Pros: Cornering, reliable & well made, fuel efficiency.
Cons: It's boring.
I cannot wait until I sell my Tercel. It is not a bad car; it is just that I was so close to purchasing a brand new Mazda3, that it was a huge step down. For financial reasons, I made a '95 Tercel the intermediary between my '88 Accord and hopefully a Mazda3. Tercels are fairly common, as they fill a particular niche in the world of vehicles. They are affordable, they hold up well, and they are ideal for people that just want a mode of transport. Personally, a vehicle needs to be more like a rambunctious woman than just a blow-up doll.
There are no characteristics about my Tercel I thoroughly enjoy. Its a barebones two door, automatic, with a terrible audio system, no headroom, and to top it off, its one of my least favourite colours green. If you are a midget with little money, and just need adequate space and performance, youve found your car. I liked it this much when I bought it, so at least Im not really regretting anything.
The Tercel does perform well enough and considering it is an automatic, has quite a bit of pep. Nothing about its performance is bad, and nothing is all that wonderful. It performs much better than a 2000~ Civic I drove for a few days a while back. The only time I really get annoyed with how it performs is when Ive got passengers or a heavy load, at which point the engine just cant quite cut it.
The engine is somewhat moody. Some days it has no power at speeds above 80km/h, while others I have to hold it back at 120km/h. It usually has enough oomph for merging, but usually youve got to have the pedal to the metal. Since the engine is moody, some times passing on highways is a breeze, while other times its out of the question. The power is adequate, as it should be in a vehicle like the Tercel.
I dont like automatics at all. It takes away half the fun of driving, and costs much more. Even in gridlock I prefer to have a manual. However, when buying a used car, you dont have too much choice. The Tercels automatic transmission is impressive, especially at lower speeds. In spur-of-the-moment drags, I actually do quite well until I reach upwards of 60km/h. On hills, it manages well enough. I should think having a manual would make the power seem more than adequate in most instances.
Handling & Ride
The Tercels biggest asset is how well it corners. There is minimal body roll, fairly sharp steering, and with better tires I could probably crack some pretty tight corners at 70km/h. Other than cornering, its nothing great, but at least it is a small enough vehicle that you dont need to rely on wonderful handling. The suspension is uncomfortably stiff, making even the smallest bumps feel like gigantic potholes. Again, I think better tires would help make the ride a little smoother, but itll never be a comfortable ride for a passenger.
I calculated it out that I'm getting ~30 mpg in the city. However, I drive it like I stole it (when not stuck in a parking lot), which makes that number a little more impressive. After looking around at various websites, it would appear people that aren't quite so aggressive achieve between 35-39 mpg. For the few times I've taken it on the highways, it's astounded me. On my latest trip through the mountains (420 km / 5 hours) I used a half tank, resulting in 53 mpg. That's just as good as a hybrid. Unfortunately, it's a hellish vehicle to drive on the highways (engine power, no ac, poor wind resistance, etc.), and many a time I wanted to drive right through the guard rail. I've often found myself doing the calculations a few times over to make sure that they really are so high, especially when the city driving is so much lower.
Nonetheless, it's definitely an amazing car when it comes to gas mileage.
There is nothing bad about the interior, but there is nothing good. If I were planning on keeping it for a longer period of time, Id put some money into modifications particularly audio and then it could be quite nice. However, the problem I have is that it is just too small and Im as average sized as it gets.
If you manage to get into the vehicle without hitting your head, you will find the seats comfortable. They arent leather couch comfortable, but rather economy car comfortable. There is not bad legroom all around, but only little kids will be comfortable in the back for longer periods of time. The problem is that the car is made for midgets. Im 5'9 and just barely have enough headroom, and there is no adjustable headrest, so Im at risk for some brutal whiplash. The rear seats do fold down, but theres only a small area where you can fit things through from the trunk.
The glove compartment is average. Again, the midget theme comes through with the other storage areas, most of which are so small they are useless. The only thing Ive put to use is cup holder between the two front seats, which doesnt do much good either. The trunk is a decent size, enough for a weekend trip for two or three.
About the only advantage of a two door is that you get better visibility not that it would be bad anyways. I still have a little trouble of knowing where the back of the car ends, but there is otherwise excellent visibility that gives a superb idea of where the car is sitting. However, when it is raining dont expect to have visibility out the front, as the wipers are horrible, even after I replaced them.
Dash & Controls
Can you say basic? The gauges are easy to see, with the gas on the left, speedometer in the center, and engine temperature on the right. The climate controls are basic, and after the engine has been running for 5-10 minutes they work quite well (for both heating and cooling no AC). The car really soaks up the heat in parking lots, so getting the windows tinted is a not bad idea since the climate system takes a while to truly be effective.
The audio system consists of two speakers in the doors, and a radio/tape player that is about as good as something from the early 80s. I hadn't planned on upgrading it, but found that I had to - and so I put in a new deck and two speakers in the back. Most of the components needed for installing the speakers in the rear are already there, but it does require some work. I had hoped that the new deck would improve the factory speakers in the front, but they still suck. I spent $400(CAN) total in upgrades to the audio system, and it has made the driving around so much more enjoyable.
The main reason I bought the Tercel is because of its proven quality. The one I purchased has ~150 000km, and never required more than oil changes, a timing belt, and tires. After purchasing it, I got it tuned-up, and it is otherwise perfectly fine. The past owners are actually my neighbors, who treated it incredibly well, but even so, Ive yet to have any serious problems with a Toyota vehicle. Even in -40?C temperatures it's started & ran with no problems. There are cheaper vehicles that are the same age, but in the long run, you save money when it comes to maintaining it, which was a huge reason as to why I settled with the Tercel.
The interior is just like new, though a little dirty. Nothing is falling apart, rattling, or squeaking. However, there really isnt much in the way of noise insulation, so maybe I just cant hear them.
The exterior on the drivers side was just redone before I bought it because somebody backed into it, and it looks just like new. However, the front has a lot of rusted rock chips, and the passengers side has taken quite a beating from people carelessly opening their doors into it. The hood also has some mysterious dents, but theyre just too expensive to fix. Otherwise the body is perfectly fine, and nobody is going to buy a Tercel for its looks.
My neighbor had the Tercel listed for $5700 , but sold it to me for $5000 even though somebody else offered to pay the full amount. When I sell it sometime next spring, I suspect Ill be able to get $5000, or possibly a bit more if Im lucky. The tune-up cost about $250, and significantly improved its performance. Insurance is actually a lot cheaper than it was on my '88 Accord, though still incredibly high given my flawless history, at $2700/year.
Uhm So, like, should I, like, buy it, or something?
Im not sure how to rate this. Its completely different than the other cars I was looking at, so its hard to compare. In my very own case, Id give it a 3.5/5, but for people that are looking at this type of vehicle from the get go, its a 5/5. Therefore, Im giving it a 4/5.
If you are a small person, looking for a reliable and affordable vehicle, the Tercel is an intelligent choice a 5/5. If you visit a student parking lot, you will see a number of Tercels, which says a lot about it. If you find driving to be more of an art and have some money, you should look elsewhere. My '88 Accord was much more fun to drive, but a pain to maintain. For the time being, affordability and reliability will suit me well enough; but I cant wait until that day when Ive got a new vehicle on order. My impressions about the Tercel have improved over time, and likely still will, but theres nothing about it that Ill miss when I get something else.