Toyota's Tercel was originally introduced as the Corolla Tercel in
1980, and was the first front-wheel-drive vehicle in the automaker's
history. It has undergone six redesigns since then, but the most recent
may be its most important. The latest Tercel upgrades were completed at
a time when the value of the dollar on the international market was
fluctuating wildly, threatening Tercel's low-cost, high-quality mission.
Reducing production costs by reducing the overall number of parts,
and sharing components with other Toyota models, the company continues
to push Tercel to the forefront of quality entry-level vehicles. Tercel
is available three ways: a Standard trim two-door, and in upscale DX
trim as a coupe or sedan. Our test car was the Tercel DX sedan.
OUTSIDE - Last year's redesign brought welcome changes to Tercel.
Sharper creases and a modern roofline helped it shed its entry-level
look, and it now appears more upscale. Its panels fit uniformly, and the
doors close with a reassuring thud. Standard Tercels use stark steel
wheels and both models use tiny 155/80SR13 tires. Unfortunately, there
is no tire upgrade available. The DX models are identified by twin
outside mirrors and bumper strips, full wheelcovers and specific
bodyside molding. Tinted glass is also standard equipment, but if you
want the bumpers to match the paint, an optional Value Package is
mandatory, or they can be added as a $95 stand-alone option.
INSIDE - That Value Package really appears inside, where it adds air
conditioning, power steering, a digital clock, intermittent wipers,
carpeted floor mats, a split folding rear seat and an AM/FM cassette
stereo. Up front, headroom room is plentiful, but those in back will
find cramped quarters - a common complaint with compact cars. And while
there are five seat belts inside Tercel, it's more reasonably suited to
carry four passengers. The DX model's cloth upholstery is soft and
comfortable, and its front bucket seats provide good, firm support. The
placement of its controls and switches are logical and within arm's
reach, while its gauges are simple to read. Activating its air
conditioning puts a noticeable drain on the engine, but provides lots of
cool air, and won't harm the environment because it contains no CFCs.
ON THE ROAD - Tercel's drivetrain is one of its best features. The
1.5 liter four cylinder engine feels peppy, regardless of which gearbox
is chosen. At only 93 horsepower, this is clearly not meant to be a
sports sedan and its meager 100 lb-ft of torque further expounds this
claim. But the 16-valve twin-cam engine is state-of-the-art and
obviously understressed so its longevity should be reassuring. Numbers
aside, acceleration is more than adequate for a small car, while fuel
mileage is superb. And due in part to its light weight, 40 mpg isn't at
all hard to attain with frugal driving. Four Tercel transmissions are
available - two automatics and two manually-operated units. Our test car
came fitted with an electronically controlled four-speed automatic,
which gave smooth and responsive gear changes.
BEHIND THE WHEEL - All Tercel models use rack-and-pinion steering,
but our test car came with power assist, which makes maneuvering tight
spots easier, but gives up some road feel. Tercel shares its suspensions
components with Toyota's sporty Paseo coupe, with MacPherson struts up
front and a trailing torsion beam rear axle. Only the rear uses an
anti-roll bar, which helps keep the car flat in corners and no doubt
tends to neutralize inherent understeer. Cornering stability is
predictable and stable, but its tires squeal easily and the body leans
noticeably in tight corners. Disc brakes up front and rear drum brakes
handle stopping duties, while an anti-lock braking system (ABS) is
optional and an extra that we recommend highly.
SAFETY - Dual airbags are standard; ABS optional. The front seat
belts are height adjustable, and a child seat can be secured without the
use of a special locking clip. Side-impact protection is in each door.
OPTIONS - The Value Package is $2,330, while ABS adds $850. A rear
window defogger costs $185 extra, and its mandatory destination charge