Mitsuoka Does The Impossible: Making A RAV4 Cool

Illustration for article titled Mitsuoka Does The Impossible: Making A RAV4 Cool
Screenshot: Mitsuoka

Mitsuoka, arguably the world’s most important carmaker, has released its first-ever SUV. Sure, you could argue that Mitsuoka is a bit late to the SUV game, but a better way to look at it is that Mitsuoka waited until they could do it the right way. And, of course, the right way is giving a Toyota RAV4 the face of an early ’80s Chevy K5 Blazer. It’s called the Buddy, and I think I love it.

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Screenshot: Mitsuoka

This kind of thing is, of course, exactly in Mitsuoka’s wheelhouse. The company takes reliable, mainstream cars from companies like Nissan and makes them into gloriously reproportioned vintage Jags, Morgan Aero-like things, Miatas turned into old ’Vettes and more. They’re a charmingly unhinged expression of joy in an increasingly focus-group-deflavorized automotive world, and I adore Mitsuoka for it.

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It’s funny, but a while back I tried this same idea with Chevy’s modern Blazer:

Illustration for article titled Mitsuoka Does The Impossible: Making A RAV4 Cool
Illustration: Jason Torchinsky

I think Mitsuoka pulled it off a lot better.

The Buddy starts with a normal Toyota RAV4, which it leaves intact mechanically (you can get the usual turbo 2.0-liter or the hybrid 2.5-liter four) but makes a lot of changes to the body. It gets a whole new Blazer K5-inspired front end, complete with a big-grid grille and stacked rectangular headlamps, though I think Mitsuoka improves on the old Blazer look by giving the front end a bit of a forward rake. There’s a hint of the old shark-nose look:

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Screenshot: Mitsuoka/Chevrolet

It’s got big wraparound chrome bumpers and excellent old-school steel wheels with actual hubcaps set inside nice chunky, raised-white-letter tires. Oh, also fun for someone like myself who lives right next to UNC, is that Mitsuoka calls that blue color North Carolina Blue.

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Screenshot: Mitsuoka

Around back, there’s Cadillac-looking vertical taillights and a big panel on the tailgate proudly declaring MITSUOKA, so everyone will understand just what they’re dealing with here.

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Screenshot: Mitsuoka

Mitsuoka also made a promo video full of young people, all looking fresh from a J.Crew-catalog, cavorting and frolicking with Buddys. And there are some gratuitous shots of cats and dogs getting along adorably.

It’s like the Buddy exists in a world where all the bullshit of 2020 simply never happened.

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One odd detail in the video is in this image:

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Screenshot: Mitsuoka
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The kid is wearing an Evel Knievel-style American-themed helmet, but that wonderful little pedal car he’s got his foot on is a Soviet-era Moskovitch pedal car, something you’d have found only in the Eastern Bloc states.

Comparing the Buddy to the RAV4 directly, you can see how many new body panels Mitsuoka made to change the look of the car:

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Screenshot: Mitsuoka/Toyota
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Are there people who would pick the normal Toyota over the Mitsuoka? How do they live with themselves?

Mitsuoka’s website is pretty slammed from what I can tell at the moment, barely loading due to what I hope is all the interest, and even when I can get in I haven’t found any pricing information. Based on other Mitsuoka reworks, I’d expect it to be a good chunk more than a stock RAV4.

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Also, in the design section of the site, I like that it’s all Japanese except for the words “Buddy” and “Daddy.”

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Screenshot: Mitsuoka
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There are no interior pictures yet, either, though I hope those “Navajo” or saddle-blanket-style JC Whitney pull-over seat covers inspired most of the upholstery options. You know the ones.

I really like what Mitsuoka does, and I wish they would make these available in America. I feel like there’s a market here serving people who want some unashamedly retro charm with modern Japanese reliability. They would eat these up, especially in the compact SUV segment that’s wildly popular but so far very charm-deprived.

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I know it’s not likely, but the RAV4 is already a federalized car, so, who knows? Maybe this will be how Mitsuoka finally comes to America? It’d be fitting.

Come on over, Buddy!

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!: https://rb.gy/udnqhh)

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DISCUSSION

nobledestro
Noble Destro

And, of course, the right wrong way is giving a Toyota RAV4 the face of an early ’80s Chevy K5 Blazer late ‘90s Canyonero.