The need for speed: To hear most car magazines tell it, the only thing that matters is more of it. But speed alone doesn't make for the ideal driving experience in a convertible.

What does? Looks, handling, looks, assembly quality, looks -- well, you get the picture.

Looks are everything in a droptop. Besides, you won't be driving fast anyway. Once you take in the 1997 Toyota Celica convertible, you'll want to ooze past everyone nice and slow, so they can drink in the beauty of this car.

With its curvaceous beltline and open-eyed front end, this car is every bit the looker. The test car was dressed formally, entirely in black, making for a most sinister appearance.

Toyota offers three models of Celica: notchback, hatchback or convertible. Two trim levels are available, ST or GT, but the convertible comes only with the upper-level GT. Those letters also make a difference in motivation. No Celica has too much power, but with the hills common to this region, most people might find the base 1.8-liter twin-cam, 16-valve four-cylinder a little slim. This engine, shared with the Corolla, produces 105 horses at 5,200 rpm and 117 foot-pounds of torque at 2,800 rpm.

Thankfully, the GT gets the larger 2.2-liter with 130 horses and 145 foot-pounds of torque. While STs deal with front disc and rear drums, GTs come with four-wheel disc brakes. Anti-lock brakes are optional on all models.

While not blessed with pavement-scrubbing power, the Celica does a good job of keeping up with traffic. It does so noisily, but this is a convertible. If you're looking for silence, you have the wrong type of car.

Handling is what you've come to expect of Celicas, and it's good. Extremely adept at taking corners, the Celica's attitude is sporty, precise and linear. There's enough power assist to numb things somewhat, but the demeanor here is sporty. There's some road isolation from bumps, but enough road and tire noise to remind you of this car's mission. Braking was excellent, as was handling.

Of course, as good as all this is, how good is the convertible part of the equation? Very good. Lower the windows, flip two latches and hit the button. That's all it takes to lower the top. It's quick enough to do at a long traffic light. Just don't try it while moving -- the top stops. Wind management is excellent, with little buffeting or turbulence in the cabin at speed. You can actually talk at sane levels. Top up, there's good insulation from noise and the elements, with a nasty downpour unable to penetrate the excellent sealing.

The top itself is done by ASC (American Sunroof Co.). It's triple-layered and made of a good quality cloth on the top layer. The rear window is glass and features a rear defroster. Convertible shake can be noticeable enough to make the CD player stop, but is improved from previous Celica convertibles. Rigidity is firm enough to see out the rear-view mirror over bumps.

Inside, the dash has the Celica's usual cockpit feel, with a large center console to hold ventilation and stereo controls. The ventilation worked well, while the AM/FM cassette CD player was particularly useful. After all, what's a convertible without tunes? The CD player holds three CDs in the dash and features 220-watt output. That's a lot for a car classified as a subcompact, but well worth it.

The dash is made of high quality plastics, and the cloth feels durable, although not opulent. There are, of course, drink holders. But Toyota does not provide a change holder, a strange omission from a Japanese automaker.

Celica is derived from the Spanish word for heavenly or celestial. While the car is heavenly, the price is celestial. Base price is $24,978. That quickly rises to $28,280 -- a lot for a convertible with only four cylinders.

But remember, high fashion is always expensive.

1997 Toyota Celica GT convertible Standard: 2.2-liter in-lin twin-cam four-cylinder engine, four-speed automatic, four-wheel disc brakes, independent suspension, 205/ 55R16 tires, full wheel covers, dual air bags, power cloth top, dual power outside mirrors, fog lamps, dual vanity mirrors, tilt steering wheel, intermittent wipers, rear defogger, power windows, power door locks, power rear quarter windows, dual cupholders, remote trunk and gas fuel door releases, AM/FM cassette player with power antenna. Optional: Air-conditioning, premium six-speaker cassette player, three-disc CD player, cruise control, alloy wheels, floor mats, center arm rest, wheel locks. Base price: $24,978 As tested: $28,280 EPA rating: 21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway Test mileage: 23 mpg.