Used 2003 Toyota Celica Hatchback Review

A distinctive and entertaining sport coupe biased toward performance rather than convenience.




what's new

The 2003 Toyota Celica has been revised with freshened front and rear styling. In front, the Celica gets a new bumper and fascia with a wider upper air intake. Newly available high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights complement the car's advanced styling, and redesigned rear lights echo the projector-style look. Inside, Toyota has redesigned the center dash cluster for improved legibility and added a standard JBL audio system to the GT-S model. A power antenna is now standard on JBL-equipped models. Finally, you can get two new colors: Solar Yellow and Zephyr Blue Metallic.

vehicle overview

Until this current body style, Celicas were generally considered slow, overweight and expensive. Detractors claimed they were "secretaries' cars." But not this one. Introduced in 2000, the latest Toyota Celica is a sharp performer. Styled in California by Calty Design Research, the Celica's cab-forward shape features a high-fashion look with racecar design elements. Sharp-edge panels, dramatic plunging curves, a tall tail and a radically lowered front fascia create stark contrasts. For 2003, Toyota has further updated the Celica's front-end styling and added optional projector-style high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights. Particularly in GT-S trim, the Celica is the martial arts action hero of sport coupes. It is quick, nimble and an absolute joy to drive on curvy roads because of the responsive steering. Used for commuting, however, the Celica's somewhat stiff ride and high-strung power train take their toll. If all you want is a sporty look, more relaxed cruisers like the Hyundai Tiburon or the Mitsubishi Eclipse might be better choices. Or, if you want something in the middle, the Acura RSX is a car to consider. However, the 2003 Toyota Celica is still a favorite of ours, and we have no problem recommending it to those who want a fairly affordable and entertaining vehicle.

trim levels & features

The front-drive 2003 Toyota Celica is a two-door hatchback. There are two trim levels: GT and GT-S. Though the GT has an attractive price, its feature list is rather scant. You'll get the basics like air conditioning and a CD player, but power windows and locks, cruise control and a rear wiper are all optional. These features are standard on the GT-S, along with its higher-horsepower engine. The GT-S also has bigger brakes, alloy wheels, fog lamps, a JBL sound system, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and sport pedals. On either car, you can order larger 16-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, a rear wing, keyless entry and the so-called "action package," which includes additional aerodynamic body effects. On the GT-S only, you can order leather seats and, for 2003, HID headlights.

performance & mpg

A 1.8-liter four-cylinder dual-overhead camshaft engine powers the Celica GT-S. Codeveloped with Yamaha, it hits an impressive mark of 100 horsepower per liter of displacement, for a total of 180 at a quite high 7,600 rpm. It also makes 133 pound-feet of torque. The GT model's 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine is less powerful but more tractable; it makes 140 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. Celica GT and GT-S are available with different variations of automatic and manual transmissions. The GT comes standard with a five-speed manual gearbox. The manual transmission in the GT-S features six forward gears. Performance is enhanced with this transmission, but extra concentration is required when shifting, as the shifter's gates are closely spaced and it's possible to select a wrong gear. Optional on both trims is a four-speed automatic transmission. The GT-S' version has E-shift steering wheel-mounted buttons. These allow for "manual" shifting of the automatic transmission.

safety

Besides the usual safety equipment, the Celica offers ABS and side-impact airbags as optional equipment. It also has an Emergency Locking Retractor (ELR) seatbelt for the driver and ALR/ELR seatbelts for all other passengers. In NHTSA crash testing, the 2003 Toyota Celica earned four stars for the driver and front passenger in frontal impacts and three stars for side impacts.

driving

The Celica's suspension, steering and braking systems provide outstanding handling and performance. The GT-S with the six-speed transmission is definitely the version to pick if you like to drive. The trade-off, however, is a stiffer ride quality and an engine that is quite peaky in its delivery.

interior

The Celica's interior is stylish, functional and comfortable for two adults and a healthy amount of their gear. A simple, downswept dash layout, big analog gauges, sporty bucket seats, faux-drilled metal pedals and fashionable metallic silver accents add to Celica's cockpit ambience, but material quality is less than impressive. Both GT and GT-S offer a center console big enough to hold eight CD cases, as well as two oversize cups. The rear seat can accommodate two people and can also be folded forward, providing additional cargo space.

edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.