The History Of Toyota Tercel

The Tercel is a subcompact manufactured from 1978 to 1999 across five generations, in five body configurations — sized between the Corolla and the Starlet. Manufactured at the Takaoka Plant in Toyota City, Japan, and sharing its platform with the Cynos (aka Paseo) and the Starlet, the Tercel was marketed variously as the Corolla II — and was replaced by the Echo in 2000.

The name "Tercel" derives from the Latin word for "one third" as the Tercel was slightly smaller than the Corolla — much the way "tiercel" refers to a male falcon, which is one-third smaller than its female counterpart.

The Tercel was introduced in Japan in 1978, and in the United States in 1980; it was the first front-wheel drive vehicle ever produced by the automaker. Toyota named it the Corolla Tercel, hoping that the Corolla image — long known for quality and durability — would bring buyers to the new model. The Tercel's front-wheel drive design ensured that the vehicle delivered maximum interior space in a small package. It was originally sold as either a two-door coupe or a three-door hatchback, with each model powered by a 1.5L SOHC four-cylinder engine producing 60hp (45kW). Transmission choices were either a four- or five-speed manual or a three-speed automatic.

The new front-wheel drive design in the Tercel, unlike their previous front-wheel drive designs, did not have the engine transversely mounted. Rather, the engine was mounted longitudinally, such that the transmission was mounted under the floorpan, as was standard in a rear-wheel drive car. Unlike a rear-wheel drive car, the transmission had a ring and pinion gear on the front part of the transmission, underneath the engine. Halfshafts then extended from the transmission to the front wheels.

For 1981, the Corolla Tercel received a new 62hp (46kW) A engine for improved power and drivability and lower emissions. Choice of bodystyles increased as well, with the addition of a four-door sedan.

Toyota redesigned the Tercel for 1983 and renamed the car simply "Tercel". The second generation Tercel was available in three- or five-door hatchback models or a four-door station wagon. The station wagon, known in Japan as the Sprinter Caribbean, was also available with either front- or four-wheel drive. The four-wheel drive model could be equipped with six-speed manual transmission, and could be shifted from two- to four-wheel drive without coming to a stop. The sixth gear it carried was an "Extra Low" (EL) first gear, a standard transmission gear with a very low (4.71:1) gear-ratio. The EL gear generated a 17.6:1 final drive ratio, giving the driver the torque needed to extract the vehicle from conditions which otherwise may have trapped it. Because of its low gear-ratio, it was suitable only for very low-speed use on loose or slippery road surfaces (such as snow, gravel, or sand.) Also included with the four-wheel drive model is a inclinometer above the radio and air conditioner that measures the tilt of the car. Standard front-wheel drive vehicles (and four-wheel drive wagons not equipped with the six-speed manual transmission) came with either a three-speed automatic or a five-speed manual transmission. The least expensive model, the base three-door, was available with a four-speed manual only.

The new Tercel 4WD was built from existing pieces in the Toyota inventory. The engine, transaxle and front wheel drive system was from the existing Tercel. The coil-sprung rear axle was taken from the Corolla. The only part specifically designed for the new Tercel 4WD was the transfer case, built into the transmission. This gave the driver greater versatility than was possible on a purely front-wheel drive vehicle, as it provided three different power arrangements. Normally, the car would be operated with front-wheel drive. When the driver pulled the 4WD selector lever back into four-wheel drive, or pressed a button on the gear selector for the automatic transmission, the power was split 50/ 50 between the front and rear axles via a direct mechanical coupling. There is no conventional center differential, so the four-wheel drive system could be used only on loose or slippery surfaces; otherwise the drivetrain would experience severe wear, and handling would be compromised. The third power option (which was only available on the six-speed manual) was low range. This isn't the same as the low-range power option found in a truck or conventional SUV, as the Tercel lacked a high-range/ low-range transfer case. When the lever was placed in four-wheel drive mode it became possible to downshift the vehicle from first to EL.

1985 saw minor changes to gear ratios and to the grille design, and the interior was updated in 1986. The Tercel wagon continued the same design until 1988 (when it was replaced by a Corolla Sprinter based design), while the coupe, sedan and hatchbacks moved on to the newer design.


