TFLcar’s Five Little Steps to Modern Baby Crossovers #4 – the ’84 Toyota Tercel SR5 4WD Wagon.
Recently, TFLcar witnessed a huge surge in the baby crossover market at the press event for the 2015 Chevrolet Trax. There, we discussed the exploding small/baby crossover market with industry experts and were floored to see how big this nearly nonexistent market is becoming. The next year will see baby crossovers like the Fiat 500X, Mazda CX-3, Jeep Renegade and Honda HR-V, among others.
A “Baby Crossover” is a super small SUV/crossover that’s based on a small car platform. For instance: the 2015 Chevrolet Trax is based on General Motors’ Gamma II platform, which is shared with the small Chevrolet Sonic. Soon, nearly every automaker selling in North America will have a contender for this new category of crossover.
Toyota built something special with the (chassis code AL25) 1984 Toyota Tercel SR5 4WD Wagon. Mounted longitudinally, the 1984 Toyota Tercel Wagon SR5 4WD had a 62 horsepower 1.5-liter four-banger, it made 76 lbs-feet of torque @ 2,800 RPM. Equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, (yes “6”) the first gear was used as an extra-low (EL) gear as it had a 4.71:1 gear-ratio. First gear was reserved for 4WD use only.
Later, a three-speed automatic transmission was available with push-button 4WD engagement.
Being that the engine was already mounted north-south (longitudinally), Toyota extended the output-shaft, connected it to a driveshaft and connected it to the Toyota Corolla’s solid rear axle. There was no central transfer case, no electronic clutches or electromagnetic connection to the rear axle. It was not made for street driving enhancements. The 1984 Toyota Tercel Wagon SR5 4WD was built to get out of sticky situations. Snow, dirt, ice and light off road conditions were the 1984 Toyota Tercel Wagon SR5 4WD’s bag.
“Normally, the car would be operated with front-wheel drive. When the driver pulled the 4WD selector lever back into four-wheel drive, or pressed a button on the gear selector for the automatic transmission, front and rear differentials were driven at the same RPM via a direct mechanical coupling. There is no conventional center differential, so the four-wheel-drive system could be used only on loose or slippery road surfaces (such as snow, gravel, or sand); otherwise the drivetrain would experience severe wear, and handling would be compromised. The third power option (which was only available on the six-speed manual) was low range. This isn’t the same as the low-range power option found in a truck or conventional SUV, as the Tercel lacked a high-range/low-range transfer case. When the lever was placed in four-wheel-drive mode it became possible to down shift the vehicle from first to EL (extra low).” – – Wikipedia
Having a solid rear axle with coil-spring suspension yielded a surprising amount of articulation. Even by today’s standards, the little wagon is awesome in snow and mud. The 1984 Toyota Tercel Wagon SR5 4WD had a wheelbase of 95-inches and a total length of 169-in. Overall curb-weight is estimated at approximately 2,200 lbs.
Later on, Toyota developed their much more advances “All Track” AWD system which was usable year-round in any weather and on any surface. It was more economical and was used from 1988 through 2000 on vehicles like the Celica, RAV4 (which will show up later on this list), Previa minivan and Corolla.
Driving characteristics of the 1984 Toyota Tercel SR5 4WD Wagon: I drove an ’84 Toyota Tercel SR5 4WD Wagon on and off for a year. It was a love and hate relationship. Living in Los Angeles, it was a constant fight to get the car up to speed on the battleground that is the L.A. freeway system. It was just too slow.
It had a surprising amount of room and was pretty comfortable to drive. I maintained decent gas mileage, even better than the government ratings. Not the most manly-looking of vehicles I dare say. Still, it had a wee-little roof rack that was big enough to haul a surfboard, big cooler or a coffin (long story). I welded on a 1-inch tow-hitch and pulled a (much too heavy) U-Haul single axle trailer too.
Then we had El Nino hit with torrential rain, mudslides and nasty sleet at high altitude. Looking for adventure, I deliberately powered through the nastiest muck I could find. Even through (nearly) two-feet of water and deep snow at Big Bear, CA the 1984 Toyota Tercel SR5 4WD Wagon was damn-near unstoppable.
Sadly, I traded the Tercel for a drum-set, dartboard and fooseball table. Before I made the trade, I took it up to Groman, CA (Hungry Valley SVRA – California State Parks) and drove on trails many Jeep owners would avoid. With that extra-low first gear, it climbed like a mountain goat. The rear axle articulated beautifully and, despite the skinny, street-biased tires, traction was excellent.
My newfound appreciation for the plucky 1984 Toyota Tercel SR5 4WD Wagon made the parting difficult.
The idea, size, packaging and simple (but reliable) powerplant showed how inventive and creative Toyota could be. It opened the door for the first “true” crossover that they built a few years later.
Speaking of driving through muck and snow…
If you’re wondering if I would buy one now. Living in Colorado if I had very little money and needed a snow car? Hell yes – especially with snow tires.