You’re probably looking at the title and the photo and saying to yourself, "Wait that's not a Celica" and you would be right. This is, in fact, a Toyota Caldina GT-Four. Unfortunately there was no model option for the Caldina on CarAdvice’s dropdown menus. (Editor's note: Alas, our data is restricted to models officially offered in Australia.)
You’re now probably asking yourself, "What the hell is a Caldina?"
To get your mind in the right space it’s probably best described as a Corolla wagon on ‘roids. Where the “‘roids” come in is how the vehicle shares its DNA with one of the best and successful rally cars of the time, the GT-Four Celica.
This version of the Caldina came equipped from the factory with the same engine and 4WD system as its Celica brother. The 2.0-litre 3SGTE (turbo variant) made a healthy 191kW at the flywheel and was marketed as a family wagon with sporty additions like 17-inch wheels, Recaro seats, sporty styling and a sunroof, all of which were features that appealed to the enthusiast that wasn't quite ready to settle for the soccer mum vans of the time.
The vehicle has ample amounts of space inside with lots of leg room that would allow you seat the kids comfortably, or possibly a couple of adults in the rear. The boot is on the medium to large side with plenty of extra storage compartments tucked in to the sides and underneath as well.
The Recaro seats have manual side adjustable bolsters to hug you when you’re taking your favourite mountain road home, or to be loosened off when on your daily commute. They offer knee adjustment but are lacking in the lower bolster area. When taking corners you feel the need to brace yourself against the centre column or against the drivers door to stop yourself from sliding into the window or - heaven help you - into the passengers seat. The rear seats offer some bolstering if you ever feel the need to scare your friends into submission (although I don't condone reckless driving).
Tech in the vehicle is adequate with a touchscreen infotainment system with GPS, CD, 6 speakers including tweeters, and in this particular version an under-seat 6-inch subwoofer. The audio system delivers relatively crisp audio and deep base that puts most factory stereo systems to shame. With minimal money spent, the system could be taken to the next level to deliver a much better sound experience. It’s fitted with keyless entry, security system, auto headlamps and HID bulbs for awesome night-time visibility. The vehicle is also fitted with front fog lamps that unfortunately are positioned either in a terrible spot or are just not bright enough to make any noticeable difference at night.
Fitted with the GT4 running gear and 4WD system, the Caldina provides ample amounts of grip in turns and on the exit. Suspension is responsive with the addition of Tein street coilovers, which reduces the car’s body roll significantly, providing a much better road feel and control (although mine are starting to show their age with some unwanted bouncing from the rear). Steering feel is connected and provides good feedback - it’s not too heavy and not so light to the point where you don’t feel the vehicle or the road.
The only problem with the vehicle is that it was only ever produced with an automatic transmission, unlike its Celica brother which was available in manual. The 4-speed sequential box is good as a daily drive and does what it’s told when in "manual mode" but lacks the same input, feel and control you have with a manual transmission. I have no idea why Toyota in their infinite wisdom didn't make a manual version, as I feel that this is the only thing letting the car down as a whole. Conversions can be made using a mix of old Caldina parts as well as parts taken from manual Corollas, but this can be quite a costly venture.
The vehicle’s engine in this case has been modified for a "safe" amount of power, taking into consideration the limitations on the automatic box and availability of getting a replacement - God forbid that it fails. Fitted with a piggyback engine management by Haltech, 3-inch dump and exhaust system, larger fuel pump and an E85 conversion, the vehicle is now making 177kW or 237hp at the wheels on low boost. With the addition of larger injectors, a front-mounted intercooler and a retune, the car could make upwards of 200kW, although the gearbox may not be able to handle the power without producing slip and eventually a failure.
The Toyota Caldina is a well-rounded and fun car to drive. It has all the modern trimmings you could need without feeling overwhelming, it makes great power and serves well as a daily driver or a mountain road racer, with plenty of space to take the kids to soccer practice. Minor issues like the auto box are quickly forgotten when taking your favourite back road home. Its rarity and “strange but pleasant” looks are a good conversation starter, a-head turner amongst car enthusiasts and the general public alike.
MORE: Everything Toyota