Toyota Celica 2000-2005 | Spotlight on used vehicles

Toyota is well and truly back in the compact sports car game with the Corolla GR, so for this Used Vehicle Spotlight, we thought it would be fun to review one of Toyota’s discontinued sports compacts, the Celica. Specifically, we’re looking at the seventh and final generation Celica built for the 2000-2005 model years here in the United States.

There’s a lot of history to the Celica name before 2000, but this generation of the model is the most readily available, and it’s also a fun, relatively affordable used car option. It came at a time when the sport-compact world was remarkably busy, as the 2000s were home to stalwarts like the Acura Integra/RSX, Dodge Neon (notably the SRT4), Honda Prelude, Honda Civic Si, Chevy Cobalt SS, MazdaSpeed3 and more. Like many of these potential competitors, the seventh generation Celica was only available in a two-door coupe style. It was designed to appeal to people looking for a sporty looking car, and it delivered on its promises.

Why the Toyota Celica?

Affordable, fun-to-drive little coupes aren’t as prevalent as they once were, but the Celica ticks all those boxes on the used market. Any enthusiast looking for a cheap thrill just might find it in this car. The Celica was lightweight, designed with handling performance in mind, and offered a manual transmission. Moreover, we haven’t even mentioned the GT-S version yet which improved the performance of the car far beyond the base GT model. There was no Integra Type R or racetrack-focused variant in the lineup, but we’re not too heartbroken about that.

Beyond the inherent performance offered by the Celica, there is the longevity and reliability aspect of Toyota. The Celica was built on the same platform and shared vital parts with Toyotas like the Corolla, Prius, Matrix and many more. That being the case, the car’s long-term prospects look hopeful, and they’re not known to be basket cases or money pits, even the high-powered GT-S models.

Which Toyota Celica should I choose?

It depends on the performance you want. We heartily recommend a GT-S model, mainly because of its engine. The base Celica comes with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder that produces 140 horsepower and 126 pound-feet of torque. It was co-developed with Yamaha and featured variable valve timing. However, the real kicker of an engine was in the GT-S, as that 1.8-liter (also developed with Yamaha) produced 180 horsepower and 130 pound-feet of torque. It also has variable valve timing, but it added a high-lift second camshaft lobe for the intake. Toyota called it VVTL-i technology, and its resulting effect was similar to Honda’s VTEC. The GT-S engine peaked at 7,600 rpm, so you have to live in the higher rev range to extract power from this engine.

The GT-S also has a six-speed manual transmission, an upgrade over the GT’s five-speed manual. Additionally, it had an optional “sportshift” four-speed automatic that allowed you to change gears yourself via buttons – the GT had no such capability. Along with the extra power, the GT-S features rear disc brakes, an upgrade over the GT’s drums. It also had larger wheels and tires and more driver-centric interior details, such as a leather steering wheel and leather shift knob.

We’ll note that the Celica got a mid-cycle refresh for the 2003 model year. It got redesigned bumpers, new headlights and taillights, and a power antenna inside. The interior received an updated cluster. TRD performance parts were available by boat, and there were factory appearance kits that increased the aggressiveness of the styling.

If you want extra performance (and we would), the GT-S is the one we recommend. If it’s just the two-door coupe body style you’re after, the GT will get the job done and still be a relatively fun car to drive.

Our used vehicle listings can be helpful in finding a great deal near you. Narrow offers by a radius around your postcode and pay attention to the offer score on each listing to see how a vehicle compares to others in a similar area.

What else to consider?

Most of the other options in this price and class of car are the ones we listed up top when we talk about 2000s sport compacts. You can cross the Celica with other two-doors like the Mitsubishi Eclipse, Hyundai Tiburon and the Acura RSX. Do not forget that the VW Beetle was also present at this time.

Our top picks in this class would most likely include the Acura RSX and Celica, but there are so many honorable mentions that it’s hard to narrow down such a list to just a few. Prices for a pristine GT-S certainly climb at this point, so if that’s beyond your budget, the rest of the 2000s sport-compact world awaits.

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