1997 Toyota Tercel CE
1997 Toyota Tercel CE, Click image to enlarge

by Jeremy Cato

Just take a quick gander at those used car valuations for the Toyota Tercel, the ones provided by the Canadian Red Book. Amazing. A three-year-old Tercel retains about 70 per cent of its original value.

Folks, we’re talking about a car that was discontinued with the introduction of its replacement, the Toyota Echo, for the 2000 model year. Heck, a seven-year-old Tercel is still, on average, holding nearly 50 per cent of its sticker price. Many cars can’t manage that feat after three years, or less.

That says Tercel owners are extremely reluctant to part with their grocery-getters. I mean, it’s not like Toyota Canada sold very, very few Tercels during the car’s long run. Tens of thousands were sold during a model run dating back five generations in all.

I’m sure owners are holding on in large part because of what you’ll find in the “Buyer’s Alerts” and “Recalls” sections of this review. Not much there to be concerned with. Most amazing to me is the lack of recalls. None from 1995 onwards. And in the entire history of the Tercel, Transport Canada’s database lists just two recalls. I mean we’re going all the way back to 1980 here.

The last remake of the Tercel, before it was discontinued, came in the Fall of 1994 for the 1995 model. That car was restyled with a high rear deck, a sloping nose and a sharp character line along the side. The improved looks were welcome, but not overly startling compared to the generation of Tercel then being replaced (1991-94).

Interestingly, the fifth and last generation Tercel was chief engineered by a fellow named Takashi Ishidera. He managed the restyling and re-engineering of all five versions of the Tercel. That’s an exceptionally long tenure, but it clearly made for a consistent product.

In any case, the 1995 Tercel does not, even today, look like a cheap box on wheels – either in two- or four-door form. The styling for ’95 was cleaner than before, reducing wind drag to a coefficient of 0.32 from 0.34. That helped fuel economy and cut down on wind noise.

For safety, the doors were reinforced to meet 1997 side impact standards in both Canada and the U.S. The body was made stiffer and was engineered with the usual assortment of crumple zones to absorb energy in the event of impact. So in its class, the Tercel was and remains as solid if not more solid than its competitors.

What was clearly missing from the Tercel’s list of standard equipment in 1995 was an air bag of any kind. There was an optional air bag for the driver, which later became standard equipment, but none was available for the passenger at any price for the entire run of the Tercel. Anti-lock braking was never available, either, nor was traction control.

Other runabouts of that era did offer air bags and ABS. For instance, ABS was standard on the 1995 Geo Metro and optional on Chrysler’s Neon and Mazda’s 323/Protege,

The 1995 Tercel’s engine got a modest horsepower boost, from 82 to 93. The four-banger was given dual overhead camshafts operating four valves per cylinder (versus the single overhead cam of the previous model) and a more precise ignition system. The result was reduced emissions, excellent fuel economy and more power (to 100 pounds-foot from 89).

No, the Tercel doesn’t jump away from stop lights, but it’s okay for its class. You’ll notice engine noise, though, and if performance is at all important, you’ll want the five-speed manual, not the automatic transmission.

This version of the Tercel’s stiffer body helped with ride comfort, but long rides are not pleasant thanks to a bouncy suspension – and aging cars with old shocks can be quite trying. The skinny tires don’t help, either. And there’s also plenty of road noise, despite improvements to sound insulation for 1995 and newer cars.

Inside, the cabin is pretty basic, but functional. The seats are hardly plush, which means for long drives you’d probably be best to bring a pillow for behind your back. Still, the cabin is roomy enough for a small car.

Folks, the Tercel was bare-bones transportation from Toyota. But those bones were darn fine. Very reliable and very functional. No wonder Tercel owners are so reluctant to move on.

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