Toyota totally redesigned its midsize front-wheel-drive Camry sedan for the 2002 model year. The Japanese automaker hoped that the fifth-generation Camry would broaden the company’s image and appeal beyond the “big middle” of the car-buying population.
A 157-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is installed in the majority of Camrys, and a new 225-hp, 3.3-liter V-6 is available in the SE sedan for 2004. A five-speed-automatic transmission is now offered. A new Limited Edition Camry features crystal white paint, champagne-colored badging, a unique grille and fawn interior fabric. Models include the standard LE, upscale XLE and sporty SE, which has different suspension tuning and 16-inch sport tires.
Toyota asserts that the current-generation Camry has crisper, bolder, more upscale styling than its predecessor. With a 107.1-inch wheelbase and measuring 189.2 inches long overall, the Camry is about the same size as the Honda Accord. The sporty SE sedan features fog lamps, a rear spoiler and a black grille with chrome trim.
Even though Honda offers its Accord in both coupe and sedan forms, the Camry comes only in a four-door body style. Toyota’s Camry Solara coupe, which was redesigned for 2004, has different styling and is treated as a separate model.
The Camry’s interior space is ample for four adults and acceptable for five. The driver’s seat has enough fore and aft travel to accommodate tall and short people. Standard 60/40-split rear seatbacks supplement the load volume of the trunk, which holds 16.7 cubic feet of cargo.
Additional equipment on the XLE model includes power front seats, heated mirrors, automatic climate control, an engine immobilizer/alarm, keyless entry and a rear sunshade. The sportier SE sedan gets unique sport fabric upholstery, brushed-chrome interior trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift lever, and sport gauges. Models featuring the automatic transmission may be equipped with optional power-adjustable pedals. Toyota’s navigation system is offered as an option.
Under the Hood
Toyota’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine produces 157 hp and teams with a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission. The 210-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 comes only with a five-speed automatic. A new 225-hp, 3.3-liter V-6 is available for the SE.
Side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain-type airbags are standard in the XLE and optional in the other trim levels. The driver-side front airbag deploys in three stages. Antilock brakes are standard on the XLE and on models equipped with the V-6 engine and are offered as optional equipment on four-cylinder LE and SE sedans.
If the Camry has been criticized for anything, it’s been for bland styling. Most Camry consumers aren’t seeking flashy looks but rather Toyota’s reputation for reliability, high quality and excellent resale value.
All of the desirable Camry attributes are here, and they’re probably better now than ever before. Owners get a pleasantly comfortable ride, ample interior space, blissful quietness and reasonably energetic performance. Acceleration reaches well past the acceptable mark with the four-cylinder engine, which is about as quiet as models powered by the V-6.
Only a little penalty in ride comfort is evident in the sporty SE, which promises somewhat tauter handling than other Camry models; but the differences are less than dramatic. The manual transmission in the Camry performs admirably, and its lever clicks crisply through the gears.