Two years ago today, I murdered the previous automotive version of myself by buying this car.
I spent two years looking for a good Sportcross. On one glorious summer afternoon — July 30th in the year 2017 — fate decommissioned my third Tercel and I bought this car a few hours later. It was the right car at the right time.
BEYOND THE STEEL; STARTING WITH THE FEELS
While it has been one of my better financial decisions, it’s also been somewhat of a painful one.
It is still the most expensive car I’ve ever bought for myself. And then I turned around and shelled out for major service, timing belt, and had the rear bumper repainted. It was a real psychological barrier, but I knew if I was going to buy something that wasn’t a total piece of crap, I had to do it right. And in exchange I have a car that needs *nothing* and has given me absolutely zero problems. Incredibly antithetical to all other vehicles I’ve owned.
There was the typical honeymoon phase, which lasted an exceptional amount of time by my standards. But then came the clash of “new” me versus old me. The interior was nice and clean – TOO nice. I don’t bring food in there, or any open drinks. The existing minor physical imperfections on a 17-year-old car SCREAM at me, in my weaker moments (“You mean: all the time?”) SHUSH! I carefully disassemble the cargo cover when I lay the backseats flat. I have a blanket or towel under any and all cargo. I think I had an existential crisis the first time I curb-rashed a wheel.
It is also the first vehicle I spent a cent of superficial bogus nonsense. Specifically: my grille, tint, and Altezza-delete. I mean, I’ve already dropped some thousands of dollars, so what was a few hundred more?
This car also turned my expectations upside down. For years I thought my wife’s Pontiac Vibe was a nice, enjoyable car. But after a few days with the IS, the Vibe feels like a hard-plastic penalty box. Same with my base work truck: I really enjoyed the ride back in 2014 – because it was sadly the nicest (and newest) thing I’ve driven long term… Now it’s just sloppy, uncomfortable, rattling cabin of cost-cutting. I sometimes wonder if I would have been better off never “upping the stakes” and lived in blissful ignorance…
Let’s face facts: this car broke my Cycle of Shit (pardon my French). I suspect had I would have probably bought and gone through three more sub-$3k cars and lost money on all of them. Whereas now I have something I’ve kept, improved, maintained, AND it still has actual value. And I don’t necessarily mean dollars and cents; I mean something that is reliable, enjoyable, and comfortable.
Other things I take more delight in that I want to admit: the social aspect. I get compliments all the time, even though no one knows what it is. Perhaps that’s an indictment on the perception of the Lexus brand. Backseat passengers happily comment on the comfort, and people don’t believe it’s actually 17 years old – until they notice the tape deck, I suspect. My wife wants to take it for any long drives or leisurely errands. People don’t even believe the Lexus badge. “They made a wagon?!?”
The Sportcross seems to have a bit of a polarizing design. They sacrificed utility, (referring to the D-pillar) which results in a heavy “sporty” rake. But it is only less than 1” longer than the sedan. And I think it looks fantastic. I didn’t even hate the factory Altezza (get it?) tail lights, but the pearl metallic paint and all the shiny chrome just really didn’t work for me, so I had the tail lights tinted red. The factory “black chrome” Altezza lights you could get worked great on some colors, but I could tell I wasn’t going to like them on mine. It has five brake lights which is mildly amusing.
Did I mention the tape deck? Good, because mine’s broken. True luxury.
In all seriousness, the seats are wonderful, and the heating and air conditioning are better than any vehicle I’ve ever even rode in. In winter, you don’t have to drive around for 5 minutes to feel some lukewarm heat. It’s hot within a few blocks. Same speed with the air conditioning, which is so cold you could cryogenically freeze some putz named Philip so that he could be welcomed to the World of Tomorrow!
QUALITY OF MATERIALS
The stalks are heavy and purposeful. The steering wheel is enjoyable to caress. The little “clicks” when you press buttons and switches – especially when you put on the turn signal — are so satisfying, as opposed to feeling like they’re about to fall off. The armrest on all doors are padded. The door handles have the correct amount of feedback. The doors shut with authority. Even little details, like the cargo cover, are high quality. Not some stretched-out tarp with tangs. It’s a lovely scroll of ventilated leather(ish). This was from the last era of Toyota putting out overbuilt vehicles. Having driven Toyotas of all decades from the ‘70s until now, this really was the sweet spot.
