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Sporty Toyota Paseo falls short on performance


The sporty new Paseo is a handsome little coupe. But beauty is only skin deep, and beneath this particular epidermis is the worst Toyota I've ever driven.

That's not to say it's a bad automobile. It isn't. But it is a pretty poor effort from an automaker of Toyota's caliber. Driving it is sort of like reading a D-plus paper by a student who usually does A and B work. Its base price is $9,988. The test model price was $12,043.

The Paseo is a sporty coupe spinoff on the Tercel, Toyota's econobox. Think of it as a Tercel with a sexier body and a livelier engine.

With a starting price of $10,000, it is intended for a buyer with sporty aspirations and a small piggy bank. Its competition is cars such as the Hyundai Scoupe and the Geo Storm. The Paseo comes in about $1,500 less than the pocket-rocket fraternity, which includes sporty small cars such as the Honda CRX Si and Civic Si, the Ford Escort GT, the Mercury Tracer LTS, and the Mazda Protege LX.

The no-frills Paseo also comes in below these cars in terms of standard equipment, comfort, performance, pleasure and utility.

The car's 1.5-liter, 100-horsepower engine is one of its bright spots. This high-winding 16-valver tends to get a little buzzy as it approaches its 6,800 rpm redline, but it is basically slick fun that pushes the Paseo from zero to 60 mph in a little over nine seconds. That's not as fast as the pocket rockets, but it's certainly respectable.

The car also handles respectably, especially when equipped with the larger optional tires, as the $12,000 test car was.

But after you get past the decently sporty performance and the rather racy styling, the Paseo leaves a bit to be desired.

Perhaps the most obvious and unsettling thing about the Paseo is its headlights. The first time I took this car on a dark road, I found myself wondering if I was developing vision problems. As it turns out, I wasn't the only tester who had trouble seeing. Observed Car & Driver magazine:

"At night, the headlights throw a blotchy pattern, the worst we've seen in years. Very bright spots are adjacent to fairly dark areas, which makes the dark seem darker still.

"We've expected problems with aerodynamic headlights because the further lenses and reflectors deviate from round, the quirkier they get. The Paseo is beyond the quirky limit."

The no-frills brand automatic seat belts are another trial.

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