When it comes to sporty coupes, looks are everything. When it comes to Toyota's Celica GT Convertible, the looks part is never in doubt. When it comes to power -- well, at least it sure does look good. The artfully bulging hood sweeps back into a modern body shell that looks handsome when painted "Deep Jewel Green," according to the sticker. Paired with a "Tan Cambria Top," it looks good enough to draw admiring stares wherever it goes -- pretty good for a design now approaching its third birthday. Certainly, it's a sophisticated style, one that carries over to the interior. The seats are clothed in a refined durable ivory fabric, the tan carpet contrasts sharply with the black plastic dash. The major controls are housed in the center console and are easy to understand and operate. Equally easy is opening this Celica Convertible up to the elements. Flip two levers and hold the button. The convertible is only available in the up-level GT trim. This means Toyota's 2.2-liter four-cylinder over the anemic 1.8-liter four. With 130 horsepower and 145 foot-pounds of torque, it's not truly powerful, but pleasantly quick. The upside to this modest engine is good fuel economy: 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway. Engine behavior is exemplary, just as you'd expect from a Toyota. A distant revving builds quickly, with little fuss or noise. There's no vibration either, unusual for a large four-cylinder, but not a large Toyota four. The ride is as refined as its engine, evoking a quality beyond its price tag. The ride is firm but not punishing, unless tackling the worst of bumps. Rippled road surfaces reveal a suspension so compliant, yet firm, that retaining control is easy. The speed-sensitive steering is quick, adding to the fun. Road and tire noise isn't bad, considering its class. The test vehicle was a Limited Edition, which meant some appropriate badging on the car and floor mats, along with the test car's tan convertible top and sharp aluminum alloy wheels. When it comes to convenience, Toyota has it covered. Besides the usual power windows, locks and mirrors, cruise control, tilt wheel and cup holders that you'd expect, there's also a keyless entry and a security system. The keyless entry works the doors, but not the trunk. You won't be putting much in there anyway, but its 6.8 cubic feet is bigger than it sounds. The doors even lock and unlock automatically. Convertible-wise, this is a decent package. It's well screwed together, despite some chassis flex. But it's tighter than previous versions. It's also stiffer than other Celicas, with extra reinforcement in its unibody. The cloth top is beautifully made and fully lined. It has a glass rear window with rear defogger. The Celica doesn't face much in the way of competition in the marketplace, mainly Mazda's Miata. The Miata is smaller and lacks the Toyota's rear seat, which -- theoretically, at least -- gives one the option of more than one passenger. The Chrysler Sebring is much larger and costs about the same, but lacks the Toyota's reliability. The Celica GT Convertible is not a sports car, more of a sporty coupe. But this classy cruiser is a stylish addition to anyone's garage. Don't overlook it.
1998 Toyota Celica GT Convertible Standard: 2.2-liter double-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine, power four-wheel disc brakes, P205/ 55R15 radial tires, dual front air bags, alloy wheels, rear spoiler, color-keyed door handles and dual power mirrors, tinted glass, fog lamps, cruise control, reclining front bucket seats, dual vanity mirrors, full center console, rear window defogger, variable intermittent wipers, power windows and door locks, power rear quarter windows, cupholders, AM/FM-cassette-CD audio system with six speakers, LTD edition badges and floor mats. Options: Cargo net, keyless entry, wheel locks. Base price: $26,798 As tested: $27,741 EPA rating: 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway Test mileage: 25 mpg
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