Let's make one thing perfectly clear: By no stretch of any proclamation or the electoral process is Toyota the official car of Southern California. That claim is nothing more than a sloganeer's jingle and a definite untruth in advertising. On
the other hand, if a vehicle were to join the golden poppy and blue-corn nachos as official symbols of the Motoring State, there might be none better than the 1992 Toyota Paseo. The car clearly is California: young, fun and on a constant course for
the fresh outdoors. It is fit, compact, gutty, winks at the opposite sex and itches to run. Itis very much a part of today but also is much less serious than life and our times. In short, it is one very cool dude. As a mini-sport coupe, the 2+2
Paseo is slotted safely in one of the market's fastest growing segments. That also puts it in fast, very tough company. The Paseo will fight for sales and survival against the well-established Honda CRX, the base Geo Storm, the new Nissan NX1600,
the entry-level Isuzu Impulse and Hyundai Scoupe. And Mazda's MX-3, the latest in this class of 1.5-liter Dinky Toys, waits impatiently in the wings. So to evaluate the Paseo--any Californian asking for a translation of paseo risks being exiled to
North Dakota--is to look for what the car offers that is as good as, or possibly better than, the sporty competition. At $9,988, the price is certainly right and lower than most. The four-cylinder, 16-valve engine develops 100 horsepower, which is
quicker and peppier than the Storm, CRX, Scoupe, Nissan and Isuzu. That amount of muscle propelling a car weighing only 2,070 pounds also gives the Paseo the best power-to-weight ratio of any vehicle in its class. Better yet, the car is offered with
an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission, an expensive option unheard of among bargain-basement motor cars. Its basis is a computer chip that allows the engine and transmission to compare notes. The unit measures throttle
setting, vehicle speed and engine temperature, then automatically positions the shift points to provide an optimum blend of performance, smoothness and fuel efficiency. Our turquoise test car, however, came with a five-speed manual that was fluid
and flexible and had a short throw very much in keeping with the vehicle's competitive nature. A manual transmission further squeezes fuel consumption, giving the Paseo city-highway averages of 28 and 34 m.p.g. That translates, incredibly, to about 300
miles between $13 fill-ups of regular unleaded. Based on the Toyota Tercel chassis--although reskinned, re-engined and obviously reconfigured far from anything resembling such a commuter capsule--the Paseo's styling cribs lightly from the MR2, which
is a pretty exhilarating source to loot. Headlights are flush and molded, wrap-around and a little feline. The optional rear winglet won't assist the handlin
g, but it certainly is raffish and adds a hatchback look to the rear end. That, however, is pure illusion. The car will be sold only as a two-door with an eight-cubic-foot trunk that converts into a 29-cubic-foot cargo hold by folding down the rear seat
backs. Those rear seats are the standard apology. Use them only for hauling Teddy bears or large enemies. Other passengers should be fed industrial-strength muscle relaxants before being crammed back there. The Paseo's cabin is the crucible of
the car's basic economy, so do not look for much beyond basic interior furnishings. Windows are hand-cranked. Seats and door liners are upholstered in polyester tweed with gray mouse fur on some flat surfaces. No air bags on either side. Seats and
side mirrors are hand-operated. Installing sun visors without even a $1.50 vanity mirror is carrying austerity to monastic levels. The largest luxury is a pair of cup holders. Unfortunately, they are mounted direct
y over the ashtrays. Those with all the vices may very well wind up with Marlboro butts in their coffee. Despite all its enforced abstinence, the Paseo's interior is not unpleasant. It is fully functional and even displays a certain amount of design
savvy in keeping the instrument cluster, heater vents and center console controls simple without falling victim to the cheap and dinky. Toyota's technical center in Gardena designed the chassis and suspension geometry. It uses a combination of front
MacPherson struts, rear trailing torsion beams and new axle bushings to stiffen against roll. Translation: Here is a versatile platform that will neither rattle the fillings of cautious drivers nor produce damp palms and travel nausea in sportier pilots.
We would have like disc brakes on all four wheels instead of the Paseo's cost-cutting disc-drum setup. But stopping, even under panic conditions, even without the security of an anti-lock system, was instant and positive--another bonus of that light
curb weight. Front-wheel drive gives the car the anticipated skitters of torque steer. One day, some engineer will tame that particular goblin and front wheels will be restored to biting without flex. Apart from that flash of bad manners, the
Paseo's handling is virtually flawless and certainly among the best of the sport coupes. It should be noted that all modern sporty cars track true to their steering lines, whether cornering sedately or squirting through freeway traffic. A mechanical
lag between dipping the gas pedal and feeling grip on the driving wheels is a thing of the past. No matter how hard the maneuver or how wicked the curve, today's mini-coupes are flatter and firmer by far, with never a hint of tipping on their roofs.
Paseo's edge is in coordinating all these advances and advantages into one well-mannered, stable, but nevertheless spirited whole. And without compromising comfort or your personal debtstructure. From this concert of handling and performance, the
Paseo will stimulate and satisfy, which in turn elevates mundane motoring into the driving experience. All advertising claims considered, you may even love what this Toyota does for you. 1992 Toyota Paseo The Good Hearty performance for
light and young of heart. Concerted handling. Low price, high value. Sips gas by eye-dropper. The Bad What trunk? What rear seats? The Ugly Visors sans mirrors. Cost Base: $9,988. As tested, $12,713 (including air conditioning,
alloy wheels, cruise control, moon roof, rear spoiler, sound system upgrade). Engine Four cylinders, double overhead cams, 16 valves and 1.5 liters developing 100 horsepower. Type Front-drive, two-door, 2+2 mini-sport coupe. Performance
0-60 m.p.h., as tested, 9.8 seconds. Top speed, manufacturer's estimate, 118 m.
p.h. Fuel consumption, EPA average, city-highway, 28 and 34 m.p.g. Curb Weight 2,070 pounds.