AE86 Corolla heritage
land cruiser
corona liftback
ae 101 02

From as early as 1956, Toyotas were brought into Malaysia by (then) importer Asia Motor, the first model was actually the iconic Land Cruiser (FJ25L). We wonder if those involved in Toyota’s humble beginnings here realised the automotive powerhouse the brand would eventually become.

However, Toyota hadn’t forgotten its roots either, and while the Corolla moved up the food chain becoming the Altis, its role was replaced by one of the best-selling models ever introduced by any carmaker in the history of cars in Malaysia. This car shook the automotive realm to its core when it first appeared on the scene early in the new millennium, and opened the floodgates for many first-time car buyers whom till that point had only national brands to choose from. The mighty Toyota Vios.

In a segment once populated solely by gas-guzzling European brands, the Camry was a revelation for the Toyota brand. It was big, comfortable, fuel-efficient, luxurious and best of all, affordable. This was the turning point for the Toyota brand in Malaysia. If ever anyone asks you when the Toyota brand became synonymous with luxury, remember the Camry. It was their ‘halo-car’ at the time, and remains so till this day.

Along with the (then) new Honda City, which was coincidentally launched around the same time, the Vios rattled the pillars of the motoring scene unlike ever before. On a side-note, both cars were also a HUGE wake-up call for our aforementioned national carmaker, but that’s another story for another time.

Derived from the Latin word “to move forward”, the Vios not only did that, it also moved the goalposts for the compact car segment of the automotive market into a whole other playing field. Here was a car that not only looked good, it drove well, it was frugal and well-appointed for a B-segmenter, and was priced almost the same as a national car in that market segment.

Having gained a foothold via fully-imported models, Toyota then escalated its presence in our market with locally assembly operations, first rolling out the Corolla KE10 in 1968 followed by the Corona shortly thereafter. It immediately helped Toyota put competitive contenders into two key mainstream product segments whilst also marking the start of a half century-long chapter (that is still ongoing) of local production in Malaysia that helped Toyota to become the 'best-selling foreign brand' in Malaysia for two decades. No other carmaker has been able to break that record, and it's likely none ever will.

From the aforementioned Land Cruiser, and while under the care of Borneo Motors, Malaysians were privy to the car that defined the 70’s, the effervescent Corolla. Cars like the Corolla KE30 & KE35 and the subsequent KE70 were all the rage back then, and true to form, examples of these cars can still be found plying our roads more than four decades later. These were the cars that cemented Toyota’s reputation for reliability, vis-à-vis building cars that last a lifetime. We’re quite sure somewhere along the line one or more of your family members owned a Toyota… or two.


If you’re anywhere between the age of 30 and 50 (and older), chances are that title above is going to be an earworm for you for the rest of the day. Sorry. It’s hard to imagine a past without the Toyota brand in the country isn’t it? Well, that’s because Toyota vehicles have been around since before we gained independence.

They say Rome was not built in a day. Well, neither was Toyota’s enviable reputation for producing affordable family cars with quality. A reputation that took decades to cultivate.

corona sedan
corolla se
ke70 sedan and liftback

The years rolled by; the needs and wants of consumers began to change yet again. Vans made way for MPVs, wagons made way for SUVs, and passenger car buyers begin to demand more from the brands they covet. Moving with the times, 1987 saw the formation of UMW Toyota Motor, and the subsequent demise of the Corona in favour of the (then) new Camry in early 90s. The Camry is widely considered as the car that elevated the brand from merely being makers of cheap and cheerful cars for the masses like the KE70, to a whole new level, the luxe D-segment.

ae 111

To say the Vios was popular among the younger generation of Malaysians would be the understatement of the decade. This car once again began to set all sorts of records for UMWT, as a budget-conscious and very hungry public, long tired of sub-standard wares to choose from, were practically beating down the doors of Toyota dealerships nationwide.

The Vios proved to be an immensely popular car for UMWT, aided of course by the use of Britney Spears as global spokesperson for the car. The (then) hottest celebrity from Motown extolling the virtues of the hottest car at the time, how could it possibly fail. Rhetorical question.

With the Vios - and Britney - taking care of the B-segment, and the Camry (a celebrity in its own right thus not needing a human one) making sure the D-segment was staying honest, the C-segment was seen to by the Altis. And here lies the unsung hero of the Toyota range actually. It was flying low under the radar; that is until Toyota hired none other than Brad Pitt to be its global ambassador. Therein lies the masterstroke of genius from Toyota, by associating the young, exuberant and dynamic Britney with the Vios and Brad with the handsome, stylish and stately Altis, traits very easily associated with the overall brand image that each celeb juxtaposed into the brand, be it on a conscious or sub-conscious level.

Thanks to the benefits of hindsight, we know that the Vios was never going to fail. This was a car that, at first attempt, hit the sweet spot with Malaysian buyers, being priced within the reach of national makes, backed by the assurance of a Toyota badge. It was essentially what past generations of the Corolla used to offer but available at a more attractive price.


Indeed, the preposition proved a hit with Malaysians, who consistently put the Vios among the top two selling models in its segment. Through four model generations, Toyota has made incremental improvements to the Vios, modernizing it with new features, continuously fine-tuning its running gear, whilst staying true to its original philosophy of being an honest and functional product.

Oh What a Feeling

Corolla 60
Fifth gen Corolla pair

Whilst steadfastly preserving its preposition of value, the recent models have also made commendable in-roads in capturing the attention of enthusiasts. The Vios one-make Toyota Gazoo Racing series was a particularly noteworthy endeavour. Coming hand-in-hand after that was that the latest Vios and Yaris were both found to be rather capable in handling exuberant driving.

It is commonly-accepted wisdom in car-buying that you can’t go wrong with a Toyota, and there are good reasons why people say that. Its legions of well-built Corollas that served millions of families worldwide through the ages helped Toyota painstakingly cultivate a reputation of making affordable cars that people can depend on.


As the years passed, and as the Corolla inched its way upmarket, up steps the Vios and Yaris to fill the gap and carry the legacy on.

Vios 2nd Gen 2

In its latest iteration, the Vios is joined by its hatchback sister car, the Yaris. Evolving with increasingly sophisticated tastes of the market, both cars come with equipment levels that are highly uncommon below RM100k, which include 360-degree camera, blind spot warning, built-in video recorder, and even auto-dimming rear view mirrors.