Often misunderstood, Toyota's baby supercar is really a sensible, practical city car
Very little has gone wrong with this, my second Sera. My first example had been poorly maintained - as an import, little can be known about the car's previous history, and the Sera needs to have frequent oil changes. My last one failed with 90,000 miles, the head gasket and rings went - but it had been poorly maintained. With 175,000km on this one, it's still running like clockwork.
Failures I've had to correct on this one have been the the usual failure of the headlight glass, which discolours with age, and the thermostat had stuck open - another common failure, which causes a lot of odd problems such as the gearbox refusing to engage overdrive!
Interior has held up well, though the 14 year old factory fit Double DIN stereo system is starting to flake out now. My previous Sera had worn rubbers on the doors, costing £160 per door in parts to fix properly (but no doubt good for another 14 years!).
The Sera is a remarkable car. Whilst people in the UK snapped up the personal imports as a miniature supercar (which, with a 110bhp engine and automatic transmission in most examples, it clearly isn't - though it does overtake with alacrity in kickdown at the critical 45-55mph speed around here), and in the Japanese market it was a sophisticated car for professional women, I actually think the Sera is the perfect town car for most people.
For the usual uses of small cars - a couple, shopping and commuting - the Sera is fantastic. The boot is small, but the rear seats fold flat, leaving a convenient and accessible platform. Most Sera owners don't make use of the boot, since the parcel shelf clips shut. The seats are ideal for petite women - the bolsters are low and narrow, so when a larger car pushes your shoulders forward, the Sera's seats fit snugly - but still tolerable for a 600km drive for a 95 percentile male - taller people will find the seats lack travel. Fuel economy is good, as you'd expect of a light, efficient Japanese car, and spares availability and cost is brilliant from Toyota main dealers - a new front bumper, pre-painted, is £215, headlights are £150 each. A full stainless exhaust system is available.
The doors - the most unique part of the car, later copied for the McLaren F1 and Ferrari Enzo - are fantastic in tight parking spaces. The sideways movement is minimal, allowing the doors to be opened fully in tight spaces, and the visibility with the glass roof is incredible. Rear seat passengers are cramped, but do enjoy excellent vision through the roof.
Handling is a touchy subject. With standard Japanese suspension (especially worn suspension, as most imports will have - Seras haven't been produced since 1994) they're skittish and twitchy, but still quite tolerable. Upgrades do improve it, but often at the expense of ride quality. Experimenting with UK-market struts from the Paseo/Starlet may result in improvements. The basic geometry of the car is fine, and the low stance means other road users assume it's faster than it is, and often let you pass without speeding up, something that happens often in my Supra.
The main criticism I have of the car is the headlights. They are abysmal, and whilst fitting new light units does improve them, the real improvement is to upgrade these early projectors (again, one of the first production cars to feature them) to HID bulbs, currently around £400 expense.
For more information on the Sera, the UK owners' 'club' has a website at http://www.toyotasera.co.uk/ where you can read more about these unusual cars, and find examples for sale.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 6th November, 2004