A gourmet meal for the eyes - and the feet.
by Bob Storck
CARLSBAD, California - Over the years, the Celica has been sized and shaped to fit a whole variety of needs and markets. It started as not much more than a sporty Corolla-based styling exercise, but grew with turbocharged six-cylinder engines to become the Celica Supra that spawned an entirely new series, while also continuing as an affordable front-drive sport coupe. Now it's back with a youthful package - not only in its styling but in its intended market.
The seventh-generation Celica is completely new, more powerful, and a much more affordable vehicle than before. It is packaged in an extremely attractive wrapper that hints at its sophisticated powertrain, a taut but not overly firm independent suspension, and confidence-inspiring brakes.
The new three-door hatchback Celica is available in GT and, slightly sportier, GT-S models. There's no convertible at present, but that version has always followed.
Overall, the Celica is a most satisfying visual treat, a real gourmet meal for the eyes. One of the parking valets at the hotel used as the base camp for the preview commented that from the front, the car reminded him of a Ferrari. This guy parks cars at a five-star hotel and he has seen his fair share of Ferraris. This remark produced smiles all around from the proud Toyota personnel.
The Celica is a most compelling design, especially so when the car is painted silver or red. Front and rear overhangs are kept to a minimum, endowing the car with a very purposeful stance. Celica was styled at CALTY Design Research Inc., Toyota's U.S. styling studio in Newport Beach, California. Compared with past models, Celica is shorter in length but longer in wheelbase, with greatly reduced front and rear overhangs. The nose of the car is highlighted by center-of-the-hood features reminiscent of a Formula One car. Headlamp lenses, which have an appearance that mimics an F1's front wings, further highlight this design feature. Thanks to a stout, low-mounted front cross-member that allows the radiator to be slanted, the hood slopes sharply from the cowl to the front bumper.
The upscale GT-S model sports a new 1.8-liter VVTL-i twin-cam four-cylinder engine. Co-developed with Yamaha, it produces 100 horsepower per liter of displacement for a total of 180 hp, quite high for a normally aspirated engine. The secret is in the letters VVT, which refer to computer-controlled intelligent variable valve timing and lift that uses oil pressure to vary the intake valves above 6000 rpm. Techies will note that the new engine employs metal deposition valve seats, involving laser technology, instead of the usual valve seat inserts. This allows for larger valves and better temperature control of the combustion chamber.
The Celica GT employs a VVT-i-equipped 1.8-liter four-cylinder that produces 40 less horsepower than the GT-S engine but does not have the "peaky" nature of its sister. It is available with a five-speed manual or four-speed.
A first: six forward gears
By selecting the GT-S version, a buyer can get either a six-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed auto-manual incorporating steering-wheel controls (called "E-shift"). To upshift, simply press one of two buttons on the back of the steering wheel spokes; to downshift, depress one of the buttons on the front of the spokes. Sixth gear is a tall highway gear that reduces some (but not all) of the discomfort of running a high-revving engine for long stretches of freeway driving.
The two models differ further in their brakes. The GT-S is equipped with some of the largest diameter discs seen in this class, both front and rear. The GT has smaller front discs and substitutes drums at the rear as a cost-saving measure. Remarkably, the beginning price is down around that of many compact cars, which should make it popular with first-time buyers.
Fuel economy is impressive on either model, and, interestingly, EPA estimated highway mileage is highest for the automatic-equipped GT model.
The interior is a two-cockpit design that separates the driver and passenger with a large center console. The HVAC and stereo controls reside in this panel, as does a storage bin with a rather shiny plastic cover that produced some glare. The gauges use orange numbers and odd fonts in the pre-production models.
The rear seats are good for children, parcels, or luggage, and can also be used to torture tall people. They cannot be considered functional enough to transport real people any distance.
From the outside in, occupant safety was of utmost importance when designing the all-new Celica. Its energy-absorbing structure was developed to further help reduce the risk of injury. Occupants are further protected by Celica's whiplash-injury-lessening (WIL) front seats. Two sets of rear three-point seat belts and anchor brackets for child-restraint systems are standard equipment on the 2000 Celica. Both models also contain a laundry list of safety features, including seat belt pre-tensioners. Driver and passenger side-impact airbags are optional equipment.
The GT-S six-speed manual proved to be quite an experience in the hill country east of San Diego. Keep the engine above 6000 rpm and you're rewarded with a wonderful range of power that shoots you to the next braking point. Handling is quite competent for a front-drive vehicle. It understeers predictably yet can be tossed about. The ride is firm and yet not uncomfortable. After an hour on some very twisty roads, you emerge without an ache or pain, something that can't be said for a lot of "sporty" cars.
The trick with the GT-S is to keep the revs up. Sixth gear is strictly for cruising, since the engine is dead below 3000 rpm and does not build revs quickly from that range. You have to work to keep this engine in its power band, and that task is further complicated by what appears to be a dead spot between 5000 and 6000 rpm and a slightly bulky shifter in fourth, fifth and sixth gears. Most of the time in town calls upon second and third, and there the Celica is a happy ride.
On the other hand, the GT five-speed manual proved to be delightful. It would appear to make better power at lower rpm than the GT-S and also has a more pleasing (read louder) exhaust note.
Buyers will not go wrong to pick the GT. It comes with the same wonderful styling, most of the power and a better exhaust note than the S, all at a lower price point. The only real downside from the perspective of the purist is the rear wheel drum brakes.
The new Celica is impressive and is sure to give enthusiasts another viable choice and return Toyota solidly to the performance coupe market.
Hugo Becker collaborated in this evaluation.
2000 Toyota Celica
BasePrice: $16,695 - $29,000
Engine: 1.8-liter in-line four-cylinder, 140 hp/180 hp
Transmission: five-speed manual, six-speed manual, electronically controlled four-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 102.3 in
Length: 170.4 in
Width: 68.3 in
Height: 51.4 in
Weight: 2425-2580 lb
Fuel economy: GT manual, 28 city/34 hwy; GT auto, 28/38;
GT-S manual, 24/33; auto 25/30
Major standard equipment:
Power locks and windows
Premium eight-speaker sound system
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