1991 Toyota Camry

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$596–$3,800

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washingtonpost.com
IT LOOKED like a week of obligation, a period of conscientious commitment to adulthood. In other words, 'twas time to get out of the fancy cars and into something more suitable for families -- a station wagon.

The adolescent in me resisted the idea of test-driving the 1991 Toyota Camry LE V-6 wagon. Look, folks, I don't like station wagons. They make me feel my age, which is 43, but which is not "middle-aged," because I've recalculated middle-aged to begin at 65.

Anyway, there was this Camry wagon. And, of course, it was a very serious gray. The interior was gray, too. And the whole wagon, well, it was a series of very serious straight lines with a few curves thrown in as stylistic afterthoughts.

I let the thing collect dust for a couple of days before putting it on the road. As a result, I wasted two days of what would have been uproarious fun.

Whoa! The Camry LE V-6 wagon was Ozzie and Harriet behind closed doors. It was a first-class cutup, a hot rod beneath repressed metal.

I'll never look at wagon owners the same way, after that experience. I'll always be wondering what they're really like.

Background: Camry is to Toyota what Chevrolet is to General Motors. It is Toyota's bread-and-butter model line, the one designed to serve families in the lower-middle to upper-middle-income range. As a result, the Camry vehicles are more functional than aesthetic, which says something about the way auto makers think of families.

The Camry lineup includes a base four-door sedan and base five-door wagon, a four-wheel-drive All-Trac sedan, a V-6 sedan and the tested LE V-6 wagon.

Complaints: Reader Thomas S. Jones complains that the floor-mounted, automatic gearshift indicators on 1990 Camry LE vehicles are hard to see at night. He's right. I found the same problem in the 1991 Camry LE wagon, too. Toyota recommends that the driver make use of the gear-selector indicator on the dash. Great idea. But why did the company bother putting the gearshift lever on the floor?

Another concern: Several other readers have called, asking about recalls on late-model Toyota Camry exhaust systems. These readers complain that they have replaced the mufflers on their Camry cars and wagons several times within 50,000 miles. I know of no recalls on the matter and Toyota says they haven't received such complaints but are looking into the alleged problem.

Praise: Absolutely superb craftsmanship on the test wagon. Everything fit perfectly and felt right. Kudos to Toyota for myriad common-sense and "feel-good" innovations in this wagon, including a feature that prevents you from accidentally locking the car with the keys in the ignition, a one-touch system for removing the key from the ignition lock and superior sound insulation to screen out most road noises.

Head-turning quotient: Nada.

Ride, acceleration and handling: 'Tis hard to believe that a front-wheel-drive, five-passe nger station wagon can move like a sports sedan. But this one does. In fact, the Camry LE V-6 wagon handles better than some sports sedans. The wagon is powered by an electronically fuel-injected, 2.5-liter, 24-valve V-6 rated 156 horsepower at 5,600 rpm.

Ahmm, the brakes, though, can use some improvement. I wasn't at all pleased with the panic-stopping distances of the anti-lock brakes.

Sound system: Toyota-installed six-speaker AM/FM stereo radio and cassette. Excellent.

Mileage: About 22 to the gallon (15.9-gallon tank, estimated 338-mile range on usable volume of 87-octane unleaded), running with one to five occupants and light cargo.

Price: Base price on the tested model is $18,458. Dealer's invoice price is $15,505. Price as tested is $19,863, including $1,130 for the optional anti-lock system and a $275 destination charge.

Purse-strings note: This is a good wagon, although the price is a bit dear. Compare with Honda Accord, Subaru Legacy, Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable, Chevrolet Caprice and Buick Roadmaster model line wagons.



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