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1997 Toyota Tercel REVIEW

Edmunds.com logo Edmunds.com 4/6/2017

Con: Feels about as substantial as a canoe in a hurricane, weak engine

Pro: Toyota dependability, BMW 3-Series knock-off sheetmetal

What’s New: Standard and DX trim levels are shelved in favor of CE trim for all Tercels. All models have upgraded cloth trim, new rotary heater controls, a trip odometer and a storage console. New wheel covers adorn standard 14-inch wheels.

Review: Before we tell you to buy something else, let it be known that this is a good car. It will run forever, won't cost much to insure or operate, and is put together with the precision of a Swiss watch. Unfortunately, fit, finish and reliability don't come for free, and the Tercel has traditionally pushed the boundaries of acceptable pricing. Toyota is less than pleased with the Tercel's sales figures, and decided to simplify things for 1997, though we suspect it's more of a smoke-and-mirrors effect than a real improvement in value.

Standard and DX grade Tercels are gone, replaced by a new CE trim level that offers cloth upholstery, a trip odometer, body-color exterior trim, 14-inch wheels and tires, and new color choices. The effect is most apparent on the basic coupe, which ditches its vinyl seats and skinny tires. Dual airbags are standard on all models, and sedans come with child safe rear door locks.

Similarly, the options list has been revised to offer just a few popular options. We totalled up a sedan with five-speed, anti-lock brakes, rear window defroster, and an equipment package containing goodies like air conditioning, power steering cassette stereo, and floor mats. The CE Sedan we would order came to $14,620 sticker price. Hello! Not much value here, folks. A larger, more powerful, more refined Ford Escort LX sedan with the same option load runs $14,505. Pretty sad, Toyota.

The interior of the Tercel is nice enough that it is no torture chamber, but the tight dimensions, engine racket, wind noise and tire roar are there in spades to remind you that this ain't no Lexus. Our test Tercel cruised easily on the expressway, soaking up the bumps and expansion joints that characterize Michigan roads without imparting too much discomfort to passengers. The optional power steering was light and effortless, though truck ruts did pose a major problem for the Michelin tires on our test car.

Acceleration with the automatic is abysmal; to the point where we considered the car dangerous when trying to enter suburban traffic. A limited-edition Sport model due midyear will almost certainly be of no help in this regard, unless there are newly discovered properties of energy associated with tape striping, a rear spoiler and floor mats that we whiz kids at Edmund's are unaware of. This car really needs some low-end grunt to get it moving in the city. We suspect that creative modulation of the clutch in manual transmission models would cure some of the Tercel's motivational blahs.

The Tercel we drove was tight, but not rattle-free. If the Tercel were priced realistically, we could wholeheartedly recommend it. As it stands, it offers about as much value as that mountain property you bought in Florida last year.

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