Compact car; Built in Japan
  • 2-door coupe
  • 4-door sedan
  • transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $1,400 – $2,300*

1997 Toyota Tercel 4-door sedan

1995 Toyota Tercel 2-door coupe

1995 Toyota Tercel 2-door coupe

1997 Toyota Tercel 2-door coupe

1995 Toyota Tercel interior

  • Fuel economy
  • Maneuverability
  • Noise
  • Rear-seat room

Far from exciting in concept or reality, Tercel’s mission has been to be the least-expensive Toyota, and it shows against the plusher, more substantial Corolla and other subcompact leaders. On the other hand, Toyota’s reputation for reliability makes the Tercel worth considering if you need basic transportation but are on a tight budget.


Though touted as “all-new,” the latest Tercel appeared to be a heavy makeover of the previous model. The 93.7-inch wheelbase and 161.8-inch overall length were unchanged. Tercel sold in three notchback models–a Standard 2-door and better-equipped DX 2-door and 4-door. Safety additions included dual airbags, height-adjustable manual seatbelts, and side door beams. Antilock brakes were optional, on all models. Under the hood was a dual-cam 1.5-liter 4-cylinder with 93 horsepower. The Standard 2-door came with a 4-speed manual transmission and was available with 3-speed automatic. DX models could have a standard 5-speed manual or optional 4-speed automatic.

Yearly Updates

1996 Tercel
Cloth seat trim was a new option for the price-leader 2-door model (vinyl was standard).
1997 Tercel
Tercel dropped to a single series, called CE, for ’97. The CE blended features of the prior Standard series and the better- equipped DX. Four-speed manual shift was gone, and larger (175/65R14) tires replaced the original 155/80SR13 rubber.
1998 Tercel
Initially, the 4-door body style was dropped, leaving only the 2-door CE. Grille, front fascia, taillamps, rear bumper, and bodyside moldings are new, and the rear seats gain headrests. Later, Toyota would drop the entire line in preparation for the introduction of the new Echo subcompact.


transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive

The same engine powered all Tercels: a 1.5-liter, dual-overhead-cam 4-cylinder, developing 93 horsepower. Standard 2-doors had a 4-speed manual transmission; DX models a 5-speed. A 4-speed automatic transmission was available for DX Tercels, and a 3-speed automatic for the Standard 2-door. The 4-speed manual gearbox disappeared after 1996.

dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 1.5/89
Engine HP 93
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 100
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
3-speed automatic
4-speed automatic


1. 34/40 mpg w/4-speed manual.

Road Test

The latest engine is noisy, but its greater power shows up in quicker acceleration. Nevertheless, performance is still far from lively, even with a manual transmission. Automatic transmissions are rather slow to downshift to deliver suitable highway passing power. Fuel economy is exceptional: We averaged 30 mpg in a DX model with automatic.

Though refreshingly frugal, long rides in a Tercel aren’t all pleasure, by any means. The suspension allows a lot of bouncing on wavy roads, and the ride becomes choppy on rough surfaces. In addition, there’s still plenty of road noise. Handling ability is hampered by narrow tires, which run out of grip early in hard cornering.

Inside, the dashboard is simple, functional, and conveniently laid out, but the rear seat remains tight for anyone over 5-foot-10. Adults have ample room up front, but trunk space is on the skimpy side.


Model Tested: 1996 Toyota Tercel DX 2-door auto

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 2
Fuel Economy - 7
Ride Quality - 3
Steering/Handling - 3
Quietness - 2


Controls/Materials - 5
Room/Comfort Front - 4
Room/Comfort Rear - 3
Cargo Room - 2


Value - 5

Total: 36


2-door coupe
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
93.7 161.8 64.8 53.2
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
9.3 11.9 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
38.6 36.5 41.2 31.9
4-door sedan
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
93.7 161.8 64.8 53.2
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
9.3 11.9 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
38.6 36.5 41.2 31.9
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 1997 Tercel 2-door coupe


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - 4
Front Passenger Injury - 4

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - 3
Rear Passenger Injury - 4


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision 135
Injury 166
Theft 87

Trouble Spots

Climate control
Description: Poor heater performance may be due to a defective thermostat. (1995-96)
Dashboard lights
Description: The check-engine light may come on when the car is driven at altitudes above 5900 feet, which may require a new computer. (1995-96)
Audio system
Description: A poor antenna ground causes static on the AM band of the radio. (1995-96)
Description: The front windows may be hard to operate. (1995-96)

Recall History

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.