Owner’s Review: 2014 Toyota Zelas Review

Sajid Khan reviews that most important of all cars – his first car!

By Sajid Khan

Owners review 2014 Toyota Zelas

  • Owner/Reviewer: Sajid Ali Khan
  • Model: 2014 Toyota Zelas
  • Price: AED76,000
  • Where: UAE
  • Photographs courtesy of Erich Simon

In the eternal words of Bernie Mac, “There’s a mystical bond between man and machine”. Admittedly, he did utter those words in a 2-hour long General Motors commercial directed by Michael Bay. But still, those words are so true.

Anyways, let’s track this from the beginning. I got my driving license in March 2014 and, being a hardcore petrolhead, I took exactly 4.6 seconds to zero in on the car which is available in Toyota showrooms today, within my budget, and would suit me best.

Owners review 2014 Toyota Zelas

Right now, you might be wondering, ‘Why does it necessarily have to be a Toyota?’. Well, to put it candidly – since I’m not earning yet, Dad paid for my first car and he had just two conditions. Firstly, it had to be a Toyota (his J120 V6 Prado has served him flawlessly for the better part of a decade and hence, he swears by their Armageddon-proof reliability) and secondly, it has to cost no more than AED90,000. Fair enough.

Definitely not over-zealous

It all came down to a contest between the Zelas (AED76,000) and a base-spec 86 (AED89,900). The Zelas won due to many reasons including the fact that I was getting three free initial services, covering the first 10,000km, as part of the deal. Besides, my newly acquired license only allows me to drive cars with automatic gearboxes and the base-spec 86 only comes with a manual. The other reasons? Keep reading.

Owners review 2014 Toyota Zelas

So, six incredibly long weeks after getting my license, I found myself driving out of a Toyota showroom in a brand new 2014 metallic grey Zelas. And so began the journey of this aspiring Automotive Engineering student and his first car. I call her Lina – after my high-school crush, who I never managed to speak up to. Tragic, isn’t it?

A Toyota-what?

‘Wait, what’s a Zelas?’, I hear you ask. For the uninitiated, the little known Toyota Zelas is a rebranded Scion tC. Scion being the youth-oriented division of Toyota that’s exclusive to North America. It’s a front-wheel-drive two-door coupe that started life as a US-only model in 2005.

In 2011, the second generation tC was released with the same 2.5 litre 179bhp inline-four cylinder engine you’ll find in a Camry today. That’s when the tC started selling across showrooms in non-US markets, including South America and the Middle East, badged as a Toyota Zelas.

Owners review 2014 Toyota Zelas

When it initially landed on our shores, it was a catastrophic sales failure due to one main reason – at AED95,000, the price sounded like a really bad joke. At the time, if you stretched your budget a bit beyond that figure, you could get a base-spec V6 Mustang. However, with the tC/Zelas receiving a facelift for the 2014 model year, things started getting better.

Whilst the engine remained untouched, updates included a sharpened front fascia, revised rear end with LED taillights, interior upgrades (like a stereo system interface crow-barred out of elder brother 86) a reworked 6-speed automatic gearbox which (despite being another Camry sourced component) shifts gears substantially faster than it used to and, most notably, a far more reasonable price tag of AED76,000. However, at least in our region, it still remains what is probably the most underrated car in the Toyota/Lexus lineup.

Owners review 2014 Toyota Zelas

Quicker than a Veloster Turbo!

So, how has the journey been so far? In a word – brilliant. For starters, Lina never lets me down. Like I said earlier, the engine is a Camry unit. And its ubiquity is well validated. That big-block four-cylinder is the most reliable application of the four-stroke internal combustion cycle in history. End of discussion. Think about it, excluding situations that involved collisions, when was the last time you saw a Camry broken down on the hard shoulder? Exactly.

Then there’s the matter of power. As anyone who knows anything about cars will tell you, power output doesn’t matter as much as power-to-weight ratio. And thanks to the Zelas having the same 179 horses that satisfactorily serve the much heavier Camry and the even lardier RAV4, Lina manages the 0-100kph run in a respectable 7.1 seconds.

Owners review 2014 Toyota Zelas

Now, let’s look at what the rivals have to offer. The Cerato coupe, or Cerato Koup as Kia insists we call it, takes a barely comparable 10.5 seconds to do 0-100. True enough, that might be largely down to the 20bhp deficit. But the other major South Korean challenger offers a downright hilarious comparison. The Hyundai Veloster Turbo, a car with a 22 horsepower advantage over my car, takes longer than the Zelas to reach 100kph from standstill.

