Body The Fifth Generation Camry Continues to Set the Benchmark
The Camry has been completely redesigned for 2002. It's larger, longer, and more powerful than the vehicle it replaces; it also has the unenviable task of following in the tire tracks of one of America's best selling cars. Toyota seems confident though, and if what we've experienced after our weeklong test with the Camry is any indication, the fifth generation Camry will be every bit as successful as its predecessor.
The only thing that remains of the old Camry in the new Camry is a single shelf located behind the rear seat headrest. The Camry exhibits less body flex and feels more solid than it used to; the doors now close with the reassuring sound commonly associated with high-end luxury sedans. The ride is more compliant too, distancing the passengers from road imperfections and sudden dips that can leave lesser cars bobbing and bouncing. On LE models, the suspension is heavily biased toward ride comfort, prompting us to advise those with sporting intentions to purchase the racier SE. The powerful 3.0-liter V6 engine continues as an option in the LE and SE models and even qualifies as an Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV) under the EPA's guidelines. The V6 is well suited to the demands placed upon it by the larger Camry and its power is confidently handled by an electronic four-speed automatic transmission. A 5-speed manual is available on the SE, but only with the 4-cylinder engine.
The interior fabrics have the quality look and feel we've come to expect from Toyota. The broad dash design places the radio and ventilation controls up high where they can be easily identified with a quick glance. Some may find they have to lean a bit to reach the radio, especially the tuning knob. Below the radio and ventilation controls resides a generous storage area for holding CDs or whatever odds and ends you carry in your car. The front seats do a good job fitting occupants of all sizes, though taller drivers may wish for a longer seat-bottom cushion. Rear seat passengers will be equally satisfied with their accommodations, thanks to the generous legroom and excellent visibility.
While you are looking closely at all the Camry has to offer, you may also notice how it does not offer certain creature comforts available on the competition. The steering wheel, for example, tilts but does not telescope; except for the driver's auto-down switch, none of the power window buttons are backlit, nor is the cruise control. Maybe Toyota feels these are attributes reserved for higher priced cars, but as the base LE starts around $20,000 and goes up quickly as basic options like ABS, remote keyless entry, side airbags, leather seating surfaces and alloy wheels are added, the Camry does not exactly qualify as a low budget ride. On the safety front, the new Camry comes standard with dual front airbags, seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters and optional front-seat side-impact airbags and side curtain airbags that run the length of the passenger compartment. Traction control can be ordered as part of a package that includes electronic brake assist and Vehicle Skid Control (VSC), but only on the V6 models.