Versions available in Europe:

  • 1.3 GL (3-door hatchback, 5-door hatchback)
  • 1.5 GL (3-door hatchback, 5-door hatchback)
  • 1.5 4WD (5-door estate, only version from 1986 onwards)

In 1987, Toyota introduced the slightly larger third generation Tercel with a new 12 valve 78hp (58kW) I4 engine which featured a defective variable venturi carburetor, replaced under an extended warranty and in 1988 and later models with improved carbs and later, EFI. Other improvements included revised rack-and-pinion steering and a newly-designed, fully-independent suspension. The Tercel continued in its role as Toyota's least expensive vehicle.

In 1988, Toyota introduced the Tercel EZ with less standard equipment: vinyl upholstery, a four-speed manual transmission, rubber mats instead of carpeting, and a deleted passenger's side sunvisor.

For the 1990 model year, the Tercel was available as either a three or five-door hatchback or a two-door sedan, the wagon having been discontinued. Also discontinued for 1990 was the four-wheel drive system; the Tercel was then only available with front-wheel drive. Hard to find is the Tercel Deluxe 4-door Liftback. Made only from 87 to 89, this model which came standard with a 5-speed manual transmission, custom wheels and rear defrost. Non-motorized two-point passive seatbelts for the front-seat driver and passenger were introduced in 1990.

Toyota introduced the fourth generation Tercel in 1991 as either a two-door sedan or four-door sedan and powered by either a 1.5L 3E-E engine producing 82hp (61kW) at 5200 rpm (and 89lb·ft (121N·m) of torque at 4400 rpm) or 1.5 L 5E-FE 16v DOHC producing110hp (82kW).

In Japan, the Tercel was also offered as 3-door Hatchback and 4WD versions. Hatchback models were VC, Joinus, and Avenue. Trim levels for Sedan were VE, VX, and VZ. The VZ is powered by 5E-FHE engine. The higher level Japanese sedan had different tail lights and better equipped interior than the export models.

North American models were Base Coupe, DX Coupe, DX Sedan, and LE Sedan. Colour-keyed bumpers, full wheel covers, and folded rear seat were optional on the DX, standard on the LE. The LE had red trunk garnish similar to Japanese model.

1993 saw a minor exterior redesign to the front and rear fascias and the addition of a standard driver's side airbag and available anti-lock brakes. The Tercel was carried over to 1994 with no major changes — Haloalkane, a non-CFC refrigerant was used in the air conditioning system.


In Chile, the Tercel was introduced in 1991 as the "Corolla Tercel", as a four door sedan with a 1.3 liter, SOHC twelve valves 78hp (58kW), 4 cylinder, carbureted engine. The "DX" basic version came with tachometer and four arm steering wheels. It gained moderate success due to the Corolla name. In September 1992 a facelifted version was introduced, which roughly matched the U.S. models, and came with a new 1.5 liter SOHC engine available. Since August 1993, the 1.3 liter version was discontinued, due to the new emission standards enforced by the government since September of the same year, which forced the use of 3-way catalytic converters. The catalytic version rapidly became quite successful.

For 1995, Toyota introduced an all-new Tercel. The new design offered a stiffer body with better handling and was one of only a handful of cars in the U.S. to have OBDII in 1995. Retaining its compact packaging and high quality, the new Tercel sported a completely redesigned exterior and an all-new engine. The Tercel now also offered standard driver's and passenger's side airbags in the United States, but only a driver's side bag for Canada. As well, three-point seatbelts for front and outboard rear passengers and adjustable shoulder-belt anchor points for front seat passengers were installed on four-door models. All models met federal standards for 1997 side-impact protection, and offered anti-lock brakes. Exterior styling was targeted toward the youthful buyer. Standard models came standard with only a 4 speed manual or automatic transmission and grey bumpers, while DX models were offered with the addition of body-colored bumpers and either a 5 speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission.