That’s right, it’s slower, despite having 22 more horsepower. As Veloster lovers will argue, it’s ‘only’ 0.2 seconds slower with a time of 7.3 seconds. But then again, where are those extra 22 horses? Let’s not forget that the Veloster Turbo isn’t even available in our region. So, if you’d still rather have a Veloster, you’ll just have to settle for the naturally aspirated variant with its 128bhp and comical 0-100 time of 10.3 seconds.

Owners review 2014 Toyota Zelas

Living with Lina

The South Korean contenders might have more toys but that’s just about the only area where they win over the Zelas. Don’t get me wrong though. Whilst the GCC-spec Zelas doesn’t get a sunroof or touchscreen infotainment interface, the interior is still a very nice place to be. The elaborate 8 speaker audio system supports USB input, streams Bluetooth audio with zero fuss, comes with an infrared remote control module and features plentiful audio tuning options to keep your inner DJ gratified.

All sorts of airbags come standard and so does the excellent build quality. The flat bottom steering wheel incorporates audio controls and a pair of very enjoyable paddle-shifters. Most crucially though, through its reactions, it assures you that it is indeed connected to something. Take that, Cerato! Some might be a bit disappointed by the absence of leather upholstery. But I’ll pick robust fabric over bargain basement leather for my seats anytime.

Speaking of seats, contrary to what a quick look over the exterior might suggest, the rear section of the cabin is surprisingly spacious. The seats at the back can comfortably accommodate adults of average height and have come in handy on more than a few occasions. Those same seats also fold flat to further expand the roomy boot.

Owners review 2014 Toyota Zelas

Hitting the track with zeal

But enough about practicality. How does a Zelas perform when pushed to its 6200rpm redline? Well, on the only track evening I’ve taken Lina to, pitted against all sorts of fancy metal, we might have been the slowest ones on the track – but we were also the happiest. I was using the paddle-shifters, pushing the traction control system to its limits around the corners, braking fairly hard, squeezing out every bhp on the main straight and we just kept going – faster and harder with every lap of the Autodrome.

Until the checkered flag showed up. And by that time, we were among the very few still left on the track. The vast majority of drivers had either seen the dreaded ‘low fuel’ indicator blinking or simply worn themselves out. Me and Lina? We could’ve kept going all night long.

Owners review 2014 Toyota Zelas


So it’s not an 86. Agreed. But that doesn’t stop the Zelas from being a superb car in its own right. I’ve racked up more than 13,000km in the past eight months and I always glance back at Lina after parking her and saying goodnight. And I look forward, eagerly, to the next opportunity I’ll get to push that ignition button. And there it is – proof for anyone and everyone to see, that Bernie was dead on target. There is a mystical bond between man and machine.


What do you think of the Toyota Zelas and Sajid’s review? Tell us in the comments section below. And why not send in a review of your own car just as Sajid has done. Send in text and pictures to MME@MotoringME.com!

13 responses to “Owner’s Review: 2014 Toyota Zelas Review”

  1. Marc says:

    Very well written report!

    On that note and given that you re an toyota freak: any word on a new land cruiser model coming anytime soon? The 2015 updates are rather a farce..

  2. Sajid says:

    Thanks, Marc. Though I must mention that I’m not an all-out Toyota freak. Indeed, I do admire certain cars in their lineup such as the Zelas and the 86. Not so much others, such as the 2015 Yaris.

    As far as the next generation model of the Land Cruiser is concerned, as Imthishan has already said – since the Land Cruiser runs on a very long lifecycle, you won’t be seeing anything of that sort before 2016 at the earliest. Hope this helps.

    • Marc says:

      Thought so. Was recently cnfused by an intervie of the local toyota gm who implied a model change of the LC in 2015..

      Thanks and enjoy your zelas

  3. Leah says:

    Nice photos. I think they greatly add to the review

  4. rajeshree says:

    Great article. Even a non petrol head can read it

  5. Teresa says:

    Great article! I love the tone of it. As I’m not a petrol head myself, I found I easily read the entire thing without getting bogged down by technical jargon. Oh, and the car looks great too!

  6. Liz says:

    What a great review! I’m not a petrol-head either, but you’ve made this really accessible as well as entertaining and fun to read. Your knowledge of driving and all things automotive really shines through.

    p.s. I’ve never thought about it before, but you’re right – one never sees a Camry experiencing engine trouble.

  7. Great. review says:

    Hi! Do you know if Zelas is ending production too as they are telling us tC ending in August.

    So Sad

  8. Danny says:

    Is Zelas production ending too?

  9. Safaa says:

    Is a used Zelas a good idea? What should I watch out for?

  10. Darren Meagher says:

    What’s the preferred petrol that is to be used for the Zelas, super or special?

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