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'89 TOKYO SHOW PROVES THAT JAPANESE CARS HAVE COME LONG WAY, BABY-SAN

Published: Friday, Nov. 24 1989 12:00 a.m. MST

RAY: Although we've decided not to recommend any more Japanese cars until they give us back Rockefeller Center, we'd still like to tell you about this year's Tokyo Motor Show - the World Series of auto shows. In addition to unveiling the 1990 production models, the Tokyo show is known for providing a glimpse into the future with concept cars and cars still several years away from production.

TOM: We also discovered why car sales have been increasing so rapidly in the Japanese domestic market. It's because a cab ride from downtown Tokyo to the convention center costs almost as much as a Subaru Justy!RAY: Speaking of Subaru, believe it or not, they had some of the most interesting new designs at the show. It seems as though they've finally fired those carpenters who were designing bodies for them and hired some real Californians. The SVX - the replacement for the XT sports coupe - is aerodynamic, up-to-date and even attractive. From Subaru's new California design center comes the SRD-1, a spacious, rounded, luxury sport wagon. Subaru is apparently determined to build on its success with station wagons while bringing the company aerodynamically and stylistically into the '90s. Subaru gets my vote for most improved.

TOM: The concept cars from Isuzu, on the other hand, appeared to have come right out of the Minnetonka, Minn., R&D facility. Aside from an upscale version of the reliable and worthy Trooper, the Isuzus in Tokyo were essentially "fun" cars - lots of big tires, flared fenders and off-road looks. Isuzu seems to be following the direction they've taken with the Amigo Sport-Utility Vehicle introduced in '89.

RAY: Speaking of fun, the Japanese have apparently gone just as gaga for the Mazda Miata as we have. The Miata on display was dressed in British Racing Green, with a walnut dashboard and steering wheel. Mazda is following the Miata this fall with the Japanese introduction of the Cosmo, a high-performance, personal, luxury sports coupe. The Cosmo has a three-rotor Wankel engine and a classic low, wide European profile. The Japanese market will also finally get the best-handling minivan on the road, the Mazda MPV. Mazda's concept cars included the TD-R, a four-wheel drive, gull-wing, off-road, height-adjustable sports car.

TOM: The new Toyota van - the Previa - bears some resemblance to the new General Motors APV. It has a long, sloping front end, and inside, it's roomier and more modern-looking than the current Toyota van. Unfortunately, the engine is still in the middle, which makes reaching the spark plugs like trying to find your slippers under the bed in the middle of the night.

RAY: Nissan was perhaps the most adventurous Japanese manufacturer this year. Nissan's concept vehicles included the compact NX coupe and the full-size, "intelligent" NEO-X, a high-tech car that Nissan says adjusts its handling characteristics to a wide variety of driving conditions.

TOM: Nissan also brought out the Figaro, an odd throwback to little French cars of the 1940s. I suppose Nissan figured that if the Miata could recapture the spirit of the '60s and sell 40,000 cars a year for Mazda, recapturing the '40s could do the same for Nissan.

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