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Toyota Celica GT-S (2000)

SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide

by Carey Russ

Toyota Celicas have been around since 1971. There have been a huge variety of Celica models since then, but most have been more ``sporty'' than ``sports'' cars, emphasizing style and comfort over pure performance. No complaint there, as Toyota has sold a few million of them. But the Celica's performance image has recently been enhanced. There is an all-new, seventh-generation Celica for 2000, and, in top-level GTS trim, it's among the highest- performance Celicas ever. Only the late All-Trac Turbo, produced from the 1988 to 1993, compares to it in speed and handling ability. There are two grades of new Celica available. The GT offers the expected style, comfort, and build quality, and gets sporty performance from a 1.8-liter, 140-horsepower twincam four- cylinder engine, matched with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The GT-S shares the style of the GT, but hides a different 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine under its hood. A special cylinder head developed by Toyota and Yamaha allows it to develop 180 horsepower, for much more extreme performance. The collaboration between Toyota and Yamaha is not as unusual as one may think. The two companies have cooperated before, producing the rare and exotic Toyota 2000GT of the late 1960s. And Toyota recently bought an interest in Yamaha, to gain Yamaha's knowledge to develop Toyota racing engines for its upcoming involvement in Formula One. The 2000 Celica GT-S is not as rare as a Toyota 2000 GT or as exotic as a Formula One engine, but it gives Toyota a serious presence in the hot compact sports coupe market.

The 2000 Celica GT-S is a front-wheel drive car with a standard six-speed manual gearbox or an optional four-speed automatic. The automatic is more performance-oriented than expected, with manual shifting courtesy of buttons placed on the steering wheel, the same as the ``E-shift'' in its cousin, the Lexus GS400. I recently had the opportunity to spend a week with both a manual and an automatic Celica GT-S. The engine shines best at high rpms, so the six-speed is the way to go for maximum performance. But it also has more midrange torque than expected, and a wide range of useable power, so the automatic works well too. In either form, the new Celica is quick and entertaining, and remarkably comfortable.

APPEARANCE: Although it was styled at Toyota's CALTY design studio in Southern California, the 2000 Celica has the look of contemporary Japanese animation thanks largely to the front face, with complexly-formed triangular headlights for eyes, an inset hood scoop and vent for a nose, and the low, wide air intake mouth. Photographs don't do it justice. The fastback passenger cabin placed far forward and the short, steeply-sloped hood are the antithesis of the ``classic'' long-hood, short deck sports car design, but that dates from the days of front-engined race cars and, although it is a front-engined, front-wheel drive car, the new Celica takes its styling from contemporary mid-engined race cars. The unique character lines on the sides move the car's visual center forward, and blend into the large rectangular taillights. Toyotas have been criticized for having bland styling in the past. Love it or hate it, no one can call the 2000 Celica ``bland.''

COMFORT: The Celica's interior is as highly styled as its exterior, and looks like a combination of spaceship cockpit and video-game console. It's designed to appeal to young buyers. Multiple textures and materials give it a busy look, but there is no degradation of space and comfort. It's roomier than one would expect, given the exterior size, and can hold two adults in the rear seat, at least for a short time. The manually-adjustable front seats are thin but comfortable, reasonably-bolstered sports buckets. Leather is available, but the standard suedelike cloth is grippy and cool in warm weather. The rear bench is contoured for two, with adequate room for medium-sized adults for short distances - which is all that is expected from a 2+2 sports coupe. The instrument panel is very stylized, with instruments in a three-lobed pod and an interestingly- shaped extension to the center console housing the climate and audio controls, a storage compartment, and the digital clock. The rear hatch has an integrated cargo cover, and liftover is lower than usual for fastback hatchback sports coupes. Don't be fooled by the futuristic styling. The new Celica is as practical and comfortable as expected from Toyota.

SAFETY: The new Celica has an energy-absorbing chassis structure designed for occupant protection, whiplash-reducing front seats, standard front and optional front side airbags, and three-point safety belts for all positions.

ROADABILITY: The new Celica GT-S's relatively long wheelbase and rigid chassis not only contribute to interior space, they help give it great ride and handling characteristics as well. Comfort is definitely not compromised; neither is cornering ability, except perhaps for seriously-committed enthusiasts. And there's always the aftermarket for them. The standard suspension tuning combines a comfortable ride with tenacious handling. Steering effort is just right, and turn-in is quick. Torque steer is notably lacking. The GT has rear drums, but the GTS has larger four-wheel disc brakes. As expected, the GTS is great fun on a twisting road. Because of the relatively supple ride quality, it also works on long highway stretches. The new Celica GTS is not just a weekend toy.

PERFORMANCE: In most everyday use, the Celica GT-S feels like a 1.8-liter sports coupe with a healthy amount of power. That would be with the automatic in auto mode, or with the six-speed manual, shifting when car-calibrated ears detect a busy engine around 5000 rpm. People who habitually drive with those styles need look no further than the Celica GT. The GT-S works well at those engine speeds, too, but it really needs to be revved to reveal its full potential. Don't be afraid, hit the afterburner, and the GT-S engine is at its best from 6000 rpm to its 7800 rpm redline or 8400 rpm fuel cutoff. The trick Yamaha-developed cylinder head has separate low- and high-rpm cam lobes for variable valve lift and timing and it also rotates the intake cam (``degrees'' it, in tuner parlance) to further optimize performance. The result is very useable low- and mid-rpm performance for most everyday driving and a spectacularly enthusiastic high-end power surge. Because the engine is operating at relatively low speeds in 6th gear on the highway, fuel economy is very good. I got 25 mpg in mixed highway, town, and enthusiast use. The 6-speed manual gearbox has well-spaced ratios and smooth shift linkage. The 4-speed automatic shifts very smoothly in automatic mode, and works well in pushbutton-on-the-steering-wheel manual mode. But four gears are not enough to extract maximum performance from the engine - when upshifting, revs fall below the heart of the power band.

CONCLUSIONS: Toyota aggressively enters the sport-compact fray with the new Celica GTS.

2000 Toyota Celica GTS

Base Price                 $ 21,165
Price As Tested            $ 22,990
Engine Type                dual overhead cam 16-valve inline
                             four-cylinder with variable valve
                             timing and lift
Engine Size                1.8 liters / 110 cu. in.
Horsepower                 180 @ 7600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)             133 @ 6800 rpm
Transmission               6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length         102.3 in. / 170.4 in.
Curb Weight                2500 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower      13.9
Fuel Capacity              14.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement           unleaded premium, 92 octane
Tires                      P205/50 VR16 Yokohama Advan A680
Brakes, front/rear         vented disc / disc, antilock  optional
Suspension, front/rear     independent MacPherson strut /
                             independent double wishbone
Drivetrain                 front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      24 / 32 / 25
0 to 60 mph                        6.6  sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)                   15.2 sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)           0.32

Anti-lock brakes                $ 550
16-inch alloy wheels with 205/50 R16 tires  $  60
Side airbags                    $ 250
Rear spoiler                    $ 435
Carpet floor mats               $  75