Used 1996 Toyota Tercel Review

what's new

Base cars can be equipped with fabric seats, and a "Sports" package is available.

vehicle overview

Before we tell you to buy a different car, let it be known that we like the Tercel. 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 is pushing the boundaries of acceptable pricing.

Just try to find a Tercel below $10,000. They don't exist. Add tax, tags and destination charges, and the base Tercel, without a radio or air conditioning, will cost you more than $11,000. Opt for a DX with air, power steering and a cassette stereo, and plan to fork over more than $13,500 plus the associated purchasing costs. Yikes!

For that kind of money, you can buy more fun and more equipment in a somewhat less tightly constructed compact. Modern cars, regardless of make, are quite reliable as long as they are cared for properly. While it is arguable that Toyota engineering is the best the world has to offer, we don't think that average car owners would be so much better off in a stripped Tercel that they ought to pass up loaded Escorts, Cavaliers, and Mitsubishi Mirages. At least the base Tercel can be ordered with fabric seats this year, instead of vinyl. Other changes for 1996 are limited to new option packages.

Last year's restyle makes the Tercel look far more expensive than it is. Our white DX sedan tester came with tasteful bodyside molding and sharp seven-spoke wheelcovers. Pulling up to the in-laws house after dark, several relatives asked what it was in a tone that suggested "How did you afford that?" The angular bodywork is very attractive, making this the first Tercel that could described as such.

The interior of the Tercel has been improved enough so that it is no longer the torture chamber of the previous-generation car, 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 Tercel cruised easily on the expressway, soaking up the bumps and expansion joints that characterize Michigan roads without imparting too much discomfort to passengers. Steering was light and effortless, though truck ruts did pose a major problem for the tiny Michelin tires on our test car.

Acceleration with the automatic on our DX was abysmal; to the point where we considered the car dangerous when trying to enter suburban traffic. A new-for-1996 Sport Package is 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 DX we drove stickered for $14,500. It was tight, but not rattle-free. It had air, cassette and power steering, but no anti-lock brakes, which would have added $850 to the bottom line. At these prices, we'd take the fun-fun-fun Neon Sport, equipped with all this and more -- for less. 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.

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.