This fun sport coupe is one of the best ever to hit the market, especially the current model, which represents the seventh generation of the Celica.
The original Celica was introduced in 1971, and Toyota credits it as being "influential in establishing the sporty subcompact segment."
I can't argue with that. Not only has the car been an influence on others, it has been the benchmark toward which other small sport coupes have aspired.
I'm not really in the target audience for a car such as the Celica; I've always had too many kids and too much junk to haul around for a Celica to be practical for me.
But I know that if I wanted a car in this class, the Celica probably would be the one I would choose.
There have been (and continue to be) some decent competitors, such as the current Mitsubishi Eclipse, Hyundai Tiburon, Honda Civic Si, and Acura RSX, as well as the discontinued Ford Probe, Acura Integra and Mercury Cougar, among others.
Acura fans, I'm sure, would argue that for the money, the Integra was well worth owning, and so is its successor, the RSX. But the Celica rings up as a great value in the segment.
Toyota likes to crow about the Celica's awards over the years, including being once named Motor Trend's "Import Car of the Year," as well as one of Car and Driver's "Ten Best Cars."
Some history, taken from Toyota's media news Web site: The original Celica was based on the EX-1 concept vehicle, which Toyota called a "car of the future," thanks to styling that was "revolutionary when it first hit the market." This is a car that "was originally designed for consumers who were young at heart and wanted something more than just simple transportation," the company said.
It was designed to be an alternative to the heavier and more-powerful "pony cars" of the time, sporty coupes such as the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Trans Am, an economical car that was still fun to drive.
And, of course, it offered Toyota quality and reliability, which was just coming to the attention of American consumers in the early '70s.
Over the years, beyond the economy of operation that the Celica offered, Toyota's legendary reliability has been one of the car's greatest selling points, especially against some competitors that didn't fare as well in the quality department.
Celica also lays claim to helping begin the so-called tuner-car craze, in which consumers take their cars and modify them - sometimes quite extensively - to suit their own tastes and (perceived) needs. I'm not sure that the Celica ever became the tuner car to the extent that vehicles such as the Civic and Integra became, but at least it was one of those that was easy to "tune."
Today, two versions of the Celica remain on the market here, the entry-level GT model (base price $17,670 plus $585 freight for a manual-transmission version or $18,470 plus freight for our test car, the GT with a four-speed automatic); and the uplevel GT-S (base price $22,355 plus freight).
Toyota says that the current generation's styling was inspired by Indy racecars, even if the power under the hood isn't quite up to Indy racing standards.
All base (GT) models of the Celica, including our test car, come with a 1.8-liter, inline four-cylinder, twin-cam 16-valve aluminum engine rated at 140 horsepower and 125 foot-pounds of torque.
The standard transmission is a five-speed manual, which allows the driving enthusiast to get the most out of the engine.
Our test car came with the fairly smooth-shifting four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission, the choice of most base Celica consumers.
We weren't given the opportunity to drive the uplevel GT-S model, whose main claim to fame is a completely different 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that cranks out 180 horsepower.
There is more horsepower with this engine, but not much increase in torque - just 130 foot pounds total vs. 125 for the 140-hp. engine.
I have driven cars equipped with the Celica's 180-hp. engine, however, including the uplevel models of the Toyota Matrix and Pontiac Vibe (the Matrix version has the same horsepower rating as the Celica's, while the Vibe's uplevel engine is rated at just 170 hp., however).
With the GT-S, the base transmission is a six-speed manual, although a four-speed automatic with Sport Shift is offered as an upgrade.
Toyota says that most GT-S versions are sold with the manual gearbox, however, as these cars are usually purchased by enthusiasts who want to shift for themselves, and also want that very nice six-speed gearbox.
EPA fuel-economy ratings are 27 miles per gallon city/33 highway with the 140 engine and five-speed manual, but even better with the automatic, at 29 city/36 highway. With the higher-powered engine, the figures are 23 city/32 highway with manual, and 23 city/30 highway with automatic.
Besides getting better fuel economy with the 140-hp. engine, it is set up for regular gasoline, while premium fuel is recommended for the 180-hp. engine.
Of course, as in most cars these days, regular gas can be used without harming the engine - the lower octane just decreases performance slightly.
