2003 Toyota Celica GT-S
2003 Toyota Celica GT-S. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase

Toyota’s not a car company that tends to attract many enthusiasts. The Celica is one of only a handful of sporty cars the company has ever produced (the MR2, Supra and the vaunted 2000GT are the others), but it wasn’t until 1988 – two years after a drastic redesign from a rear-wheel-drive platform to a more modern front-drive layout – that the Celica truly captured the hearts of speed freaks with the All-Trac Turbo model. It combined a 200 hp turbocharged engine with all-wheel-drive, which was a rare enough feature for the day, let alone on a small sports car. The All-Trac was dropped after 1993, however, and a redesigned 1994 model made do with a rather tame 135 hp engine as the only choice.

True performance wouldn’t return to the Celica line-up until 2000, when Toyota reinvigorated this respected nameplate and attached it to a new edgy-and-wedgy body. Using a modified Corolla platform, the seventh-generation Celica was offered in GT and GT-S forms. Both were powered by a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, also borrowed from the Corolla, that made 140 hp in the GT (10 more than the Corolla) and was tuned to produce 180 high-revving horses in the GT-S.

Suddenly, Toyota had a competitor for Acura’s Integra/RSX, which basically had the top end of the sporty compact import market to itself since it was introduced in the mid-1990s. While the Celica’s styling was more polarizing than that of the Acura, it certainly was more distinctive, which appealed to many enthusiasts, and the new Celica quickly gained popularity as a “tuner” car.

2002 Toyota Celica GT-S
2002 Toyota Celica GT-S. Click image to enlarge

While the GT-S was more powerful, its extra power came mainly at high revs, thanks to Toyota’s VVT-i variable valve timing system; driven sedately, its performance advantage was less obvious. If you’re drawn to the Celica more for its looks than performance, the GT will likely serve your purposes nicely; the 1.8-litre engine is a strong performer even when it’s routed through the Corolla’s tall gearing, and the Celica’s shorter gears only emphasize its power.

Despite its popularity with younger owners who might drive more aggressively than the average car buyer, the final iteration of the Celica carried on Toyota’s tradition of reliability. Faults are few; even on the busiest of the Celica-dedicated Web forums, there are few topics about problems with these cars, and publications like Consumer Reports tout the Celica as a trouble-free car.

2000 Toyota Celica GT-S
2000 Toyota Celica GT-S. Click image to enlarge

Being a sporty car, it won’t come as a surprise to most that the Celica uses more fuel than the Corolla it’s based upon, but the numbers are respectable despite the Celica’s shorter gearing and more aggressive engine tuning. Depending on model year and transmission choice, expect a Celica GT – offered with either a five-speed manual or four-speed auto – to use a little more than 8.5 L/100 km in the city and about 6.5 L/100 km on the highway. Naturally, the higher-performance GT-S – transmission choices here are a six-speed manual or four-speed auto – uses a little more gas, to the tune of about 10 L/100 km (city) and about 7 L/100 km (highway).

In terms of crash safety, the Celica scored fairly well in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tests, earning four stars each for driver and front passenger protection in frontal impacts, and three stars for front-seat occupant protection in side impacts (the rear seat was too small to test for side-impact protection). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) didn’t crash-test the Celica.

The price for all this goodness is the higher resale values that Toyotas command, which translate into higher used-car prices. According to Canadian Red Book, even a six-year-old 2000 model still commands close to $13,000 in GT-S form, while a GT model is worth $11,300. Used prices top out at $29,200 for a 2005 GT-S and $22,100 for the less-powerful GT. For a shopper with a $20,000 budget, a 2002 GT-S comes in at $18,250, and a 2004 GT squeaks in with a used value of $19,600.

As with any Toyota, the Celica is far from being the most affordable option in terms of used compact sports cars. Ford’s SVT Focus is an extremely competent performer, but it’s hard to find; a ZX3 or ZX5 still offers great handling, but doesn’t have the SVT’s sweet 170 hp engine. Hyundai’s poor resale values make the Tiburon far cheaper to buy, but it’s had some minor reliability problems. The Mini Cooper S is a sweet performer, but they’re not cheap and have been problem-prone. Acura’s Integra and RSX and the 2002-2005 Civic Si hatch can run with the Celica in terms of performance and reliability, but won’t be any cheaper. None of the above cars is a poor choice for performance alone, but for a sporty drive combined with nifty looks and great durability, the Celica looks like a winner.

Online Resources

www.toyotanation.com – Like other past and present Toyota models, the Celica gets its own forum section here, but the final iteration of Toyota’s most affordable sports car is lumped in with all the other generations. Most of the discussion seems to deal with older versions, but this is a great site with almost 50,000 members and is definitely worth checking out.

www.newcelica.org – There are more than 23,000 members here, a high number for a site that is specific to just the last-generation Celica. It shows, too – the forums here are very busy, and it’s telling that the performance modification section is one of the busiest of them all. It must say something about Toyota reliability that there’s not a lot of action in the repair and maintenance forum.

www.celispeed.com – Compared to NewCelica.org, this site is small, with about 2,400 members, but the forums are surprisingly busy given that low number. The focus here is on Celicas dating from 1986 (fourth generation), but there are sections dedicated to each of the fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-generation (2000-2005) Celicas.

www.toyotacelicas.com – Here’s a forum that supports all seven generations of Celica. With over 6,500 members, this is a good-sized community, and the seventh-generation forum is quite active. It’s also the best spot on this site for seventh-generation-specific info; topics in the repair and maintenance forums mostly deal with older versions.

www.celicaforums.com – Fewer than 800 Celica owners call this forum home, and while that’s a fairly small number, the fact that the last post to the forums was made in October 2005 is strange. Based on that alone, this may not be the best place to come for in-depth info on your Celica.


Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004335; Units affected: 28,541

2000: On certain vehicles, the recess that retains the rubber seal ring, which is located at the end of the brake master cylinder body, may be corroded due to an improper washing process. In this condition, brake fluid may leak from the seal, or a small amount of air may enter the master cylinder, which could lead to an increase in stopping distance. Correction: After inspection, if a brake fluid leak from the master cylinder is detected or there is air in the master cylinder, the dealer will replace the master cylinder and the brake booster.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003044; Units affected: 1,628

2002-2003: On certain vehicles, the check valve inside the fuel filler pipe may fall into the tank during refueling. This condition could cause fuel to spill out of the fuel filler pipe when the tank is being filled and refueling is stopped by the auto-stop system of the refuel gun. This may result in a fire if in the presence of an ignition source. Correction: Dealer will inspect the check valve. If the valve cannot be engaged or has fallen into the tank, the fuel tank will be replaced.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003004; Units affected: 408

2002: On certain Panasonic Edition vehicles, the driver’s floor mat may slide along the interior floor carpet when pressure is applied to the mat by getting in or out of the vehicle. As a result, the floor mat may come into contact and interfere with the accelerator pedal. Correction: Dealer will install new floor mats and clips.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

Connect with Autos.ca