Hoping to broaden both its image and appeal beyond what it deems the big middle of the car-buying population, Toyota has introduced a fifth-generation version of its midsize front-drive sedan. The Camry has been the best-selling car in the U.S. market for the past four years, though sales slipped somewhat during 2000 as the Honda Accord made a strong showing.
Toyota hopes to retain that No. 1 slot with a sedan thats quieter and bigger inside, and a wheelbase that is 2 inches longer than before. To that end, developers have broadened its appeal by sharpening its focus, says Don Esmond, general manager of the Toyota Division. At the same time, he says its critical to never lose sight of why satisfied Camry owners keep coming back again and again.
An all-new 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that develops 157 horsepower a 15 percent increase in power is expected to go into more than three-fourths of the cars. A five-speed-manual transmission is standard with the four-cylinder engine, and a four-speed automatic is optional. Camrys equipped with the 3.0-liter V-6 engine come only with the automatic transmission.
Toyota has reduced prices, added standard equipment and revised the Camry lineup. The low-end CE model is gone, so crank-down windows are no longer available. Models now include the standard LE, upscale XLE and a sporty new SE with different suspension tuning and 16-inch sport tires. A navigation system is optional for the first time, and adjustable pedals are scheduled to become available in January 2002.
Toyotas two-door Camry Solara coupe and convertible, and the Avalon sedan, are built on the same front-drive platform as the prior-generation Camry. Most Camrys sold in the United States have been manufactured at Toyotas Georgetown, Ky., plant, and the new model claims 85 percent domestic content.
Toyota asserts that the 2002 Camry has crisper, bolder, more upscale styling that is a move from sensible to sensual, according to Project Manager Dan Hargitt. But the overall appearance hasnt changed dramatically from the fourth generation. Two inches longer than earlier models, the 107.1-inch wheelbase is a hair longer than that of the Accord, and at 189.2 inches long overall, the Camry is about the same length as its Honda rival. The sporty SE sedan features a blackout grille, fog lamps and a rear spoiler.
The Accord comes as a coupe and sedan, but the Camry remains available as a four-door sedan only. The Camry Solara coupe and convertible have different styling and are treated as separate models, and the Solara version will not be redesigned until later.
Toyota claims that rear legroom is 40 millimeters greater than before and passenger hip points are higher. Space is ample for four adults and acceptable for five, and the drivers seat has enough fore-aft travel to accommodate tall and short people. Standard 60/40-split rear seatbacks supplement the load volume of the trunk, which now holds 16.7 cubic feet of cargo.
Standard LE equipment includes electronic air conditioning, programmable automatic door locks, power windows and mirrors, a full-size spare tire and a four-spoke tilt steering wheel. The center console contains a bilevel storage box. Additional items on the XLE include power front seats, heated mirrors, automatic climate control, an engine immobilizer/alarm system, keyless entry and a rear sunshade. The sportier SE sedan gets unique sport fabric upholstery, brushed chrome interior trim, a leather-wrapped gearshift lever and sport gauges.
Under the Hood
Toyotas new 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine produces 157 hp and mates to either a five-speed-manual or four-speed-automatic transmission. The 192-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 comes only with the automatic gearbox.
Curtain-type airbags are standard on the Camry XLE and are joined by side-impact airbags for the front seats. Front airbags deploy in three stages, depending on crash conditions. Antilock brakes are standard on the XLE and V-6 models and are available as an option on four-cylinder LE and SE sedans.
If the Camry has been criticized for anything in the past, its been bland styling. Then again, stimulating design isnt what causes more than 400,000 buyers per year to drive one home from the dealership. What most Camry consumers seek is Toyotas reputation for reliability and high quality, along with excellent resale value. When its time to sell the Camry, someone will be eager to get yours as a secondhand model.
Even though its appearance has made no giant leaps into fresh territory, the new Camrys shape is appealing. All the other Camry attributes are here, and if anything, they are better than ever. Owners still get a pleasantly comfortable ride, ample interior space, blissful quietness and reasonably energetic performance. Acceleration, in fact, reaches well past the acceptable mark with the four-cylinder engine, which is just about as quiet as the V-6. No wonder so many buyers are content with the four-cylinder models.
Little penalty in ride comfort is evident in the sporty new SE sedan, which promises a little tauter handling than other Camry trims. But differences are less than dramatic. Fans of manual transmissions will be pleased to learn that the manual-transmission Camry performs admirably, its lever clicking crisply through the gears without a care in the world.