralded a more modern look for the Mark II. Though it was still the same basic shape, the Mark II gained larger flush composite headlamps and corner markers of a more wraparound style. The front end was softened, and bumpers became more rounded at the corners (though they stuck out further than before). The grille kept its slats format of the prior generation but had fewer of them and they were larger. The overall look was more closely related to Toyota’s other offerings in North America.

Trim was refined and moved lower on the body, as trim strips migrated lower on the door for a sleeker look. The exterior trim was black (or tan) but was exclusively black on the outgoing model. The trim on the bumper moved to the same height as on the side of the body, which made for a more streamlined look. Along the fenders and doors, character lines were softer and more rounded.

The greenhouse was adjusted on this Cressida, and the side glass moved to a more modern four-window arrangement. The prior two generations used a six-window design. Door handles were updated too and were body-colored doglegs instead of chrome handles. The lock cylinder moved in with the door handle assembly and was less noticeable than on the X70.

At the rear, though the trunk and bumpers were more rounded than before overall styling didn’t change all that much. The rear lamps were still a red and amber combination, large in size and horizontal in orientation. Chrome trim was almost exactly the same as before, with thin strips above and below the taillamp assemblies. To the casual car viewer, the rear end was almost identical to the contemporary Mazda 929 (1986-1991).

Inside, the X80 Mark II and Cressida experienced some helpful modernization. Though the gauges were still digital and almost exactly the same layout as before, they had a new 3D appearance: The numbers and dials stretched toward the horizon, away from the driver. The center stack was more cohesive, and also more driver-focused. Buttons for climate and stereo looked like they were designed for the same car, rather than cobbled together off a shelf.

Trim was streamlined inside, with a black panel behind the entire center stack. The cruise control stalk moved to stick out from the lower right quadrant of the steering wheel, where it exists today on Lexus products.

Most of the engines on the X80 Mark II were ported over from its X70 generation. They ranged in size from 1.8 liters displacement and four cylinders to 3.0-liters and six cylinders, still inline configuration. One change was the elimination of singular turbochargers on all but the diesel mill. Others used twin turbos (available before) or a supercharger (that wasn’t).

The 1G-GTE inline-six received both twin-turbo and supercharger action, but at 2.0-liters was trumped by the 2.5-liter I6 and 3.0 I6. Notably, the 2.8-liter 5M-GE that was with the Cressida for some time was no longer offered. Transmissions were two versions of a five-speed manual depending on model year, or a four-speed automatic. The automatic was used in the Cressida, Supra, Lexus SC, and even in the Tacoma. That four-speed was long-lived: Its usage on Tacoma lasted from 1995 through 2013.

The fourth-gen Cressida arrived in North America late in 1988 for the 1989 model year. It debuted shortly before Toyota sprung its new Lexus brand upon the world, though it did exist for a short time without its bigger, luxurious brother looming. Along with more modern styling was new power, in the form of the largest 3.0-liter engine as standard equipment. The 7M-GE was the most powerful engine ever fitted in a North American Cressida and was good for 190 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque. The engine was straight out of the contemporary Supra and lent Cressida some much-needed performance. Sixty miles per hour arrived in 8.8 seconds, not bad for the time.

The engine wasn’t the only thing the 1989 Cressida borrowed from the Supra: It used Supra’s suspension design as well. The new design was double wishbone and promised a superior ride to the old model. Other than Supra credentials, Cressida brought its usual bevy of standard equipment – things usually optional on other luxury cars. Power everything, automatic transmission, four-wheel disc brakes, and a tilt/telescope wheel were all standard.

Options were few and included a powered seat for the driver, an electric moonroof, a CD player, and leather seating surfaces. Like before, Cressidas for the American market used the ever-hated electric seat belts. Toyota chose not to bring an airbag to Cressida for its final outing at all.

Though reliable and luxurious, there were a number of notable criticisms of the Cressida. It resided in the premium family car class, but the Cressida had poor rear-seat room and a smaller trunk. Both of those issues were blamed on the rear-drive layout. And though the suspension setup was borrowed from the Supra, the steering was slow and there was excessive body roll. Just as well, as the four-speed automatic killed much of the driving enjoyment.

The Cressida existed in its final generation with slow sales and received one substantive update over its last few years. For 1990, Cressida donned a revised grille (again with fewer slats) and the Toyota sombrero. Climate control buttons were made simpler in their arrangement, and there was a new alloy wheel design.

In the end, the Cressida’s mixed luxury-sports mission in a very conservative wrapper left buyers confused. There was but one trim in 1992, which asked $23,783 ($48,860 adj). Its most direct competition, in the end, was probably from the Lexus dealer across the street, which offered the more advanced and much more luxury customer-friendly ES 300 for $25,650 ($52,695 adj.). 1992 also marked the arrival of the more luxurious XV10 Camry, which was notably larger than the Cressida and looked much more modern. And a ’92 XLE V6 was just $20,508 ($42,132 adj.).

On the lower end Cressida was replaced by the Camry, and on the upper by the ES. Not many customers missed it. Toyota pleased some Cressida customers and brought many new ones into the fold with the two-lane comfort cruise Avalon when it arrived in 1996, complete with an old-people-friendly bench seat. At home, the Mark II continued on through nine total generations. It ended its life in 2004, as a sedan that was rear-drive but looked like a Camry. So long, Cressida.

[Images: Toyota]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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2 of 36 comments
  • 2ACL 2ACL on Apr 01, 2022

    This was the first car my father purchased when he went overseas as a military contractor. Nondescript white, but it had a red velour interior and a 5-speed manual. Didn't know about the roll-prone handling (hindsight says that's a relatively easy fix) but hearing the M engine being worked through the gears made it the first car I hoped stuck around long enough for it to be handed down to me. . . No such luck.

  • Blenny8483 Blenny8483 on Apr 01, 2022

    My dad had a '90 (blue on blue leather) that was a terrific car. Loved 80's/90's Toyota gimmicks like the slide out HVAC tray. I remember having this dorky promo video from the dealership on VHS. https://youtu.be/TbT3NopMn0k. We also had a '83. Something special about having a RWD sedan when everyone else was FWD (the Maxima was always the most direct competitor, the Cressida was a little more lux). The slushbox was a little too slushy - you could tell the Lexus influence of trying to make everything silky smooth.

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  • Michael Gallagher I agree to a certain extent but I go back to the car SUV transition. People began to buy SUVs because they were supposedly safer because of their larger size when pitted against a regular car. As more SUVs crowded the road that safety advantage began to dwindle as it became more likely to hit an equally sized SUV. Now there is no safety advantage at all.
  • Probert The new EV9 is even bigger - a true monument of a personal transportation device. Not my thing, but credit where credit is due - impressive. The interior is bigger than my house and much nicer with 2 rows of lounge seats and 3rd for the plebes. 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, around 300miles of range, and an e-mpg of 80 (90 for the 2wd). What a world.
  • Ajla "Like showroom" is a lame description but he seems negotiable on the price and at least from what the two pictures show I've dealt with worse. But, I'm not interested in something with the Devil's configuration.
  • Tassos Jong-iL I really like the C-Class, it reminds me of some trips to Russia to visit Dear Friend VladdyPoo.