Toyota is back in the convertible business for 1991 after a one-year absence, with an open-air version of its Celica coupe that was boldly restyled for 1990.

The Celica convertible is offered in the GT flavor only, whereas the coupe, now in its third generation, comes in several versions that range from mild to wild.The conversion is done in California by ASC Inc. after nearly completed Celicas are shipped from Japan with their roofs and windshields in place. Preserved in the "top chop" is the Celica's rounded styling, which looks as if fashioned from an array of ellipses both inside and out.

And unlike some conversions, the Celica convertible looks just as good with its top up as it does with it peeled back.

The Celica GT convertible is 170 pounds heavier than the GT coupe (2,844 vs. 2,674), mostly because of the extra body bracing required in all ragtops. Its top is electrically operated via a console button, once the two front latches are unfastened and windows lowered.

Power comes from a 2.2 liter, 16-valve four-cylinder engine, rated at 130 horsepower at 5,400 rpm. A 5-speed manual transaxle is standard; a 4-speed automatic is $670 more.

Fuel mileage ranges from 22 mpg city to 30 mpg on the highway.

A full range of equipment is standard, including a driver-side air bag, adjustable steering wheel, full instrumentation, tinted glass and electric mirrors.

Prices start at $19,228, which is a whopping $4,860 more than the Celica GT coupe. The test model was laden with $3,500 worth of extras, causing its sticker to soar to $23,023, counting a $265 destination fee.

Added were extras like Toyota's "ultimate" 220-watt, eight-speaker stereo with both a compact disc and cassette player ($1,335) and a wraparound rear spoiler ($285).

Air conditioning ($825) and several "grouped" options were also on board: electric windows and locks ($390), cruise control with variable-speed wipers ($210) and alloy wheels with fog lamps ($420).

In other words, one could easily trim $2,000 from the test car's sticker and still have a nicely equipped automobile.

The Celica GT convertible's interior is unchanged from the coupe, except for a snapped-in plastic curtain separating its smallish trunk from the interior, and a narrower folding rear seat that had precious little room to begin with.

Its ovoid instrument panel houses large and legible gauges. But they are obstructed from view if the thick-rimmed adjustable steering wheel is in its lowest position.

Primary controls for lights and wipers are arranged on signal stalks in a sensible layout other carmakers would do well to follow.

Access to owner-serviceable items under the Celica GT's rather heavy, prop-rodded hood is good. The spark plugs are in plain sight and the oil filter is easily changed from above. But be careful if the exhaust manifold is hot.

One week of driving the Celica GT convertible left this writer with much the same impression as an enclosed model driven earlier - an extremely capable and responsive sporty car that is even more fun to drive on warm, sunny days than the coupe.

Like most convertibles, its body flexes and shudders over rough pavement but not nearly as much as in many other ragtops - testimony to the coupe's rigid body structure.

Its fully lined top is operated with the minimum of fuss and caps one of the best coupe-to-convertible conversions to date. (Chevrolet recently scrapped plans for a Beretta convertible because of quality concerns).

But the Celica's plastic rear window and absence of a rear defogger hinders rear visibility in wet or cold weather driving. And freeway speeds cause one to turn up the stereo to overcome the increased road noise whether its top is up or down.

Like most multivalve motors, its 2.2 liter four delivers the goods well above the 3,000 rpm mark, with fourth the most flexible gear unless one is crossing Kansas.