SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide
In the early seventies Toyota helped pave the road for the import car market in the United States. People called them foreign cars back then. Toyota led the parade with a trio of great little rear-wheel drive 2-door and 4-door sedans: the Corolla, Carina and Corona. They weren't as hot looking as the Datsun 510 that attained boy-racer icon status. But they were dependable and as their early add campaign hailed -- "Oh - What a Feeling!"
Toyota's latest trio of Limited Edition Tercel Hawks is a throwback to that era. These nineties versions are front-wheel drive but still have the spirited feel of those rear-wheel drivers. The Limited Edition Tercel Blackhawk was so popular last year that Toyota launched two more Hawks for 1997: the Redhawk and the Whitehawk.
These Hawks come equipped with a 93 horsepower, 1.5 liter twin cam engine that you don't find in the competitions cars. Most entry level cars such as the Civic DX, Neon Sport, Escort LX Sport and Saturn SC1 have only single-over-head cam engines. My twin-cam powered Tercel Redhawk with its spunky five-speed transmission was plenty peppy in city driving and climbed the San Francisco hills like a champ. The rack-and-pinion power steering and front-wheel drive give it decent road handling characteristics even though the front end feels a bit light. I haven't tested a manual steering version so I cannot report on that, but I still do yearn for the road feel of the old, rear wheel drivers.
My 2-door Redhawk test car was sharp looking with its color-keyed rear spoiler, Hawk badging, halogen headlamps, racer-black exterior mirrors, polycast sport wheels and Super Red paint job.
Critics praised the super fit and finish of this low-priced entry level model. Streamlined and user-friendly best describes its interior. And although the interior is pared down, the driver controls are well placed and all gauges and instruments are easily read. Dual cupholders adorn both the front and back-seat areas. The absence of vanity mirrors in the sun visors and a couple of hooks to hang my clothing on made me wonder why they weren't included for an extra $25 on the sticker price. They're insignificant but indispensable all in the same breath.
The front seats were comfortable and adequate for a smaller size person, but the bottom seat cushions were quite pint-sized. "Oy - What a feeling!" might adequately describe the experience of a 180-pounder disembarking from his 180-mile trip.
I was also puzzled at the choice of fabric used on the interior of this sporty sedan. The buff-colored, satin brocade fabric used on the seats and door panels looked better suited for a cocktail dress for the 1965 Homecoming Dance Queen than on the seats of a sporty red sedan. A sassy seamstress could whip a couple of yards of it into a cute little number and make the best dressed list. How about a youthful, spiffy looking fabric to compliment the sporty exterior? And let's forget that imitation saddle-stitching carved on the vinyl door panels -- if you can't do saddle-stitching on a sewing machine, best to not do it at all.
The rear 60/40 fold down seat with trunk-through feature is a special attraction for this entry level car. Many expensive sedans are still missing this requisite feature that should be on the standard list by now. The Redhawk's fold down compartment is narrow because of the small size of this car, but can still hold skis and golf clubs easily.
Other features include dual SRS airbags, side-door impact beams, 3-point shoulder belts, mist-cycle windshield wipers and full carpeting.
For those of you who cherish great gas mileage and our precious environment, this Tercel scores high with 39 miles per gallon on the highway and 32 miles per gallon in the city. My combined trips rewarded me with 37.1 MPG.
Suggested base price of this 2-door Tercel is $10, 648. My Redhawk test model included the Hawk Limited Edition Package, rear window defogger and center console and totaled $13,034. This is a very fair price for the performance, handling and sporty appeal and look of this 2-door sedan.
Listen up all of you folks struggling to stay on-line with the budget. That old paycheck just won't stretch like a piece of salt water taffy. So don't feel bad if your not ready to jump into a more pricey Corolla or Camry. Take a good look at this Tercel Redhawk-- you'll do just fine staying here and your dollar will be well spent. It's tried and true and tested and comes with Toyota's 36 month / 36,000 miles Warranty. Sure beats used car blues and a tail-light guarantee.
GEARHEAD CHECKLIST: TYPE: small car SPECIFICATIONS: front engine, front-wheel drive, 2-door, 5 passenger ENGINE: 1.5 liter, 4-cylinder, twin-cam, 16 valve engine, 93 horsepower, 100 ft pds of torque at 4,400rpm CURB WEIGHT: 2,010 lbs. FUEL CONSUMPTION: 37.1 miles per gallon (observed) PRICE AS TESTED: $13, 034 FOR: good looking 2-door, fun to drive, great gas mileage AGAINST: poor choice of seat fabrics/ interior should compliment exterior MARY'S SCORECARD: We rate this vehicle against similar small sedans in four categories important to the car-buyer - plus a fifth category for relative dollar value. Maximum score in each category is 20 points. 1. COASTAL CURVES / HIT THE ESSES Decent handling for entry level - but flitty feel to power steering 17 points 2. VALLEY LOGJAM / THE COMMUTER'S BANE No visor mirrors - just when I get a nanno second to regloss the lips 18 points 3. THE FAST LANE / PEDAL-TO-THE-METAL No trophies at the race circuit but scoots just fine 19 points 4. THE CITY SLICKER / STYLE & TASTE Thumbs-up for Redhawk exterior - but thumbs down for the interior 16 points 5. THE 1997 BUYER / FACE VALUE Priced right for the market & your budget - let's you avoid used car blues 20 points TOTAL SCORECARD 90 points_____________________________
MARY IACOPONI has spent 19 years in the automotive field as a self-employed auto mechanic, service advisor, dispatcher, media fleet operations manager, product launch event manager and most recently as product public relations manager of an automotive manufacturer. She has crewed on winning race cars participating in Sports Car Club of America races.