Test Drive: 2000 Toyota Celica
Test Drive: 2003 Toyota Celica GT-S

Manufacturer’s web site
Toyota Canada

By Chris Chase

Toyota is not a car company that tends to attract many enthusiasts. At its introduction for 2000, the Celica was the latest in a short line of sporty cars, following in the footsteps of the MR2, Supra and 2000GT. And even the Celica didn’t become a true performance car until the late 1980s All-Trac Turbo model, which only lasted till 1993. Seven years later, the Celica became the wedgy car you see here.

It served as Toyota’s performance halo car until the Celica went away (for good?) after 2005. The 2013 Scion FR-S (Scion is a Toyota brand, remember) is Toyota’s first crack at a genuinely sporty car in a long time, a small, rear-wheel drive coupe that could be called a spiritual successor to the Celica.

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

The 2000 Celica was built on a modified Corolla platform. Two models were offered: the GT used a 140-hp, 1.8L four-cylinder engine, and the GT-S used a high-revving version of the same engine, tuned for 180 horsepower. Transmission choices were five- and six-speed manuals in GT and GT-S models, respectively, and a four-speed auto was the option. Automatic GT-S versions got a manual shift function.

While the GT-S was more powerful, its extra power came mainly at high revs; driven sedately, its performance advantage was less obvious. Note that both GT and GT-S models had variable valve timing. While the GT’s version of the system, VVT-I, only controls valve timing, the GT-S’ VVTL-i setup also increased valve lift at high engine speeds, which, as mentioned, is where this model’s extra power comes from.

If you’re drawn to the Celica more for its looks than performance, the GT will likely serve your purposes nicely; the 1.8L engine is a strong performer even when its power is routed through the Corolla’s tall gearing, and the Celica’s shorter gears only emphasize its power.

While Consumer Reports (CR) lists a used Celica as a good bet, it has not proven completely trouble free. One common issue is with the VVTL-i (variable valve timing and lift) system in high-performance GT-S models; the bolts that are used to actuate the higher-lift rocker arms at high rpms can break. Click here and here for useful threads at NewCelica.org on how to replace the broken bolts; it’s not apparent how the bolts get broken in the first place, though. Note that this issue does not appear to affect the less sophisticated VVTi used in non-GT-S Celicas.

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