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2005 Toyota Camry LE Review

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2005 Toyota Camry LE

``Ah,'' you're thinking, ``to lead the life of an automotive road test columnist. Drive expensive luxury cars to exotic faraway destinations, and live the life of affluence....'' Nice fantasy, for someone. Meanwhile, back in the real world, I'm driving a Toyota Camry this week, in the decidedly non-exotic environs of my home town. And that Camry is neither the near-luxury XLE nor the sporty SE, but the solidly middle-class LE, complete with four-cylinder engine. Only the Standard grade sits below the LE in the lineup, and the Standard is already well-equipped with far more than merely the basics. The Camry LE is about as close to the average new car sold in America today as you can get. And that's very good news. It's ``average'' only in a statistical sense, and it thereby raises the bar for all cars. There are good reasons that the Camry has been at or near the top of the sales charts for years, including space, comfort, and safety - and Toyota keeps adding more.

For 2005, all grades get freshened styling and include anti-lock brakes as standard equipment. All now have the high-visibility backlit ``Optitron'' gauges first introduced by Toyota's upscale Lexus division a few years ago. There are minor interior upgrades, which vary by model. Perhaps the most important upgrade is to four-cylinder models - a new five-speed automatic transmission with electronic grade logic control replaces the old four speed, for improvements in both performance and economy. That four-cylinder engine has a 2.4-liter displacement and 160 horsepower (or 151 in California-emissions states) for good performance. All grades but the Standard are available with a V6 engine, a 210-hp 3.0-liter for the LE and XLE or a 225-hp 3.3-liter for the SE.

The LE four-cylinder differs from a Standard only in the addition of power mirrors and driver's seat and remote keyless entry. It lacks the metallic-look interior trim of the SE, or the XLE's woodgrain, but it's every bit as functional. And performance from the four is surprisingly good, especially with the new five-speed automatic. I like power and acceleration, but if it was my money on the line, I'd seriously consider the four. With the good low-end torque for which Toyota engines are known, it's a fine performer, with good fuel economy as a bonus. The new Toyota Camry LE just shows how high the average in the mid-size sedan class is today.

APPEARANCE: There's nothing average about the Camry's appearance. Not frumpy at all, it's sleek and stylish, and has a strong family resemblance to its upscale cousin over at the sign of the ``L.'' Its new long, pointed, ``cat's eye'' headlamps and redesigned grille, and its highly-sloped rear window give it a look more elegant than expected in a ``mere'' family sedan, while the hood is dropped between the front fenders for a hint of sports car style. It's nowhere near as conservative-looking as its reputation, and its aerodynamic shape helps increase fuel economy and decrease cabin wind noise. The Standard and LE have steel wheels with covers, while alloys are standard on the SE and XLE. The SE also gets smoked headlight covers and a blackout grille.

COMFORT: Toyota is not hesitant about using technology originally developed for pricey luxury cars in its more pedestrian models, and the noise-reduction design and technology used in the Camry are a fine illustration of that. So is the Optitron instrument display, which is easily visible in all conditions, even with polarized sunglasses. Both enhance the driver's and passengers' experience inside, and everyone has plenty of room in which to enjoy the quiet. In LE trim, upholstery is a cloth velour and trim is plastic, but the seats are comfortable, and the driver's is even power-adjustable. A tilt-adjustable steering wheel is standard fare, with power-adjustable pedals available in cars equipped with automatic transmissions. The interior features many useful and convenient storage spaces, including door pockets in all four doors, a toll/change compartment to the left of the steering wheel, console storage and adjustable cupholders, a two-layer console box/armrest with a 12-volt power outlet, and a locking glovebox. The rear seat folds 60/40 in all models, for extra cargo duty if the large trunk isn't quite large enough.

SAFETY: The Camry has a reinforced passenger cabin with front and rear crumple zones. All models feature anti-lock brakes and multi-stage front airbags, with front and rear side and side curtain airbags available.

ON THE ROAD: Except in SE trim, a Camry has no pretense to sport, so the suspension is tuned for a smooth ride. It's fully-independent, with MacPherson struts in front and a dual-link system in the rear. While it is softly-sprung for a near luxury-car ride, the shock rates are matched well with the spring rates for very good damping. Irregularities in the road are dealt with and immediately forgotten. As mentioned, clean aerodynamics and class-above soundproofing help make a Camry very quiet on the road. The SE gets stiffer springs with matching shocks and stabilizer bars and a front strut tower brace for sportier handling.

PERFORMANCE: There are two slightly-different versions of the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine used in the Camry. Both feature dual overhead cams, aluminum alloy block and heads, and VVT-i variable valve timing for a broader power band and lower emissions. Those sold in California and the Northeast states that use California emissions specifications meet ``Partial Zero Emission Vehicle'' (PZEV) standards and make 151 horsepower at 5,600 rpm, with 161 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. Elsewhere, minor differences allow it to make 160 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 163 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, with a Federal ``Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle'' (ULEV) certification. My test car was California-spec, and had plenty of power for all daily uses, with none of the driveability problems once associated with low-emissions cars. In fact, power was good enough that I didn't miss having a V6. The new five-speed automatic helps there, too, with closer ratios for smoother operation and better economy and computerized control that keeps it in a lower gear for better performance on hills. Near-25 mpg fuel economy and an 18.5-gallon tank make it easy to pass gas stations.


2005 Toyota Camry LE

Base Price $ 19,975 Price As Tested $ 23,192 Engine Type dual overhead cam, 16-valve aluminum alloy inline-4 with VVT-i variable valve timing Engine Size 2.4 liters / 144 cu. in. Horsepower 151 @ 5600 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 161 @ 4000 rpm Transmission 5-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 107.1 in. / 189.2 in. Curb Weight 3164 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 21 Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal. Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline Tires P205/65 TR15 Goodyear Integrity 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 / 32 / 25 0 to 60 mph 10.0 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Driver and front passenger side and side-curtain airbags $ 650 Convenience Package Plus B - includes: XM-ready JBL AM/FM/cass/6 CD in-dash 8-speaker audio, manual rear sunshade, cargo net, tilt & slide moonroof $ 1,480 Carpet & cargo mat set $ 184 VIP RS3200 security system $ 359 First Aid kit $ 29