Released with a single engine configuration and body style, the Sera featured optional configurations for its transmission, brakes, cold climate and sound-system. Toyota marketed three trim versions, marketed as Phases, over its production and marketed the Sera exclusively in Japanese Toyota retail sales channels Toyota Corolla Store — as an alternative to the Toyota MR2, which was exclusive to Toyota Vista Store.
A total of 15,941 were built between February 1990 and December 1995. 15,852 units were registered in Japan.
The Sera came with the 1.5 L (1496 cc) inline 4 5E-FHE unleaded petrol engine, the largest capacity version of Toyota's E series of engines included in the Paseo and the Starlet. This was installed in a front-mount, front wheel drive transverse configuration with electronic fuel injection. All versions came with power assisted rack and pinion steering and either the Toyota A242L 4-speed automatic or the Toyota C155 5-speed manual transmission. The brakes were vented discs at the front and drums at the rear, unless fitted with the optional Anti-Lock Braking system which had vented discs all round.
Mechanically the car is related to both the Paseo and the Starlet, sharing similar floorpans, suspension, steering and brakes.
The Toyota Sera is a 3-door hatchback coupe of monocoque steel construction. The Sera's gull wing are hinged at the top and bottom of the A pillar and open forward and up in a manner similar to the McLaren F1 and Saleen S7 - the McLaren F1 designer Gordon Murray cited the Sera as the inspiration of the F1's door arrangement. The weight of each door is primarily supported by a thick gas strut and counterbalanced by a smaller secondary strut inside the door. Unlike conventional hinged side-opening doors, the butterfly doors can be opened fully in a fairly confined space, requiring only 43 cm (17 in) of lateral clearance. The Alfa Romeo Stradale is believed[by whom?] 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 rear hatch is constructed of a single piece of glass without a supporting steel frame. This, in combination with a steeply sloping front windscreen and glass upper-door/roof panels (a total of six separate glass pieces overall), gives the Sera its distinctive canopy and provides expansive visibility, although the thick B-pillar create a significant blind spot, especially on the driver's side. To deal with its high solar load, air-conditioning and twin removable interior roof panels as standard.
Front bucket seats feature three point seatbelts and can tilt and slide forward to give access to the rear. The rear bench seat features a fixed central arm rest and either two or three point seabelts.
In its normal interior configuration (with the back seats up and the parcel shelf in place) the rear cargo area does have a noticeably small opening (52 cm by 82 cm) and an elevated lip necessitating the lifting of luggage quite high before it can be placed inside. However the boot (trunk) is relatively deep and spacious. In addition the rear seats fold down and both the parcel shelf and the rear divider panel (usually in place behind the back seats) can be completely removed, in essence turning the entire rear half of the car into a cargo area. As such the Toyota Sera has a large amount of available storage space for its size. The space-saving spare tire and changing kit are contained in a small compartment below the boot floor.
The Sera/EXY-10 was one of the first cars to feature projector headlights (though the 1988 AXV-II concept model featured conventional lights).
As the Sera was built solely for the Japanese market all cars were right-hand drive as factory standard and the speedometer and odometer units were metric. This makes the car readily importable into countries with similar standards and requires only minimal changes for ones such as the United Kingdom (where vehicles are also right-hand drive but instruments are in Imperial units). However, major alterations may be necessary before the Sera is legal for general use in, or even importation into, other countries. In Australia, most Seras will have required three-point seatbelts and side impact beams to be fitted for compliance, as such it may be beneficial to import a later model Phase III to avoid this third-party work. Any vehicle over 15 years old can be legally imported to Canada, so even the newest Seras are now eligible. Similarly, any vehicle over 25 years old can be legally imported to the USA, so the first three model years are now eligible as of 2017.
Toyota produced the Sera in three distinct trim variants, with either manual or automatic transmission, standard or ABS brakes and regular stereo or Super-Live Sound System ("SLSS" - see below) forming the three major choices for buyers. There were also a large number of additional factory options available across the entire production run.
The initial build and the majority of the Sera's total production (around 12,000 of the 15,852 or so cars produced)featured:
Around 2,300 cars of this second trim were produced featuring:
1,550 of the final version of the Sera were manufactured, featuring:
The Phase III Sera also featured a limited edition model, the Amlux, named after Toyota's flagship building in Tokyo. The Amlux Building houses the world's largest automobile showroom and is located in Ikebukuro. It is an oval-shaped high rise building that glows purple at night, with a matte-finish look and flashing white strobes.
The Sera special edition Amlux versions were based on the phase III SERA with automatic transmission and SLSS, featuring:
All Amlux cars were built between September and December 1992. It is believed that 21 of these cars were produced.
All Phases of the Toyota Sera came with a range of factory optional extras. The major mechanical option was the Anti-Lock Braking System. Additional options included:
One major internal option came in the form of an advanced car audio system known as the Super Live Surround Sound or SLSS. The SLSS comprised a total of 10 speakers; 3 x 10 cm tweeters in the front console (left, right and centre), 2 x 10 cm door-mounted cones (left and right), 2 x tweeters and 2 x cones contained in a single, tube shaped unit mounted on the rear parcel shelf, and a boot fitted 'Acoustic Resonance Woofer' (subwoofer). The SLSS came with a three mode Digital Sound Processor (DSP) which cycled through 'off', 'Casual' or 'Funky' mode by use of a button labelled "WARP" on the CD/Radio or CD/Radio/Cassette head unit. These produced slight differences in sound quality through preset values for settings such as bass and treble, as well as rotating the speakers in the rear unit to either project directly into the car or bounce off the rear window. A complete and functional SLSS is one of the most highly sought after options by Toyota Sera enthusiasts, but by being factory fit is quite hard to retro-fit.
