- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

Totally redesigned for 2000, the Toyota Celica is unchanged for the 2001 model year. In its seventh iteration since premiering in this country in 1971, Celica represents a sincere effort at Toyota to attract younger buyers.

Heavily influenced by a special group of young advisers, its aggressive lines were penned at Toyota's Calty Design studio in California. Celica, however, is a mixed bag. While offering cutting-edge styling and sporty handling, it musters no more than 180 ponies under the hood with the more powerful four-banger available. So, although its looks, steering and suspension scream, drive me; the two versions of its 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine may leave some drivers wanting more.

Sitting behind the wheel, wrapped in one of Celica's ultrasupportive front bucket seats, the driver has little doubt about the sporty nature of this subcompact coupe. Everything about its cabin is aimed at maximizing the driving experience. All of the gauges and switch gear are conveniently positioned. The shifter is ideally placed for driver comfort. The door openings are wide, but some bending is required to reach the front seats. If you have no problem crawling under your kitchen sink to remove the grease trap, entering the Celica's rear seat area should provide only a slight challenge. As with all of these little 2+2 coupes, Celica's rear seat doesn't provide much in the way of room once you have managed to reach it. Cargo space is more ample than might be expected and the split fold-down rear seat can increase that space tremendously. Wide C-pillars inhibit visibility to the rear.

Celica is offered in two diverse trim levels. The GT is the base version. It packs the less potent 140-horsepower edition of the 1.8-liter engine. Moving engine output to the GT's front wheels are the standard five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmissions. The more tricked-out GT-S gets the 180-horsepower four-cylinder. More advanced transmission choices increase separation from the GT. The standard manual transmission is a slick-shifting six-speed. The four-speed automatic option also has a manual-shift feature that permits the driver to chose shift points via buttons located on the steering wheel. My test Celica was a GT-S with the six-speed manual transmission.

Short, smooth throws make the six-speed a blast to operate, while providing the best opportunity for spirited acceleration. Even at that, going from stop to 60 miles per hour requires more than eight seconds. This is not sluggish, but it's not going to win any pink slips from drivers of V-6-equipped Eclipses. Steering response is instantaneous with outstanding feedback. Cornering is flat thanks to a firm suspension. Celica feels solidly planted in the turns. Cornering is enhanced by the GT-S' optional 16-inch rubber. Reining in the Celica falls to strong disc brakes on all four corners. Curiously, anti-lock is a $550 option on both trim levels.

In addition to the upgraded engine and transmission choices, a few additional interior amenities define and help justify the additional $5,000 cost of the GT-S over the GT. Enriching the GT-S package are a leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, power windows/door locks, upgraded eight-speaker audio system, intermittent rear wiper and alloy wheels.

Although the looks and attitude of the Celica should have great appeal to younger drivers, their parents will be equally attracted by Toyota's reputation for quality and durability.

Base sticker price of the Celica GT-S is $21,455. Other standard features not yet mentioned include dual air bags, fog lamps, tilt steering wheel, dual cup holders front and rear, and aluminum sports pedals. My test GT-S also had $969 worth of options like ABS, 16-inch wheels, side air bags and carpeted floor mats. Adding the $485 delivery charge brought the price as tested to $22,911.

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