2003 Celica New Car Test Drive
Sometimes beauty is more than skin deep. It's true of people more often than we like to admit. It's even more often true of machines. Experienced engineers will tell you that when it looks right, it works right.
That brings us to the current Toyota Celica, with its racy, razor-edge lines, looking like the very embodiment of high-technology performance. And guess what: Its looks aren't lying.
Celica is light on its feet and tenacious in turns. Its energetic engine loves to rev, and you can keep the mill spinning with a six-speed gearbox. One of our contributors compared the GT-S version to a motorcycle on four wheels, the automotive equivalent of a screaming, hyper-horsepower super-bike.
True, perhaps, except that Celica is no exotic. It's a straightforward little machine that's heavy on fun and light on the wallet.
Celica was redesigned for 2000, and has not changed significantly since then.
GT-S leads the Celica lineup with distinctive styling, nice handling and an impressive 180-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine developed with assistance from Yamaha. The GT-S retails for $21,555.
Most buyers will opt for the more affordable 140-horsepower Celica GT, which retails for $17,085.
Both models are powered by an all-aluminum four-cylinder engine displacing 1.8 liters. Both feature Toyota's VVTL-i variable valve timing, lift and duration, a feature previously exclusive to the up-market Lexus division. Variable valve timing allows the previously difficult combination of high horsepower with lots of flexible torque around town.
But it's not the same engine: Each Celica model has its own block, and different dimensions in bore and stroke. With 10.0:1 compression, the base GT engine makes a respectable 140 horsepower at 6400 rpm, and 125 foot-pounds of torque at a useful 4200 rpm.
The Celica GT comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission. The GT-S gets a six-speed. Either model can be ordered with a four-speed electronically controlled automatic that adds $800 to the GT, and $700 to the GT-S. But only the GT-S automatic features the E-Shift semi-automatic shift program from the hot Lexus GS sport sedan, which allows the transmission to be shifted manually via buttons on the steering wheel spokes.
Naturally, GT and GT-S also differ in the standard equipment they offer. The GT gets a six-speaker stereo with both cassette and CD, power windows, power mirrors and air conditioning. The GT-S adds two more speakers and amplified power, fog lamps, drilled aluminum sport pedals, power locks, leather steering wheel and shift knob, cruise control and alloy wheels with wider tires. Additionally, the GT-S we drove had nearly all the options, including a sunroof, leather seats, a rear spoiler and 16-inch alloy wheels with lower-profile speed-rated tires.