The Knowledge: The Mk7 Toyota Celica is the rev-happy Japanese coupe that’s still a bargain
Don't dismiss the last Celica just because it isn't as loved as its predecessors
Alex has been a road tester and motoring writer for more than 10 years, and has written on new, used and classic cars for What Car?, Autocar, The Daily Telegraph and PistonHeads, among many others.
Think of the Toyota Celica, and what comes to mind? Perhaps the legendary rally-derived GT-Four of the 1980s, or its bug-eyed successor of the 1990s. Or maybe you picture the chrome-edged, Mustang-esque first-generation models of the 1970s.
Chances are relatively few of you will be thinking of the last Celica ever made. The seventh-generation, model, or T230 to Celica aficionados, remains arguably the least-loved of the line-up. Perhaps that’s due to its newness, or maybe because it did without a full-bore performance version — who knows for sure? Either way, the Mk7 Celica feels a little forgotten today.
It doesn’t deserve to be, mind you. For starters, there’s that slash-cut styling, with its drawn-back headlights and sharply curtailed… um… tail. Inside, there’s more of the same, so that while the quality of the plastics is hardly top-notch, it at least looks far more interesting than the interiors of Celicas past.
But the main reason we like the Celica so much lies under the bonnet. You see, the Celica was made available with a choice of two engines: the 140hp 1ZZ from the MR2, badged VVT-i, and the 189hp 2ZZ, here badged VVTL-i, which also saw service in the Lotus Elise,
Not a bad provenance, no matter which you choose, in other words — though for obvious reasons, you’re probably going to want the latter. It’s a proper rev monster, with very little grunt at the bottom end, but fireworks from 6,200rpm onwards. Matched to a slick six-speed gearbox, and with a cracking soundtrack to match, it bestows upon the Celica an air of DC2 Integra-lite.
As, indeed, does the sweet handling. The Celica doesn’t quite give you the same keyed-in feel of the Honda, but it still feels joyously agile, and if you go for the later GT variant, with its lower suspension and lairy bodykit, it’s all the more so.
Why you should buy one now
Given all of the above, you might find it hard to believe that you can buy a perfectly serviceable Celica for around than a grand these days. But you can. Mind you, for that money, you’ll probably have to settle for a VVT-i, though £1,500 gets you a low-mileage minter.
That sort of money will also get you a tatty VVTL-i — but you’ll probably want to consider spending £2,000, if not slightly more, to get hold of a tidy example with low miles. The most desirable Celica to have is the GT — prices start at £2,500 for a leggy one, and can run right up to £5,000 for the best of the best.
What to look out for
Pre-facelift VVT-is are prone to the same pre-cat issues as the MR2, but happily this doesn’t affect the VVTL-i.
However, with the latter engine, you will want to check that there’s a step up in power at around 6,200rpm, when the timing lift should change. If it doesn’t, it could be an expensive fix. It’ll only happen when the engine’s up to temperature, though, so warm it through before you try.
Faulty alarms can go off 10 minutes or so after locking the car, so beware any seller locking the car with the key to prevent the alarm engaging.
Look out for neglect — find a car with a comprehensive history and signs it’s been cherished, and avoid cars that have been cheaply modified, because there are quite a few out there.
On the whole, though, the Celica is a very reliable car to own – as you’d expect from a Toyota. And given how much fun it is and how cheap it is to buy these days, frankly, you’d be mad not to.
Start browsing the classifieds right now!