One of America's most popular cars.
by Ron Moorhead
Base Price (MSRP) $17,675
As Tested (MSRP) $24,283
Is there a "best-of" automotive list that DOESN'T include the top-selling Toyota Camry? For nearly 20 years the Camry has defined the family sedan. In its current iteration, the Camry offers a comfortable cabin, spacious trunk, and smooth and quiet-running engines. Plus, the Camry has a well-deserved reputation for high reliability. This is certainly a tough combination to beat.
The current model is getting a little long in the tooth. An all-new 2002 model is just around the corner.
Camry is offered in three trim levels: CE, LE and XLE. The Camry is available only as a four-door sedan; the coupe and convertible versions are called the Solara, which is sold as a separate model. (Look for the nctd.com review of the Toyota Solara.)
The standard engine is a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 136 horsepower. LE V6 and XLE V6 are equipped with a 3.0-liter V6 that produces 194 horsepower. LE and XLE models come with a high level of standard equipment, but the CE offers plenty of comfort, convenience and performance at a lower price.
CE ($17,675) comes standard with a five-speed manual gearbox; an automatic brings the price to $18,475. CE does not come standard with air conditioning, so you may want Value Package #1 ($778), which adds air conditioning, variable intermittent wipers, floor mats, and power windows, door locks and mirrors.
The mid-range LE ($20,425) has proven to be the most popular of the three models. It comes standard with an automatic transmission, air conditioning, cruise control, intermittent wipers, power door locks, mirrors and windows. LE also offers a wide range of options open to buyers. Like other models, it can be equipped with either the four-cylinder or six-cylinder engine; LE V6 retails for $23,185 and comes with antilock brakes. You can also get an LE V6 with a five-speed manual transmission for $22,385.
New for 2001 is the Gallery Series for the LE. It includes unique two-tone paint and seat fabric, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, carbon fiber interior trim, chrome door lock levers and interior vents, chrome-tipped exhaust, special badging, and five-spoke aluminum wheels.
The flagship XLE ($24,095) and XLE V6 ($26,225) models add a premium JBL AM/FM/CD/cassette stereo, immobilizing anti-theft device, remote keyless entry and aluminum alloy wheels. A more elegant interior with premium cloth upholstery is a big part of the XLE attraction. Value Package #2 adds leather seating surfaces and trim, a power driver's seat, an in-dash six-CD changer, side-impact air bags and a power moonroof to the XLE for $1,606 or to the XLE V6 for $1,106. XLE V6 comes with 16-inch wheels and tires in place of the 14- and 15-inch rubber on the other models.
The Camry's exterior was slightly upgraded last year, but even with these changes this car is far from being a crowd-stopper. It's an attractive car and doesn't look stuffy, but its bland design does not break any ground and will not attract attention.
It looks substantial without casting a big shadow. Angular lines stretch the car's profile and give it presence. Minimal overhang at the front and rear of the car push the wheels to the corners, giving it a sporty, dynamic stance. At the rear, a tall, square tail provides good aerodynamics. The lever-style door handles, popular in the 1980s, are hard to grasp and can snap painfully out of your hand when you're in a hurry. The Camry's rigid body structure is designed to offer crash protection as well as form a base for smooth ride quality.
Comfort, convenience and a high degree of safety are among the Camry's goals. Safety starts with avoiding accidents. To that end, anti-lock brakes are standard on V6 LE and XLE models and are a $610 option elsewhere. ABS allows the driver to maintain steering control of the car in a panic stop by preventing the wheels from locking up. Dual front driver and passenger air bags are standard.
Front side-impact airbags are available as an option on all Camry models for $250; side airbags are designed to help reduce the likelihood of injuries to the driver or front passenger in case of a severe side collision. Three-point seat belts are standard for all passengers including the rear center position, which is not available in all vehicles. Front seat belt pretensioners cinch the belts tight upon sensing, while impact and force-limiters reduce the belt's load on an occupant's torso to help reduce injury.
