2002 Toyota Camry LE
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By Chris Chase; photos by Grant Yoxon

Automotive writers are a funny bunch. We go ga-ga over the latest performance car or sport sedan and gush about 0-100 sprints and quarter-mile times and cornering grip. But what you’ll rarely see us gush about when reviewing the latest speed machine is reliability. While it’s an important consideration for many new car buyers, reliability’s boring to a lot of enthusiasts.

So it’s quite fitting that one of the most reliable cars on the road – the Toyota Camry – is also largely considered one of the most soulless, dull cars money can buy. Is that a bad thing? Car nuts may not drool over them, but the millions of drivers who have bought Camrys since its debut in 1983 will praise these cars all day long for their durability.

While early versions were very utilitarian-looking, the Camry’s looks went a little more upscale with every redesign. It’s hard to believe the latest, fifth-generation Camry has anything in common with those first early-80s cars. When generation five was launched in 2002, base models were equipped with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine producing 157 horsepower – more than the first V6-equipped Camry (in 1988), which boasted just 153 horsepower. And the 3.3-litre, 220-horsepower V6 that’s been available since 2004 is a far cry from the 92-horsepower motor that powered those first cars.

But while a lot about the Camry has changed since the model’s debut almost a quarter-century ago, the fifth-generation car is still a benchmark for longevity. With an all-new Camry set to arrive for the 2007 model year, let’s take a look at the car that has represented Toyota in the mid-size sedan market for the past few years.

2002 Toyota Camry LE
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Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: yes, this latest iteration of the Camry is as reliable as every Camry before it has been. Consumer Reports magazine gives 2002-2005 models its recommended used car rating and notes no trouble spots. As well, recalls are few: two have to do with airbags and the third deals with an inaccurate label.

If crash safety is a priority for you (it likely is for many Camry owners who use their car as a family shuttle) then you’ll want to avoid the base LE model. Without the side airbags that were standard equipment on XLE and SE models, the Camry’s side impact crash test results are poor.

2002 Toyota Camry LE
Click image to enlarge

While the Camry has earned at least four stars from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for frontal impact protection in every model year from 2002 to 2006, 2002 models earned just two stars for front seat occupant protection in side impacts, and five stars for rear seat occupant protection in 2002 and 2003. Front seat occupant protection improved to four stars by 2004, but rear seat occupant protection dropped to three stars. Likewise, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the 2002-2006 Camry as a “best pick” in its frontal offset crash test, but cars without side airbags got a “poor” rating in side impacts, while cars with the optional side curtain airbags eared a “good” rating.

2002 Toyota Camry LE

2002 Toyota Camry LE
Click image to enlarge

Fuel economy is a Toyota strength, and the Camry benefits from that with fuel consumption ratings of about 10 L/100 km city and 6.7 L/100 km highway for four-cylinder cars, while V6-equipped Camrys use 11.6 L/100 km city and 7.7 L/100 km highway.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more reliable used car than a Camry, and likewise, it’d be tough to find a more expensive mid-size sedan. Go back to 2002 and you’ll find that a range-topping Camry XLE V6 is worth $20,200 according to Canadian Red Book, or almost two-thirds of its M.S.R.P. of $32,570. A similarly-equipped and similarly-reliable Honda Accord will be similarly priced, thanks to that company’s similar reputation for quality. If a lower price is important, check out a Mitsubishi Galant (available here since 2003) or Mazda 626 (to 2002 – the Mazda6, introduced in 2003, has suffered from some reliability issues). The 2002 and newer Altima offers available V6 power and stand-out looks at attractive prices, but reliability has been below average. The 2002 and newer Hyundai Sonata offers decent reliability at typically bargain-basement resale values. If a domestic car would suit your needs, the Buick Regal is the only one that stands out in terms of dependability, and like the Sonata, is available at rock-bottom prices.

If you want a car with reliability you can brag about after owning it for 10 years and racking up hundreds of thousands of kilometres, you won’t find many that will outdo a Camry. Just don’t expect to be able to brag about the price.


Pricing

Red Book Pricing (avg. retail) January 2005:

Year Model Price today Price new
2005 Camry LE V6 $25,325 $27,475
2004 Camry LE V6 $22,875 $27,070
2003 Camry LE V6 $20,375 $27,070
2002 Camry LE V6 $17,900 $27,585


Online Resources

www.toyotanation.com – This Toronto-based website boasts 35,000 members. The Camry section is the busiest in the forums (surprising, considering the Camry’s status as the ultimate road-going appliance), so there’s lots of useful information here. This is one of the best Toyota websites out there, and registration is free. Threads started by Canadian members are even identified with a little maple leaf flag. How cool is that?


Recalls

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004240; Units affected: 1,112

2002-2004: On certain vehicles equipped with the Curtain Shield airbag system, the curtain airbag may be twisted near the inflator due to improper assembly. In this condition, the gas supplied by the inflator may be inadequate for proper inflation of the bag, causing incomplete inflation of the curtain in the event of a collision. Correction: Dealers will inspect, and replace the curtain airbag if necessary.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001282; Units affected: 805

2002: Certain passenger vehicles equipped with a three-spoke style steering wheel. During air bag deployment, it is possible that the bottom seam of the front driver’s side air bag module cover (horn pad) could be torn away allowing the bottom portion of the cover to completely detach from the air bag module. If this should occur, there is a possibility that the detached bottom portion may strike the driver causing personal injury. Correction: dealers will replace the driver’s side air bag module.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004042; Units affected: 2,943

2004: On certain vehicles, the compliance label does not meet the requirements of CMVSS 120. The label was printed with incorrect Gross Vehicle Weight Rating and Gross Axle Weight Rating data. The incorrect GVWR / GAWR data is 2,380 kg / 1,300 kg. The correct GVWR is 1,900-2,015 kg and the GAWR is 1,035-1,210 kg. Correction: Dealer will replace the compliance label.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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