I recently had the chance to drive a Toyota Sera, which is an unusual little compact car that has butterfly doors. Let me repeat that: Toyota — world renowned for manufacturing rational, reliable family vehicles — once made a compact car with butterfly doors. And I drove it.
First, a brief overview of the Toyota Sera. The Sera was made throughout the early 1990s, debuting in 1990 and ending production in 1995. It was sold only in Japan, which is the primary reason most people haven’t heard of it anywhere else in the world. It was front-wheel drive, it was just 152 inches long and it used a rather puny little 4-cylinder: a 1.5-liter with only about 100 horsepower.
That powertrain is the biggest drawback of the Sera, but the Sera’s best part is undoubtedly its doors. The Sera used butterfly doors with a glass roof canopy — and it was this little car that inspired Gordon Murray’s door design for the famed McLaren F1. The doors transform a relatively docile little car into something special, giving it a totally unique feature that absolutely nothing else had at the time.
Unfortunately, the doors really are the only thing that gives the Sera its special character, as the car really is built exactly how you’d expect Toyota to make a car with butterfly doors: the doors are, indeed, butterfly, and everything else is shockingly rational and normal. Despite having a crazy glass canopy and weird doors, for instance, the rest of the interior is completely normal, using typical Toyota switchgear and panels from the early 1990s. The same is true with the seats.
The driving experience, unfortunately, is also tremendously normal. The engine is really low on power, and the majority of Sera models were equipped with an automatic transmission, including the one I drove. This meant the Sera’s primary exciting detail was its doors and its glass canopy — a canopy that makes you swelteringly hot in any sunlight. Fortunately, the Sera came with shades you can place above you when you drive, transforming the interior into an even more normal experience.
But back to the drive. Like I mentioned, there’s not much power — and acceleration really feels no different from a Toyota Corolla or a Honda Civic from the time period. Same with the steering, which is light and relatively dull, and absolutely not tuned for any sort of performance or excitement. All Sera models are right-hand drive, since all Sera models were sold new in Japan, but that’s really the only thrill you get behind the wheel.
Despite that, the Sera is still cool. The doors that inspired a famous hypercar — that’s enough to make just about anything seem cool, and indeed it’s always a bit of a thrill getting into a Sera. Unfortunately, that thrill doesn’t really carry on when you’re driving it — but it’s still far more exciting than any other Japanese economy car at the time, and it’s an interesting imported relic that you’ll likely never see on the road — or even at Cars and Coffee. That alone makes the Sera interesting and cool — and I’m glad I had the chance to spend the day with one, even though it’s not exactly the world’s most thrilling car from behind the wheel. Find a Toyota for sale