By on March 31, 2022

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]

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36 Comments on “Rare Rides Icons: The Toyota Cressida Story (Part IV)...”


  • avatar
    MitchConner

    Knew someone who got one of the last one built. It was loaded with problems. Never tripped the lemon law threshold but was close in several areas with the digital instrumentation, brakes, HVAC, etc. Toyota jumped in and offered to buy it back and put her in a Lexus. That was impressive.

  • avatar
    statikboy

    What’s the deal with this “pillared hard top” you keep mentioning? The internet is rife with references to “pillarless” hardtops, but a pillared hard top would appear to be a contradiction of terms since a hard top by definition has no pillar.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    I wish I could post a screen shot in these comments because on my laptop, I paused the neverending Tundra commercial at the exact moment that massive, overdone grille fills the box. And I realized that the enormous, overdone grille is probably larger than the entire windshield of this Cressida. How times and tastes have changed.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    I know the Japanese car makers were slow to embrace airbags – I recall the reason why the 1993 Altima (first model year) had both robo-belts and an driver’s airbag was that the car was close to 100% done and had the robo-belts in place, but then market research showed that Americans wanted airbags now so they quickly added one. But Toyota, man, when the 1992 Camry had one, and all of the Lexus models had one, and then you throw in the same unsafe robo-belt system that could be found in the prior-gen Camry, that reeks of cost cutting. Then again, I recall a few 1990 and 1991 Lamborghinis, Rolls Royces, Jaguars, and Ferraris coming with some kind of robo-belt until the airbags were installed.

    • 0 avatar

      I think for the Cressida in particular you have to consider it as a JDM car lightly adjusted for North America. Those other things were all designed with the North American market in mind.

      • 0 avatar
        theflyersfan

        @Corey Lewis – I do wonder what happened to all of them. I recall they sold pretty well for a car in this class, especially before Lexus came out and people wanted a really nice Toyota. You still see first and second generation Lexus LS400s – they might not be in the best shape, but are still running. But honestly, I can’t remember the last time I saw a Cressida. And they would stand out like seeing a 1991 Nissan Stanza and thinking to yourself, “That’s right…they did make that!”

        And every once in a while I still see the “Lexus-Lite” 1993 Camry or 1990’s era 4DSC Maxima GXE and SE. Again, not in the best shape and Lord knows what’s coming out of the exhaust pipe, but still running.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      It was not market research, passenger airbags became a requirement for I think MY94 (or perhaps 95). This is why some dated but lingering models ran though ’93 and then were dropped (Saab 900, Volvo 244/45 come to mind). Volvo specifically had to drop the 200 because it could not be engineered to accept a passenger airbag within whatever the dictated standards were.

      • 0 avatar
        theflyersfan

        I think it was 1994 for the 1995 model year. I remember having a loaner 1995 Altima that dropped the robo-belts for normal 3 point belts. I recall more than a few Japanese cars being redesigned in 1990 and then 1995 likely in part to the new safety requirements.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    “The cruise control stalk moved to stick out from the lower right quadrant of the steering wheel, where it exists today on Lexus products.”

    I swear, that cruise stalk must be one of the longest-lived controls in all of automotive history. I want to say it made its debut in the late 70s on (possibly) the Celica-based Supra. Toyota has used it on *everything*, including Toyota-based Chevrolet/Geo NUMMI cars and Scions as well. I installed the dealer-accessory cruise on my 1G Scion xB, and it used the same stalk – the aftermarket cruise company Rostra cloned that stalk for their kits as well.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    A guy I know owned one of these new. Another considered one very seriously before finally choosing the legendary 4DSC Maxima. Both felt the Cressida was a very nice entry-luxury cruiser, and my eyes and butt would agree.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    From the Motorweek video: “Antilock brakes are optional.”

    Daaaang, that was a LONG time ago.

  • avatar
    Crashdaddy430

    Had a 03 GS430 (hense the name), can confirm the cruise control stalk was easy and responsive to use.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    $#!+box

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Loved these cars. Approaching peak Japanese economic bubble engineering. They felt every bit as special and well-engineered as a W124.

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      Dal>>

      Spot on. Agree.

      • 0 avatar
        Lightspeed

        Also agree. I owned a 1990 Cressi and Lexus GS400, both built like tanks. The Cressi had two blown head gaskets though, Arrgh! But, I’d still get another if I could.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I also have a soft spot for my ’86 which I/we used as an auction runner. I’d love to have it back, though functionally it was very similar to a Volvo 700 with with I6 instead of I4 and inferior quality steel (nearly the same design AW transmission). Ironically in the 90s you could get the Volvo 960 which is an updated 700 with a white block I6. In a sense you could still get a Swedish styled Cressida-in-spirit through 1997.

  • avatar
    Astigmatism

    My father had a 420SEL at home when I was growing up, but kept a 1989 Cressida at our vacation house, which my middle school self thought was the best car I’d ever been in. From the back seat, I didn’t care about the lack of wood, and my legs were too short to worry about my knees hitting the front seat backs anyway. All I knew was that the seats were comfy, everything worked with a precise snick-snick that the Mercedes couldn’t dream of, and I could ride around in it all day without the suspension getting me sick.

    I think my hatred of oversize sedans and my fondness for Asian alternatives started then.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Oh, I love me some X80. A few times a month I’ll think about buying that supercharged Mark II at Duncan, but I never actually pull the trigger.

  • avatar
    eng_alvarado90

    I have a soft spot for these. Back in the early 2000s, one of my older cousins received a hand-me-down 91 Cressida when she got to college.

    It was almost mint condition, my aunt didn’t drive it much and the blue leather seats had no rips and very few wrikles. It was loaded, sunroof, digital cluster and all. Can’t recall if it had the CD player, though.

    I rode in it a few times and even drove it twice around the block when I was still a few months away from getting my driver’s license. Good times

  • avatar
    marc

    Count me as a stalk fan. It’s details like that that keep me in the Toy/Lex family. Stalks and buttons consistently where they belong and where I expect them to be.

    I’m a big fan of this car. Surprised that the commercial with the lions didn’t make it into this article. For just a brief year or so, it was pretty much peak Japan sedan. Course that didn’t last…

  • avatar
    2ACL

    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.

  • avatar
    blenny8483

    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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