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Caldina Carrier

An effective combination of performance and practicality

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

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At a glance...

  • 1999 Toyota Caldina GT-T
  • Most powerful version of the 3S-GTE turbo engine
  • Constant AWD and available with stability control
  • Excellent practicality - along with speed and personality
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If high-performance cars are in a niche category in the overall scheme of manufacturer line-ups, a high-performance wagon must be intended for, well, for the most obscure minority. But it’s a formula that works very well – don’t think for a moment that a load-lugger can’t be a hot performer!

Here in Australia we’ve enjoyed a few performance wagons through the mid/late ‘90s – the Ford XR6 wagon, the Volvo T5 wagon and the mighty Subaru Impreza WRX wagon. All of which are now available quite cheaply second-hand.

But if you’re prepared to venture way, way outa the square you can have this – a Japanese-spec ST215 Toyota Caldina GT-T, circa late 1997 - 2002.

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The Caldina follows a similar layout as the WRX – a turbocharged 2-litre in the nose, constant AWD, strut type suspension and a similar small/medium size body. But there’s one feature that really sets the Caldina GT-T apart – the optional electronic stability control. That’s right, this baby combines VSC (Vehicle Stability Control) with all-wheel-drive to ensure you come out of a corner smiling - even if you’ve plunged in at suicidal speed. It’s an extremely valuable safety net.

And the GT-T is the sort of car that puts its AWD and VSC to good effect – this is one quick point-to-point car.

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Under the bonnet you’ll find the most powerful version of the 3S-GTE 2-litre turbo engine to come out of the Toyota factory. Forget the locally delivered Celica GT-4 Group A with its Do-It-Yourself extendable rear wing – this puppy out-muscles it by 13kW and 22Nm. With a large capacity turbocharger, top-mount air-to-air intercooler, a 9:1 static compression ratio and direct-fire ignition, we’re talking 191kW at 6000 rpm and 324Nm at 4400 rpm.

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Interestingly, our test car – supplied by JDM Auto in Sydney, Australia – was equipped with the optional 4-speed automatic gearbox (a 5-speed manual was also offered by the factory). The auto trans version has a conventional overdrive lockout button which can be used when driving in D, but it also features sequential gear selection using buttons on the steering wheel. The programmed gearshift patterns are well matched to the engine, but there’s no escaping that this is a relatively old-school turbo engine – there’s no variable cam timing and, with a big turbocharger, there's little bottom-end torque.

The 3S-GTE comes on at about 3500 rpm and, if you’re accelerating with traffic at part throttle, you invariably need to ease off the pedal as boost pressure snowballs through the mid-range. But this is quick car when kept on boost. Weighing 1470kg in auto guise, the Caldina GT-T should offer similar performance to a WRX auto wagon – expect 7 second 0 – 100s.

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The Caldina’s power-assisted steering is slightly slow around centre (though still well-weighted) and the four-wheel-strut suspension gives a firm but acceptable ride. The stiffness of the springs and dampers help keep body roll to a minimum while cornering and the Caldina is one of those cars that gives the driver tremendous confidence when pushing the limits – its combination of AWD and electronic stability control is hard to beat. Yes, the Caldina does have a tendency to understeer (the 205/60 15 tyres fitted to our test car had relatively poor dry road adhesion) but the stability control system keeps it within reasonable limits. The system works seamlessly – the only indication of its operation is an on-dash beeper and flasher unit. Braking comes from ABS-controlled four wheel discs – ventilated at the front.

So what about the practicality of the Caldina – this is, after all, the whole reason you’d pick it over a sedan.

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The seats are supportive and, although the steering column is adjustable for angle only, it’s easy to find a comfortable driving position. Occupant space is pretty impressive with rear passengers enjoying good foot space and headroom. Rear cargo volume is about what you’d expect in a vehicle of this size but the perfectly flat fold/tumble rear seat is particularly neat. Storage trays can be found beneath the cargo floor, there’s a trim blind and Japanese standard 100V accessory sockets.

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Other interior features include power windows, dual airbags, digital climate control, a grippy leather steering wheel and a basic range of purple-faced gauges.

If you’re not the sort of person to be ‘another WRX driver’ you’ll love the exclusivity of the Caldina. Sure, the proportions and overall styling are generic Japanese but at least most people haven’t seen one before! The GT-T also has subtle hints to its performance with a bonnet scoop, fog lights, skirts, rear spoiler and alloy wheels.

So how well does the Caldina GT-T stack up as a second-hand purchase?

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Well, the example we drove was a pre-release version but it is expected the Caldina will be available for purchase from May/June 2006. JDM Auto says they'll retail from AUD$17990 - $26,990 depending on year, kilometres, transmission and options. The updated ST215 Caldina GT-T (from 2000 to 2002) are the most expensive as they come packed with Xenon headlights, a rear LSD and optional side airbags.

We imagine replacement body parts will be difficult to source but some driveline parts might be shared with the Celica GT4 Group A. Hot-up potential is huge given the immense capability of the chassis – a performance exhaust, air intake, intercooler and boost pressure tweaks would give enough performance to absolutely crush anyone’s belief that a wagon can’t be a true high-performance car!


JDM Auto 0419 285 345

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