Toyota’s rakish, low-slung sport coupe is aimed at a young audience. Unlike the company’s MR2 Spyder, the Celica has a small backseat. Last year’s modest face-lift included an updated front fascia, revised taillights, newly available high-intensity-discharge headlights for the GT-S model and a revised gauge cluster. For 2004, the high-intensity headlights are optional on both the GT-S and GT models.
Last redesigned for 2000, the front-wheel-drive Celica hatchback is still offered in GT and racier GT-S trim levels. Convertible versions have been offered in the past, but today’s Celica is strictly a solid-roofed coupe.
Created at Toyota’s California design studio, the Celica’s shape was inspired by racecars. With a longer wheelbase than its predecessor, the current Celica is shorter overall, which reduces the 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 sides.
Fog lights are standard on the GT-S, and a power sunroof and rear spoiler are optional on both models. All-disc brakes go on the GT-S, but the GT is equipped with a front-disc and rear-drum setup. Both models ride on 15-inch tires, but GT-S rubber is a little wider and wraps around five-spoke alloy wheels. The GT-S can be equipped with optional 16-inch tires.
Racing is also said to have inspired the interior. The Celica is designed to seat four occupants, but rear passengers should prepare themselves for a tight squeeze. The backseat is best suited for children or cargo, and the split seatbacks fold to increase storage space.
Standard equipment includes a tilt steering wheel, a cassette/CD stereo, power mirrors, air conditioning and intermittent wipers. The GT-S adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, drilled aluminum pedals, and power windows and locks. Leather-trimmed seats are optional. Cargo capacity measures 16.9 cubic feet.
Under the Hood
A 1.8-liter VVT-i (Variable Valve Timing with intelligence) four-cylinder engine develops 140 horsepower in the GT. The GT-S is equipped with a 1.8-liter dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder with VVTL-i (Variable Valve Timing and Lift with intelligence) technology; it churns out 180 hp at 7,600 rpm.
The GT has a standard five-speed-manual gearbox, but the manual transmission in the GT-S has six speeds. A four-speed-automatic transmission is optional in both models, but the one in the GT-S offers manual gear selection that operates with steering-wheel buttons.
Daytime running lights are standard. Side-impact airbags and antilock brakes are optional.
With its angular design, the sleek, low Celica looks sharp. Unfortunately, the car has too many irritating features to give it a true thumbs-up.
Taut, precise handling is the Celica’s No. 1 blessing. The coupe responds well to steering inputs, 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 they were pushed a bit harder. 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, acceleration is accompanied by some brash, raspy sounds from the four-cylinder, and automatic-transmission downshifts aren’t the most genteel.