Sera buyers could also add one of two different styles of electronic air cleanser/fresheners. These came in the form of either a standalone roof mounted filter and interior light unit known as "CleanAce" or an integrated device known as an "Air Fantasy" that was mounted in the centre console beneath the audio head-unit. The roof unit took air in through a vent at the front and ran it out through a filter at the back. The Air Fantasy system was connected to the vehicle's own air-conditioning system and would pump small bursts of scented air (from one of three replaceable scent packs) either automatically or on demand through the air vents. Although the roof unit is relatively common for an optional extra, the Air Fantasy is especially rare.
Fragrances include Deodorizer (White), Morning Green (Orange ), Peppermint (Blue), White Herb (Green) and Sazan Floral (Yellow)
The CleanAce system might have been intended for smokers. There are a number of after-market systems which replace the cabin light and perform a similar job.
Many Toyota Seras have received aftermarket additions or improvements aimed at extending the usable life of the vehicle, improving the overall performance or to rectify commonly perceived issues such as body roll or poor headlight levels.
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By far the most common mechanical improvement is the tuning or complete replacement of the engine. The factory standard 5E-FHE developed, when new, 110 PS (108 bhp), and is the most powerful of the normally aspirated versions of the Toyota E series engine. However, with minimal modification to the car itself this unit can be replaced with the factory Toyota Starlet GT Turbo ('Glanza') engine (4E-FTE) which develops 135 PS (133 bhp). This has been successfully transplanted in a number of Seras in Japan, Australia and the UK where the 'bolt-on' nature of the change and the relatively cheap price of both the replacement engine and additional parts (due to the large numbers of Starlets produced) make it much more attractive than tuning the existing 5E-FHE with custom parts. The Starlet Turbo can be additionally tuned to give substantially more power (175-200 bhp) than that released by Toyota. However, in order to achieve these levels of power it is necessary to make quite a number of changes — exchanging the intercooler for a larger version and relocating it to the front bumper, installing a revised exhaust and induction kit, plus a number of electronic engine management devices to alter the fuelling and turbo boost safety points.
More specialised options have included using the 4A-GE engine (black top with map sensor) which can produce around 165 hp (123 kW), giving the car a power-to-weight ratio of 5.63 kg/hp (in comparison to the more modern Mazda RX-8 for example which has a power-to-weight ratio of 5.93 kg/hp). With a Standalone Engine Management System (EMS/ECU) and various other engine modifications, the 4A-GE can readily be made to produce around 200 hp (150 kW), and in excess of 230 bhp (170 kW) with the addition of a larger turbo.
At least two Seras in Japan are claimed to have 300 bhp (220 kW), in Australia produces a claimed 290 bhp (216 kW) and one in Sri Lanka claimed to have 270 bhp (200 kW). These are extremely expensive and specialized conversions as the engines and transmissions have to be strengthened, cooling and fuel issues have to be addressed and improvements are required to the brakes and handling package.
Despite its sporting coupe image, the Toyota Sera suspension is equipped with much softer springs than might be expected. To compensate this problem an aftermarket handling package is available, developed with the assistance of Leda Suspension. This gives the car a firmer and more sporting drive with less pronounced and more progressive body roll characteristics. The car is lowered slightly as well. The kit contains: 1 pair of front dampers, 1 pair of front progressive rate springs, 1 pair of rear dampers, 1 pair of rear progressive rate springs. Because of the similarities between the Sera, Paseo/Cynos, & Starlet GT, other parts such as swaybars, strut bars, other braces and brakes can be retrofitted.
There are several designs of full bodykit and sections available for the Sera. Popular amongst these are full kits made by G5 Speed Garage (Japan), Quest Power: Type-A (Japan), Cia Style Kit (UK), X-Racing (Australia). and a rear bumper by Andros (Cyprus), Sera bodykits mainly include redesigned and grounded front bumpers, front splitters, carbon-fibre bonnets, wheelarch trims, wide arch kits, front bumper extensions, side skirts, rear spoilers, headlamp eyelids and body mounted rear wings.
The Sera made an early appearance in the anime television series Patlabor, in Episode 33 of the first series, first broadcast in 1990. Both antagonists and police units make use of the car in this episode. At the date of broadcast, the Sera had made its motor-show debut in 1989 as the AXV-II Concept. As such, this broadcast appearance of the Sera was important for Toyota advertising. The series is set in a recognisable near-future Tokyo. The presence of the Sera suggested Toyota's commitment to bring the Sera into series production.
The Toyota Sera was used in the Japanese television series "Super Rescue Solbrain" which ran for 53 episodes from January 1991 to January 1992. The principal character drives a vehicle called SolGallop which is a Sera with a revised full length frontal canopy, but there are other less modified cars in police livery in the show.
The Sera is also featured as a playable car in the video game series Gran Turismo as a "standard car" (cars with lower-quality modeling from PS2-era games).
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