Lexus RX
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The 12 Most Trusted Toyotas of All Time

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Lexus RX
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In It for the Long Haul

Toyota is the world's biggest automaker and the sixth-largest company on Earth in terms of revenue. Although bigger doesn't always mean better, the cost-to-own awards and best resale value prizes that Toyota consistently rakes in make a bold statement on the company's commitment to building cars you can trust.

“That tells you a lot,” says Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Kelley Blue Book. “It tells you that the cars are hugely dependable and they are highly valued by both new and used car buyers because of the wide awareness of how dependable they are. That's what makes a car hold its value. Both used- and new-car buyers know that they can buy a Toyota and expect a pretty stress-free and worry-free ownership experience because it's so dependable and reliable.”

In other words, Toyota owners trust their Toyotas — but not all models are created equal. Here's a look at the standouts that have consistently earned praise for their reliability, ease of ownership, and innovation.

Related: 50 Most Popular Cars of the Past 50 Years

2000: TOYOTA CAMRY
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Camry

When it comes to trust in Toyotas, there is the Camry and there's everything else. In 1997, the Camry became the first Toyota in history to earn the distinction of being the best-selling car in America when it knocked the Ford Taurus off its perch. With the exception of 2001, the Camry has reigned supreme as America's favorite car for every single year through 2018. For more than two decades, the Camry has ruled the space where dependability, reliability, and cost converge. No other dynasty in automotive history can compete.

“It's been the mainstay of the brand for most of its history in this country,” Brauer says.

Toyota Corolla
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Corolla

For a generation, King Camry has been backed up by a pared-down, JV version of itself that has long been trusted by its owners — the Corolla.

“It's basically a junior Camry,” Brauer says. “So it's even more affordable, and it has as much or more of a strong reputation for long-term reliability. If someone says they want to spend the least amount of money on the most dependable, long-lasting car, for several decades now, you could argue that the word ‘Corolla’ would be the answer.”

Toyota Land Cruiser
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Land Cruiser

Brauer has long been a fan of the Land Cruiser, which emerged as a military vehicle in Japan in the 1950s and was refined for civilian use as a direct competitor to the Land Rover.

“They're pretty amazing,” Brauer says. “There's been some version of a Toyota Land Cruiser for several decades now, and they've always been extremely well-respected from a capability and durability standpoint. If you're looking for something that can genuinely go off-road and climb over rocks — not a poser SUV, which there are plenty of these days — that is very robust and durable, it won't break on you even if you do that for years and years. That's a contrast to, say, a Land Rover, which is a very capable SUV, but one that will break down.”

Brauer points to its incredible resale value as proof — in order to save any real money buying used, you'd have to buy a Land Cruiser that's very old with lots of miles. “They've got a great reputation among genuine off-road, over-landing people who know they're vehicles,” Brauer said.

2nd Generation Toyota Mark X Premium
2nd Generation Toyota Mark X Premium by Mytho88 (CC BY-SA)

Mark II/Mark X

In 2019, Toyota bid farewell to the Mark X, a nameplate it had produced in one form or another for more than half a century. The luxury rear-wheel-drive sedan was launched as the Mark II in 1968, but in 2004, it became the Mark X. According to the auto-news site Motor1, Toyota marketed the Mark X as a Camry alternative that was billed as a Japanese BMW. Americans are more likely to know it as the Corona, which it was sold as in the U.S. starting in 1972. In 1977, however, the body changed and so did the name. From that year until 1992, it was known in the U.S. as the Cressida.

Toyota RAV4
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RAV4

According to Brauer, the RAV4 is the “vehicle that has kind of replaced” the Camry as a result of a buyer shift from cars to SUVs.

“It’s another really well executed Toyota, reflected in its volume, how many are selling, and its resale value — people are big fans of it,” Brauer said. “You essentially get an SUV-like vehicle from its looks and its increased interior flexibility and functionality, but you're getting it for about the price of a Camry. The RAV4 is becoming more of the poster child for Toyota in recent years than the Camry was for decades.”

Lexus RX
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Lexus RX

Toyota's Lexus division has long been known for luxury, but innovation is what made the Lexus RX shine. Until 1999, midsize SUVs were basically wagons built onto pickup truck frames. That year, however, Lexus reinvented the genre with the RX, the first successful SUV built on the body of a passenger vehicle — none other than the Camry. It was also revolutionary in that is was offered in front-wheel drive instead of just all-wheel or four-wheel drive.