The interior emphasized a user-friendly environment, pushing the dash further away, but bringing the switches closer, which gave passengers a feeling of spaciousness and comfort. The all-new DOHC 1.5L I4 engine provided 93hp (69kW) and 100lb·ft (140N·m) of torque, offering a 13 percent power increase over the previous generation as well as a 15 percent increase in fuel economy. The new 5E-FE engine gets 45mpg-US (5.2L/ 100km; 54mpg-imp) on the highway with a 5 speed manual transmission, making it the most fuel-efficient four-cylinder car of its time in the United States collectively,[citation needed] these upgrades were considered to move the affordable Tercel solidly into the realm of vehicles one buys out of choice, rather than because it is the only one in its price range. Even with its upgrades, the Tercel remained Toyota's entry-level car.

For 1997, all Tercels were available only in the CE (Classic Edition) trim level and incorporated many of the standard and optional items from previous base and DX models. All Tercels came standard with a new 13 inch wheel and tire combination. Inside, the Tercel received a revised dashboard with rotary ventilation controls. Also, along with all Toyota models, the Tercel received revised seat fabric and door panels. The RedHawk and WhiteHawk editions were introduced in addition to the BlackHawk trim already offered, which came standard with air conditioning, 185/ 60R14 tires on custom wheels, a rear spoiler with integrated brake light, and hawk symbols to identify the special model.


For 1998, the Tercel received updated styling, highlighted by new jeweled multi-reflector headlights, a revised grille and front fascia design and clear lens turn signal lights for the front and rear.

The Tercel's rear styling was also enhanced with redesigned composite taillights and updated bumper molding. The new molding extended across the entire length of the rear bumper for added protection and a seamless look, just as it did in the Fourth Generation Tercels.

Production of the Tercel for the American market ceased in 1998 to make way for the 2000 Echo. Production for Canada, Puerto Rico and some other countries continued through 1999. Only a handful of 1999 Tercels exist in the States.


The fifth generation of Tercel was introduced in September 1994, presented in the FISA auto Show of that year as the "All New Tercel Twin Cam”, available in three different levels: basic XLI, the medium GLI, and the full equipment LEI. All Tercel featured a 5E-FE 1.5 16v Twin Cam (DOHC) engine, rated at 100hp (70kW) at 6400 rpm and 95lb·ft (129N·m) at 3200 rpm of torque. With that engine the car take only 10.4 seconds in 0-60 mph. The car was revolutionary to that market at the time, and it was elected Car of the Year in Chile.[citation needed]

The XLi version was basic: no tach and power steering was an option. GLi had power steering, four arm steering wheels, trunk and gas cap remote opening; and three pointed rear seat belts was standard. Finally the LEi was full, it had all the equipment and AC; tachometer; rear seat belts, 175/ 70 13 tires, with power door locks, power windows with driver's side auto down, and four arm steering wheels. It was offered with either a 5-speed manual transmission or a 4-speed automatic.

By 1998, received multi-reflector headlights, new fascia, bumpers and clear turn signal lights; in the rear, new mirror style taillights and new bumper. It was a huge success, becoming the second best selling car in Chile for four years.

The Tercel was meant to be smaller than the Corolla, which it always was throughout its production. However, both the Tercel and the Corolla grew in size, becoming larger than their original sizes; and by the end of its production, the Tercel became almost identical in size to the North American-market '75-'78 Corolla that was current at the time the Tercel was first introduced back in 1980.

In Thailand, Toyota reworked the Tercel with different nose and tail, and called Soluna. The Soluna AL50 was powered by 1.5 liter 5A-FE engine, and campaigned as Asian Family Car. The plain Soluna was a big seller in Thailand. Trim levels are XLi, SLi, and GLi. Only the XLi and GLi were sold in Indonesia, where the XLi was common for taxi. Based on the GLi, the Soluna S Limited with body kits was offered for a short time.

In Europe and Japan, the Tercel was introduced in 1980; however, in some markets only the sedan was known as the "Tercel," while the hatchbacks were known as the Corolla II. Only the first two generations were sold officially in the UK and Ireland, with the hatchbacks bearing the Tercel name (however used Japanese imports of later Tercels and Corolla IIs also exist).

Both models normally came with a turbocharged 1.5L diesel engine, although European Tercels were available with several different engines.

The Corolla II was a completely different model from the Corolla, although the latest European Corolla has a hatchback version which is based upon the Japanese Corolla II. Some people referred to this European model as the Corolla II, calling the sedan version the Corolla.

The name in Japan of Tercel wagon is called Sprinter Carib (first generation (1982-1988) only).

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