Though it’s not all roses… This car spent some many years in Florida and California. Thus, the infamous sticky dash that plagued ’02-’05 dashboards has graced me with its presence. And it’s not just the dash itself; it wraps all the down the center console and shifter. I had plans to strip the dash and refinish it. But I’m kind of terrified to do so dash-in, because of my light interior. There is also the issue of varying degrees of success. So later I schemed to buy a new dash, made for an ’01 that doesn’t have the black sticky areas. But that’s some serious money. So basically, I’ve been waiting for any sedan to show up a local yard so I can just take out that dash – and hope it is also not sticky. Not a whole lot out there, so I’ll just wait and ignore the problem. But it would make the interior look brand new if that was remedied. The suede on the driver’s seat is starting to wear out, but this car is getting old. And I’ll take some frayed suede over ripped leather any day. There’s a penny-sized ding on the fender that mocks me. Minor things like that.
This thing is bored with most corners. I’ve never made it break loose. To be fair, I’m relatively unskilled and unadventurous as a driver so… Anyway, it drives like it’s glued to the damn road, no feeling of instability at high speed. And I absolutely love that it’s RWD. The steering feels incredibly direct. A touch of the wheel and the car follows. I’m worried there is some serious eye-rolling going on right now about me gushing over an old Altezza, but try to imagine having only owned the vehicles I’ve owned. Where one comes from shapes all perception and future experiences.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
AUTOMATIC — What can I say? It’s this transmission. It’s smooth and punchy on the freeway when you’re already flying which is a lot of fun, but good Lord this car would be vastly improved with a third pedal. This automatic short-shifts like nobody’s business when you try to drive it like an economy car. The PWR button helps hold revs a little longer for some occasional on-ramp jollies, but for normal driving it is still an automatic. I’ve actually found that you can eliminate those sloppy shifts by putting your foot in it. Yes — the car shifts and moves better if you have a lead foot. Feathering it is totally futile and yields unsatisfying results.
The manual mode is uninspiring. It’s better to just enjoy it as an auto versus living in denial by hitting those steering wheel buttons and waiting for it to shift. But the gearing is great, so when I stomp the pedal *snaps finger* we are movin’. It just pulls away. In reality, I don’t see myself ever springing for a swap, nor do I want the sedan (though I considered it strongly for a time). It’s still a great cruiser. My bum left knee really appreciates the two pedals. And doggo loves the hatch.
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS AS A DD....
It’s like getting kicked in the genitals twice every time you go to the pump: one kick for the wonderful 20.7 or so miles per gallon, and a second for the premium fuel. If I had to actually drive this as a commuter car, I can guarantee it would have not been a candidate. Some of you may remember these ramblings from my car-shopping posts from back then. Fortunately, I only drive this maybe 3,000 miles a year, so distance between each kick is dilated.
The cargo area has actually been perfect for me. Doggo fits nicely – and relatively safely – in the back without protest. There’s something like 21.4 cu ft of space behind the seats, and 40 with the seats back seats down, which fold 60-40. But as with some other Toyotas, the front passenger seat folds flat forward, so you could really cram some crap in this in a pinch. However, due to the light-colored interior with carpeted everything, we know I’ll never risk scuffing anything. But someone else could, in their Sportcross. Not mine. That’s what the pickup is for.
Another major adjustment for me has been the ride quality. It’s a smooth powertrain, but there is no sidewall on these tires and you feel everything. In other words, if you’re on a freshly paved road: sweet Moses, it’s delicious. When you’re on a road that hasn’t been service in a while: you’ll get to where you need to go, but you actually have to watch that you don’t bottom out on a shallow pothole.
Speaking of bottoming out: let’s talk about ground clearance. This is the lowest of any vehicle I’ve owned by a country mile. I even scraped the bumper backing out of someone’s driveway that had an otherwise incredibly inconspicuous dip. The ground clearance on my Celica was almost as high as my Tercel wagons. And my pickups, shoot: they have better from clearance than a new Colorado. The Sportcross though… Not for the faint of heart.
Every day, I’m looking up other cars. That will never change. 4Runners, Z4 Coupe, Paseo convertibles – countless “what-ifs” and researching various models to death that I am highly unlikely to purchase. The difference between the Sportcross and past cars is what I window shop all day but then sit back in it for a nice drive, I think, “No. This is right.” I remember when my infatuation for the Celica waned, the drive was no longer enjoyable. This is not a problem with the current ride.
I really have no idea what 2020 will bring — it’s a small miracle that I’ve lasted even this long. I’ve got just under 99,000 miles, with all updated maintenance, so there’s certainly no sense of urgency to move on, nor a worry of reliability. This is damn fine car. I have total and complete confidence in it. I love how it looks. I don’t think there exists a better smiles-per-dollar value out there for me right now if I were to consider replacing it… It would have to be a real budget-buster.
But for now, I’ll say that I’m incredibly pleased with this my 17-year old fancy Toyota.
Thanks for reading.