Convenience starts with the doors, all of which open wide to facilitate easier entry and exit than many other sedans. The interior is roomy, thanks to the Camry's long wheelbase. A generous amount of sound-deadening material makes the interior luxuriously quiet. The interior design and trim are pleasing, although edging on the ordinary. The flowing dash is no-nonsense, yet pleasing to the eye. It houses bright white-on-black instruments. Like most Toyotas, the Camry's controls and gauges are designed to be easy to use. All are right where you'd expect them to be and work just they way you'd expect them to work. Audio and climate control knobs are simple and within easy reach of driver or passenger.
Thoughtful amenities abound. A second power outlet is located at the bottom on the front console, next to the built-in tissue dispenser. The sun visors have extension panels. The front cupholders hold 20-ounce bottles, and the rear cupholders can take either juice boxes or cans. There are numerous storage cubbies, and a capacious glove box.
The LE seats are covered fabric and an optional power seat package (no charge) that is also available in leather ($1,710). Still, the LE's cloth seats lack support. The cloth upholstery, even in the CE, feels built for extended use, however.
All three trim levels have AM/FM/CD/cassette audio systems standard. Audiophiles will want to check out the premium JBL six-speaker setup that comes on the XLE and is optional on the LE; a six-CD changer is also available.
The trunk offers a convenient low lift height and a more than adequate storage area. We had no problem getting four golf bags loaded into the trunk; golf bags will even fit cross-wise. The rear 60/40 split seat folds forward, increasing the load hauling ability. The gooseneck hinges on the trunk lid, which intrude slightly into the cargo area, are less than ideal, however.
Long days spent in the Toyota Camry fail to reveal significant faults with any aspect of the car. The Camry feels smooth, soft and comfortable around town. It isn't a sports car and floats a bit on its suspension, but it handles well and is easy to drive fast. Overall, this car is smooth and quiet, though a small amount of road vibration comes through.
The standard powerplant for the Camry is a 136-horsepower 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine that is remarkably smooth. A four-cylinder engine in a car this size is usually a dismal choice, but not here. Although the four-cylinder does not produce the power of the V6, it performs quite well. Toyota's 2.2-liter inline-4 is smooth and relatively free of the noise and vibration associated with four-cylinder engines. The 2.2-liter provides acceptable acceleration performance and, once up to speed, keeps the car rolling along nicely. It has to downshift more frequently, and passing on two-lane roads requires more planning than with the V6. The four-cylinder engine is economical to buy and operate, which is why 85 percent of Camry buyers opt for it. It earns an estimated EPA city/highway gas mileage rating of 24/33 mpg when equipped with the manual transmission, 23/32 mpg with the automatic.
Toyota's 194-horsepower 3.0-liter engine is one of the best V6 engines in the industry. For the extra money, you get a significantly more powerful family sedan that will accelerate from 0-60 mph in about 8.7 seconds, as opposed to about 10.9 seconds for the four-cylinder engine. It provides good smooth power with good performance for passing and accelerating briskly from intersections. Toyota recommends premium fuel (91 octane) for the V6, however, and it gets an EPA-estimated 20/27 mpg.
Opt for Toyota's four-speed electronically controlled automatic and you'll be getting an excellent transmission. The ECTi transmission mated to the V6 features an adaptive program that responds to individual driving styles. Drive more aggressively and it will delay the shift points for more spirited performance. Leisurely cruise around town and it will shift sooner for smooth, fuel-efficient performance.
Automatics in four-cylinder models do not benefit from the adaptive intelligence feature, but they do come with a little button on the gearshift lever that allows the driver to lock out overdrive. This keeps the transmission from shifting above third gear. We found it provided much better acceleration performance when winding along California's coastal roads or up and down mountain passes. We also found it helpful on many occasions heading down city streets for a quick trip to the market.
V6 models come with four-wheel disc brakes that quickly stop the Camry without drama. Four-cylinder models use drum brakes in the rear, but we experienced no brake fade with them. Traction control, which reduces front wheel spin for improved control in slippery conditions, is a $300 option for some models.
The Toyota Camry is a smart choice. While some sedans offer more style or better performance, the Camry will leave you with the feeling that you made a wise decision. This car is easy to drive and live with and you'll enjoy years of easy, trouble-free operation. Toyota vehicles historically hold a resale value well beyond the competition and are leaders in terms of quality, durability and reliability. That's why the Camry is a perennial favorite among mid-size sedans.
As the launch of the all-new 2002 Camry approaches look for special pricing and financing on the 2001 models.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.