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By Jim Flammang
March 27, 2002
Vehicle Overview Changes are few in 2002 for Toyotas low-slung, rakish sport coupe, which aims at a younger audience than the sporty Toyota Camry Solara. This years Celica adds a mesh grille to the front bumper. A new factory-installed Action option package adds $1,590 to the price and includes an aggressive front bumper, rocker panels, a rear aero bumper that is made of durable polyurethane, and an adjustable rear wing.
Redesigned for 2000, the front-wheel-drive hatchback still comes in GT and GT-S trim levels. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine makes 140 horsepower in the GT and 180 hp in the racier GT-S.
Now in its seventh generation on the market, the Celica dates back to 1971, which makes it almost as old as the Toyota Corolla sedan. Convertible versions have been offered in the past, but todays Celica is strictly a solid-roofed coupe.
Toyota markets the current Celica toward Generation X namely, buyers who are younger than the folks who drove home previous generations of the sport coupe. The median age of Celica buyers is the early 30s. Toyota sold 35,720 Celicas in the United States in 2001, according to Automotive News. That represents a substantial drop from the 52,406 cars sold during 2000, when the redesigned Celica was introduced.
Exterior Created at Toyotas California design studio, the styling of the 2002 Celica was inspired by racecars, which translates to a fresh look and a low stance. Longer in wheelbase than its predecessor, todays Celica is shorter overall, which reduces the cars front and rear overhangs. In addition to a low nose, the body features a steeply raked windshield, a tall tail and sharp creases along the bodys sides. Narrow windows impair both rear and over-the-shoulder visibility.
The Celica rides a 102.4-inch wheelbase, measures 170.5 inches from stem to stern and is 51.4 inches tall. Fog lights are standard on the GT-S, and a power sunroof and rear spoiler are optional on the GT-S and GT. All-disc brakes are used on 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 and covers alloy wheels, which befit the cars sportier image. The GT-S can also be equipped with optional 16-inch tires.
Interior Racing is also said to have inspired the interior. Celicas have space for four occupants, but the two rear passengers better be prepared for a tight squeeze while climbing inside and when theyre sitting. The rear seat is best suited for children or cargo, and the split seatbacks fold to add storage space. Bucket seats up front provide more space for the driver and front passenger, but the overall interior is still on the cramped side. The dashboard has a modern look and a convenient layout with analog instruments.
Standard equipment for both models includes a tilt steering wheel, CD player, tachometer, rear defogger, air conditioning, power mirrors and variable intermittent wipers. The GT-S adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power windows and door locks, cruise control and an intermittent rear wiper/washer; leather-trimmed seats are optional. Both models also have doors with map pockets and a covered storage bin in the center console. Cargo capacity is 16.9 cubic feet.
Under the Hood The 1.8-liter VVT-i (variable valve timing with intelligence) four-cylinder engine in the Celica GT develops 140 hp. A 1.8-liter dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder with a different design and VVTL-i technology goes into the sportier GT-S edition, which churns out 180 hp at 7,600 rpm. The GT has a standard five-speed-manual gearbox, and the GT-S manual has six speeds. A four-speed-automatic transmission is optional for both models, but the one in the GT-S offers manual gear selection using four buttons on the steering wheel. While the GT engine runs on regular gasoline, the GT-S requires premium fuel at the pump.
Safety Side-impact airbags and antilock brakes are available only as options on the Celica, while daytime running lights are standard.
Driving Impressions The sleek, low Celica looks sharp literally so, with its angular design. Unfortunately, too many irritations crop up on the road to give it a true thumbs-up. Ardent fans will disagree with a passion, but this Toyota is not a top choice for everyday driving; it even has some drawbacks as an occasional enthusiasts car. People considering a Celica are advised to take it on a substantial test drive under various conditions before making a decision. Unlike most of todays Toyotas, this one could prove to be disappointing to some owners.
Taut, precise handling is the Celicas No. 1 blessing. The coupe responds well to steering, producing minimal body lean through curves and remaining neatly stable on the highway. While rounding a quick curve, the rear wheels sometimes feel as if they could lose their grip if pushed just a little more. Even if such an occurrence never happens, thoughts of that nature can adversely affect the driving experience. Ride comfort is fine on the highway but can become harsh in urban commutes.
With its high-revving engine, the Celica is fast from a standing start. Sadly, that satisfying action is accompanied by some brash, raspy sounds from the four-cylinder and automatic-transmission downshifts arent the most genteel. Visibility is impaired in most directions, and gauges are difficult to read due to the layout of their numerals.