Review and road test of the Toyota Celica (1990 - 1999)
IMAGE ISN'T EVERYTHING
BY GLENN BROOKS
The Celica has always been one of the most sensible ways of owning a sporty car. The styling is sleek, yet restrained. The mechanicals are reliable yet high-tech. The interior's snug, functional and loaded with convenience features, if a little plasticky.
Some might call the Celica somewhat soulless, and, compared to an Italian thoroughbred, they'd have a point. Yet Toyota's sporty coupe has been attracting loyal buyers again and again over the years. When you consider the no-fuss nature of the car, combined with looks that are always striking, the Celica makes a lot of sense for those who want a sports car without the ownership hassles that many specialist models bring with them.
Models Covered:Fifth generationFebruary 1990 to Feb 1994:3-door coupe, 2.0, 2.0 turbo 4WD Coupe 3dr [GT, GT Four]Sixth generation March 1994 to September 1999:3-door coupe, 2-door cabriolet, 1.8 2.0, 2.0 turbo 4WD Coupe 3dr [GT, GT Four, ST, Cabriolet]
Toyota's fifth generation Celica threw away the wrap-around rear glass and much-admired lines of its mid-Eighties predecessor for something totally different. This fifth-generation car sported controversial lines, relying heavily on complex curves seemingly everywhere, for its new look. The heavily-styled wing mirrors and rounded rear, for example, can look decidedly odd from some angles.
Buyers embraced the car, however, which came as either a 2.0-litre GT or the rally-inspired GT Four. This latter model featured four-wheel drive and a turbocharger and was the production version of Toyota's rally winning Celica. There were two very minor updates which included fog lights as standard on the turbo car in February 1991 and new badging for both models a year later, following the adoption of a new Toyota 'T' symbol, formed by two ellipses.
The sixth generation models appeared in March 1994 and can be easily identified by their four large circular headlights. As before, there was a 2.0-litre GT and the turbo 4wd GT-Four. A pretty cabriolet joined the range sixth months later, featuring the non-turbo engine, while a new price-leading 1.8-litre ST coupe arrived in July 1995. The range has remained virtually unchanged ever since, save for the usual special editions (an SR version in 1999 - essentially a 1.8ST with a spoiler, air con and alloys).
A new seventh generation Celica arrived in September 1999 with radical new styling and a 1.8-litre VVTi engine.
What You Get
A three-door hatchback or two-door convertible that's strong on looks and ease of driving. Equipment tends to be generous and reliability is as faultless as Toyota owners have come to expect.
Resale values also tend to be strong but the good news for private buyers is your car will likely hold its value well when you come to sell it to its next owner.
What to Look For
The legendary Toyota build quality means there's mostly nothing in particular to watch out for. The engines and gearboxes are strong and long lived, while even the high-performance versions will provide years of hassle-free motoring if regularly maintained.
It's worth checking for corrosion in older cars, particularly around the edge of the bonnet and rear wheel arches though. Alloy wheels should be free of corrosion too, while all the electrical items such as sunroof and windows should be opened and closed to make sure they do exactly that.
(approx. based on a 1996 2.0GT) a clutch kit will set you back about £100, while a complete exhaust system will be about £850, though this includes £450 for the catalyst. A replacement starter motor will be around £135, a radiator about £250 and an alternator close to £190. As for shocks, fronts are about £55 and rears a pricey £150, with brake pads around £50 a set. A major service should be about £160 and minor one just under £90.
On the Road
Low volume turbo/4wd versions aside, Celicas have never been marketed as the ultimate in sporty coupes. Toyota's image as a maker of no-nonsense cars is perfect for the buyers of these cars.
While road-holding is strong and handling ability competitive, you won't see Celica drivers wearing string-back gloves and rising early on Sundays for the sheer pleasure of driving on traffic-free roads. What you will see is a car that has a healthy dash of style, a gimmick-free interior where everything is placed conveniently and fuel economy that makes many other sports coupes look thirsty.
The rally-car look-alike GT-Four versions are extremely fast, if a little unsubtle. Handling limits and road-holding are very high, but then so are the fuel bills, insurance and likelihood of getting a speeding fine every time you nip out for a pint of milk. Be sure such a strong performing car suits your lifestyle too. The GT-Four may not be temperamental but in the reds and blacks that most are painted, together with the outlandish wings and styling, they draw a lot of attention - not always what you want.
Buy the 1.8 or 2.0-litre if you want a stylish and reliable sporty coupe. Consider the turbo versions carefully but if there's such a thing as a sensible performance car, the GT-Four must be it.
Toyota Celica (1990 - 1999) review by GLENN BROOKS