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Car reviews - Toyota - Celica - ZR coupe

Our Opinion

We like
Looks, performance, handling
Room for improvement
Poor rear visibility, auto feels sluggish

13 Mar 2001

THE new Toyota Celica is likely to attract buyers who would never have considered its predecessors.

No longer does it rely purely on swoopy good looks to set it apart from the more mundane sedans and hatches in the Toyota line-up.

The languid performance and uninspiring handling of the outgoing "four-eyed" Celica have made way for outstanding dynamics that are more than a match for any other sub-$50,000 coupe.

Its straight-line performance might not be up there with the Nissan 200SX, but the Celica is satisfyingly quick all the same, being capable of sprinting from standstill to 100km/h in just over seven seconds.

At the car's heart lies a seemingly race-inspired 1.8-litre engine that cranks out 140kW at a dizzy 7600rpm - but perhaps more amazing is that peak torque of 180Nm occurs just 800rpm lower.

The powerplant has an almost turbo-like delivery, coming into its own in the upper half of the rev range thanks to Toyota's VVTL-i variable valve timing system.

Exceeding 5000rpm results in the formerly muted engine note changing into a hard-edged roar. The increase in decibels is accompanied by a dramatic surge in performance as the tacho needle rapidly sweeps towards the redline.

The somewhat peaky delivery of the engine means the close-ratio six-speed gearbox needs to be stirred frequently to obtain optimum performance.

This is not an altogether unpleasant task as the six-speeder delivers quick, slick changes with a bit of practice. The six ratios are closely stacked, making it easy to keep the engine in the optimum rev range.

But achieving smooth progress in stop-start situations requires familiarisation with the sharp-biting clutch and abrupt fuel cut-off on a trailing throttle.

The optional automatic transmission virtually nullifies the benefits of the high-revving engine as four ratios are simply not enough to keep it on the boil. Consequently, the self-shifter is not worth considering unless you have a dysfunctional left leg or chronic dislike for changing gears.

Perhaps the most eye-opening aspect of the new Celica - apart from the styling - is the sheer competence of the chassis.

It quickly becomes evident from its firm ride that this car is far tauter than any of its predecessors.

Although the ride seems busy at low speeds, the plus side is the Celica has minimal body roll and feels very composed and well tied down at highway speeds.

There is nary a trace of understeer even when hurled into corners at alarming speeds. It turns in sharply and there is little evidence of torque steer, even when the accelerator is stomped on.

It should be noted that the test car was the up-spec ZR model and benefited to some degree from its taller 16-inch wheels shod with low-profile 205/50R16 tyres.

Making the most of the ample grip on offer is simplified by the well-weighted and communicative steering which seems to telegraph what is happening at the front wheels to the driver's fingertips.

In keeping with the overall character of the new Celica, the driver is seated low, in true sports-car style.

The only problem this poses is rear visibility is limited, largely due to the car's high rump. Reverse parking becomes an exercise in guesswork as it is virtually impossible to see the car in the space behind.

Comfort is one of the car's plus points and the hip-hugging bucket seats offer plenty of lateral and lumbar support, and are well suited to long trips.

Facing the driver is a simple yet attractive instrument cluster that is easy to read at a glance. The overall cabin layout is understated although interesting use of curves and contours sets it apart from other Toyota offerings.

It is externally that the Celica makes its most dramatic statement with its bold, edgy styling completely at odds with its predecessor's rounded, organic lines.

There is no middle ground with this Celica - you will either love or hate the way it looks.

The aggressive nose is dominated by a gaping mouth, large triangular headlights and air intake sculpted into the steeply sloping bonnet. The chunky, squared-off tail is similarly menacing, lending the car a squat, purposeful stance.

But unlike most previous Celicas, this car actually has the go to match the show so you need not feel like a poser when driving it.

The car's overall dimensions are smaller than its predecessor - it is 90mm shorter and 15mm narrower - but its wheelbase has been stretched by 65mm to 2600mm.

In theory, this should create greater interior space, and it does, but the rear seats are still suitable for short trips only - for not very tall passengers.

Luggage space is quite generous at 323 litres, enough to comfortably swallow a couple's belongings for trips away.

Economy is one of the car's fortes and it excels on the highway, covering nearly 600km between tankfuls.

Overall, the Celica offers striking looks and sufficient performance and handling to make it a fast, safe and enjoyable car across twisty roads.

Its fun factor is backed up by Toyota reliability and a presumably strong resale value.

The only drawbacks are its poor rear visibility and lacklustre performance in automatic form.

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