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The Toyota Tercel epitomizes the old adage that good things come in small packages. This year, the Tercel comes in an all-new package that delivers many upgraded features.
This is no surprise when you consider that the Tercel springs from a family that has been considered the benchmark for craftsmanship, reliability and resale value. This popular subcompact was top gun in the 1994 J.D. Power and Associates Under $12,000 Initial Quality Price Class Leader category, and garnered sales of 83,000 units this past year.
Despite recent exchange-rate blues, Toyota offers a redesigned Tercel for 1995, with even more bang for the buck. Toyota put its yen into safety upgrades and a new engine that delivers increased performance and fuel efficiency. In addition, exterior and interior changes create a more sporty image and improve visibility, roominess and ergonomics. And all this was done by raising the base price to only $10,395.
Continuing to hold a leadership role in the area of fit-and-finish, the Tercel uses new, lighter materials that improve handling and are cheaper and easier to repair and recycle. The front-wheel-drive Tercel continues to be available in three body styles: the base 2-door coupe and the DX model with 2- and 4-door offerings. There are manual and automatic transmission choices for each model, with prices going up to $16,470.
Our test model, a 4-door DX, came with a wealth of goodies, such as power assists and automatic transmission, that bumped the price up to $14,450.
Although its overall dimensions are the same as last year's model, the new Tercel has a completely redesigned exterior. Its improved aerodynamic styling features a sloping hood, flush-mounted molding for the front pillars and smoothly rounded contours on all surfaces. This design reduces wind resistance, decreases wind noise and improves fuel economy.
The attractive, compact body is complemented by flush-mounted headlights, a color-keyed grille and a stylish bumper treatment. Previous-generation bumpers were made of polypropylene, which was unable to be repaired if torn. The Tercel's new bumper covers are made of superolefin polymer, which is significantly lighter, more resistant to scratches and easier to recycle.
Both the body and frame are designed to protect occupants with energy-absorbing crumple zones and reinforced doors. And reduction of vibration and noise is the result of asphalt sheeting in the floor pan and trunk, as well as sound insulation and vibration dampening materials used in the fire wall and cowl areas. Exterior body panels also benefit from the use of anticorrosion sheet steel and paint that resists chipping.
Th 1995 Tercel moves up from its previous 12-valve SOHC to a new 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with electronic fuel injection for reduced emissions and increased power. Other enhancements under the hood include a direct ignition system that eliminates the need for a distributor, is fully electronic and requires no adjustment. There is also an onboard system that performs diagnostic functions for the fuel system, assisting Toyota technicians in locating and repairing problems with components.
Although the suspension is essentially unchanged from the 1994 model, it's been tuned for an improved ride, with changes in the spring rates and shock-absorber valves. The front suspension is a MacPherson strut type, and the rear is a trailing torsion beam with integral stabilizer bar.
Exterior styling cues that distinguish the DX model from the base model are the "DX" identification badge on the rear lid, dual black outside mirrors, door-belt molding and a blackout door sash.
The Tercel interior can be an exciting study in space maximization. Although the '95 model's interior is slightly smaller than its predecessor's, there is added headroom for both front and rear passengers. Also, there are many new and improved features that create a comfortable and ergonomically pleasing automotive environment.
The Tercel is fully carpeted and includes comfortable fabric-covered, high-back seats with fixed headrests on the DX model; there are vinyl seats on the base Tercel. New on 4-door models are adjustable shoulder-belt anchor points for front-seat occupants and child-protection rear door locks.
Dual remote outside mirror controls are not power and we found them somewhat imprecise to set. On the plus side, the tercel's relatively wide door openings and seat design do allow for easy entry and exit, and there are three assist grip handles on the DX model.
All models have a recessed cupholder and a full center console with storage for cassettes and CDs.
The dual cupholder unit available on the DX model is a tight fit when extended from its location in front of the shift lever, but it serves the purpose. An additional cupholder for rear occupants is recessed into the storage unit between the front seats, and the 2-door coupe model has a rear-seat quarter trim pocket that doubles as a cupholder.
Storage is available in a variety of small, but thoughtfully designed, spaces. Map pockets are located on the doors; other storage units include a good-sized well between the front seats, a small unit in the dashboard to the left of the steering wheel and a recessed unit on top of the dash.
The trunk's cargo capacity of 9.3 cu. ft. is enhanced by the DX's optional 60/40 fold-down split rear seat; however, trunk access is somewhat limited by the angle of the rear deck lid. The spare tire and tire-changing tools are easy to get to.
Our test vehicle put in a solid performance on the road. The new 4-cylinder engine delivered enough horsepower and torque to make the Tercel surprisingly fun to drive on the highway. And around town, its improved handling and turning radius made it easy for us to maneuver in and out of traffic and parking lots.
Our Tercel's improved suspension system, along with its tires and optional power-assist steering, worked in concert to deliver a smooth, controlled ride over a variety of road surfaces, including potholes. There were no shakes or rattles, leading us to believe that the measures taken to deliver a steady, well-balanced vehicle without vibration were successful.
There were some low points in our test. Despite sound-deadening improvements, we found engine and road noise not only audible but sometimes distracting. And although front and peripheral visibility was excellent, our rear view was compromised. Due to the small glass in the Tercel rear window, the rear crossbar and the ceiling are included in the interior rearview mirror's reflection. Likewise, small glass ovals on the outside mirrors resulted in a portholelike view of vehicles and the road behind.
But fuel economy is a big plus. Although actual mileage varies with road conditions and driving habits, the tercel's average EPA rating is 29 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway. We got 45 mpg on the highway with our DX.
As an entry-level subcompact offering, th 1995 Toyota Tercel makes a strong showing. Its increased standard features in the areas of safety and performance bump it up a big notch in value for price.
Base models can appear spartan when evaluated against the DX. But new features such as standard dual airbags, a more powerful and fuel-efficient 16-valve engine, and increased serviceability are important additions that will most likely keep the Tercel right where it has been in terms of sales. Although it's a fifth-generation upgrade, the Tercel comes from good stock.