- Sleek styling.
- Racecar-like handling.
- Excellent front visibility with fighter-cockpit-like feel.
- High build quality inside and out.
- Excellent four-wheel disc brakes.
- Notchy shifter is a killer in city traffic.
- Embarrasingly low on torque.
- Aggressive rev limiter.
- Very poor rearward visibility.
- Back seat is useless for its actual purpose.
Press Coverage :
The Celica has been revised for 2003 with freshened front and rear styling. In front, the 2003 Celica gets a new bumper and fascia with a wider upper air intake. Newly available projector-style HID (high-intensity discharge) headlights complement the car's advanced styling, and redesigned rear lights echo the projector-style look.
Celica's sporty interior also gets a redesigned center dash cluster, a reshaped LCD combination meter with improved legibility and reduced glare, and chrome-trimmed rings around tweeter speakers. A JBL system replaces last year's premium 3-in-1 audio system for the GT-S model. A power antenna is now standard on JBL-equipped models. Solar Yellow and Zephyr Blue Metallic are two new colors added to Celica's exterior color palette.
On canyon roads, this 2,500-pound welterweight tightly arcs through corners with minimal body roll. The steering is very quick and precise without being twitchy, and the thick three-spoke steering wheel rim fits naturally in your hands. Reducing speed is a simple matter of squeezing the powerful brakes; 60-to-0 stops take a mere 116 feet.
The Celica is at its best when being used (and abused) near its maximum limits. It thrives on being wrung out. This, oh so conveniently, is exactly the type of driving required for a racetrack. Powering out of turns, the Celica's Yokohama 205/50VR16 tires provide excellent grip. If this car had a limited-slip front differential (like the old Acura Integra Type R had), it would be nearly unstoppable.
The engine, a 180-hp 1.8-liter four, is best when used above 6,000 rpm. It is here that the VVT-i variable valve timing system changes over to the aggressive profile. The feeling is like having your very own little jet afterburner kick in. For maximum acceleration, and for the one-two shift in particular, care must be taken to keep the revs as high as possible. The engine's redline is 7,800 rpm, but a few hundred extra revs can be gained until the limiter kicks in. With practice, the quarter-mile achieved in 15.4 seconds at 91.6 mph.
So this is the car to own if your route to work every day is an unpopulated two-lane twisty road. But for the rest of us in the real world of snarled traffic and rough roads, the Celica's bias for performance turns into a liability. The suspension, while not necessarily abusive, is certainly the stiffest of the group, making bumps and road irregularities that much more noticeable. Wind and road noise are high, and the engine can drone when on the freeway. Even the six-speed transmission is problematic. It's quick-shifting, but the action is notchy and it's easy to select a wrong gear unless extra concentration is applied. Even getting away from a stop is more difficult because of a touchy clutch pedal and a lack of torque (a maximum of 126 lb-ft comes at 4,200 rpm).
Alas, there are additional faults worth mentioning. First off, the Celica's cabin is a bit cramped. Rear-seat passengers are given little in terms of headroom, legroom and thigh support. Headroom is better up front thanks to the low-slung seats, but the driver's footwell is narrow and the seat itself offers minimal adjustment. Outward visibility is the worst of the group because of the thick C-pillars. Careful positioning of the mirrors is critical.
Interior materials are a letdown, too. "Plastic, plastic everywhere!" said one editor. Having the leather seat package is a must if you like to get touchy-feely with your car. Some controls, like the window and door lock switches, are illogically placed, but the climate and audio controls are well sorted. Interior storage is also better than average thanks to a large center console bin and a lidded cubby hole above the audio head unit.
The final nail in the Celica's coffin is a lack of feature content. Of the 10 features we ranked as most desirable in a sport coupe, the Celica comes with only two - side airbags and antilock brakes. And both of those are optional. Compared to the Hilton-like VW GTI, the Celica is rather austere.
But hey, you can worry about creature comforts when you're married, drinking Metamucil and sweeping away smashed Cheerios that your children left in your minivan's interior. Sport coupes are for the young and the beautiful. Snag a Celica GT-S, drive it like you hate it, and you won't be disappointed.
1994-1999 Toyota Celica GT
2,198 cc / 130-135 hp / 142-144 lb-ft / 2580-2815 lbs / 0-60 mph 8.5 sec.