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New Car Review

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SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide

The Toyota Tercel has been a benchmark in the subcompact field since its introduction as the Corolla Tercel in 1980. It was also Toyota's first front-wheel drive automobile. In 1983, the second generation Tercel came on the scene and became a separate model line from the larger Corolla. The new fifth-generation 1995 Tercel has moved a little upscale from the position of previous models. Toyota's intention is for the Tercel to be a car people will buy by choice, not just by price. It is a little sportier and stylish than before, and designed to appeal to a young, fun-oriented buyer. While still offering traditional subcompact values such as excellent fuel economy and a low cost of ownership, the newest Tercel has better performance thanks to a new engine and refined suspension.

While the Tercel is Toyota's lowest-priced car, it is high in the items most buyers in the nineties want in their cars. Built to Toyota's high quality standards, it is available in both two and four-door form. Two-door Tercels can be had in standard or fancier DX trim. Four-door models, such as our test car, are offered only in DX trim. Safety features are state-of-the-art. Bodywork was redesigned not only for style but for practicality and low cost of ownership. Although the engine produces more power than the one in last year's Tercel, the new car gets better gas mileage. The suspension has been revised for improved ride and handling and the interior has been redesigned for better comfort and convenience.

A full week of mostly city and suburban driving left these thoughts:

APPEARANCE: The 1995 Tercel isn't radically different from its fourth-generation predecessor. It is a bit crisper and less rounded around the edges, and has a definite wedge shape when viewed from the side. Character lines on the hood highlight the air intake. The rear deck is quite high, making for better aerodynamics and a larger trunk. All exterior trim is black to highlight the monochrome paint finish. This includes all windows, door trim, side rub strips and the bumpers. Alloy-colored plastic wheel covers dress up the Michelin P155/SR13 all season tires.

COMFORT: Part of making a car that people will want to own is making it hospitable and the Tercel succeeds admirably. It is well-equipped, especially when compared to basic cars of 15 or 20 years ago. Although options add to the price, they do make driving more comfortable. Our tester was optionally fitted with air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, power door locks and window, and an upgraded sound system. The front seats are very good, providing support and comfort. There is good attention to details. The shoulder strap anchors are adjustable for height, unusual in this price class. The instrument panel has been redesigned for greater convenience. Instrumentation is adequate, and there are plenty of useful storage spaces and cupholders. The rear seat, which optionally can fold down in a 60/40 split for greater carrying capacity, is roomy enough for two medium-sized people.

SAFETY: Driver and passenger air bags are standard equipment on all Tercel models. The chassis features energy-absorbing front and rear crumple zones and meets Federal 1997 side-impact standards. Antilock brakes are available.

ROADABILITY: The Tercel is an excellent car for town and commute use, and a decent highway tourer as well. Its small size, nimble handling, and good visibility make traffic and parking bearable. The all-independent suspension has been retuned for increased comfort and better handling. It is quiet for a subcompact, benefitting from a trickling-down of Lexus soundproofing technology. The Tercel can be surprisingly enjoyable on a twisting road.

PERFORMANCE: The biggest change for 1995 is under the hood. Only one engine is available in the Tercel, and it is a good one. The new electronically fuel-injected, 1.5 liter, 16-valve, dual overhead cam four-cylinder engine makes 93 horsepower. This is a 12 percent power improvement over the previous engine, and the new unit has 15 percent better fuel economy. It works very well with the optional 4-speed automatic transmission. It has good power for sustained highway use, and never feels strained at normal speeds. However, it benefits from judicious use of the shift lever.

CONCLUSIONS: The Tercel has a unique, upscale appearance that sets it apart from other subcompact cars. The newest version has come a long way in refinement over the past fifteen years. It is a friendly, useful subcompact that delivers more than is normally expected in its class.


       Base Price             $ 12,038 
       Price As Tested        $ 16,052
       Engine Type            I-4, dohc - 16v, efi
       Engine Size            1.5 liter/--- cid        
       Horsepower             93 @ 5400                         
       Torque (ft/lbs)        100 @ 4400 
       Wheelbase/Length       94"/162"
       Transmission           four-speed ECautomatic w/overdrive
       Curb Weight            2100  
       Pounds per Horsepower  23
       Fuel Capacity          12
       Fuel Requirement       Unleaded regular (87 oct)              
       Tires                  Michelin XW4 P155/SR13 m+s
       Brakes                 antilock-optional   disc/drum 
       Drive Train            Front engine/front drive 
       EPA Economy - miles per gallon   
         city/highway/observed         30/39/31.2
       0 to 60 mph                     10.3 sec  
       1/4 mi (E.T.)                   19.4 sec 
       Coefficient of Drag  (Cd)      .32