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Toyota Celica GT-S (2000)

SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide

by John Heilig

MODEL:  Toyota Celica GT-S
ENGINE:  1.8-liter DOHC four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 180 hp @ 7,600 rpm/133 lb-ft @ 6,800  rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Six-speed manual
WHEELBASE: 102.3 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 170.4 x 68.3 x 51.4 in.

Toyota's Celica coupes have always been at the forefront of styling among Toyota's various models. The aerodynamic hatchbacks have served as an entry-level sports coupe for many people and have proven popular since the run began in the late 1970s.

The 2000 Celica is among the most dramatically styled of the line. The redesign is aerodynamic and a head-turner. I don't know how many people complimented me on "my" car. It's a vehicle that I had lusted after (well, at least to test drive) from the moment I saw its picture. When I did have an opportunity to test it, I found that I was willing to take it on almost any road I could find. When the weather turned nasty (and we had a long trip in everything ranging from snow to freezing rain to rain), the Celica surprised my wife and me with its ability to handle the garbage better than many other vehicles on the highway.

But the Celica is first and foremost a sports coupe, and in this context it fills the bill at least as well as anything else we have driven recently. Under the hood is a 1.8-liter DOHC inline four-cylinder engine that's rated at 140 horsepower in "normal" tune, 180 hp with a higher compression ratio in the GT-S trim version. This is hooked to a six-speed manual transmission that drives the front wheels. Performance (on dry roads) is impressive. There was enough torque to provide stimulating acceleration in all gears. We were tooling along in fifth gear at one time and didn't even have to downshift to get past another car on the Interstate. Sixth gear offers overdrive performance, meaning less torque available for hot-rodding, but significantly better fuel economy.

Incidentally, the relatively small engine is rated at 23 mpg city, 32 mpg highway, and I'm certain that we matched the higher number on our long trip. Actually, we matched it on the trip back, on the trip south we had those weather problems that hurt the economy a bit.

The front seats were comfortable and offered excellent side support. This would be a fun car to take on a race track. The suspension is firm enough to reduce lean in hard corners, yet it wasn't jarring to the kidneys. I'm sure that if we had the opportunity to drive the car hard on a closed course that it would be a kick to drive. As such, it took on the winding roads we challenged it with and didn't flinch. Actually, I was the one who flinched when I thought I was going faster than I could handle, but I'm certain the car could have handled more.

There is a back seat in the Celica, but it's really only for children. In our test, we had the backs of the rear seat folded down to offer extra luggage space, since we had a trip to our daughter's house in mind. We had enough room for a couple of suitcases and a half dozen "Care packages" of food we were taking down.

I liked the instruments, which were an alphanumeric display. The tach and 160 mph speedometer were relatively normal, but the fuel gauge was a series of orange bars that got smaller as the fuel went down. We had a good AM/FM stereo radio with in-dash CD and cassette players.

There were a couple of niggling little problems with the Celica that detracted from the overall euphoria we felt driving it. The engine was noisy. It wasn't so much a rattle, but more of a "performance" roar. Still, I would have liked it to have been quieter. There's no detent to keep you from shifting into reverse, which is located "next to" first. I liked the "reverse beep" that you'll often hear in trucks, but the possibility of shifting into reverse at an inappropriate time was scary. And there was the standard problem that with the sun roof my head hit the headliner, wearing off even more of my hair.

All in all, though, the Toyota Celica is a neat vehicle and a lot of fun to drive. We were stuck driving it on along trip in nasty weather and the Celica still came through. On the return trip in better weather it was much more fun to drive.