2002 Toyota Camry LE
Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Grant Yoxon

“… the fifth generation Camry – it was first introduced in 1983 as a replacement for the Corona – has more space for passengers and luggage. It has a longer list of standard equipment. It is as quiet as a Lexus ES300, with which it has much in common. It has a much stronger and more fuel efficient four cylinder engine. It’s styling is striking, at least by Toyota’s standards. And, in base four cylinder configuration, it is cheaper.”

When you’ve reached the top there is only one direction to go. Down.

Such was the case for Toyota’s Camry, North America’s top selling sedan for four straight years (1997 – 2000). After setting a US record in 1999, sales slipped below 400,000 units in 2001 and the Camry gave up top spot to arch competitor, the Honda Accord.

In minivan land (Canada’s top selling vehicle is the Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan), the Camry managed no better than fourth best selling midsize sedan – based on the first nine months of 2001 – behind Honda Accord, Pontiac Grand Am and Ford Taurus. What goes up must come down…

… And back up again, if car buyers respond to the completely redesigned 2002 Camry the way Toyota hopes they will. I would be surprised if they don’t. Without the aid of a crystal ball, I’m willing to make a prediction that come January 2003 when the numbers are added up, the Camry will be back on top in North America.

2002 Toyota Camry LE
Click image to enlarge

It is that good. It would be hard to beat the previous generation Camry, a car that not only topped the sales charts, but won numerous awards including Consumer Reports “Best Family Sedan” in 1997 and 2000, J.D Power and Associates’ “Best Passenger Car in Initial Quality” (1999) and the Canadian Automobile Association’s Pyramid (used car performance) award which it has received seven times since 1988.

But the fifth generation Camry – it was first introduced in 1983 as a replacement for the Corona – has more space for passengers and luggage. It has a longer list of standard equipment. It is as quiet as a Lexus ES300, with which it has much in common. It has a much stronger and more fuel efficient four cylinder engine. It’s styling is striking, at least by Toyota’s standards. And, in base four cylinder configuration, it is cheaper.

2002 Toyota Camry LE
Click image to enlarge

Our test car, a four-cylinder LE model, has a base price of $23,755, $810 less than the 2001 CE model. An automatic transmission ($1,045) and ABS brakes with Electronic Brake Force Distribution ($715) brought the as-tested price to $25,515.

Standard comfort and convenience features on this base Camry includes air conditioning, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, programmable power door locks and remote keyless entry, power windows with driver-side auto-down, colour-keyed heated outside mirrors, a full-size spare tire, front map lights, digital clock, outside temperature gauge, engine immobilizer and six-speaker AM/FM/Cassette/CD stereo.

All this standard equipment is found inside a car that is a bit longer and wider than the previous Camry, but significantly taller. 70 mm has been added to the height of the car allowing for a higher, more comfortable seating position. The wheelbase has also been stretched 50 mm which provides more front and rear leg room and improves ride comfort.

To build a bigger, better equipped and cheaper car, Toyota started with a completely new platform, the first for the Camry in 10 years. Advanced engineering, design and fabrication processes reduced developmental costs which have been passed on to the consumer.

2002 Toyota Camry LE
Click image to enlarge

The Camry’s front seats are wide and comfortable. The higher seating position makes it easy to get in and out of the car. Drivers have additional lumber support adjustment for added comfort and head and leg room is excellent. Compared to the 2001 Camry, rear leg room has been increased 36 mm (1.5 in.), but the improvement for rear passengers – three adults can site comfortably – is far greater as higher seats mean increased under seat foot room. The rear bench is a 60/40 split that expands the Camry’s spacious 478 litre (17.5 cu. ft.) trunk when the need arises.

The Camry’s dash is simple yet functional. The more frequently used audio system controls are placed above the heater controls which consist of three large dials. Buttons in the centre of these dials are switches for the air conditioning and the rear window defroster. I found these controls easy to reach and use without looking.

2002 Toyota Camry LE
Click image to enlarge

The gauges – speedometer and tachometer – are large easy-to-read semi-circles with smaller gauges for fuel and coolant inset in the larger gauges.

The centre console extends from under the dash, so that it doesn’t conflict with your calf. At the base is a large open storage bin. The transmission shifter is flanked by a manual transmission style hand brake. Behind these is a flip up door that hides two cup holders. Beneath the arm rest is a two tier storage bin. Additional storage include large map packets in the doors, a flip down coin tray to the left of the steering wheel and a good sized glove box.

