SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide
The Toyota Camry has been the mainstay of the company's line in this country since its introduction in 1983. Originally a compact, it grew to midsized in 1992, and has become increasingly an American car. Around 80% of the Camrys sold in the U. S. are built at Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Georgetown, Kentucky. The recently-introduced fourth- generation Camry is designed with the American customer in mind. Compared to its immediate predecessor, it is larger, quieter, more powerful, and more comfortable. Although the basic platform of the previous Camry is used, the wheelbase has been increased by two inches, and front and rear overhangs decreased slightly. All external bodywork is new.
The first 50/50 joint venture between Toyota's Japanese and American branches, the '97 Camry is the most customer-focused Toyota vehicle ever. It is designed for value. A high degree of supplier involvement in component and system design allowed a streamlined manufacturing process, with reduced production costs. A simplified model strategy also helps keep costs down. The coupe and wagon are gone for 1997, and three trim levels of sedan - CE, LE, and XLE - are offered instead of the previous four. An upgraded version of the familiar 2.2-liter four cylinder engine is standard, with an improved version of the 3.0-liter V6 optional in all trim levels.
A week with a 1997 Camry LE four-cylinder, the most popular version of the car, and a day spent in V6-powered versions at the local press introduction, gave me good insight into the newest edition of Toyota's most popular car. There is a Camry model for nearly every midsized sedan taste. The LE is a quiet, comfortable, roomy, economical family car. I have no doubts as to why it is so favored.
APPEARANCE: Deep inside, the 1997 Camry may resemble its predecessor, but the outside is completely new. The rounded, "jelly bean" look is history. The newest Camry is crisp without being too angular, and has presence. It looks larger than it really is. At the front, a small body- colored grille with horizontal slats prominently displays the Toyota logo. It is flanked by low, wide headlamps. The wide hood has two character lines that are echoed in the rear deck. Muted fender flares give a sporty look, and a lower beltline means more glass in the passenger cabin for better visibility. Both the windshield and backlight are very raked for aerodynamic efficiency. On the Camry LE, bumpers, mirrors, and door handles are body-colored. There are thin chrome strips around the side windows and backlight. Optional alloy wheels add sporty style.
COMFORT: The increased cabin glass area of the '97 Camry gives the impression of a more spacious interior. This is no illusion. There are slight increases in head, leg, and shoulder room compared to the 1996 Camry. The LE has comfortable cloth upholstery, with leather optional. The redesigned front seats are manually adjustable. The rear bench folds with a 60/40 split unless the optional built-in child safety seat is fitted. Then, only the left 40% folds. A new instrument panel has a glare-reducing brow over the instruments, an extra power outlet, and a larger glove box. Interior storage space also includes moderately-sized door pockets, a small console box, and two small spaces in the instrument panel. The Camry LE is well- equipped, with power windows, door locks, and mirrors, a very good air conditioner , and a deluxe AM/FM/cassette sound system with the antenna in the window glass all standard.
SAFETY: All 1997 Toyota Camrys have front and rear crumple zones and dual air bags. Antilock brakes are standard on all models except the 4- cylinder CE, where they are optional.
ROADABILITY: On the road, the new Camry is smooth, responsive, and quiet. Extra soundproofing materials throughout the car help keep noise levels low inside. The all-independent suspension has been retuned for improved handling characteristics, better balance at speed, and greater ride comfort. It combines family-car comfort with surprisingly sporting handling abilities. The LE is equipped with antilock front disc and rear drum brakes for safe stopping. The 1997 Camry is a family car that is fun to drive, even with the 4-cylinder engine.
PERFORMANCE: The four-cylinder LE model is the most popular version on the Camry, and for good reason. The 2.2-liter, twincam, 16- valve four offers a combination of power, smoothness, and economy. Around town, a 4-cylinder Camry is not much slower than one with a six. The four-speed, electronically-controlled automatic shifts quickly. It is smooth in normal operation, and a bit more abrupt during hard acceleration.
CONCLUSIONS: The new 1997 Toyota Camry combines style, comfort, and value to make it a very serious contender for midsized sedan honors.
SPECIFICATIONS 1997 Toyota Camry LE Base Price $ 19,868 Price As Tested $ 22,717 Engine Type inline 4-cylinder, dual overhead cams, 16 valves Engine Size 2.2 liters, 132 cu. in. Horsepower 133 @ 5400 Torque (lb-ft) 147 @ 4400 Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 105.2 in. / 188.5 in. Curb Weight 3086 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 23 Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular Tires P195/70 R14 General XP2000 GT Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent dual link Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 23/30/26 0 to 60 mph 10.9 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 18.1 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.30