1990 Toyota Camry
Some cars, from the moment you turn on the engine, convey a feeling of reliability. You can feel this in the way the car is built. It shines through, more than anything else, from the quality of engineering that goes into it. This is why the Toyota Camry is one of America's favorite cars. The Camry has earned its spot on the best seller list because it is one of the best all-around, small family cars money can buy. You might look at the Camry sedan and ask ''what's so special about it?'' There's certainly nothing sporty about its looks or performance. But that's not the Camry's mission. It's a family car designed to haul five people in comfort. This is what it does so well. ENGINE, PERFORMANCE The test car came with Toyota's 156-horsepower, four-cam, 24-valve, 2.5-liter V-6.This quiet powerplant is a perfect match for the car. It's potent, but not so much so that it overwhelms the brakes, steering and suspension. The Camry also is available with a four-cylinder. In these fuel-conscious times, the four-cylinder might seem like the more logical choice but consider this: The V-6-powered Camry is EPA-rated at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. On a trip from Miami to Orlando, with air conditioning on and cruise control engaged, the Camry returned 26 mpg. City driving yielded nearly 20 mpg. My favorite thing about the Camry is the car's cruising range, that is, the distance it will go between fill-ups. The 15.9-gallon tank means that an average driver could drive two weeks before refilling. The test car sported an electronically controlled, four-speed automatic with overdrive. A button on the console allows the driver to choose between sport and normal shifting. The transmission, which drives the front wheels, shifts smoothly. What makes the shifts so smooth is a torque limiting feature that reduces engine power slightly as the transmission shifts. The transmission kicks down into lower gears easily when passing power is needed. A five-speed manual also is available. Acceleration time from 0 to 60 mph is under 10 seconds. STEERING, HANDLING With independent suspension front and rear, the Camry featured a nimble ride and kept its composure in every driving situation encountered. There's an interesting piece of Seminole County in Altamonte Springs that has a bumpy dirt road, rough set of railroad tracks and twisting curves all within one mile. This is my unofficial ''test course.'' The Camry would not be undermined in any situation. The result was always a firm, stable ride. Steering, by way of variable-assist, power rack and pinion, is responsive and moderately quick for a family sedan. Anti-lock brakes are available, but the test car did not have the system. Nevertheless, the test car's four-wheel disc brakes did a fine job of slowing the car. One minor annoyance involved the rubber pad on the brake pedal: It popped off twice. Fit, finish This is where the Camry must win an awful lot of hearts. Every switch, button, knob and control is positioned so that the driver is not distracted when using them. After a day or so, I learned the layout of the controls and didn't need to take my eyes off the road to engage cruise control or change radio stations. The Camry LE is loaded with standard features. Intermittent wipers, tilt steering wheel, rear-window defroster, powerful sound system, power seats, mirrors, windows and door locks are just a few of the amenities in the LE model. The seats were covered with a blue velour cloth and were very comfortable and supportive. The rear seats split and fold forward, allowing access to the trunk in case the driver has to transport large items. But if the car has a fault, it is in the trunk area. When you slam the trunk, you can't help but notice how flimsy it feels. The metal felt thin and the taillights loose. Also, I couldn't get it to stay shut he first time I closed it. The trunk always took two or three hard slams for the lock to catch. I found this disturbing and out of character with the rest of the car. Hopefully, next year, Toyota will pay some attention to this and give the car a good, solid trunk. I have a strange incident to report. The Camry and other small import cars look very similar. Twice - and this may be a reflection on my mental capacity - I stuck the Camry's key into other vehicles by mistake. In parking lots, I confused the white Camry with a Hyundai Sonata and a Nissan Maxima. Thankfully, the other drivers were nowhere to be found. In any case, in a market loaded with excellent cars, the Camry is near the top, a verdict recently confirmed by Family Circle magazine, which named the Camry as its Import Car of the Year.
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