I have the 1998 GTT 5 Speed. Man, I can't understand why Toyota didn't export these back then, just like Subaru made its Rex available to off shore customers. These are a great size wagon, and the seats in the back fold all the way down to the floor if you take the head rests off. Mine has a been tuned with a 3 inch turbo back system, and goes like crazy! It's a shame the later models don't come in manual, because I would have stuck with these cars if they did.
The seats are comfortable, and they come with with a lot of extras such as electric windows, fog lights and climate system.
I would give an 8 out of 10. I deducted 2 points only because the early model is a little bland inside, with light grey plastic.
The 2000 onwards had darker interiors that looked a bit better. They handle very well for a wagon, but it's best kept as a nice cruiser, and look after it by doing the oil every 5000 kms (factory recommendation).
You are exactly right. I recently visited the local dealer (Miles Toyota) in Christchurch and bought one for $112.50. They had a few in stock because they have had a run on them... says something about the strength I suppose. I fitted the new one easily enough by removing a couple of small inside panels, removed 4 nuts. The hard bit is getting the nuts back on the new handle without dropping them inside the door! When tightened up, the handle feels stronger. I suspect the problem occurs when the nuts loosen and there is a bit of play.