1996 Toyota Tercel CE
1996 Toyota Tercel CE

By Bob McHugh

The Tercel’s long reign as the entry level Toyota, dating back to 1978, ended last year with the introduction of the all-new Toyota Echo. This is a look back at the fifth and final generation Tercel, which made its debut as a 1995 model year car.

If you’re looking for a simple, reliable and fuel-efficient small used car, the Toyota Tercel should be high on your shopping list. Older Tercels came in hatchback and wagon versions but the fifth generation was only sold in two body styles, a two-door and a four-door sedan.

Power comes from a 93 horsepower, 1.5 litre engine with a fuel consumption rating of 7.0 L/100km city and 5.4 L/100 km on the highway, with a four-speed manual transmission. A 5-speed manual, a three-speed automatic and a four-speed automatic were the other transmission choices.

A high exchange rate on the Yen was making it more difficult for Japanese car companies to compete in the price-sensitive economy car market. So, a no-frills (without air bags or power steering) basic ‘S’ version was produced as a (get-them-in-the-showroom) price leader. Of course, the higher-priced DX was the one they preferred to sell.

The S became SD in ’96 and both SD and DX were then dropped in ’97, in favour of a single “CE” trim designation. Apart from some minor changes it’s basically the same car, however, this change did eliminate any version of Tercel with the four-speed manual transmission.

This was also the year that Tercel took the CAA Pyramid Award as the best used-car purchase in Canada. When asked if they would buy the same car again, a remarkable 93% of Tercel owners said – yes.

Despite its ultra durable record some owners experience hard starting problems in cold weather and poor heater/defogger performance. Automatic transmissions were subject to warranty-covered modifications in both ’95 and ’96. Older Tercels (made back in the eighties) were recalled for rusted-out rear suspension control arms and check for engine oil leaks at the base of the distributor.

The Toyota Tercel took small car durability to new heights in it’s twenty-one year history. However, it’s an entry level car with a very basic interior and not a lot of umph under the hood. Sellers generally ask and get premium prices, so make sure (by doing a mechanical check) that you’re getting a premium vehicle.

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.

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