Out­side Line

Toy­ota can make white goods mod­els and still be the world’s most ex­cit­ing car brand

Evo India - - BRIEFING - RICHARD MEADEN Richard is a con­tribut­ing editor to evo and one of the mag­a­zine's found­ing team @Dick­ieMeaden

WITH THE IN­TER­NAL COM­BUS­TION EN­GINE en­dur­ing a slow death by a thou­sand down­sizes, and the art of driv­ing un­der threat thanks to the wider world’s ob­ses­sion with au­tonomous cars, you could be for­given for think­ing it’s all doom and gloom in our cor­ner of the au­to­mo­tive world.

You’ll know I rarely pass up the op­por­tu­nity for a moan, but despite there be­ing plenty of scope to launch into an­other of my four-weekly whinges, I’m in un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally high spir­its. In this rare mo­ment of op­ti­mism I wanted to ex­plore a con­cept I’ve been pon­der­ing for a while: which is the most ex­cit­ing car brand?

My nom­i­na­tion is not one born from great in­dus­try wis­dom – I’m a huge fan of the prod­ucts, not a stu­dent of the busi­ness. Rather, I pre­fer to look at what a com­pany is do­ing across the whole spec­trum of what’s rel­e­vant and ex­cit­ing to me. That means cars I can af­ford and cars of which I can only dream. It means a com­mit­ment to mo­tor­sport. It means heart, au­then­tic­ity and the abil­ity to sur­prise when you least ex­pect it.

Con­ve­niently ig­nor­ing my first tenet of af­ford­abil­ity, I ini­tially thought of As­ton Martin. Partly be­cause it’s a mar­que I’ve been a fan of since see­ing (and hear­ing!) an X-Pack Vantage as a kid, but mostly be­cause it hasn’t so much weath­ered the stormy post-re­ces­sion years of de­clin­ing sales and an age­ing model range as emerged phoenix­like with af­ter­burn­ers lit.

With its range re­vi­talised thanks to the new Vantage and V12, V8 and Volante DB11s, plus an all-new Van­quish poised for launch and the Adrian Newey-de­signed Valkyrie set to blow ev­ery other hy­per­car out of the wa­ter, As­ton is nail­ing it. Fac­tor in a mid-to­long-term strat­egy that in­cludes an SUV, mid-en­gined sports cars, hy­bridi­s­a­tion, elec­tri­fi­ca­tion and the re­birth of Lagonda, and CEO Andy Palmer’s vi­sion­ary ‘Sec­ond Cen­tury’ plan puts As­ton Martin on a strato­spheric tra­jec­tory.

Yet there’s an­other com­pany I be­lieve is more de­serv­ing: Toy­ota. What?! I know. It sur­prised me, too. Largely be­cause there’s a con­tra­dic­tion that leaves me feel­ing con­flicted. Af­ter all, how can the maker of count­less mil­lions of white goods mod­els qual­ify to be the most ex­cit­ing car com­pany in the world? Well, that same com­pany gave us the LFA – ar­guably the great­est money-no-ob­ject ex­pres­sion of pride and passion in mod­ern au­to­mo­tive his­tory. At the other end of the scale it signed-off the Mk3 MR2 – a bril­liantly wrought lit­tle sports car and now an every­man Elise on the used mar­ket. It also thought deeply enough about driv­ing to step off the ‘more is bet­ter’ merry-go-round and build the re­fresh­ing (if not en­tirely sat­is­fac­tory) GT86.

And to­day? Now we have the glo­ri­ously named Yaris Ga­zoo Racing tuned by Meis­ter of the Nür­bur­gring (GRMN to its friends) – a mil­len­nial Clio Wil­liams if ever there was one, and the first of a promised fam­ily of Ga­zoo-tuned high-per­for­mance mod­els. There’s the up­com­ing Supra – built on a plat­form shared with BMW’s Z4, but de­layed be­cause re­port­edly Toy­ota boss Akio Toy­oda (a 105 RON petrol­head) said it fell short of de­liv­er­ing the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence he wanted for Toy­ota’s sport­ing flag­ship. And then there’s Lexus, which has become a gen­uine chal­lenger to the es­tab­lished or­der of the Ger­man mar­ques.

When I men­tioned all this to evo’s editor he was un­usu­ally ef­fu­sive. This is highly ir­reg­u­lar, for or­di­nar­ily Mr Gal­lagher is a true colos­sus of con­tempt, yet he im­me­di­ately got where I was com­ing from. In­deed he took the idea and ran with it, sug­gest­ing Toy­ota is one of the few car mak­ers from which you could pop­u­late a gen­uinely ap­peal­ing and ut­terly di­verse three-car garage. And do you know what, I think he’s right. I’d be pretty chuffed to have a Yaris GRMN for bomb­ing around in, Lexus LC500 for mak­ing a state­ment and a Toy­ota Hilux for when The Don­ald or Lit­tle Rocket Man leave us with a smoul­der­ing post-apoc­a­lyp­tic waste­land to roam.

Fancy some­thing less util­i­tar­ian? Swap Hilux for Land Cruiser. Want some­thing small, af­ford­able (at least as new cars go) and rear-wheel drive? Switch Yaris for GT86. Think pick­ing a Lexus is cheat­ing? Wait for the Supra. Feel the LC is a bit soft­core? Get your­self an RC F. Or blow the lot­tery win and buy an LFA and a 2000GT. And then there’s Toy­ota’s com­mit­ment to mo­tor­sport. Whether it’s chas­ing that cru­elly elu­sive Le Mans vic­tory, the fac­tory re­turn to the WRC, Akio Toy­oda’s fa­nat­i­cal ob­ses­sion with the Nür­bur­gring N24, or the wider global ac­tiv­ity in NASCAR, the Dakar and Ja­panese GTs, you clearly have a com­pany with heart, passion and an ad­mirable pre­pared­ness to chase a dream.

These days it can feel like the car in­dus­try is de­sert­ing the en­thu­si­ast, but when it gets things right it re­mains a rich source of plea­sure. That the world’s largest car com­pany can also be the most ex­cit­ing is in­spir­ing ev­i­dence of just that.

This is clearly a com­pany with heart, passion and a pre­pared­ness to

chase a dream

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