Toyota has gone crazy with hybrids. There's a hybrid version of pretty much every car they make, from the bare bones Axio to the Mercedes rivalling Crown. On the luxury front, they've peddled the Camry hybrid globally, while hybrid cars made by the Lexus sub-brand are becoming increasingly popular. That leaves room for obscure models like this, the Toyota Sai.
Never heard of it? Neither did I, until I actually drove it. The Sai is a Japan only model that slots in between the Camry and the Lexus ES, with a sister car badged the Lexus HS. Produced for only a few years from 2010 to 16, the Sai is, at best, an odd blend of entry-level equipment and high-end finish and materials. It doesn't come with a lot of goodies, but you'll get stitched leather, comfortable padded seats and a futuristic interior with uncharacteristic-of-Toyota ergonomics. If you don't know what that entails, here's a taste – it took me about half a minute to figure out where the electronic parking brake button is, and about ten seconds to decipher what direction to push the tiny gear lever to get it into Drive.
However, drive it does, and well. With a 2.4 litre four cylinder motor and the supplementary electric motors, the hybrid drivetrain pushes the Sai forward with surprising urgency. In Sport mode, the throttle is nearly a hair trigger – launching forward the sleek and futuristic nose of the obscure mid-size sedan.With a combined power output of 187 HP and about 108 lb-ft torque, the Saiisn't particularly powerful but it makes up for it in responsiveness. The only downsides happen to be the whiny drone of the CVT gearbox and the weight of the vehicle, a fact that makes itself known quite clearly through the heavy but heavily assisted steering. Visibility over the massive dashboard and the steeply raked front end is a minor annoyance while maneuvering in Dhaka traffic.
Practicality is decent. The rear legroom is not as generous as that of the Camry, but it's a definite step up from the Allions and Premios. Boot space gets eaten up by the battery pack nestled between the trunk and the rear seats. Cubbyholes, cup-holders and pockets are aplenty, but the high and wide floating center console takes up a huge amount of space. It's not that it looks great either, and the weirdly placed buttons make me ask questions of why Toyota thought this would be an effective design.
It's quiet, especially in EV mode. The regenerative brakes make a fair amount of noise when pressed, but other than that, the hybrid powertrain and the well-insulated interior make the Sai a nice place to be in. For the price you pay you could get a lot more, but in the Sai you'd be one of the very few people who can truly claim to be an exclusive Toyota owner.
Nippon Auto Trading provided this particular unit to us for a test drive.