Toyota first offered the Paseo in 1991 as a sporty replacement for the deceased two-door Corolla. The Paseo and its more economically-minded and serious Tercel sibling rode atop the Toyota Starlet platform. Though the Starlet was a successful vehicle abroad, it was only sold in North America between 1981 and 1984.
In its first generation, the Paseo was offered solely in coupe format. There was also one engine option: the Corolla’s 1.5-liter inline-four. It produced 100 horsepower in most places, or 93 horsepower for Californians. Sports driving was assured via a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.
An image of the first generation is what comes to mind for most people — if they remember the Paseo at all.
Toyota felt Paseo was successful enough to warrant a second album, and in 1995 a new generation was released to the Japanese domestic market. North American customers held their horses until 1996. The Paseo received gentle visual revisions for its second generation, appearing a bit sharper and tidier in proportion.
Japanese-market Paseos (called Cynos) were now powered by a smaller 1.3-liter engine, while elsewhere a modernized version of the 1.5 returned, benefited by more modern engine management electrics. In the pursuit of lower emissions, all North American examples were de-tuned to 93 horsepower, matching California’s specifications.
But where Toyota took away power, it added an additional body style to the lineup — a cabriolet. Available a year after the new coupe, 1997 was the only year for the Paseo cabriolet in the United States. Canadians felt more optimistic about the Paseo, and sales there continued for the 1998 and 1999 model years, before Toyota axed it globally. There was no real Paseo replacement; perhaps the closest in North America was Scion’s tC in 2004.
Today’s happy Paseo cabriolet is a California resident, recently appearing for sale on Craigslist (in case you were wondering, this is how you do car photographs properly). In spectacular condition and with just under 60,000 miles, the owner tells me he received very nearly his asking price of $5,000.