The redesigned 1997 Toyota Camry is one of the most important cars - if not the most important - of the new model year. Sure, sexier vehicles like the Plymouth Prowler and the Porsche Boxster are great fun to read and write about. But the Camry and its competitors - notably the Ford Taurus, the Honda Accord and the Chevrolet Lumina - are the workhorses that will ferry America's soccer teams, car pools and vacationing families. We're talking the heart of the new-car market. Elsewhere in this section, we compare the leading family sedans. Here, we examine the Camry in its element - under the microscope of a typical family setting, as we drive to church, the grocery store, school and work-related commutes over the course of a week. He: The '97 Camry stirs some very powerful emotions in me. As good a car as it is - and the new Camry is just as good as the Accord and the Taurus - I'm still mad at Toyota. I know it's stupid, and they may not have had much choice because of the yen, but I'm really cheesed off that Toyota has cheapened what used to be the best car built in America. And I don't mean a lower sticker price either. She: I was always impressed that the old Camry was basically the same car as the Toyota Avalon and the Lexus ES300, which are really near-luxury sedans. He: Good point. In redesigning the Camry for '97, Toyota has built a car that's just not as good as it used to be, which I don't know how to describe as anything but a step backward. Now, Toyota will argue the point, but you tell me how a company can take $1,500 or more out of the cost of building each car, and then claim to have "made it better?" Sorry, it doesn't wash. And it surely doesn't feel like a better car once you've put some miles on the '97 model. She: All you have to do is look at the '97 Camry and you get an overall sense that it's a cheaper car. The one-piece plastic bumper and grille look tacky compared to the old version, and the tapered back end makes the car look shrunken down and smaller than it actually is. He: You might want to point out that the trunk on the new model is 5 percent smaller than on last year's Camry. She: Although I was easily able to get a week's worth of groceries in it. And there's still more trunk space than in the Accord. We also hauled lots of band equipment and teenagers with guitars and school books, and nobody complained about feeling squished or pinched. But even though most of the interior dimensions are up a fraction from last year, the cabin looks and feels more run-of-the-mill. He: This is purely a subjective opinion, but to me the seats don't feel as plush or thickly padded as they did on previous models, and the switches and knobs look and feel a tad chintzier. When you slam the doors, they don't sound quite so solid, and when you're driving on the freeway, you'll hear just a little more wind noise. That's because Toyota is now using single door seals instead of triple seals. Even if you didn't know that Toyota shaved hundreds of dollars in costs on the new model by going with less expensive parts, you sure get that sense of being in a cheaper car. She: Wait a minute. You may not have a gripe if you're a first-time Camry buyer, because this isn't much different from what most of the competition offers. It's really not that bad. But previous Camry owners may feel short-changed. He: OK, let's cut to the chase. Yes, the 1997 Camry is a good car. Yes, it's as good as the competition in many respects. But if I were recommending a family sedan to my mother or my best friend, I would recommend the old Camry, if you can still find one. And it really pains me to say that. She: I'm a little miffed that Toyota executives thought the old version of the Camry was "too good for its market." The whole joy about owning a Camry in the past was feeling like you were getting a lot for your money - sort of like driving a luxury car fo e price of a family car. Now that they've taken some things out of the new model - "decontenting" is what some people call it - it feels like moving backwards. Sort of like going from antibiotics back to mustard plaster and cold compresses. I'm a typical Baby Boomer and I always grew up thinking everything was going to improve - from health care to the car I drove. Ironically, the theme for the new Camry is "Better than Ever." He: Well, it is is better in some respects. The 1997 model is larger and quieter, and antilock brakes are standard on all but the base four-cylinder model. Last year ABS on the Camry was an $1,100 option on all but the high-end six-cylinder models. Another new feature for '97 is traction control, which really helps you grip the road during wet and slippery conditions. It's available on the V-6 models LE and XLE models. And both engines have more power, and the four-cylinder uses less fuel than before. She: There are a few nods at items that would make a family think they are getting value for their money. The Camry now comes with a second power outlet. An integrated child seat is available for $125 on models with cloth upholstery. The visors now have extensions to block sun from the sides. And there's a tissue dispenser in the center armrest, plus an overhead console that can store sunglasses or a garage-door opener. You also get a bigger glovebox, and rear cupholders. But our base Camry CE model had a blank spot in the instrument panel where the cassette player should have been - a glaring omission on a car with a $19,000 window sticker. And we had to pay $20 extra to get variable intermittent wipers. Again, it just added to the feeling that things were missing. He: Camry buyers also have fewer choices in terms of body styles. The coupe and the station wagon have been dropped, which means that, unlike most of Camry's competitors, you can only get the '97 model as a four-door sedan. She: So let me sum things up in military terms. The '97 Camry is neither as powerful as an AK-47 nor as wimpy as a Super Soaker. It's somewhere in the middle.
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||January 25, 1997|
|Richard Truett||Orlando Sentinel||December 19, 1996|
|Bob Golfen||AZCentral.com||November 16, 1996|
|Paul Dean||Los Angeles Times||November 8, 1996|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||November 1, 1996|
|George Moore||IndyStar.com||October 6, 1996|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||September 29, 1996|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||September 18, 1996|
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