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The Extraordinary Estima

Testing the Japanese-import 1990 Toyota Estima 4WD twin roof - a truly magnificent machine!

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • Japanese import Toyota Estima (aka Tarago) 4WD
  • Wonderful interior space and comfort
  • Surprisingly good to drive
  • Looks great with big rims and a body kit
  • Terrific value
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Now here’s a vehicle that really got our rocks off.

You won’t win any traffic light duels, but if you want limousine-like luxury for six people, plenty of interior goodies and a smooth, attractive body, you cannot go past this – the Japanese import 1990 Toyota Estima 4WD. This is a vehicle that’s guaranteed to impress anyone! And, to make things even more appealing, you can purchase an Estima 4WD such as this through for between AUD$8000 and AUD$9500 (plus ADR-ing).

Bargains don’t get any bigger than this!

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Put simply, the Estima 4WD is a more refined and modern version of a vehicle that we’ve previously come to love – the Japanese market Toyota Hi-Ace Super Custom (see Van Fan and Hi-Ace Hankering). But while the Hi-Ace is built on a commercial vehicle platform, the Estima (aka Tarago) is designed as a people-mover – and the difference is obvious.

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The Estima (even with the lowered suspension in our test vehicle) rides beautifully thanks to its strut front and double wishbone independent rear suspension. In full-time 4WD form, the Estima accepts full throttle without a hint of wheelspin and handles very securely – much, much better than the Hi-Ace. The steering is also very car-like and responsive (probably helped by the 18 inch wheels and low profile tyres on our test car). Brakes are ventilated discs with ABS.

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And, despite being 15 years old, the Estima also feels very modern. Its swept-back windscreen and sculpted dash wouldn’t look out of place in a brand new people-mover.

It’s no wonder the contemporary Tarago was seen as such a groundbreaking vehicle when it was released in Australia during 1990.

While the Estima 4WD is very pleasant to drive, its interior accommodation and comfort is nothing short of magnificent.

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Interior space is excellent (though it doesn’t have the length of the Hi-Ace) and our test vehicle had seating for six people in very comfortable bucket seats. The second row seats can be swivelled to face the third row. We believe a seven seater version was also sold. Rear passengers enjoy ample sprawling space and a very pleasant ambience can be created when you retract the huge centre sunroof (as fitted to the top-line twin roof version). Front seat occupants also enjoy plenty of space and a smaller pop-up sunroof.

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The Estima cabin is also equipped with separate front and rear air conditioning, electric windows, a tailgate lock switch, parking sensors and a tricky “cool and hot box with ice maker”. All that’s missing are airbags.

It should come as no surprise to learn that the top-line Estima 4WD is no lightweight – it tips the scales at 1860kg.

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Interestingly, Toyota fitted a 2.4 litre DOHC four-cylinder (coded 2TZ-FE) and reserved the turbo diesel engines for the Hi-Ace. Fortunately, the 2.4 litre donk pumps out good torque across the rev range (peaking with 206Nm at 4000 rpm) and you’ll find 101kW at 5000 rpm. A four-speed automatic (with switchable overdrive) keeps the engine working in its happiest range but can’t mask the poor power-to-weight ratio. Expect 0 – 100 km/h performance in the vicinity of 15 seconds.

The auto-only Estima 4WD should return around 12 litres per 100km fuel consumption depending on conditions. Fortunately, the engine is happy to accept normal unleaded fuel – this will save you a few dollars when it comes time to fill the 75 litre tank.

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Visually, the Estima is identical to the locally delivered Tarago - note that a narrow-body Lucida version was also sold in Japan. The very smooth body profile was pretty ‘out there’ back in 1990 but, today, the big Toyota looks quite at home in traffic alongside the latest models. And these oh-so-smooth vans look fantastic with a big set of rims and a body kit. Our test example (typical of many Estimas imported from Japan) flaunts a ground effects body kit, dark window tint, lowered ride height and 18 inch rims (replacing the factory 15s). It’s a vehicle that received plenty of approving nods during our test.

The only downside is ground clearance. The sight of oncoming driveway entrances, speed humps and spoon drains make the driver cringe...

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Aside from this, there is very little that can be criticised. Sure, it’d be nice if there was some more grunt but you soon forget about that when you sit back in the comfy seats, pull a coldie out of the cool box and enjoy the ride. This vehicle really does have it all.

The example tested here has 113,000km on the odometer and is in good overall condition. At AUD$9500 (plus ADR-ing) it’s a substantially cheaper option to buying a locally delivered (and very rare) Tarago 4WD. John Verban from Yahoo Motorsports says the Estima is relatively easy and cheap to bring up to ADR standards.

Local Taragos have a reputation for reliability and the imported Estima (chassis code TCR21W) should be no different. Nearly all parts should be interchangeable, although the 4WD transmission and rear section of driveline wouldn’t be cheap to fix. Local 4WD Taragos were sold in very limited numbers and you’ll struggle to find a second-hand transmission in good condition.

If you’re in the market for a relatively cheap people-mover that you can enjoy, you simply must look at the Estima 4WD. You won’t regret it. Heck, why not buy a fleet of ‘em and create a unique chauffeur company?!

Now there’s an idea!


Yahoo Motorsport
+61 8 8345 0939/ 0416 080462

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