An average car for the average motorist. A car so boringly average that it's probably got two adult seats in the front and 2.2 variously sized child seats in the back, not to mention a medium-sized mongrel dog in the boot.
Take the looks - one person expressed the view that it was quite nice, most people expressed no opinion at all. In fact, most people didn't even know what one looked like until shown it and then they thought it was sort of OK-ish. Personally, I think it looks like a bag of ... rubbish, with diddy little pram wheels lost in its bulbous bum. The median opinion is that it looks pretty- pretty average that is.
The interior is - ummmm, not bad but it's not good either. It's sort of blandly unappealing without actually having anything really objectionable. Its' just very, very mediocre. The most remarkable parts of it are the ugly sunken well with the strange dog leg gear lever in it which manages to collect all sorts of junk and dirt. The handbrake, which is set by the side of the gear stick may look strange but actually works superbly and is the one piece of both useful and unusual design in the entire car. Otherwise, the interior is typically Japanese, The dash is well put together and efficient but somehow soulless and comprises cheap-to-mid quality plastics, the layout of which is better than some but notably worse than (mostly German) others. It's clear and concise but oh so unimaginative. All in all it's distinctly ermm, average.
What really ruins the Japanese interior, though, is their love of verbiage. Most of us are happy to accept a small, rectangular iconed button to be a window control - the left ones do the left, right do the right, the rear pair do the rear and the other one locks the rear windows - it's easy, it's straightforward and we find it understandable. Why, then, do Japanese cars need to carry the legends, Up Down, Left, Right, Rear, Front as well as little arrows and stickers with Do Not Trap Neck when winding up? It all works precisely and reliably but it's this Japanese trait for verbal diarrhoea that really pulls the switch gear down. Just look at how many words, lines and graphics they manage to squeeze on a single, slightly oversized indicator stalk.
The seats are comfortable, if somewhat high set which leads to a feeling of riding on, rather than in, the car. It adjusts to some extent but in a strange dip-away-tilting-rear sort of fashion. Its worse problem is that the steps between fore and aft adjustment are not exactly finely pitched and I couldn't find the perfect leg position (someone with legs a half inch shorter or longer than mine will have no problem). From the seat you grip a wheel of somewhat hard, nasty plastic and press pedals of a light, undemanding nature set far enough apart to accommodate my averagely-sized feet easily enough.
The whole plot rides and steers in a safe (if uninspiring) fashion. The ride is slightly fussy and unsettled, not reacting much to small bumps and undulations but riding big bumps fairly well. On the handling side, it's a slightly below average performer. The steering is neither particularly light or heavy but it's the sense of weight rather than of feeling that it has (if slightly detached) not really transmitting much sense of what the front wheels are up to, so back to the driver. In tight corners there seems to be a hint of rear steer, almost as if the rear wheels are tucking under or starting to slide quite early.
The engine is actually not a bad unit, despite its sixteen valves it feels at low revs. More like you would expect an eight valve unit with almost lusty torque at low revs, its redline is sixteen valve high but it's run out of steam well before then. However, at least it's strong in that all-important mid range area. The gear box is a bit of a mixed bag with a notchy shift into both second and fourth gears. Despite the easy natured clutch and accelerator, I still found it hard to get it to shift smoothly when charging up through the gears. Granny-style changes completely off the gas were quiet and smooth but trying to make faster pace and get back on the gas proved strangely difficult to match revs to gear.
It also had a slight jerkiness on each transition from OFF to ON the throttle no matter how slowly or smoothly the revs were applied.
Space-wise it seemed fairly good leg room looked, quite generous but felt quite narrow like a Vectra.
The boot is fairly commodious as you would expect from something which such a hump-backed shape and the rear seats split in the now obligatory fashion. Unfortunately, the high tear dropped rear end makes parking a real pain as you can't see any of the rear through any mirror.
Despite the fact that the Japanese race are relatively short in height, they do have some gargantuan athletes. A Sumo has never tried the rear seat belt in a Carina though, as it abjectly failed to have enough length on to fix a baby seat in. No problem, you say, stick it in the front. Unfortunately, being Japanese, it's well-equipped and the passenger air bag makes that space a no-no for baby seats.
It's a Toyota so that should mean stone axe reliability which is probably why most of these seem to be taxis. After all you don't drive a taxi for pleasure do you? So the Carina will fit the bill perfectly. For the rest of us it would represent perfectly adequate transport but anybody with the slightest interest in cars would be hard pressed to find good reason to buy one.
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