2004 Toyota Camry

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2002 Toyota Camry

This 2003 review is representative of model years 2002 to 2006.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 9.5

Bottom Line:

For 2002, Toyota's most popular vehicle, the Camry family sedan, is redesigned and re-engineered as a bigger car, with a more-powerful four-cylinder engine, more stylish looks and quieter and richer-feeling interior.
Pros:
  • More stylish looks
  • Roomier interior
  • Good reliability record
Cons:
  • Many competitors are lower-priced
  • Flat seats
  • Capable, though unexciting, ride

The Toyota Camry was knocked off its throne as America's best-selling car in calendar 2001 by the Honda Accord.

But the Camry is by no means down on its luck. In fact, it's all-new for the 2002 model year, with more compelling styling than before, bigger size, richer interior and more powerful base engine.

New standard features So, I tested a "base" 2002 Camry. It was an entry model, but it sure didn't feel like it.

Note that for 2002, Toyota dropped the previous base trim, the CE, and positioned the LE as the starter trim level.

Now, even the entry Camry has standard air conditioning—with air filtration system. Also standard are power door locks and power windows. All these items used to be part of a $778 "value" option package on the old, entry Camry CE.

Cruise control used to be a $250 option on the 2001 base Camry. On the 2002 model, it's standard. So is an outside temperature gauge so drivers in northern climes will know when temperatures have gotten low enough to cause road surfaces to freeze.

It wasn't just the interior appointments, though, that make the new Camry feel richer. It's the quieter ride and a more refined sense of the car. It's also the quality feel of the sizable knobs and buttons for the audio system—AM/FM with CD and cassette players—and for the heating/air conditioning system. Even the horn on the test car, powered by a mere four-cylinder engine, has been attended to. The Camry has a big-car horn.

Everything inside is laid out simply, without gimmickry. One look is all it takes for drivers to understand where the controls are inside and how they work this car.

Starting price is increased
As you might expect from the equipment that has been made standard, the Camry's starting price is higher for 2002 compared with the 2001 model.

In 2001, a Camry sedan with four-cylinder engine and manual transmission had a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of $17,675. The 2002 starting MSRP for a four-cylinder-powered Camry with manual transmission is just over $18,900.

But remember, the cheapest 2001 Camry didn't include air conditioning, power amenities and cruise control. If you added those in, the 2001 Camry was $18,703, or just $267 less than the newly engineered and improved 2002 model.

And when compared with others in the mid-size family sedan segment, the Camry appears competitive—at least at first blush.

A 2002 Ford Taurus has a starting MSRP of just over $19,000, and the 2002 Chevrolet Impala carries a starting MSRP of more than $20,200. But note these models come with V6s and automatic transmissions, not a four cylinder and manual five speed that the base Camry has.

In fact, a V6-powered Camry carries a starting MSRP of more than $22,200.

Even the 2002 Honda Accord sedan, which has a starting MSRP of around $15,500 for a four-cylinder model with manual transmission, is less expensive than the new Camry.

Bigger midsize sedan
There's more to the new Camry than just new standard features.

The 2002 model represents the fifth-generation Camry, and it rides on the Camry's first all-new platform in 10 years.

This four-door model is bigger than its predecessor—taller, wider and longer overall. And Toyota engineers put the new dimensions to good use.

There's an immediate sense of spaciousness in this model, because the front-passenger door is a bit farther away from the driver than before.

Seats allow riders to sit up a bit higher than before, providing good visibility all around.

Back-seat roominess is noticeable, too. Legroom grows by 2.3 inches in the new Camry, and back-seat headroom is increased 1.3 inches. There's a decent amount of room back there for three teens and/or three adults.

Open the trunk of the 2002 Camry, and you'll notice it's also bigger, growing from 14.1 cubic feet to 16.7. This is more than the Honda Accord and Volkswagen Passat have.

New four-cylinder powerplant
Close to three-quarters of Camry sedans sold have a four-cylinder engine. So the new Camry comes with an improved and more-powerful four that doesn't mind being pressed into action.

It's a 2.4-liter, twin-cam powerplant with Toyota's variable valve timing and compares with the 2.2-liter four in last year's Camry. Horsepower is up 21, to 157. Torque is up to 162 lb-ft at 4000 rpm vs. 148 at 4400 rpm last year.

I found the Camry four cylinder with new four-speed automatic transmission delivered quite smooth power. It wasn't a throw-you-back-into-your-seat power, but it was enough to help me scurry into busy traffic safely. I caught myself traveling at 52 mph in a 40 mph zone. It sure felt like I was going 40 but I would have hated to explain that to the cops!

I enjoyed how responsive the system was when I wanted to slow down. Some cars continue to coast at a quick pace when you lift off the accelerator, forcing you to use the brake pedal all the time to modulate speed.

This Camry quickly noted when I lessened my pressure on the accelerator and would begin to decelerate on its own.

This trait was especially appreciated since I found the Camry's brake pedal a bit lacking in its brake feel. I like a steady progression of braking, meaning that I feel brake power starting and growing as I progressively apply pressure to the pedal.

But in the test car, I didn't detect much braking until the pedal had gone down quite a ways, which didn't impress.

On the other hand, the test model included the optional anti-lock brake system (ABS), which worked well in panic stops. Too bad, though, that ABS isn't standard across the board on Camry models.

Ride similar to a Buick
The Camry LE is an easy highway cruiser. It also manages the roughness of city streets and potholes without much fuss.

The test LE sort of rippled over big bumps, for example, and kept me and my passengers pretty well isolated.

"A Japanese Buick" is how an auto critic once described the Camry. His description is an apt way for some to understand how unfettered the ride can be inside a Camry. But note that many of the Camry sedans sold here are built at a Kentucky factory and contain a high percentage of U.S. and Canadian content.

The Camry's power-assist, rack-and-pinion steering is a bit on the light side for my tastes, but not feather-light as you might find in some competitors.

I did hear tire noise, but not much wind noise as I traveled.

Odds and ends
Beyond the base Camry, Toyota shuffled the other Camry trim levels.

The XLE remains the more luxuriously appointed Camry, with standard power driver and front-passenger seats, wood-grain-style interior accents, automatic climate control, inside door handles that are chrome-finished, keyless remote entry and other items.

A new SE trim level marks a new sporty Camry that has a more sport-tuned suspension, bigger standard tires, sport-faced instrument gauges, rear spoiler and other sport-minded features.

The 2002 Camry is the first to offer a navigation system. It also can be had with curtain airbags that deploy from the ceiling during side crashes.

All five riders in the Camry get three-point safety belts.

Toyota officials say seats in the new Camry have more lumbar support than their predecessors, which is appreciated. But the seats still are quite flat, with just a bit of contour on the outer edges.

Last but certainly not least, more than a third of Camry owners are extremely loyal. Last year, they bought another Camry.

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BB05 - 9/14/2014 7:17:20 PM