The Celica is quite comfortable for those in the front seat. There is a small back seat that two kids or a medium-size dog can fit into. I wouldn't want to try to sit back there myself, nor would most other adults.
But people who buy Celicas usually don't have a lot of people they regularly haul around.
Cargo capacity is a highly respectable 16.9 cubic feet, mostly because the Celica isn't a true coupe - it's actually a hatchback. You can load a lot of stuff rather easily with the hatch lifted all the way up.
Driving the car is great fun, even without the more-powerful engine - especially for those of us who don't need to feel that we have to race every time we get behind the wheel.
The car's independent MacPherson strut front suspension and double-wishbone rear arrangement with stabilizer bar help hold this car to the road even in very tight turns.
Braking is very effective even with the ventilated-front-disc and rear-drum setup on the GT model. With the upgrade to the GT-S, the rear drums give way to solid-rotor discs.
The power rack-and-pinion steering is precise, and the car has a decent 36.1-foot turning radius.
On the GT, 15-inch wheels with full wheel covers are standard, along with P195/60 R15 tires.
For the extra money you have to pay to get the GT-S model, you get upgraded to 15-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels and P205/55 tires.
Other standard features on our GT model included halogen headlights with daytime running lights, dual color-keyed power outside mirrors, color-keyed bumpers and door handles, AM/FM/compact-disc audio system with six speakers, driver and front passenger air bags, air conditioning, fabric front sport seats with six-way manual adjustment, a 50/50 split-folding rear bench seat, tinted glass, tilt steering wheel, dual front and rear cupholders, rear-window defogger, sun-visor vanity mirrors, intermittent wipers, and remote hood and fuel-door releases.
A tachometer and a cargo cover are also included, along with a trip meter, outside-temperature gauge, center console with storage, and a digital clock.
Options on our test car included an all-weather package with rear wiper ($270); fog lights ($110); power tilt-and-slide sun roof ($900); and an upgrade package ($820) that added power windows and door locks, as well as cruise control. Those were all manufacturer-installed options.
The distributor, Gulf States Toyota, added carpeted floor mats ($105), bringing the total sticker price to $21,260, including freight.
Toyota says either model can be equipped with the optional "action" package, which adds "aggressive" front and rear bumpers, rocker panels, color-keyed headlight trim, clear taillight lenses, larger hood scoop, rear spoiler, rear under-bumper diffuser, tail pipe surround, and fog lights.
This package is for those who like the tuner look, but would rather have that stuff put on at the factory, and have all of it covered under the car's original warranty, which is for three years/36,000 miles.
G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. You may contact him at (210) 250-3236; email@example.com
At a Glance 2005 Toyota Celica The package: Compact, front-wheel drive, four-cylinder, three-door, four-passenger sporty hatchback. Highlights: This is the last year for Toyota's sporty two-plus-two compact, which has been on the market for 35 years. It comes in two versions, base GT and uplevel GT-S, differentiated mostly by their engines. Fun to drive, even in base form, and very economical to operate. Negatives: Back seat barely suitable for small kids. Engine: 1.8-liter four-cylinder (GT); high-output 1.8-liter four-cylinder (GT-S). Transmission: Five- or six-speed manual/four-speed automatic (with Sport Shift on GT-S). Power/torque: 140 hp./125 foot-pounds (GT); 180 hp./130 foot-pounds (GT-S). Length: 170.5 inches. Curb weight: 2,425-2,580 pounds. Cargo capacity: 16.9 cubic feet. Major competitors: Acura RSX, Honda Civic Si, Hyundai Tiburon, Scion tC, Ford Mustang, Mazda RX-8, Volkswagen Golf GL or GTI. EPA fuel economy: 23-27 miles per gallon city/30-36 mpg. highway. Fuel capacity/type: 14.5 gallons/unleaded regular (GT); unleaded premium (GT-S). Base prices: $17,670 (GT, manual); $22,355 (GT-S, manual), plus $585 freight. Price as tested: $21,155 (GT with automatic and options, including freight). On the Road rating: **** (four stars out of five; GT version).
Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling price may vary according to manufacturer and/or dealer rebates, discounts and incentives, if any.