Our Camry LE was powered by a new four cylinder engine that has increased displacement over the 2001 model – 2.4 litres compared to the previous generation’s 2.2 litres. This engine produces 157 @ 5600 rpm and 162 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. Although a great improvement over the 136 horsepower 2.2 litre four it replaces, this engine won’t win any street races, particularly when coupled with the four-speed automatic transmission. But it is unlikely that average Camry buyers will be interested in that sort of game. If raw power is your quest, best to consider Nissan’s 175 hp Altima LE.

2002 Toyota Camry LE
Click image to enlarge

But the Camry’s four is no snoozer either. It has surprisingly good power right where you need it, for freeway entrance and highway passing. And fuel consumption is reasonable too, 10.1L/100km (28 mpg) in the city and 6.9L/100km (41 mpg) on the highway according to Natural Resources Canada.

While all other Camry models are equipped with four wheel disc brakes, the four cylinder LE comes with front discs and rear drums. ABS with electronic brake force distribution is a worthwhile option as we learned during a snowy week of testing. Panic stops on slippery surfaces were straight and reassuringly quick. However, I found the brake pedal to be way too soft.

Camry suspension is a common independent set up with MacPherson struts, coil springs and stabilizer bars front and rear. The ride is a bit soft in my opinion – feeling more like an American car than most other Japanese makes. But handling is very nimble – one benefit of a lighter weight four-cylinder engine.

2002 Toyota Camry LE
Click image to enlarge

One thing worth noting is how quiet the new Camry is. Even with a four cylinder engine, the Camry is exceedingly quiet. Toyota has made great efforts to reduce noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) in a car that was already one of the quietest in its class. But the use of structural adhesives and spot welding in strategic locations, foam inside the A, B and C pillars, cowl stiffeners and phalt sheeting, curved floor panels and stiffeners across the rear parcel shelf, under the rear seats and in the spare tire well all suppress NVH.

The new Camry has not yet been tested for crash worthiness, but Toyota says its new platform technology provides exceptional occupant protection. Front, offset and side impact protection is provided with pre-cut steel panels that create multiple crush zones. These buckle to absorb impact energy while helping to minimize cabin deformation. A reinforced upper cabin frame, reinforced rocker support at all four window pillars, as well as massive door beams help maintain cabin integrity during a collision.

2002 Toyota Camry LE
Click image to enlarge

Added impact protection is provided by dual front airbags, which are controlled in multiple stages depending on the severity of the impact and information from seat position sensors. There are three point seat belts in all seating positions, a child restraint system consisting of two lower anchor brackets and three strap anchors and a glow-in-the-dark internal trunk release handle.

2002 Toyota Camry LE
Click image to enlarge

Camry’s have never been known for cutting edge styling and, in this respect, the new Camry is no different. It is not a “look at me” car. But the styling of the new Camry is a great improvement over the previous car. Although the new Camry is only slightly bigger than the previous Camry, it looks more substantial. And more modern. Though not taking the Camry in any new design directions, Toyota has given their popular midsize sedan a complete refreshening in keeping with modern design trends.

Not that Camry buyers will be all that concerned about appearances. Typical Camry buyers are not “look at me” people. They want a solid, dependable car they can drive without worry and trade for good price. In this respect, the new Camry delivers exactly what buyers want.

Technical Data:

2002 Toyota Camry LE
Base price $23,755
Freight $1,095
Optional equipment Automatic transmission ($1,045)
  ABS/Electronic Brake Force Distribution ($715)
Price as tested $26,610
Type 4-door, 5-passenger mid-sized sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.4 litre, 16-valve, DOHC, variable valve timing
Horsepower 157 @ 5600 rpm
Torque 162 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic (5-speed manual available)
Tires P205/65R15, all season/full wheel covers
Brakes front ventilated disc, rear drum
Wheelbase 2720 mm (107.1 in.)
Length 4805 mm (189.2 in.)
Width 1795 mm (70.7 in.)
Height 1490 mm (58.7 in.)
Trunk Capacity 498 litres (17.5 cu. ft.)
Fuel Regular
Fuel consumption City: 10.1L/100km (28 mpg)
  Highway: 6.9L/100km (41 mpg)
Warranty 3 years/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 years/60,000 km

Standard equipment: air conditioning, rear seat heater ducts, clean air filter, six-speaker AM/FM/Cassette/CD, 60/40 split rear bench seat with security lock, adjustable lumbar support on driver’s seat, power windows with driver’s automatic-down feature and retained accessory power, cruise control, remote keyless entry, power door locks, front map lights, engine immobilizer, centre console, digital clock and outside temperature gauge, front and rear cupholders, variable intermittent wipers, fabric upholstery, dual front airbags, colour-keyed, heated outside mirrors, full-sized spare tire.

Connect with Autos.ca