Toyota Celica 22 SX

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Description: Graham ?Smithy? Smith reviews the used Toyota Celica SX 1989-94, its fine points, its flaws and what to watch for when you?re buying it.

It’s always been hard to pigeonhole Toyota’s Celica. Is it a sports car? Is it a stylish cruiser? What has made it hard is that Toyota doesn’t seem sure either, and keeps changing it to suit the moment.

Take the all-new fifth generation Celica SX Toyota released in 1989. The previous model had quite a hard edge that appealed to sports car enthusiasts, but the new model was soft and slinky, presumably aimed at a trendier buyer.

Gone was the sharp twin cam sports engine that got everyone excited, replaced with a softer unit lifted from the Camry. Nice and reliable, but none too sporty.

Toyota execs argued long and loud that the softer Celica was what its customers wanted. It would be a roaring success, they said at the time, and they were right.

There were more buyers for a smooth coupe that looked good cruising the fashionable streets round town than there were for a rip-roaring sports coupe that could eat up a lonely country road.

Toyota’s marketing director at the time of the launch, Bob Miller, said the new Celica represented the start of a new era for the company, one in which the company would produce cars that were “good value for money”.

The 1990s would be a decade of “cost-effective” motoring, Miller said. Helps explain the bland Camrys, Avalons, and other models Toyota has produced over the last 10 years or so.

The new Celica was conceived as a car with broad appeal. It was unashamedly aimed at women in the 25-39 age range.

At the time the Celica’s styling was regarded as leading edge, stretching the boundaries of acceptability. It was reckoned to be ugly from some angles, awkward from others, one that you would either love or hate. Looking back, given what’s happened in styling in the 15 years since it was launched, it’s hard to understand the criticism.

Perhaps it was that the styling was a little to advanced for tastes of the time, because it’s smooth rounded shape stands up quite well even today. A clean well kept Celica still looks sharp rolling down the road now.

Toyota offered two body styles, a Coupe and a Liftback. The Liftback was longer, higher, but narrower than its predecessor, the Coupe was even longer again. It was also significantly stiffer.

The engine was a major talking point at the time of the launch. Instead of the lively GE twin cam engine, which used a belt to drive the second camshaft, the new 2.2-litre FE engine employed a system of scissor gears to operate the second cam and was rather lethargic by comparison.

While the old GE engine was missed, the new one did put out more power and torque than the old 2.0-litre FE engine it was effectively replacing. When compared to the old FE unit power was up 12.5 per cent to 97 kW at 5400 revs, and torque jumped by 13.5 per cent to 194 Nm at 4400 revs.

There was a choice of five-speed manual and a new four-speed auto. The manual boasted a heavier clutch, while the auto had shorter ratios and a more efficient torque converter.

Underneath the swoopy skin lay revised springs, shock absorbers, and geometry. Brakes were discs all round, with larger diameter discs and 22 per cent more pad area for better braking effectiveness.

The Celica’s interior was more ergonomically laid out, with many of the major controls moved to within easier reach of the driver. There were also a host of standard features, including a tilt steering wheel, power windows and mirrors, central locking, tinted windows, remote boot and fuel filler release, seat height adjustment, full instrumentation, and four speaker sound.

There was a minor facelift in 1991, which brought more aggressive front styling, three kilowatts more power, new alloy wheels, and a CD player.

Prices are dependent on the condition of each car, which can vary quite widely with a car that is as old as the Celica SX. Cars can vary from wrecks suitable only for the tip to those that have been lovingly looked after and in pristine condition.

On average 1989 cars will have around 200,000 km showing on their odometer, later 1994 cars will show around 140,000 km.

Celica SX Coupes will range from $4500 (poor condition 1989 cars) to $15,500 (top condition 1994 cars), Liftbacks from $4700 to $16,500.

With the Celica SX now moving into the last stages of its useful life it pays to shop around in search of a car in good condition that has been well maintained.

A well maintained Celica, even with 200,000 km under its tyres, will have plenty of life left in it. Toyota engineering and build quality mean the Celica will stand the test of time and distance so don’t be afraid of high mileage when you see it.

Check for a service record that can be verified, and make sure the cam belt has been serviced according to Toyota’s schedule. Cars at the higher end of the mileage scale will be coming up for a second belt change so be prepared for the expenditure that goes along with that.

Engines are generally robust, but dip the oil, look for oil leaks, and remove the oil filler cap and peer inside for any sludge that might be there.

The gearboxes generally give little trouble. The manual can have problems with fifth gear, so listen for gear noise while test driving, and the autos can have rear bearing problems at high mileage. Be prepared to service the auto once the odometer ticks over the 200,000 km mark.

Toyota body and trim last quite well in Australian conditions, although you can expect to find some paint fade if it hasn’t been regularly waxed and polished, and some fading of the exterior plastic parts.

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