It seems that everyone in the automotive journalism world is obsessed by something. For some, it’s a make that is special to them. Others like turn signals. Some just like to find the most minute quirks. Me: I like doors. Whether they are gullwings, falcons, vertical, suicide, or a dihedral synchro-helix actuation system, I find doors interesting. Now, while the dihedral blah blah found on the Koeniggsegg is my favorite design, it’s not my favorite car of all time. That honor goes to the Mclaren F1. It had some neat doors too. The were cut into the roof panel, like a Ford GT, yet hinged at the front and top, so they came out and up at about a 45 degree angle. Amazingly, Gordon Murray’s inspiration for the F1’s doors came from a very unexpected place. Toyota. Yes, Toyota made a car with doors so cool, the designer for the greatest supercar of all time wanted them on his car. It was called the Toyota Sera, and I got to drive one.
The opportunity came about thanks to Carter’s Cars in South Burlington, Vermont. They graciously let me spend all day there driving all their cool imported cars.
The Toyota Sera has precisely three cool features. The first is the driver’s door, the second is the passenger’s door. They have huge glass panels that go pretty much to the center of the roof. Now, since obviously all that glass can’t be rolled down, they split it. However, they didn’t split it into “side” and “top” panels like many people would d. No, they gave it a top bubble, which extends down the side to nearly eye level, and the first few inches even go all the way to the door panel. The remainder is what actually opens.
Much like the F1, the doors open upwards and outwards, which no one expects to see when you pull up to the gas pumps in a little Toyota. The struts that hold the door up are pretty strong though, so it could be difficult to close after bicep day at the gym. However, aside from being cool, the design does allow very easy rear seat access.
From the inside, the top of the door does have a removable panel to allow light to come in, giving you an impression of what it would be like to drive a fish bowl. Also, the small window that rolls down does offer increased airflow through the cabin, but, since it doesn’t start at the front of the door, none of that fast moving air reaches the driver. Also on the inside of the door is easily the best warning sticker I’ve ever come across. Clearly, a roof rack was an available option for this car, but, given the door situation, you couldn’t really use it for anything longer than, say, the doors. In the cartoonish drawings, you see that skis and other long objects are dangerous because you could open the rear hatch into them. Or when you open the door, you have to be careful that the skis don’t hit anything going up in the back...or the hood going down in the front.
The third cool thing on this car is its stereo. It is an option that this car has, but, Toyota called it the Super Live Surround System and as awesome as that name is, nobody would fault you for thinking it was a custom after-market job. This system gives the car 10 speakers. Two of which can be found in the doors, which is normal. Also relatively normal are the one in the center of the dashboard and a subwoofer mounted in the trunk. Less normal though are the two that sit like frog eyes near the A-pillars. Even less normal than that are the four that are mounted in a tube that sits on top of the rear parcel shelf and home to the Multi-Reflection speakers. A “Warp” button on the radio itself switches between, and I’m not joking here: “Causal Mode” which is indirect sound and “Funky Mode” and it’s direct sound. Now, I have zero idea what direct and indirect sound mean, but, I’ll bet you don’t have Funky Mode on your car.
The experience with the car after that is much less interesting. Power comes from a 1.5L 4-cylinder engine, which feels as though it’s not interested in doing anything other than idle. This isn’t helped by the 4-speed automatic which does a great job of sucking pretty much any remaining excitement out of the driving experience. When the car met with some corners, I was expecting it to turn-in well, grip nicely and be willing and eager to make a beeline for the next corner. Something like a Celica or Paseo of the time. Not fast, but, still fun. Boy, I was wrong! The handling is as sharp and precise as trying to thread a needle while wearing a baseball glove. It pitches and rolls like a troller in a storm and inspires no confidence to drive it quickly. Inside, it just feels old and outdated, right down to the color and font used for the instrument cluster.
In stock form, this is certainly a case of form over function. But, it’s just a drivetrain swap and some suspension upgrades away from being a mini Mclaren F1...and who wouldn’t want that!?