After undergoing a total redesign for 2000, nothing is new this year for Toyotas long-lived sport coupe, now in its seventh generation. The Celica name dates back to 1971, making it almost as old as the Corolla sedan. Convertibles have been offered in the past, but todays Celica is a front-drive hatchback coupe that comes in GT and GT-S trim levels, with two different 1.8-liter four-cylinder engines.
Toyota aims the current Celica at Generation X, namely buyers younger than those who drove home earlier versions of the sport coupe. The median age of buyers is in the low 30s.
The styling at Toyotas California design studio was inspired by racing cars, which translates to a fresh look and a low stance for the Celica. Longer in wheelbase than its predecessor, the current Celica is shorter overall, which reduced the cars front and rear overhangs. In addition to a low nose, the body features a steeply raked windshield and tall tail end, as well as sharp creases along the bodys sides. In contrast, the older Celica exhibited softly rounded contours. Narrow windows impair both rear and over-the-shoulder visibility.
Fog lights are standard on the GT-S, and a power sunroof and rear spoiler are optional on both models. All-disc brakes are used for the GT-S, but the GT makes do with a front-disc/rear-drum setup. Both models ride 15-inch tires, but GT-S rubber is a little wider, which befits its sportier image.
Celicas have space for four, though the pair in back better be prepared for a tight squeeze while climbing inside and after theyre in position. The rear seat is best for children or cargo, and the split seatbacks fold to add stowage space. Bucket seats up front have more space for occupants, though the overall interior still is on the cramped side. Dashboards have a modern look and a convenient layout.
Standard equipment includes air conditioning, a tilt steering wheel, CD player, power mirrors, tachometer, rear defogger and variable intermittent wipers. The GT-S adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power windows and locks, cruise control and an intermittent rear wiper/washer. Doors have map pockets, and a covered storage bin sits in the center console.
Under the Hood
The 1.8-liter VVT-i (variable valve timing with intelligence) four-cylinder engine in the Celica GT develops 140 horsepower. A 180-hp, 1.8-liter DOHC four-cylinder with a different design and VVTL-i technology goes into the sportier GT-S edition. The GT has a standard five-speed-manual gearbox, but the GT-S stick has six speeds. A four-speed-automatic transmission is optional for both, but the one in the GT-S offers manual gear selection using four buttons on the steering wheel. Although the GT engine will run on regular fuel, the GT-S commands premium at the pump.
Side-impact airbags and antilock brakes are available only as options for the Celica, while daytime running lights are standard.
Sleek and low, the Celica looks sharp with its angular design. But on the road, too many irritations crop up to give it a true thumbs-up. Ardent fans will disagree with a passion, but this Toyota is definitely not a top choice for everyday driving; it even has some drawbacks as an occasional enthusiasts car. Those who are considering a current Celica are advised to take it on a substantial test-drive under various conditions before making a decision. Unlike most Toyotas, this one could prove to be disappointing to some owners.
Taut, precise handling is the Celicas number one blessing. The coupe responds well to steering inputs, producing minimal body lean through curves and remaining neatly stable on the highway. Now and then, while rounding a quick curve, the rear wheels feel as if they just might lose grip if pushed a little more. Even if such an occurrence never happens, those thoughts affect the driving experience. Ride comfort is fine on the highway but can become harsh in urban commuting.
With its high-revving engine, the Celica is fast from a standing start. Unfortunately, that action is accompanied by some brash, raspy sounds from the four-cylinder, and automatic-transmission downshifts are not the most genteel. Visibility is impaired in most directions, and gauges are difficult to read due to the positioning of their numerals.