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New Car Review


by Tom Hagin

Tercel Photo

SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 12,618
     Price As Tested                                    $ 14,753
     Engine Type                             1.5 liter I4 w/EFI*
     Engine Size                                  89 cid/1497 cc
     Horsepower                                    93 @ 5400 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               100 @ 4400 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                    93.7"/65.3"/161.8
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     2005 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  11.9 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                      155/80R13
     Brakes (F/R)                                      Disc/drum
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                 10 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            30/39/36
     0-60 MPH                                       11.2 seconds
     1/4 mile (E.T.)                       18.3 seconds @ 76 mph
     Top Speed (Est.)                                    110 mph
     * Electronic fuel injection

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 is $420.