When I mentioned in my article on the Toyota AXV-IV concept that commuter cars don't often make production, I was well aware that Toyota had done just that a year earlier with the Sera.
The production version of the AXV-II concept, Toyota introduced the Sera as a more enlightened version of what you could call the personal luxury coupe.
Not personal luxury in a brown naugahyde interior sort of way—this is a Japanese car, after all. If your definition of personal luxury includes style, ease of use, and advanced features, the Sera would be right up your alley.
It's useful at this point to note that in Japan, domestic automakers often have different types of dealerships. The practice was much more common in the '70s, '80s, and '90s, with different dealership experiences designed to woo new buyer segments.
The Toyota MR2, for instance, was sold at Toyota Vista stores, while the Sera was exclusively offered at Toyota Corolla stores—which should also give you a hint at the car's demeanour.
With a curb weight of 930 kg (2050 lbs), the Sera was designed to be fun to drive but not all that sporty. Under the hood is a 1.5-litre engine also used in the Paseo coupe and Starlet hatchback. Your choice of a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission. Front wheel drive. To stop, front discs and rear drum brakes, unless you opted for ABS, which also upgraded the rear brakes to disks.
Sharing a platform with the Paseo, Starlet, and Tercel, the Sera won't fulfill your boy racer fantasies, and that's OK. Like I said, it is more about the features—including its doors.
Cited by Gordon Murray as the inspiration for the doors on the McLaren F1, the Sera features outrageous butterfly doors, hinged at the top and bottom of the A pillar. They open up and forward, and were designed to work well in the confines of Tokyo.
Besides the doors, however, the Sera's upper body structure is mostly glass. The all-glass rear hatch—with no supporting steel frame—is connected to a steel roll bar structure. A wraparound windshield finishes off the jet fighter-like canopy.
It's probably not the ideal car for someone like me, who has gotten a tan from the oven light, though the Sera had standard air conditioning and removable interior panels for shade. Inside, there are small rear seats for quick trips. The one option to have was Super Live Surround Sound (SLSS), a 10-speaker stereo with digital sound processing—and a subwoofer.
I'd probably try "Funky mode" first before "Casual," if you're familiar with the car's built in sound modes.
The Sera was built in phases, with interior trim and a few accessory options being exclusive to certain "phases," with the later Phase III cars receiving slight mechanical upgrades in the name of safety, including side impact door beams and better seat belts.
There was one special edition Sera, the Amlux, built at the end of the production run and essentially hand-finished, with cars including a personalized name plate, seat cushion, and a "special scarf".
Amlux is the name of Toyota's flagship Tokyo highrise, a striking building located in Ikebukuro. If you'd like to find one of the approximately 21 Amlux Sera models completed, look for two-tone dark green paint, Amlux logos, and blue-tinted glass.
Similar to Nissan's "Pike Factory" cars—including the Be-1—the Sera is just as popular as a used car as it was when new. Many have been exported around the world; I've even seen a few here in Canada.
If you want one, there were about 16,000 made. Just remember to look for that special scarf.