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1997 Toyota Celica GT Coupe

by Carey Russ

The Toyota Celica has changed considerably during the years since its introduction in 1971, and has evolved along with American automotive tastes. The original Celica was a small car with a styling similarity to American sporty cars of the day. It was inexpensive, sturdy and fun.

The Celica line spawned the luxury-performance Supra, known as the Celica Supra for the first 7 years of its life. The present version of the Supra was a major influence on the 6th-generation Celica, introduced in 1994. Also influencing the newest Celica is the Supra's cousin, the Lexus coupe. The current Celica has moved up the socioeconomic ladder from the 1971 version.

Available in ST or GT trim, the 1997 Celica is still a sturdy, well-made car that is fun to drive, economical, and practical. The ST coupe is a stylish, sporty car that can hold its own against any of the small sports coupes. The GT version, offered in liftback or convertible form, has a larger, more powerful engine and is well-appointed even in standard form.

A comprehensive list of options allow the 1997 Celica GT to be tailored to a wide variety of tastes. The new Celica GT Liftback I had for a week recently was outfitted with just about every option possible. It was a much more civilized, comfortable, refined car than the 1971 Celica a friend and I used as a camping car twenty years ago. Fully equipped, today's Celica is almost a junior edition of a Lexus coupe.

APPEARANCE: The 1997 Celica is mostly unchanged since its last makeover. That's no problem. It is a small coupe that is handsome without being overly aggressive-looking unless the optional Supra Turbo-like high winglike spoiler is added. The Celica has styling cues from both of its upscale cousins. The basic rounded, flowing shape, with a long hood and arched fastback passenger cabin, is reminiscent of the current Supra. The front view, with a low, wide, unadorned air intake, oval headlights, and inset, separate projector-type high beam lights, shows a strong kinship to the original Lexus coupe. Bumper fascias are integrated into the body styling, and sculpting on the side gives the impression of flared fenders. The large rear window of the GT Liftback has both a wiper and defogger as standard equipment. Optional alloy wheels add a performance look.

COMFORT: Sports coupes are not usually known for ease of interior access, but the Celica is an exception. Low door sills and large doors help considerably. Inside, the Celica is more comfort-oriented than most of its competitors, and features the usual high-quality Toyota fit and finish and material selection. Leather-trimmed sports seats, steering wheel, and shift knob are all part of the sports package, and add significantly to the Celica GT's luxury side. Those front bucket seats are comfortable, with good support. The instrument panel places the major gauges and controls in front of the driver. Climate and sound system controls are in a central pod, angled toward the driver for ease of use. Power mirrors, windows, and door locks are standard equipment on all Celica GT models. As is typical of sports coupes, small or large, the rear seat is best suited for small people and short distances. It folds with a 50/50 split for additional cargo ability. The Celica GT Liftback body style is a hatchback, and so has all of the hatchback advantages in cargo loading. The hatch is supported by struts for trouble-free loading, and a flap automatically covers the cargo area.

SAFETY: The 1997 Toyota Celica GT Liftback has front and rear crumple zones, dual air bags, 3-point safety belts, and side-impact protection door beams. Antilock brakes are available.

ROADABILITY: The Celica is much more comfort-oriented than is usual for small sports coupes. It is quiet and refined inside, with only enough engine noise for a sporty character and just enough communication from the road to keep the driver informed of conditions. Sport package items that help handling include alloy wheels with high-speed sports tires, and specially-tuned shocks, springs, and stabilizer bars for its fully-independent suspension. All Celica GT models have four-wheel disc brakes and speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering. The Celica GT is a nimble, enjoyable car that combines comfort with a pleasant driving experience.

PERFORMANCE: With only 135 horsepower, the Celica GT is quick enough to be fun, even if it won't give the V8 and V6-powered coupes any direct competition. What the Celica offers that its more muscle- bound competitors don't is refinement. It has plenty of power to be thoroughly enjoyable. In typical Toyota fashion, the engine has great low-end torque for acceleration in the real world, and goes a long way on a gallon of gas. A light clutch and smooth linkage to the 5-speed gearbox make sports-car shifting a pleasure.

CONCLUSIONS: The Toyota Celica has kept up with American sports coupe tastes for over a quarter of a century.

1997 Toyota Celica GT Coupe

Base Price                $ 20,178
Price As Tested           $ 26,995
Engine Type               inline 4-cylinder, dual overhead cams, 16 valves
Engine Size               2.2 liters / 132 cu. in
Horsepower                135 @ 5400
Torque (lb-ft)            145 @ 4400
Transmission              5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length        99.9 in. / 174.2 in.
Curb Weight               2580 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower     19
Fuel Capacity             15.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement          unleaded regular
Tires                     205/55 VR15 Michelin Pilot HX
Brakes, front/rear        vented disc / disc, antilock optional
Suspension, front/rear    independent MacPherson strut /
                          independent dual link
Drivetrain                front engine, front wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      22/28/25
0 to 60 mph                        8.4 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)                    16.4 sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)           0.32, 0.33 with spoiler