What has Toyota done to the Camry? Made it bigger. Made it better. Made it quieter. And made it more expensive. For 1992, Toyota has introduced a new generation of its popular Camry. It is available in four models, and the top-of-the-line XLE could be the vehicle for those of us who can't afford a luxury car. For the price of the test Camry, you probably won't find a midsize import that can beat the Camry in handling, equipment, fuel efficiency, quietness or comfort. Yes, the new car is about $2,000 more expensive than the Camry it replaces, and some may look at the price and turn away. But you get a lot more for your money. The new Camry has more equipment and a better drivetrain. It also comes standard with a driver's side air bag. ENGINE, TRANSMISSION, PERFORMANCE The test car came with a 3.0-liter, 185-horsepower V-6 that replaces last year's 2.5-liter, 155-horsepower V-6. This engine is so quiet, you have to strain your ears to hear it run. It is so smooth that only under hard acceleration can you detect its presence. Performance is adequate, but not outstanding. The test car came with a four-speed computer-controlled automatic transmission. The Camry moves a bit slowly until it reaches about 35 mph. Then the power comes on strong and sure. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, and it might get power to the wheels more efficiently. Toyota says the new Camry is EPA-rated at 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 24 on the highway. The test car had less than 300 miles on it and achieved slightly less than the EPA ratings. Inits smoothness, the automatic transmission ranks second only to the automatic gearbox in General Motors' Saturn cars. Saturn still makes the finest automatics. In the Camry, shifting from park to reverse or from neutral to drive is so smooth that it can't be felt. There is a power and an economy mode for the automatic transmission, but I could not detect a difference between the two. The tachometer indicated that shifts occurred at the same time regardless of mode. STEERING, HANDLING, BRAKING Although the Camry XLE is a mid-size family sedan, it has a sporting pedigree. The steering is power-assisted rack and pinion. Response is crisp and sharp but not overly sensitive. The turning radius on the test car is a tight 36.7 feet. Suspension is independent, front and rear. The Camry can take a curve as fast as you dare with no unpredictable side effects. There is no body roll or squealing of tires. The rear end, however, will lose traction if the brakes are applied while turning sharply at speed - a trait of many front-wheel-drive cars. Most bumps are easily absorbed by the suspension. Those that aren't are merely nuisances because the car is so well insulated. The XLE features four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes. They are ideally matched to the car. Though not overpowering, they stop the car quic kly and in a straight line. FIT, FINISH, CONTROL Toyota's recipe for success is this: Make it quiet, make it comfortable and build it right. You realize this when you take a look at how the car is put together. The new Camry is a soothing pleasure to drive because Toyota used some of the noise-and vibration-reducing technology pioneered on its Lexus luxury cars. Hollow areas along the roof panels, for instance, are filled with foam rubber to help deaden wind noise. In some of the floor and body panels, an insulating layer of asphalt and resin is sandwiched between layers of steel. The engine is held in place with fluid-filled mounts. The doors slam shut with a solid reassurance. However, the lower edge of the trunk area that extends to the bumper still feels a little flimsy, as in the old Camry. Average-size rear seat passengers are apt to be quite comfortable in the Camry. There is ample head, leg and foot room. However, 6-footers may find that head room is too tight. The test car featured an electric sunroof, which reduced the head room. The dash is simple, well laid out and easy to use. The air conditioner was powerful and cooled the car quickly. The analog instruments consist of a speedometer and tachometer and fuel and temperature gauges. The rear seats fold forward to allow for cargo storage. The trunk lid has a low sill, making loading easy. The Camry comes with a full-size spare tire. Toyota officials have said their goal with the new Camry is to knock off the best-selling Honda Accord. In November, Honda sold 26,809 Accords, while the Camry racked up sales of 19,368, according to the trade publication Automotive News. There's no telling whether the Camry will catch up, but some things are certain: The new Camry rides like a luxury car, handles like a sports sedan and is built to the same tough quality standards as every other Toyota.
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