2003 Toyota Camry

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2002 Toyota Camry

This 2002 review is representative of model years 2002 to 2006.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

America's top-selling mainstream sedan is totally and strategically revamped.
Pros:
  • Thoughtfully revamped
  • Refined
  • More powerful four cylinder
Cons:
  • No manual transmission with V6
  • Average highway acceleration
  • Not a fun car

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.

More Horsepower
Horsepower of the lighter, sophisticated 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine has been raised from 136 to 157, and fuel economy has been improved. The "four," which runs on 87-octane fuel, lacks the punch and smoothness of the Camry 3.0-liter 192-horsepower V6, but is an important engine because 75 percent of Camry buyers order a 4-cylinder.

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
Both 4- and 6-cylinder engines deliver good fuel economy. But even the V6, which calls for 91-octane gasoline, provides just average acceleration above 65 mph.

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."

Marketing Hype
But that's marketing hype. Toyota offers a sporty new SE model, but you can only get a manual transmission for it if you order the 4-cylinder engine. Where's the sport in that?

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
Toyota now wants the car to appeal to younger buyers who desire more pizzazz, but can't alienate the huge number of traditional Camry owners.

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
The Camry gets its first new platform in ten years, which allows a more rigid feel and better ride, handling and braking. The new platform is the same used by Toyota's luxurious Lexus division models, although even a top-line Camry V6 I tested fell short of feeling like a Lexus.

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
This clearly isn't designed to be a "driver's" car. But, while it's no BMW, the Camry won't get in your way during quick maneuvers.

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 roomy interior has large doors that open wide for good entry and exit. The stylish dashboard puts easily read gauges and smooth controls close and high, but Camrys with the "express" power driver's window will find it hard to stop the window when it's zipping up or down.

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.

Lower Prices
Despite all the changes, Toyota has lowered Camry prices. They range from $18,970 for the LE with the 4-cylinder and 5-speed manual transmission to $25,405 for the XLE V6 and automatic.

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.

Best-Selling Model
The best-selling model? Toyota says most Camry buyers will get the LE with the 4-cylinder engine and automatic transmission—a combination that costs $19,800. Even the LE has standard air conditioning, power windows, AM/FM/cassette/CD audio system, cruise control, console, a rear window defroster and split-folding rear seatbacks to enlarge the cargo area.

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.

Anti-Skid System
Stand-alone options include $300 anti-lock brakes and $245 keyless entry system (both standard for the XLE)—and a $900 power moonroof. Option packages include a $1,150 one for V6 models, which has a skid-control system and brake-assist feature for surer emergency stops, along with side-impact and curtain-shield airbags.

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.

Ultimate Camry
Those who are feeling flush can get the $4,360 XLE package that contains such items as leather upholstery, power front seats, moonroof and JBL AM/FM/cassette/CD audio system with eight speakers and alloy wheels.

After all, even some mainstream Camry sedan buyers want to be pampered.

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BB04 - 7/29/2014 4:58:31 PM