Toyota Estima Hybrid

We consistently score excellent deals on the very good condition used vehicles that we buy at the Japanese used car auctions, but we are still sometimes surprised, happily surprised, at how good the deal can be.

This really nice, clean, seven seat, 2002 Toyota Estima Hybrid is a perfect example. (The Estima is called the Previa in the US, Canada, and the UK; it’s called Tarago in Australia.) The auction house’s own inspector gave it a high grade and we ourselves could see right off that it was a winner, with low mileage (just over 68,000km / 42,250 miles) and with just a few small scuffs and scratches from normal use. It’s a high spec unit with the top grade, Black Wood, interior panel option, a back-up camera, cruise control, power-slide door, and more. The service history and the owner’s manual came with the car and there were even two spare keys. What a loved van this Estima was. And what little our customer paid for it when we got it at the auction! (We can’t tell you the exact figure because that is always our customer’s “proprietary secret,” but we can say: “Wow! That’s cheap for such a good hybrid van!”)

Over the years here at Japan Car Direct we have built up a good reputation for providing the best service to people overseas looking to buy used sports and performance cars, high end European luxury and supercars, and classic and wealth protection cars from Japan, and we are proud to have that reputation; but we have always been very active on the “bread and butter” end of things in helping people do a self import of a used car from Japan. The core advantages of buying used from Japan remain the same and this Hybrid Estima is a good example of why the whole idea makes such good sense: Low mileage used vehicles in good condition at a good price. And there you have it.

On a personal note, I’ve lived in the U.K., Canada, and now Japan, and I’ve never bought a new car. A good used vehicle is by faaaaaaar the better way to keep yourself always on the road and never out of pocket. Back in Canada and the U.K., the fact was that reasonably priced cars at a good price were few and far between. Crapo thrashed vehicles were the order of the day. When I came to Japan I thought that I had entered a used car buyer’s paradise. I’ve been here eighteen years now and have had no cause to change that opinion. Every single used car I bought here was a winner, from performance iron, like my Imprezza STi Version III, to my wife’s humble little Daihatsu Mira kei car. All were good deals.

And now we’ve got another customer happily riding around in his bought-used-in-Japan Estima Hybrid.

A very sensible combination this vehicle is, too: A minivan (a class of vehicle that does not normally get great gas mileage) matched to the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive power system (which does get good gas mileage). So, with the Estima Hybrid, you are finally getting a minivan that’s not hard on gas.

This is also one of the things that makes an Estima Hybrid an excellent commercial or fleet vehicle. Other plusses for the Estima as a company car are the good luggage and passenger capacity plus the smooth ride. So you can haul crates or customers, packages or people.

And, again on a personal note, in my old company one of the pool cars was a yellow Estima (I don’t remember the year, but it was a first gen), and that minivan was a real work horse for us, always busy picking up staff and clients at the station and business locations, hauling equipment and supplies, and even going to Narita Airport in Chiba time and again. That Estima carried everything and everyone and was very comfortable to drive, feeling more like a sedan, to me, than a van or minivan. We put miles and miles on that guy and the only trouble we had was the wiper motor went wonky once and we had to replace it. That’s it. Typical Japanese good quality.

Getting away from the commercial end of things and looking at the Estima / Previa as a family car, again it’s a winner. The very fine, relaxing ride (the almost “lounge room drive” as one fellow I know has described it) means that if you’re driving the little ones around town, you’ll have a calming environment for them, and if you take the family on long road trips, you’ll avoid much of the long distance driving fatigue that makes holidays feel too much like an exhausting chore when they should be an energizing adventure.

So the Estima Hybrid has a lot of the best characteristics of modern, multi role vehicles. And the hybrid system itself is an amazing thing. You’ve got the gas engine that not only drives the wheels but also powers the motor/generator that fills up the battery that powers the electric motor that also drives the wheels (tah dah!). And these electric motors also recover lost energy from braking and put that into the battery to be used later to drive the car forward; or backward, obviously, if that’s what you want. (By the way, hybrid drive systems don’t have a reverse gear, like you find in a typical car transmission. What happens when you select reverse is that the hybrid car’s computer reverses the polarity of the motors so that they drive the car backwards. Neat, eh?)

And here’s something that all you petrol heads out there will see the beauty of: Much of the fuel efficiency of a hybrid car or minivan comes not from the electric systems themselves, but from the fact that the whole shebang allows the gas (or diesel) engine itself to run most of the time at its most fuel efficient RPM. Something that a regular car with a “normal” transmission just can’t do. To get going in a non-hybrid car you’ve got to get the revs up higher, and that simple act puts you out of the engine’s ideal RPM bracket. Our beloved piston engines are only very efficient in that narrow band. If we could keep them in that band, we’d all be driving a lot farther on every gallon of gas that we buy. To illustrate the point: Years ago I drove a Mack truck that got amazing mileage using the same principle of keeping in the ideal rev range, but it took 18 speeds and two transmissions to do it. (Two gear shifts!) If you’ve ever driven one of those monsters, you’ll know that you worked hard to save that fuel. Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive does it all for you. Good road!

Those first generation Estimas can be imported easily now to the USA and Australia since they clear the 25-year import rules in both those countries, and the second generation Estimas (and the Estima Hybrid) are old enough to be imported easily to the U.K. and Canada.

I’m showing my age now, but I can remember when to get a vehicle that could seat seven and carry a fair pile of luggage meant that you had to have a beastly commercial-van-based unit that drove like a pig, gave a stomach-churning ride, and was anything but good looking. Now, the Toyota Estima carries the people and the luggage but gives you a very civilized ride and very nice looks. Yep! A winner in all areas. And with the Hybrid Estima / Previa you are winning on fuel efficiency, too.