2002 Toyota Camry
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Keeping the Toyota Camry at the top in the midsize sedan market isn't easy when everyone is gunning for it in a competitive market, But strategic changes to the revamped 2002 model promise to keep it No. 1—at least before the redone Honda Accord arrives for the 2003 model year.
This larger fifth-generation Camry is less than an inch longer overall but has an approximately 2-inch-longer wheelbase for more roominess and a better ride. The car also is a bit wider and several inches higher, also for more room. It's more refined and has a tighter feel.
That's curious because most mainstream sedans sold in America have had at least six-cylinder engines since World War II. Last year's Camry V6 had two more horsepower, but the latest V6 is more responsive and produces less emissions.
Average Highway Acceleration
The 2002 Camry has bolder styling, although the noticeably higher roof shows Toyota continues stressing practicality with the Camry at the expense of sportiness. Toyota says the car "moves from sensible to sensual" and that it will be a "mass-market car with a niche market feel."
Toyota had to be careful with the Camry because it long has been a bread-and-butter mainstream car for conservative folks who wanted efficient, comfortable, reliable transportation with good resale value.
Wider Appeal Sought
The Camry thus retains the smooth, no-fuss feel it's had for years, although the new styling is dramatic enough even with the rather awkward looking tall roof to grab some younger sedan buyers. Toyota hopes the older ones will appreciate the additional roominess.
Long-Awaited New Platform
In fact, the new Camry's steering and brake pedal feel were markedly inferior to those of an admittedly more costly Lexus SC 430 model I drove before stepping into the new Toyota.
However, the Camry's supple, all-independent suspension provides a smooth ride and the power steering is precise, although it feels rather dead. The brake pedal is easily modulated once you get used to it, but needs a more positive feel.
Not a "Driver's" Car
The longer wheelbase and higher roof allow excellent rear seat room along with more comfortable chair-like seating, although the middle of the back seat is too hard for comfort. Front seats have been redesigned to be more comfortable.
Stylish, Roomy Interior
The Camry generally feels more expensive than it is, and the old standout Toyota reliability is taken for granted.
The entry CE model is replaced by the LE, and there's a top-line equipment-loaded XLE with such items as woodgrain-style interior trim and chrome interior door handles.
The SE goes from $20,310 for the 4-cylinder/manual-transmission version to $23,700 for the one with the V6 and automatic. Even without the manual, the SE is the Camry that's the most fun to drive. It has a firmer suspension with larger tires, higher-effort steering, sport gauges, rear spoiler, fog lights and the usual sporty car cosmetic items such as a blacked-out grille and chrome exhaust outlet.
However, the pass-through opening between the trunk and rear seat is only moderately large and seatbacks don't sit completely flat when flipped forward.
The large, nicely shaped trunk has a low, wide opening and a hinge system designed not to eat into cargo room.
A handy navigation system with a dashboard screen comes as a stand-alone $1,830-$2,120 option and is in several option packages. The screen tilts for easier viewing, but must be powered completely down to get to the CD and tape player. Optional power-adjustable pedals will be offered later in the model year.
After all, even some mainstream Camry sedan buyers want to be pampered.