Fresh air fun on a budget. by Helen V. Hutchings
Regardless of what kind of powerplant is lurking under the hood, convertibles equate with fun.
But compared to their hard-topped counterparts, they also equate with premium prices. And when there's lots of horsepower, your friendly statistical forecasters in the insurance industry think the fun may get out of hand, which is why so many ragtops are saddled with sky-high premiums.
That's the beauty of the new Toyota Paseo convertible. It delivers plenty of stylish fresh-air fun, but dodges the purchase price premiums and insurance penalties associated with most other ragtops.
Yes, it's true that this new convertible costs quite a bit more than the Paseo coupe. The basic Paseo costs $13,628, including a $420 destination and delivery charge, while the topless version starts at $17,148.
But that's still a bargain price for a convertible. The only ragtops that are cheaper are the Geo Tracker and Suzuki Sidekick sport-utilities.
And with only 93 horsepower, the Paseo doesn't attract much unfavorable scrutiny from the insurance companies.
However, please don't be deceived into thinking this is some sort of anemic snail like the late and unlamented Geo Metro Convertible. With less than 2200 pounds 93 hp produces better performance here than you might expect.
Toyota introduced the Paseo early in 1991 as a 1992 model. Translated from Spanish, the name means walk or stroll, which may suggest something about the car's performance that isn't quite true (remember it has a favorable power-to-weight ratio).
Although the nifty two-door bodywork is unique to the Paseo, the rest of the car--front-drive chassis and powertrain--is shared with Toyota's subcompact Tercel line.
However, even though there's a lot of mechanical commonality, the Paseo has a distinctly sportier personality than its more conservative cousins, and is more fun to drive.
During our time with this car we were pleasantly surprised by the number of folks who inquired if this was the new Toyota. Just goes to show that convertibles do make people look--and maybe too, the Toyota advertising has made an impression.
Whatever the reason, our basic black convertible drew questions and attention. Toyota calls this color Satin Black Metallic, by the way, and it is one of only three in which the Paseo convertible is available. The others are Super White and Super Red. The palette is larger for Paseo coupes, with eight exterior colors offered in all.
The body panels upon which the color is sprayed and baked fit together well. Coupe or convertible, the finished car has a sporty, fun look that invites you to take it for a drive.
And if it's the convertible, well, ya gotta put the top down. No problem. Undo the latches on the windshield header and flip it down. It's almost as easy as a Mazda Miata.
Look in the trunk and you'll find the separate boot to snap over the folded top, to tidy up the appearance. When it's time to put the car away, or if weather becomes a problem, reversing the procedure is equally simple and quick.
An added thoughtful touch is the glass rear window with an integrated electric defogger, a quality feature we usually associate with much more expensive convertibles. In fact, some very pricey ragtops still have plastic rear windows, which is prone to yellowing and distortion over time.
Another nice touch: the rear quarter windows fold down with the top.
Toyota builds the Paseo at its big plant in Toyota City, Japan. Paseos ticketed for convertibilization are only partially assembled and additional structural members are added in Japan. Then they are shipped to California where a division of ASC (formerly known as American Sunroof) takes over. ASC completes the conversion and adds the high-quality, multi-layer insulated convertible top.
The Inside Story
Like the Tercel, the Paseo is a simple, straightforward car. It takes only a moment of orientation to locate all the controls, which are logically placed, well marked and operate as one would expect.
We found the Paseo surprisingly quiet and taut for a convertible. There was some wind noise noticeable from the driver's seat, but not much, and not enough to interfere with conversation, even at freeway speeds.
And equally pleasant was the ease with which conversation between front and back seat occupants was possible, without raising voices.
However, we think there won't be many occasions when you'll be talking to folks in the rear seats. This is a subcompact car, and even though the Paseo has almost as much rear seat legroom as a Ford Mustang, it's still a 2+2, and that back seat is suitable only for very short trips.
A primary mission of subcompact cars is to keep costs down, which means they don't offer much in the way of comfort and convenience features, at least not as standard equipment.
However, the Paseo is not a stripper. Standard appointments include two front air bags, reclining cloth-covered sport bucket seats in front, intermittent windshield wipers, full carpeting, and a gauge package that includes a tachometer and trip odometer.
Also standard is the digital clock, which is recessed high in the center of the dash making it easily readable day or night from anywhere in the car. An AM/fM radio with four speakers is also standard, along with the requisite cup holders.
Air conditioning, the only extra on our test car, adds $926 to the sticker price. Also available as factory options are cruise control, power windows and door locks, and an upgrade radio with a cassette player. Antilock brakes add $550, and coupe purchasers can also consider adding a moonroof ($415), as well as a rear decklid spoiler.
Ride & Drive
This straightforward, honest little car acquits itself respectably in everyday driving.
Thanks to its low curb weight, the Paseo's 1.5-liter twin-cam 16-valve four-cylinder engine delivers surprisingly peppy acceleration, as well as very good fuel economy on good old unleaded regular. We liked the shift action of the manual five-speed transmission, which adds to the driving fun, but even with the optional four-speed automatic the car performs respectably compared to other small cars.
ASC seems to have done its usual good work in creating this convertible for Toyota. Although its chassis isn't quite as rigid as the coupe, an inevitable consequence of removing the roof structure, it has the solid feel we've come to associate with Toyotas over the years.
It also delivers respectable handling and a sporty but comfortable ride. This is another area where the Paseo's low weight pays high dividends. The less weight there is to shift back and forth, the quicker the response to driver commands.
The combination of crisp steering and prompt responses in avoidance maneuvers gives the Paseo a lively feel that we found surprising. It's not a Miata, but it doesn't pretend to be; and, as we noted earlier, your insurance company won't think it's a Miata, either.
Braking performance, from a front disc, rear drum system, is good--low curb weight paying yet another dividend--though we recommend popping the extra $550 for ABS, a good price for
this important active safety feature.
Toyota has earned a solid reputation for building serviceable cars that last. In 1996, J.D. Power included the Paseo in the top five of the "Best Sporty Car" category in its Initial Quality Study.
That's a high tribute for a subcompact car, and it means you can expect your Paseo to keep delivering fun over the long haul.
We promise we won't tell your insurance agent.
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