Toyota Celica 1.8 T-Sport car review
Sunday 01 February 2009
Ten Point Test
Auto Trader Ten Point Test rating: 86%
Even though Toyota isn’t renowned for producing fabulous driving machines, the sporty Celica was a mainstay of the company’s range from 1970 all the way through to the end of 2005. Along the way there were no fewer than seven distinct generations of the model, so when Toyota finally ditched the Celica, it was something of a tragedy that such an icon had bitten the dust. However, even though the Celica is now history, it still makes a great buy; here’s why.
1: Looks 8/10
There’s no ambiguity with the Toyota’s lines; you can tell immediately that this is a car with sporting pretensions thanks to the swoopy silhouette, low-slung nose and 2+2 configuration. There’s also just the right amount of detailing; enough to lift it from the humdrum but not too much that it looks overblown. As a result, it’s distinctive without being pretentious.
2: Looks inside 6/10
The Celica’s cabin is something of a mixed bag, as the layout works well, there’s plenty of standard equipment and most bits are durable enough. However, it all looks a bit low-rent, with some of the plastics appearing to be disappointingly fragile – even if they’re not. It’s all typically Japanese in fact; function has definitely been the designer’s focus, rather than form.
If the looks are a mixture, the driving position definitely isn’t. The seats are supportive in all the right places and offer plenty of grip in spirited cornering. The pedal layout is also ideal; the only fly in the ointment ergonomically speaking is a steering wheel that’s adjustable for height only.
3: Practicality 8/10
For a sporting car, the Celica scores impressively in the practicality stakes thanks to the incorporation of a hatchback rather than a boot. The fitment of fold-down rear seats ensures that even if you need to transport that coffee table in a hurry, the Celica should be able to accommodate it – as long as it’s not too big.
If there’s a characteristic that marks the car out as a little impractical, it’s the short gearing of the 190bhp car. As a result, at sustained high speeds the Celica becomes tiring to drive as the engine is working so hard, and the noise permeates the cabin so there’s no getting away from it.
4: Ride and Handling 9/10
You could be forgiven for thinking that the 190bhp Celica would benefit from sportier suspension settings than its lesser siblings, but because there are no weight differences between the various models, Toyota has stuck with the same settings throughout.
As a result, all Celicas drive much the same, which is no bad thing. Even though the power is fed to the front wheels, this is a true driver’s car thanks to a sharp turn in, and a set-up that provides neutral handling when pressing on through the bends.
Even better, the ride is reasonably compliant on all but the most broken of surfaces, so you get the ideal balance between sharp handling and a comfortable ride.
5: Performance 8/10
The T-Sport is the only model in the Celica range with a 189bhp powerplant in the nose; all other derivatives feature a 140bhp engine. However, the horsepower rating is just the beginning as there’s a raft of other changes that completely change the car’s character in the transition to T-Sport guise.
All cars have a six-speed manual gearbox, but in the T-Sport the ratios are closer together and top gear gives just 20.5mph/1000rpm. However, the regular models have a top gear that offers 23.1mph/1000rpm, making high-speed cruising much more relaxed and economical, although acceleration is rather weaker because the ratios are too far apart.
The result of these changes is a top speed of 140mph for the T-Sport compared with 127mph for the 140bhp cars. Of more interest to the enthusiast driver is the car’s sprinting abilities, with the T-Sport capable of despatching the 0-60mph sprint in just 7.2 seconds, whereas the regular Celica takes 8.7 seconds for the same feat. Crucially though, you have to really wring the engine to get the best out of it; you’ll need 6200rpm on the dial before the engine really comes on cam.
6: Running costs 8/10
With the newest Celicas now several years old, even good low-mileage cars aren’t worth what they were, so depreciation is less of an issue than ever. As a result, thanks to the Celica’s excellent reliability record, it’s possible to run a Celica for a surprisingly small amount.
It’s not all plain sailing though, because if you’re an enthusiast driver the fuel consumption can be painful at just 20mpg for a hard-driven Celica 190. Insurance shouldn’t be too costly though, as 140bhp Celicas are in insurance group 13 and the 190bhp jumps just a couple of groups.
7: Reliability 10/10
In typical Toyota fashion there’s little to worry about when it comes to reliability, as even hard-driven cars seem to give few problems. However, there are one or two things that it’s worth keeping an eye out for. Perhaps the most important is whether or not the car is a grey import. If it is, not only might the car not have the correct UK specification, but it may also not be properly rustproofed, so watch out for corrosion in the floorpans and inner wheelarches.
Heavy oil consumption is normal; a litre every 600 miles is usual once 40,000 miles have been clocked up, so check the engine hasn’t been run without any oil. You should also ask if there have been any ECU upgrades to increase the power. If so, the car may have been thrashed mercilessly so check for play in the transmission as well as worn tyre shoulders to indicate hard driving.
8: Safety 10/10
Toyota didn’t put the Celica through any EuroNCAP crash tests, so it has no rating. However, the car’s standard equipment list should offer some reassurance as it includes disc brakes all round with anti-lock technology and electronic brake force distribution as standard. Even better, posher Celicas are fitted with stability control, brake assist and traction control – but entry-level models don’t come with these features, unfortunately.
There are also twin front airbags along with side airbags too, plus seatbelt pre-tensioners, three-point belts for those in the rear as well as the front, plus side impact bars in the doors. So in short, the Celica comes with all the safety kit you could want, to help you avoid a crash or look after you in the event of one.
9: Equipment 10/10
In typical Japanese fashion, this is one of the Celica’s high spots, as it comes with a raft of standard equipment for which you’d pay extra if buying from many of Toyota’s rivals. For example, leather trim, an electric sunroof, CD player and climate control are all standard, with the only major options being metallic paint and 17-inch wheels; the standard items measure 16 inches across.
10: X-Factor 9/10
With good looks, decent dynamics, superb reliability and masses of standard equipment, the Celica makes a great sporting buy. The cabin lets it down, but in return there’s reasonable practicality while purchase costs are admirably low.
Model tested: Toyota Celica 1.8 VVT-i T-Sport
On the road price: £21,145
Price range: £16,645 – £21,145
Date tested: February 2009
Road tester: Richard Dredge