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New Car/Review

1997 Toyota Paseo Convertible

by Carey Russ


SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide

The Paseo coupe has provided Toyota with a reasonably-priced, high-quality presence in the small sporty coupe segment of the automotive marketplace since mid-1991. It was redesigned inside and out for the 1996 model year, and continues mostly unchanged for 1997. "Mostly" is the key word, as there is a major addition to the Paseo lineup this year - a convertible. It is Toyota's lowest-priced convertible, and is also one of the lowest-priced convertibles offered by any manufacturer. The Paseo convertible is a first-rate conversion done by Automobile Specialty Company (ASC) in Long Beach, California - the same company that has been making the Toyota Celica convertibles for the past decade. ASC and Toyota have been partners for a long time, and it shows in the fit and finish and quality of the Paseo convertible.

Paseo convertibles start life as coupes on the same assembly line in Toyota City, Japan as other Paseos, but extra reinforcement is added to their rocker panels, rear strut towers, and rear fenders. They are then shipped to ASC for top removal and the rest of the conversion process. A 4-layer insulated top that has a heated glass rear window is added, as are glass rear quarter windows that fold automatically with the manually-operated top. The top can be easily and quickly raised or lowered by one person. The convertible conversion only adds 143 lbs. to the Paseo's weight, and has a minimal impact on chassis stiffness.

In performance, handling, and fun quotient, the Paseo is equal to or better than any of the small convertibles available in recent years. A 93-horsepower twincam engine gives sprightly performance and the same sporty snarl as many a sports car of the past. However, the Paseo convertible is evolutionary epochs ahead of the small-displacement European sports cars I remember from my formative years. The week I spent with it was marked by cold and rain. No problems there - the heater worked just fine, the top didn't leak, could be raised or lowered in seconds, and had a glass backlight that won't ever go opaque. The Paseo convertible combined good old days small-displacement fun with modern Toyota practicality, civilization, and quality.

APPEARANCE: Small convertibles can look a little awkward. Not the Paseo. It is a well-proportioned car that is handsome with the top up or down. It shares most of its sheet metal with the current Paseo coupe, with the trunk lid and cloth top unique. A wedge-shaped car that combines a very rounded front with good, balancing use of straight character lines and creases, it's good-looking without being intimidating. Front styling, with ellipsoid wraparound lights, an integrated body-colored bumper fascia, and a low, wide air intake, shows a relationship to the high-performance Toyota Supra. Steel wheels are standard, optional alloy rims add a performance look.

COMFORT: The Paseo convertible is snug and comfy inside. It is functional without being plain. Bright abstract designs on the front seat cloth upholstery proclaim its targeted appeal to a young, or at least young-at-heart, buyer. Those reclining sports seats give good support, and the driver's is adjustable for cushion height. The passenger seat slides forward for access to a rear bench seat that is, in the finest tradition of small sports cars, best thought of as a fun place for small children or extra cargo storage. Black-on-white instruments add a sporty touch to the instrument panel. The center console doesn't have a covered storage compartment, but a large, lockable glove box makes up for that. My test car had all of the comfort options: a cassette player in addition to the standard AM/FM radio, cruise control, power windows and door locks, and air conditioning. Those options do add to the price of the car, but they also make it a very civilized little vehicle.

SAFETY: The 1997 Toyota Paseo convertible has dual air bags and side-impact door beams. Antilock brakes are optionally available.

ROADABILITY: With its low-slung stance, the Paseo convertible gives all of the good sensory inputs of a small sports car of the past. With a rigid, reinforced unit-construction chassis, it has none of the shakes and rattles that gave old cars "character." It has nimble handling and is great fun to drive, particularly with the top down. Its front-wheel drive and insulated top design help make it a year-round car in all but the worst climates.

PERFORMANCE: The Paseo convertible shares its 1.5-liter, 93-horsepower engine with the coupe version. Like small sports cars through the years, it has enough power for enjoyable, zippy performance, and gets great gas mileage as well. It should be equally at home used for commuting or weekend pleasure trips. The standard 5-speed manual gearbox makes the Paseo convertible more of a sports car, but the torqey engine is perfectly capable with the optional 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic.

CONCLUSIONS: The new Toyota Paseo convertible combines top-down fun, good handling, and great gas mileage.


1997 Toyota Paseo Convertible 
Base Price               $ 16,728
Price As Tested          $ 19,600
Engine Type              dual overhead cam, 16-valve inline 4-cylinder
Engine Size              1.5 liters / 91 cu. in.
Horsepower               93 @ 5400
Torque (lb-ft)           100 @ 4400
Transmission             5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length       93.7 in. / 163.6 in.
Curb Weight              2168 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    23.3
Fuel Capacity            11.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded regular
Tires                    P185/60 R14 Yokohama Radial 375
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / drum
Suspension, front/rear   independent MacPherson strut /
                         trailing torsion beam
Drivetrain               front engine, front-wheel drive


EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      29/35/32
0 to 60 mph                        10 sec
 mile (E.T.)                      17 sec