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Toyota Estima. Advantages and Disadvantages.

Some Advantages and Disadvantages - With Tim Neill

It’s great for school drop offs and pick-ups. You can enjoy it on the long road trips and the short weekend drives. Perfect for Bunnings and Ikea shopping frenzies. Car-pooling with friends? No problem! Wherever your life takes you, Toyota Estima delivers in spades.

Can you believe we used to dwell in a non-Estima land just a decade ago?

Import-loving families who wanted lots of space would have to settle for a Nissan Skyline sedan or a Nissan Stagea wagon in the early 2000s. The large tribes didn’t have any choice – it was all about getting a 4x4 brute MMC Delica with 7 or 8 seats. There was also a long wheelbase Toyota Hiace, of course, but we all know that’s a commercial van first, and wasn’t really popular as a large family vehicle.

Toyota Estima

Nissan Elgrand E50 & E51 arrived en masse around 2008-2009 and lifted the game with drop down DVD screens, leather seats, and dual auto doors.

Then Estima came a couple of years later and conquered us all, adding car-like handling and plenty of power and drivetrain options. Within a year it became the number one JDM car in Oz and the whole import industry pretty much became an Estima industry. Full stop.

Despite the huge popularity of imported cars, and easily accessible information on the internet, mechanics can still be a little gun-shy about unfamiliar cars in their workshop. Estima changes all this by sharing its model designations, service schedule, most body panels, and 99% of the mechanical parts with the locally sold Tarago.

The Tarago has been a popular and recognisable sight on Australian roads, with its distinctive forward-thinking spaceship looks and amazingly flexible layout. Because it’s been available through the official Toyota dealerships since the mid 80s, owners and their mechanics are at ease with the familiarity of the Tarago/Estima platform.

While Estima and the Tarago appear mostly the same at first glance, if you look a little closer, you’ll see the Estima is streets ahead in all the places that count, and all the places you care about. “Tarago on Steroids” is probably the most fitting nickname for Estima. You get the same basic body, same chassis as a Tarago, yet so much more quality, better materials, refinement, features and versatility.

Toyota Estima

So, let’s take a closer look at some of the things that make Estima a super popular import in Oz.

  1. RELIABILITY. Made in Japan, Estima is a very low maintenance perfect all-rounder that is so easy to look after. The service is inexpensive ($200-250) and should be done every 7-10,000km or twice a year. Parts are available: brand new from Toyota (shudder, too expensive) or second hand from various wreckers. You order and pay on the phone; they deliver overnight by courier.

  2. AFFORDABILITY. They’re really well priced for the quality and features they’re offering. Fully optioned 7 and 8 seaters start from just $10,000.

  3. LOOKS. Nothing on the road looks like an Estima Aeras. A subtle body kit, xenon lights, heavy tinted glass, blacked out moon roofs… It reads like a list of a luxury sports tourer, but this is on your family car.

  4. FUEL CONSUMPTION. It varies from model to model but overall every single Estima badge is showing great results in this department. The stellar performance belongs to Generation Three 3,5L V6 (late 2012 – 2016). It has a very powerful engine yet shows 10-11L in the traffic and under 7L on a highway.

  5. OPTIONS, OPTIONS, AND MORE OPTIONS. Seven or eight seats, 2,4L or 3,5L V6, Estima always has mind blowing list of features for the year and money.

    What sort of features could you expect from a humble 2,4L 2004-2005?

    • Dual Auto Doors
    • Choice of 2,4L or 3L V6 engines
    • AWD on demand
    • Central lock
    • Reverse and often front cameras
    • Central unit easy to change into English one with
    • High quality plastics and carpets
    • ABS brakes
    • Xenon headlights
    • Parking sensors
    • Alloy wheels

    And of course, Estima got bigger and better from 2006 (GSR50/GSR55) with its famed 3,5L V6 (202 kW) engine and the introduction of proximity entry and start + excellent boot layout.

  6. SEATS Seats where you want them, when you want them. Slide them up, slide them down. Fold them into the floor, 60/40 split, walk through. Whatever you want out of your seating layout, you can configure the Estima to what you need.

  7. PART OF THE CLUB If you know, you know. You’ll see other Estimas out in the wild and start to get waves from the drivers.

Toyota Estima

What to look out for when you’re looking for your new Estima:

  1. A large number of Estima imported into the country are hit-and-miss and a bit of a gamble. Some have been clocked back from much higher kilometres. Some are cheap accident grade vehicles. If you’re not aware how to check history, easy to end up with a lemon. Click here to read on mileage verification and learn the three steps to perform the express test. Find a dealer who will show you the documentation and show you how to read it. Find someone who you can trust.

  2. There’re quite a few dealerships in Oz keeping to themselves that Estima arrives into the country as a 2- 4 seats camper and requires a compliance certificate for 7 or 8 seats. This certificate should be done by the dealership straight after the first registration of the vehicle. However, many keep selling these cars as campers and putting their customers at risk. Insurance won’t cover the claim if the number of passengers exceed 2-4 people at the time of an accident. This is a dodgy practice, and you can diffuse it by asking to see the car’s compliance papers.

  3. Insuring an Estima isn’t as straightforward as it is insuring a local car. You really need to do your research, as some insurance companies don’t insure imports and some charge too much. Feel free to read more on insurance in our FAQ section. Call up a few companies before you buy, and see how different colours, models, years, and excess can affect your premium. Keep in mind that a Estima can be $10-15,000 less to buy than a comparable Tarago, with many more options. Do your sums to see how far ahead you can be by buying an Estima over the local Tarago.

  4. Although Estima shares the same body and chassis with a Tarago, some mechanics are still in denial and don’t want to touch them. Others overcharge their customers for no reason. Luckily, there are plenty of mechanics out there who are happy to charge fair rates for fair work, 20 minutes calling around will easily fix this problem.

I asked some of my Facebook friends who own Estimas what they thought the biggest downsides are to the Estima lifestyle. They clearly didn’t have much bad to say, because this is all they could come up with!

  • You start to prefer driving your Estima to driving your V8 Commodore, which makes you start questioning your life choices in general.
  • Your workmates think you're a liar when you declare your van to have 200kw+ and that it's "fast".
  • Explaining why your 11-speaker system makes it better than the 4 speakers in your mate’s mum’s Tarago.
  • I can’t convince the hubby that we should get another one
  • Even when you win, you never look cool dragging boy racers off from the lights.
  • 2.4 engine has possible oil drinking problems like an Irishman in the bar
  • Insurance can be annoying if you don’t know how to shop around
  • Use of premium fuel due to Japanese ECU for its market (don’t worry, you get more power and economy from it!)
  • the front spoiler is too low :D
  • Mechanics lie and say hey it’s an import. Ill charge you extra but then goes work on Tarago no problems

And finally

  • Tarago mums find you sexy when you drive one

The Estima life isn’t for everyone. But then, not everyone needs a head-turning, fuel-efficient, sleek and fast, flexible and spacious import. Some people would rather pay tens of thousands more for a no-frills Tarago.

Your JDM addict

P.S. Click here to view all Toyota Estima in our stock.

P.P.S Want to know more? Feel free to Join my email list to stay connected + be in the know which vehicles are coming and which ones are going, which models are hot, and which are not and what’s happening in our import industry.

Here’s what else you’ll get in my weekly emails:

  • How to read auction reports and verify mileage with real life examples
  • Differences between the models
  • Hybrid or Petrol
  • Possible risks and how to avoid them
  • Why 7 seats may be preferrable than 8, Anchor Points and much more
  • And last but not least, what to expect from the new import law (from 1st of April 2023) and how it’s going to affect all of us.