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Toyota Sera

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The Toyota Sera was a small car built by Toyota solely for the Japanese market in the early 1990s, although enthusiasts in New Zealand, India, Ireland, Australia, Canada, and the UK have since imported a handful of them. It was initially revealed as the Toyota AXV-II concept car in 1988, and was shown in almost production-ready form.

The Sera was available with a 1.5 L inline 4 engine. It came with either 4 speed automatic or a 5 speed manual transmission.

The car is related to the Toyota Paseo, and shares similar floorpans, suspension, steering and brakes.

The engine is the 5E-FHE developing 110ps (108bhp), and this is the largest capacity derivation of the E series engines, and the most powerful of the normally aspirated versions. The Toyota Starlet GT Turbo or Glanza engine, codename 4E-FTE, develops 135ps (133bhp) as standard and has been successfully transplanted in a number of Seras in Japan, Australia and the UK.

Its most distinctive feature is its butterfly doors, which open forward and up from the bottom and top of the A pillar (similar to the McLaren F1). The weight of the door is supported by a thick gas strut, but there is a balance system to help take into account changes in temperature inside the door. The door can be opened fully in a fairly confined space - 43cm clearance on either side of the car, unlike the conventional doors on most cars.

The Sera came with an optional 'Live' surround sound system that included a pair of component speakers on the rear parcel tray, mounted in a tube that could rotate towards the passengers or the glass hatch. This premium sound package also included a small subwoofer as well as a centre speaker in the dash and is usually identified as "Super Live Surround Sound" or SLSS.

One drawback of the car is the large amount of glass that can create a solar load greenhouse effect inside the car causing interior temperatures to soar. All Seras came as standard with air conditioning to offset this problem, and the advantage of the design is that the otherwise cramped rear passengers enjoy incredible visibility to the front and sides (and above!) compared to most small coupes. Due to the overwhelming amount of glass the body is not very rigid. This lack of rigidity affects the handling characteristics with body roll (although some of this behaviour can often be attributed to the age of the cars since new genuine suspension is actually quite competent, although still somewhat at odds with the sporting image the car has acquired outside of Japan). Another disappointing feature is the small opening for the rear cargo area; measuring only 52cm by 82cm. This boot (trunk) space is large enough to fit a small suitcase, but the rear seats fold down to increase storage area to an acceptable level, and the division between the rear seats and luggage area is removeable. Ultimately the Sera is an incredibly practical design given its compact size.

The Toyota Sera was produced in three distinct versions, each available with either manual or automatic transmissions, standard (2 speakers, fitted to the doors) or SLSS audio, and a wide range of options. The initial build (Phase 1) features beige/tan interior or greyish blue depending on exterior colour, a bayonet fuel filler cap, and a ribbed woven seat material that is very hardwearing. Most of the production was completed in this phase, around 12,000 of the total 16,000 or so cars produced, from launch in 1990 to May 1991. From May 1991 to June 1992, Phase II was produced, identifiable by different seat materials featuring a pastel pattern in the main sections with tan/greyish bolsters depending on interior colour, and a screw-type fuel filler cap. Around 2,300 Phase II cars were produced.

The final version of the Sera (Phase III) features a grey interior with seat fabrics that have a secondary colour to complement the exterior colour, some engine component revisions, side impact beams in the doors, optional airbags (which may have been accompanied by ABS - an option on all Seras - and three-point rear seat belts), stronger door struts to compensate for the side impact beams, and the only external change to the Sera - a solid plastic spoiler with LED high-level brake light incorporated.

The Phase III Sera also featured a limited edition model, the Amlux.

Optional accessories for the Sera at launch included an in car fax, "fragrance synthesizer", CleanACE cabin filter (relatively common - for an accessory. Many accessories are extremely rare), parking sensors, ski-racks which attached to the doors, and a different set of seat covers and mats in a striking colour combination.

The Sera/AXV-II was one of the first cars to feature projector headlights (the AXV-II concept featured conventional lights). The Alfa Romeo Stradale is believed to be the first car to feature dihedral doors, which like the Sera, features windows that curve upward into the 'roof' section of the vehicle.

The Sera is still very well supported by Toyota for spares, and many UK dealers are happy to order parts and service the car.

In Australia, most Seras will have required three-point seatbelts and side impact beams to be fitted for compliance. There may be benefits to importing a later model to avoid this third-party work.

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