SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide
When the newest version of the Toyota Camry was introduced for the 1997 model year, one of its missions was increased sales. Previous Camrys, while popular, never quite made it to the top of the sedan sales race. The new one has been a success, and is number two in sales only in areas of the country where it isn't number one. This is understandable. The new Camry is offered in a wider range of trim.
Although the Camry, in its current iteration, is only a year old, Toyota has not left it alone for 1998. The basic lineup is unchanged, with CE, LE, and XLE trim levels, but there are some important improvements. New this year are side impact airbags, optionally available on all models. An enhanced theft-deterrent system with an engine immobilizer is standard on the XLE trim level, and optional on the LE. V6 models sold in California emissions states now meet California's stringent Low Emissions Vehicle (LEV) standards.
The Camry model mix has something for every midsized sedan need, from the value-priced 4-cylinder CE through the luxury-oriented XLE. A 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine is standard in CE and LE models, with a 3.0-liter V6 standard in the XLE and optional in the CE and LE. Four-cylinder and V6 CE models are available with a 5-speed manual transmission as well as the 4-speed automatic standard on all others.
The 4-cylinder version of the Camry LE is the most popular. I tested one last year and found it to be a solid, roomy, and economical middle-class family sedan, quite deserving of its popularity. The upper reaches of the Camry line are no less practical or spacious, as I discovered with a 1998 XLE that had just about every possible option. The XLE was delivered to my driveway after nearly a month of testing German luxury cars. No, it wasn't quite as refined and luxurious as the cream of the midsized European luxury sedans, but it was close. While not inexpensive when fully equipped, the '98 Toyota Camry XLE is significantly less expensive than the "real" luxury cars and offers many of the same amenities.
APPEARANCE: The newest Toyota Camry is a lean, athletic-looking car. In style, it has a good balance of curves and angles for a graceful, contemporary appearance. A low belt line and large window area make it look light in weight, and give good visibility. The XLE model has monochrome trim, with body-colored mirrors and door handles. Chrome trim around the side windows and standard alloy wheels hint at its near-luxury nature. Unusually, the optional wing-type spoiler on the trunk lid actually improves the car's lines.
COMFORT: Any new Camry is a spacious, comfortable mid-sized car. A fully-equipped XLE Camry is very close to the luxury class in appointment and feel. Options including leather upholstery and woodgrain trim enhance the already very good design of the interior. A two-tone, dark-over-light color scheme helps give a spacious, airy feeling. Supportive power-adjustable front bucket seats and a wide rear bench provide room for five passengers. A large, low liftover trunk and 60/40 split to the rear seat take car of cargo needs. Instrumentation and controls are designed and placed for easy use. Control knobs and buttons are large and well-marked. Power windows, mirrors, and doorlocks, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, and cruise control are all standard fare with the XLE trim level.
SAFETY: All 1998 Toyota Camry models have an energy-absorbing chassis structure, dual depowered front air bags, front seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters, three-point harnesses for all occupants, and child-safety rear door locks. Antilock brakes are standard on all V6 models. Front seat side-impact airbags are available for all models.
ROADABILITY: "Refined" is the operative word describing the '98 Camry XLE's road manners. A rigid chassis with very good noise and vibration insulation and a well-tuned independent suspension make for both a smooth, quiet ride and good handling abilities. V6 Camrys, including the XLE, have 4-wheel antilock disc brakes for sure stopping.
PERFORMANCE: The aluminum alloy 3.0-liter V6 under the Camry XLE's hood is a dual overhead cam, 4 valve-per cylinder design. It is smooth and powerful, with 194 maximum horsepower, or 192 with California emissions calibration. The engine's great low-engine-speed torque and a smooth-shifting 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission make any necessary acceleration and maneuvering quick and civilized. The V6 Camry is considerably quicker in acceleration than the 4-cylinder version.
CONCLUSIONS: The Toyota Camry can hold down any midsized sedan niche from economical family transportation to near luxury conveyance.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 24,868 Price As Tested $ 29,275 Engine Type dual overhead cam, 24 valve V6 Engine Size 3.0 liters / 183 cu. in. Horsepower 194 @ 5200 (192 in CA) Torque (lb-ft) 209 @ 4400 (207 in CA) Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 105.2 in. / 188.5 in. Curb Weight 3252 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 16.8 Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium, 91 octane Tires P205/65 HR15 Dunlop SP Sport 4000 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, 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 19 / 27 / 23 0 to 60 mph 7.8 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 15.9 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.30 OPTIONS AND CHARGES CA / NY / MA emissions $ 63 Premium AM/FM/cassette/CD 6-speaker sound system with diversity antenna $ 180 Side impact airbags $ 250 Mudguards $ 60 Power tilt & slide moonroof $ 1,000 Sunroof wind deflector $ 55 Leather trim package: including leather- trimmed seats, headrests, door trim, and shift knob $ 1,005 Camry elite package: includes wood dash, gold package, carpet floor and trunk mats $ 922 Rear spoiler $ 539 Destination charge $ 420 Package discount ($ 87)