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Is this the coolest-looking Toyota RAV4 Hybrid ever? The Mitsuoka Buddy oozes 1970s style and attitude that you can't forget

Believe it or not, behind the blunt nose of the Mitsuoka Buddy is a Toyota RAV4, complete with an optional hybrid powertrain.

If 2020 couldn’t become any more unexpected, behold a Toyota RAV4 like no other  before it – the mighty Mitsuoka Buddy.

The latest, kooky creation to come out of Japanese carmaker and coachbuilder Mitsuoka, it is hard to believe that behind the Buddy’s very-retro nose cone and tail treatment is indeed Australia’s favourite SUV.

This includes the availability of Toyota’s 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol-electric hybrid powertrain, as well as standard 2.0-litre petrol engine, in front- or all-wheel-drive configuration, making the Buddy a very 21st century SUV underneath.

In fact, the current RAV4 donates its entire centre structure, interior and platform, wholesale. Every panel forward of the windscreen as well as the rear clip (basically the huge plastic moulding that encapsulated the donor car’s tail-lights and back bumper) is bespoke Buddy.

Depending on your point of view, the good or bad news is that Australians will never likely be able to buy this post-modern masterpiece, as Mitsuoka caters for a very select niche of wealthy consumers in Japan seeking exclusivity and bygone-era styling, but without the myriad compromises that old/classic motoring brings with it.   

Regarded as Japan’s 10th carmaker, Mitsuoka has been a coachbuilder since 1968 and is famous for models such as the Viewt (with a nose and tail similar to that of a 1963 Jaguar Mk2 grafted onto a present Nissan Micra body), the original Honda NSX supercar-derived Orochi from 2006-2014, and the Mazda MX-5-based Rock Star that looks like a 1963 Chevrolet Corvette.

The Mitsuoka Buddy is a RAV4 like no other. The Mitsuoka Buddy is a RAV4 like no other.

Launched in 2018, the latter has been available on order in the United Kingdom for some time now, and is roughly double the price of the corresponding MX-5, meaning the Buddy would start north of $70,000 if it were to come to Australia.

So how deep has the RAV4’s transition to Buddy been?

The visual changes are either brilliant or barmy, but there’s no denying the sheer mastery in the integration of post-war design details from several eras, makes and models of American cars and trucks.

For example, the 1960s-style stacked quad headlights, egg-crate grille and chrome-look bumpers seem inspired by the Chevrolet C/K trucks stretching right through to the 1990s.

However, there are also strong hints of the 1971 Chevrolet Caprice, Jeep’s Wagoneer (1984 XJ up front and 1962 SJ in profile) and the 1970 Ford LTD Country Squire out back. The latter’s vertical tail-lights and tailgate lettering – spelling M-I-T-S-U-O-K-A in the Buddy’s case – is also plain to see.  

  • The influence of the 1970s Ford LTD Country Squire is most obvious in the tailgate of the Mitsuoka Buddy - complete with the brand name being spelled out. The influence of the 1970s Ford LTD Country Squire is most obvious in the tailgate of the Mitsuoka Buddy - complete with the brand name being spelled out.
  • The 1962 Jeep SJ Wagoneer seems to lend its nose profile to the Buddy, while the headlight and grille treatment of the 1984 Jeep XJ Wagoneer is also hinted at. The 1962 Jeep SJ Wagoneer seems to lend its nose profile to the Buddy, while the headlight and grille treatment of the 1984 Jeep XJ Wagoneer is also hinted at.

More generally speaking, the Buddy’s optional contrasting roof colour scheme is redolent of the vinyl roof craze of half a century ago, as are the chunky BF Goodrich All-Terrain T/A tyres and chrome hubcaps on painted steel wheels fad. There are even a few throwback hues available – including a lime, mint, pastel blue, purple, beige, orange, yellow and an especially mid-century grey flannel in single- and two-tone presentations.

Unfortunately for fans of big brassy American metal, there are no V8 options on the horizon.  

Since sales in Japan won’t commence until after the Mitsuoka’s late November launch date, we cannot tell you whether the RAV4’s tastefully modern interior in its Buddy metamorphosis has been hijacked by lashings of velour trim, vinyl upholstery, wooden appliques on the dashboard, eight-track cartridge players, column-mounted gear levers and oversized thin-rimmed plastic steering wheels… but here’s hoping.

Speaking of eight-tracks, Mitsuoka’s website includes the concept behind the Buddy that neatly sums up the American wild-west frontier/adventure-seeking demographic that it is aimed at:

“I have my own story. There is a companion who has been with me at all times. Put the story on the song. Buddy. Come on, my partner. You've always been by your side Buddy. No matter how much you remove the squirrel, the night you talk to your friends. He didn't say anything on a trip that wasn't there, and on a day when he was broken, he wrapped up with kindness. Dear woman Fun companion It's an irreplaceable time. Buddy. If you notice, you 're always smiling by your side. I can't be a glorious man, but I feel like I'm a good Daddy. Because I was the best in my life. From now on, play with the children. Buddy Best. Buddy. Buddy. Come on, Buddy.”  

More details, including Japanese domestic market pricing, will be revealed closer to the November 26 launch.