The Japanese domestic market is like that iceberg meme; it only seems to harbor more secrets the deeper you go. The second you think you've found the most obscure car possible, like the Toyota Classic, you're primed for surprise by the next unknown. In this case, it's a version of the ST200 Toyota Celica called the Toyota Curren, and it's been hiding in plain sight with performance tech that was never available on the Celica.
The Curren was introduced in January 1994 as a more reserved Celica alternative, one without any boy-racer connotations. Its name comes from the English word "current," and was meant to convey that it was stylish and "chic," according to a sales brochure on Auto Catalog Archive. However, its phonetic translation sounds more like "Karen." That has no bearing on anything, I just think it's funny.
Looking like a mashup of the Celica, Honda Prelude, and S14 Nissan Silvia, the Curren was based on the Celica notchback that we got in the U.S. alongside the liftback. The Celica convertible was also based on this, which is why it has the Curren's taillights. As for the front, it's more like the contemporary Camry, giving it a less divisive face than the bug-eyed ST205 we all remember.
The Curren seems to have been formulated as a direct answer to the Prelude. Both are toned-down, front-wheel-drive sporty coupes with subtle styling and enough kick for a good time, though neither are the fastest thing in their class. Still, they needed a reason for people to buy them, and they offered the same incentive: four-wheel steering and an advanced suspension design.
We all know what 4WS does (it boosts agility and stability), but the Curren's optional "Super Strut Suspension" is a little less obvious. According to a poster on NewCelica.org, it made MacPherson struts behave more like double wishbones. Looking at diagrams, it seems to use tricks similar to the FK8 Honda Civic Type R's dual-axis suspension. This setup was shared with the Celica GT-Four, and some lesser sixth-gen Celicas outside North America. (There's also an apocryphal active-suspension model, but I found no evidence of such thing existing.)
However, the Curren missed out on the GT-Four's 2.0-liter 3S-GTE turbo-four, instead topping out at the naturally aspirated 2.0-liter 3S-GE—and not even the variably timed BEAMS at that. Still, it made a respectable 178 horsepower according to Gazoo, which it sent through a five-speed manual equipped with a viscous LSD on Super Strut models.
There was aksi a 300-unit TRD Sports model for 1995 that used a raft of TRD parts, from aero to interior mods, which the photos above might depict. No photos are available online though, so we may just be looking at a GT-Four tribute. But we know for a fact that TOM'S Racing wheels, shifters, and decals were offered as a dealer option, along with oddities like fake wood paneling and a four-inch single-DIN TV in the center console. (It turned off when the car was moving.)
So why have we never heard of the Curren? Aside from the fact that it was never a high-performance car, it seems it sold poorly. Toyota expected to sell 2,000 Currens a month, but it pulled the plug in September 1998 with only about 41,000 cars built—around a third short of where it should've been. That's similar volume to the S15 Nissan Silvia, so on the uncommon side, but it's not nearly as pricey. An initial search turns up multiple examples for well under $10,000.
The way I see it, the Toyota Curren is the perfect platform for a Celica GT-Four clone, whether or not you keep its four-wheel steering. I also prefer the Curren's front end to the Celica's, but I'm not here to start a fight. I just want one of you to import one so I can ogle at it at Cars & Coffee.
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