Now Toyota's Camry line has something for just about everybody.
Previous Camry models, including sedans and wagons, have been successfully marketed as family vehicles. With the introduction of the coupe, which can compete with the likes of the Ford Thunderbird and Pontiac Grand Prix, there's now a Camry that can appeal to a different type of buyer.
The Camry Coupe brings legendary Toyota quality to the coupe market segment in three different levels of trim and standard equipment: DX, LE and SE. The DX base model is a price leader. The LE and SE Coupes offer a greater variety of standard features, with LE leaning toward luxury and SE offering a more sporty flavor.
Our test model was the Camry SE Coupe. It was pricey, topping out at $26,830. It included such expensive options as a moonroof, a premium sound system, leather interior, anti-lock brakes (ABS) and a security system. But its price was still comparable to Thunderbird and Grand Prix models loaded with the same premium equipment. The top-of-the-line SE Coupe is offered only with a powerful 188-hp, four-cam, 24-valve V6 engine.
The Camry SE Coupe looks impressive. See it for the first time and you immediately want to know who makes it. It looks more lean and trim than the Thunderbird or Grand Prix-it's less massive-looking than the Thunderbird, and its styling has more forethought than that of the Grand Prix, which has added-on body cladding.
Toyota stylists have hit a high water mark here. The Coupe SE bears an unmistakable resemblance to the Camry sedans and wagons, but it's also a fine-looking coupe on its own.
The Camry Coupe has a monochromatic paint scheme with body-colored protective side molding and bumpers. Our SE model was finished in Cashmere Beige Metallic. There are a number of distinctive design touches such as wraparound parking, turn signal and side marker lights. Another nice detail: We opened the gas tank access door and found a small, tray-like device that held the gas cap while we filled up. Fit-and-finish were of Toyota's usual quality-which is to say, the best.
The Inside Story
The front bucket seats were comfortable. The six-way adjustable driver's seat (standard on the SE coupe) easily accommodated short and tall members of our test team. All controls and switches were readily available and well-marked, and they operated smoothly.
We predict this car's interior will be popular with coupe fanciers-it is definitely in the cockpit format. Speedometer, tachometer and all other gauges and lights are mounted above the steering wheel in a panel shaded by an "eyelid" that curves to the right and down to encompass air-conditioning/heating vents and controls and a premium sound system. This all blends into a console that holds a storage bin, cupholders and a gear selector for the four-speed, electronically controlled "Intelligent" automatic transmission.
The optional leather seating package includes a leather-wrapped four-spoke steering wheel. Dual air bags are standard, as are a host of other items such as power windows and door locks, cruise control, automatic illuminated entry, air conditioning and a 60/40 split rear seatback that provides access to the trunk and enables longer cargo such as skis to be stowed while still accommodating a passenger. This is an idea borrowed from sport utility vehicles and is so handy we wonder why all coupes don't offer it.
When we tried the moonroof, we found it to be a worthwhile option. When it was open, there was some noise intrusion-but a lot less than we expected. And while it did ventilate the cabin, it didn't blast us out of the vehicle. In fact, this was a moonroof that could be used in the winter - even in cold-weather climates.
Ride & Drive
The Camry SE Coupe performs and rides like the Camry sedans. The suspension action is firm, positive and sporty. The aluminum V6 engine pumps out a serious 203 pound-feet of torque, but its 188 hp is less than the horsepower on the upscale Thunderbird and Grand Prix models. However, the front-wheel drive Camry is a shade lighter than similarly equipped rear-wheel drive Thunderbird and Grand Prix models. The V6 Camry SE Coupe is more responsive than its Ford and Pontiac competitors equipped with standard engines. Compared with the 160-hp Grand Prix, for example, Camry comes out on top-most likely because of better breathing through the four-cam, 24valve arrangement.
On to the four-speed electronically controlled automatic transaxle. It's intelligent, which is Toyota's way of saying it's possible for the transaxle to perform in either a normal or a power setting. A driving pattern selector switch alters the shift points to provide lower gearing for more economical normal driving, or more power for acceleration. This device is located on the gear selector lever, which also holds a switch for over-drive.
Our test Camry Coupe was equipped with four-wheel disc brakes (standard on the SE model) and optional ABS. Braking was exceptional, furthering our impression that this is a serious sports car. This notion also was furthered by the standard specially tuned sport suspension system that includes stiffer, gas-filled shock absorbers and bushings, and body mounts that provide greater road feel. Handling was, in a word, outstanding.
Just when the demand for Japanese products in the US. automotive market falls off, Toyota launches a coupe in its successful Camry series. A marketing mistake? Not likely. Toyota appears to be in the U.S. car market for the long haul, and the Camry Coupe is the latest manifestation of that commitment.
We think the Camry SE Coupe will be a formidable competitor in the sport coupe market. It is handsome and comfortable, and it offers top-of-the-line performance. As well as boasting many standard features, the SE Coupe is more trim and seemingly more agile than the competition. It also has that fabulous Toyota fit-and-finish, an objective other automakers are trying to attain. And in case patriotism is an issue, this car is built in Kentucky. All and all, the Camry SE is an impressive case. Ford and Pontiac should be more than a little concerned.
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