Will discontinuation end love for the Mark II/X?

Thursday May 13 2021
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By Mustafa Ziraba

My first car was a 1989 Toyota Mark II, the GX81 with a supercharged two-litre engine. The seller conveniently offloaded that fuel guzzler for Shs2.8m to an unsuspecting naive fresh graduate. I spent a substantial number of weekends in the garage, picking up several bits and pieces about cars along the way.

I later acquired the 1999 Mark II, the X100. The Mark II has always been a middle class car, for one looking for something that is a bit upmarket yet not too expensive to buy and maintain. In the used car market and even the used car parts market, the Mark II is a darling.

History

The mark II has gone through nine generations spanning 35 years from 1968 through 2003 with the last Mark II branded the Toyota Mark II Blit, starting with the fifth generation; the X70, made from 1984 to 1988. You will not see many of these today. The sixth generation; the X80, is the generation that sparked off the Mark II craze, popular with wealthy businessmen of the time, with the aggressively loud engine at start up and long bonnet.

This is the specific version I owned with model years 1988 through 1992. Enter the X90 at generation seven. This was the Mark II that got people really interested. The sporty aggressive look with a rounded out appearance was visually captivating compared to other cars of the time. The X100 was the eighth generation with a number of trim levels with the Grande as the most popular.

This generation introduced the now common VVTi to the Mark II stable with a facelift at its end where clear rear lights were introduced. The ninth generation, the X110; was the last of Mark II, which was replaced by the now hot ticket Mark X from 2004 through 2019. The X has remained true to the Mark II’s popular pedigree including all that makes the Mark II great, with the X being even better.

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Competition

There has been a number of challengers in this space including but not limited to the Toyota Progres, Toyota Brevis, Toyota Verossa and Toyota Crown. While buyers of all these cars are quite similar, chances are, they all have a soft spot for the Mark II and Mark X.

There was a time buyers were, and undoubtedly still are, downsizing to more efficient cars while still demanding they satisfy their every driving need. The Mark II held its head high as small cars could not simply rely on being cheap and be excused for lacking in features or refinement.

Interior

Getting into the driver’s seat, one is greeted by the plush interiors, with a lot of attention to detail. The refinement and the quality of materials is good. The eighth and ninth generations steering has a wooden finish, which looks nice and the sound quality from the standard radio is quite impressive.

Switching on the ignition, the Mark IIs and Xs start with the smoothest sound and with engines being straight sixes, they are very polished. Engine noise is isolated well. If you care enough to read the technical stuff, straight six engines also known as Inline six were popular with Mark IIs.

The Mark X moved to the V6 sighting that straight-sixes were too expensive to manufacture and too long for the engine compartments in their newer cars. Additionally being inherently long engines, they are apparently tough to package, especially with modern safety and crash standards. The car accelerates smoothly although not aggressively and the steering wheel feels super light.

Exterior

The Mark II received a total redesign with every generation, but the newer look does not stray too far from that of previous models. I particularly like the look of the X90 and the Mark X, which stand out with their more sculptured appearance. The X100 and X110 were a bit of an experiment I believe. Nonetheless, all models look safe with the Mark X specifically departing from this tradition with a sporty look.

Driving impression

Toyota knows how to build quiet cars with a comfortable ride. Toyota’s Lexus division has excelled in this area and this expertise appears to have worked its way over to the Mark II and finally the Mark X. Mark IIs are easy cars to drive if you do everything just right. Many enthusiast drivers praise their above average pulling power for their size.

More than 90 per cent of all Mark IIs and Mark Xs in Uganda have a two-litre and 2.5 litre engine respectively as well as automatic transmission. The suspension is set up primarily for comfort. True to tradition, all generations have been rear wheel drive. Toyota discontinued the inline-six engines which included the JZ series and the G series engines, and went to the newly developed GR series engine.

Either the 158 kW (212 hp; 215 PS) 2.5 L (2,497 cc) 4GR-FSE or the 188 kW (252 hp; 256 PS) 3.0 L (2,995 cc) 3GR-FSE engine options were available. Both engines offer Dual VVT-i with D-4 direct injection. The rear-wheel drive models have a six-speed torque converter automatic transmission as standard and the four-wheel drive models have a five-speed automatic.

No manual transmission options were offered.

Reliable

Mark IIs can go on and on and on. In fact, the Mark IIs and similar Toyota cars have built their reputation on their impressive reliability. In the past, older cars’ smaller engine cars had a screeching reputation when it came to reliability. But, dependability remains one of the characteristics associated with the Mark II.

Without surprise, the subsequent Mark X continued to build on this reputation, and predictably, buyers continue to gravitate towards it in impressive numbers. Just take a count today, the Mark X is one of the hottest cars on the market right now.

Maintenance wise, there is an abundant availability of parts largely in the used spare parts market. Naturally, with generation progression, the cost of these parts increases. A headlamp for instance across generations can have a Shs600,000 price difference.

Safety

All Mark II and Mark Xs come with standard safety features of their respective generations including but not limited to front air bags and anti-lock braking system. The Mark X steps it up a level with side airbags, and stability control.

The bad stuff

Mark IIs and Xs have been quite notorious for having laughably low resale values as they age. You end up spending more for a replacement car. While this might not be unique to Mark IIs or Xs and is actually more profound with European cars, nonetheless it is a negative in my book. Like with most cars, they look beautiful when new, so does the Mark II and definitely the Mark X. However, some age well and the Mark II is not one of those. In fact, if not taken care of properly, it can age really poorly.

Buying used

By buying used, I mean third hand, having done some rounds in Uganda. Although normally trouble-free, have a good look over any Mark II/X carefully in case it has been owned by another person. The engine should start virtually instantly and idle smoothly from the moment it kicks over. Automatic transmission changes should be all but impossible to hear or feel at low to moderate throttle openings. Check the condition of the body panels for signs of previous crash repairs. For instance, paint that does not match from one panel to another, slight ripples in the surfaces, tiny drops of paint overspray on non-painted surfaces such as the windows and trim items.

Safety

If you are a motorist who does not wear a safety belt, you will not drive a Mark X. This is because it will make an irritating and loud alarm when the driver or co-driver do not wear their safety seatbelts. The same alarm will be turned on if you forget to disengage or remove the handbrake before setting off. It will move with the handbrake still engaged but it will also warn you with an alarm. It also comes fitted with the front airbags, but unfortunately none for the passengers in the back seats.

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