SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide
SPECIFICATIONS MODEL: Toyota Camry XLE ENGINE: 3.0-liter V-6 HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 194 hp @ 5,200 rpm/209 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm TRANSMISSION: Four-speed automatic WHEELBASE: 105.2 in. LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 188.5 x 70.1 x 55.4 in. STICKER PRICE: $26,553
It's easy to understand why the Toyota Camry has been the best-selling sedan in the United States for the past three years. Here is a car that not only looks good, it performs as good as it looks. The engine is essentially silent, except for a noticeable exhaust, the interior is roomy and comfortable, and the bottom line on the sticker is also reasonable. What more could you ask for?
Toyota wasn't content to rest on its laurels and "enhanced" the Camry for the 2000 model year. Enhanced is a term automakers use to say they tweaked their product a bit. This tweaking can range from a nearly insignificant styling change to relatively major changes. It's one of those "automaker terms" that's so interesting in the industry.
Enhancing to Toyota meant changing the front-end styling with a new grille and bumper design and multi-reflector headlamps. In the rear there are combination taillights with wider horizontal reflectors and a new rear bumper design.
Inside, Toyota added new fabric seats and an available power seat package. Audio systems have also been improved, with an in-dash CD as standard equipment in all trim levels. The top-of-the-line XLE version has simulated wood trim as standard equipment.
All that is well and good, but what is the Camry like to drive? It's a pleasure.
The first thing that impressed me was the relative silence of the 3.0-liter V-6 engine. This engine has plenty of power (194 hp) to offer spirited acceleration and the ability to keep up with Interstate traffic (and pass if you want). It's also as quiet as can be. There was some exhaust noise that naturally became louder when we asked the engine to work. But rarely was the exhaust noise drowned out by engine noise. When we pushed the tachometer up to 4,500 rpm and beyond the engine noise would win out, but most of the time it was silent. There was some engine noise outside the car, and I wondered if what I thought was exhaust noise was carefully disguised engine noise, but I'm certain it wasn't.
Our tester had a four-speed automatic transmission that was a pleasure to use. All I had to do was put it in "D" and I wouldn't have to worry until I was ready to stop or back up. The Camry may not be the car for enthusiasts, but for a person who's simply interested in getting from point A to point B with a minimum of fuss, then the Camry is ideal.
Our test car also had cloth upholstery, which I felt was excellent. We drove the car during a winter cold spell, and cloth upholstery is really better than leather in this case. The driver's seat was powered, and I was able to find a perfect position for my body shape. In addition, we had a tilt steering wheel that made everything perfect (well, almost perfect).
I had to drive the Camry to Philadelphia for a meeting and, despite traffic getting into the city, it was a comfortable ride. Dealing with the crazies who regularly commute to the city was an experience I enjoyed, simply because it was a once-in-a rare-time event.
Coming back I avoided the Interstate as much as possible and took some of my favorite winding roads over the final 20 miles. The Camry handled these roads as easily as it did the Turnpike. Toyota has a MacPherson strut front/independent dual-link rear suspension combination that gave a compliant ride over rough city streets and back roads, yet softened the ride for the straight roads.
For safety, we had ABS and four-wheel disc brakes that made stopping a non-event most of the time. We also had dual front air bags and side impact air bags as well for added safety.
I must admit I liked the new Camry. I hadn't driven one in a while and can now fully appreciate what Toyota has done to make this car so successful in the United States. The fact that it's built in the U.S. may help to explain why the "translation" to American has been so successful.