By Jeremy Cato
Want a nearly-new sporty car that won’t break? Buy a late-model Toyota Celica.
Since the Celica received its last full makeover for the 2000 model year, Toyota hasn’t issued a single recall for this model. (And if you’re keeping track, in the entire history of the Celica in Canada, Toyota has issued just three safety recalls concerning this model – two in 1980 and one in 1982).
As well, the tiny handful of service bulletins are more testament to Toyota’s commitment to ongoing quality improvements than they are condemnations of short- or long-term reliability and durability. Folks, this is as close to a bullet-proof used car as you’re going to find anywhere.
So that’s the good news and it’s pretty impressive.
The rest of the story for this model is about the somewhat noisy ride of this version of the Celica (the previous generation ran from 1994-99). There’s also the matter of engine torque. That is, the Celica doesn’t have much of it at the low end of the tachometer – whether you’ve got the 140-horsepower GT or the souped-up 180-hp GT-S.
That’s not to say acceleration in either car is sleepy. But it is to say the driver needs to work the throttle and the gearbox to squeeze out the power. In other words, you’ve got to be heavy on the throttle and do a lot of shifting. The latter is not necessarily a bad thing with the Celica’s short-throw gearbox. And I mean that for both the five-speed manual in the GT and the six-speed manual in the GT-S.
All that high-r.p.m. driving makes for a somewhat noisy driving experience. Some may like that, some not. In addition, wind whistle is noticeable at highway speeds and tire roar seeps into the cabin when you’re driving over many types of pavement.
In any case, the handling is agile and grippy, cornering is controlled and flat and the steering is sharp and aggressive. All things you’d expect in this type of car. You’d also expect a firm ride (and you won’t be disappointed) and because handling is so precise, this Celica can feel “busy” on many road surfaces. Braking is excellent.
The looks? We’re talking race-car — all curves, angles and lines, with short overhangs front and rear. It’s a compact shape which translates into a tight cabin.
The latter means that taller people might feel pinched up front and the back seat is suitable only for little folks who will find themselves crouching and crawling to squeeze in back there. Cargo space is marginal.
The driver sits low and enjoys a good forward view, though over the shoulder it’s another matter. In a word, cluttered. The controls are handy and simple and the shifter and pedals were clearly designed for sporty driving. The gauges are mostly very good, though the tachometer is not located in the driver’s direct line of sight.
The marketplace for quick, sporty cars is tiny in Canada and shrinking steadily. The young people who traditionally have bought these cars have discovered sport utes and activity vehicles such as the RAV4 and the Honda Element.
But if you want an affordable pocket rocket, take a long look at a slightly driven Celica.