Toyota Celica Overview

toyota celica grillThe Toyota Celica's last lifetime was easily its best. Sold for the 2000-'05 model years, this hatchback sport coupe, when compared to older Celicas, offered fresh engines, a lighter chassis, a new double-wishbone rear suspension for improved handling and a thousands-lower price. The new Celica debuted to tripled sales figures and much acclaim from speed-crazed car critics. The standard Celica was the GT, whose 140-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine moved this sub-2,500-pounder easily. A five-speed manual transmission was standard and a four-speed automatic was optional. Still, most of the praise fell upon the GT-S. Its 1.8-liter engine, equipped with variable valve timing and lift (VVTL-i) technology, gave a 180-hp kick in the pants, albeit at a lofty 6,400 rpm.

Other GT-S upgrades included Toyota Celica Accessories like disc brakes all around and a six-speed manual transmission, plus the power windows and locks, cruise control, alloy wheels and better stereo that were optional on the Celica GT. Any Toyota Celica from this time period was fun to toss around thanks to highly responsive steering, a well-sorted suspension and strong brakes. Ride quality was tolerable given the car's impressive handling capabilities, but compared to rivals like the Acura RSX, Mitsubishi Eclipse and VW GTI, it was less compliant over bumps and expansion joints. In addition, as rewarding as the Celica GT-S could be when running at high rpm, it took a patient and motivated driver to get the most out of it. Its minimal low-end torque (126 pound-feet at 4,200 rpm) could be a hassle in traffic, while the six-speed manual's notchy shift action and closely spaced gates made it easy to grab the wrong gear.

toyota celica tail lightsThere were other flaws in the Celica's interior, which was victim to an inhospitable backseat, poor rearward visibility and cheap-looking plastics on the dash. Ergonomics were mostly sound, at least, and the front bucket seats were well-shaped despite their limited adjustability. Toyota changed the Celica little over the years. An all-cosmetic "Action Package" joined the options list in 2002, and 2003 brought some styling changes inside and out, plus a newly optional JBL stereo and HID xenon headlights. In any year, the GT-S is the Celica of choice for buyers seeking a true sport coupe experience. However, buyers merely seeking an affordable, sporty-looking coupe will find the standard Celica GT a decent performer. Compared to its successor, it was bigger, heavier and less nimble, and got its propulsion from two lazier engines borrowed from the Corolla and Camry.

This Celica kicked off its first year with coupe and hatchback body styles available in ST and GT trim; a GT convertible with a power-operated top joined the party by year two. A five-speed manual and four-speed automatic were the transmission choices for all Celicas. Toyota made a few changes over the years, starting with the addition of some styling touches and sound insulation in 1996. In 1997 the GT coupe variant went AWOL, though it returned to life in 1998, when all ST models vanished. In 1999 Toyota killed off all coupes, leaving only the GT hatchback and GT convertible for the sixth-gen Celica's last year. It's a similar story for the fifth-generation Celica of 1990-'93. Largely similar to its successor, this generation used many of the same parts and came as an ST coupe, GT coupe, GT hatchback and all-wheel-drive All-Trac Turbo hatchback.

toyota celica headlightsGenerally, we recommend that used car buyers skip the Celica ST, whose 110-hp 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine makes for one dull daily driver. Attaining respectable acceleration entails a step up to the Celica GT and its 135-hp 2.2-liter four, which also had lots of torque for around-town punch, four-wheel disc brakes and more standard amenities such as power accessories and a tilt steering wheel. Among the GT models, consumers should feel free to choose whichever body style suits their tastes, though hatchbacks had exclusive access to an optional sport-tuned suspension that provided better handling. In reviews at the time, we commented favorably about the car's functional and comfortable interior and typically high Toyota build quality. Still, no Celica of this generation was long on sport.

In addition to just-adequate power, the engine felt rough, the shifter had long throws and the steering offered little road feel. Despite its tepid performance, resale value has typically been high for this generation of the Celica, making it pricey even as a used car candidate. Unless you want a convertible, the equally reliable Acura Integra offers better value. For this Celica, a five-speed manual was standard and a four-speed automatic was optional on all models except the All-Trac. Like later Celicas, standard equipment was sparse; this was the last Celica to have only a single airbag. Changes were concentrated in 1992, when all Celicas got a restyling and more standard equipment and many models got bigger wheels and/or better brakes.