“The RX was really a game changer and paradigm shift in the SUV market,” Brauer said. Offering the maneuverability of a sedan with serious off-road and all-weather capability, the revolutionary new car/SUV hybrid would become the standard-bearer of the SUV market and go on to account for 40% of Lexus' sales.

“Now today almost every successful SUV is a car-based SUV that you can get in front-wheel drive, but that was pretty much unheard of in the late 1990s,” Brauer said. “That vehicle by itself has pretty much been the Lexus brand. It's not overstating it to say without the RX, that one model, that the entire Lexus brand would have been a much harder justification for the parent company Toyota to even create. Every other Lexus since has been a fringe player.”

Toyota Highlander
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Highlander

The Highlander is the Toyota version of Lexus RX, just as the Camry is the Toyota version of the Lexus ES. Both Toyotas share a lot of parts with their Lexus counterparts, just without all the high-priced luxury bells and whistles. While Bauer said the ES always looked “kind of like a gussied up Camry,” the Highlander could never be mistaken for a Lexus RX.

“The Highlander never had a similar styling that you would think they were the same vehicle, but platform-wise and engineering-wise, they had lots of shared components and lots of shared engineering. They're essentially the same car from a structural basis.”

In other words, the Highlander put the nuts and bolts of the revolutionary and luxury-laden Lexus RX within reach of the average buyer.

Toyota Prius
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Prius

Toyota did not invent the concept of the hybrid vehicle, an idea that had been tinkered with since the late 19th century, but it did bring it into the mainstream.

“Prius is the vehicle that made ‘hybrid’ a household name,” Brauer said. “It taught the world market what a hybrid was capable of doing if it was well executed.”

The 2001 release of the Toyota Prius — it debuted in Japan in 1997 and didn't make a real mark on the U.S. market until it was redesigned in 2004 — was the capstone on five years of research, development, and testing. The first practical, low-emission family vehicle ever to be mass produced, the Prius set the standard for all hybrids to come and will be remembered as one of the most important milestones in automotive history.

Related: 20 Electric Cars Cheaper Than a Tesla

Toyota Sienna
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Sienna

There is a seemingly endless variety of minivans on the market, but only two could begin to compete with the Toyota Sienna, according to Brauer. Those are the Honda Odyssey and the Chrysler Pacifica, which was previously known as the Town and Country, but either would be hard-pressed to call themselves better than, or even equal to, the Sienna.

“The Sienna is a great minivan because it's got all the traditional Toyota characteristics,” Brauer said. “It runs for an indefinite amount of time with minimal, if any, problems. It's super dependable, it's comfortable, and it's got some smart family-friendly features. If someone needs a minivan but has zero budget and says 'If it ever breaks down, I'll die,' I'd say get a Sienna.”

Toyota Tacoma
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Tacoma

The Tacoma was another Toyota creation that held true to the company mantra of reliability while also serving as a major industry disrupter.

“The truck world was kind of owned by the domestics throughout most of the history of the automobile,” Brauer said. “The Tacoma essentially displaced all of the mid-size and compact domestic trucks as the best seller and the most widely respected and capable mid-size truck.”

It was the first Toyota truck to make a splash in the U.S. market, but it would not be the last.

Tundra
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Tundra

In model year 2000, Toyota did something no major foreign automaker had ever done before. It launched a significant challenge to the nearly undisputed dominance of American manufacturers in the high-volume, high-profit, full-size pickup truck segment. In the late 1990s, Toyota introduced the T100, which was technically full-size, but not by American standards — it was dwarfed by the big, muscular segment leaders like the Chevy Silverado, Dodge Ram, and Ford F-Series. The Tundra, however, was not, and it earned the Motor Trend Truck of the Year Award in 2000, its inaugural year.

Unfortunately for Toyota, they perfected the company's full-size model just as the country was moving away from its love affair with big trucks.

“I always felt bad for Toyota because the Tundra literally hit at the worst possible time.”

1993ToyotaMR2Hardtop
1993ToyotaMR2Hardtop by GreenGhost74 (CC BY-SA)

MR2

Like all specialized cars, the MR2 played a much smaller role in the Toyota story than the mainstay, brand-defining vehicles that made it famous. That said, the MR2 was a super-cool ride that commanded a loyal fan base, in part because of its price.

“If you were looking for the least expensive mid-engine sports car, which is a pretty exotic engine and drivetrain layout, MR2s were pretty cool,” Brauer said. “You got a dependable, exotic car for a much lower price than a traditional exotic car.”