2004 Toyota Camry
2004 Toyota Camry Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Seamless, flawless transportation.
The Toyota Camry is the best-selling car in America, the crown jewel of cars in the auto industry. Toyota tells us the name 'Camry' comes from kan-muri, which in Japanese means 'crown.' That seems appropriate given that the Camry outsells such popular gems as the Honda Accord and Ford Taurus.
The Camry appears to be a perfect transportation appliance, flawlessly performing its duties, never annoying its owner. It rides smoothly, softly over beat-up city streets. The interior is ergonomically excellent, with big climate and audio knobs that are easy to adjust. The seats are comfortable.
The Toyota Camry was all-new last year. A longer wheelbase brought significantly increased rear-seat legroom. Its new look is at once taller and more rounded, in keeping with current fashion.
For 2003, the Camry offers more standard and optional equipment. All models now come with remote keyless entry, while the XLE model adds fog lights, and a six-disc CD changer for its JBL audio system. Also new is the availability of power adjustable pedals.
Given Toyota's reputation for quality, durability and reliability, the 2003 Camry should once again prove to be the ideal car for about 400,000 buyers who don't want to worry about their car.
The Toyota Camry comes in three trim levels: LE, SE, XLE. Each comes with a choice of engines, a four-cylinder or a V6. Most models come standard with an automatic.
The basic four-cylinder LE has long been the most popular Camry. It retails for $18,970 with a five-speed manual transmission and $19,800 with a four-speed automatic. Either way, it comes with air conditioning, power windows, power mirrors, power locks and remote keyless entry, a 60/40 split rear seat, and visor vanity mirrors.
SE is a sportier version of the LE. Higher-rate springs, shocks, and anti-roll bars contribute to crisper handling, along with higher-effort steering and bigger wheels and tires. Outside, black trim at the front end, a spoiler at the rear, and unique black pearl badging distinguish the SE. A three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel and lots of bright trim add zing to the interior. SE lists for $20,310 with the manual gearbox, $21,140 with the automatic.
The cushiest Camry is the XLE, featuring luxury appointments such as wood-grain trim, power driver and passenger seats, automatic air conditioning, an alarm system, a cargo net, and a rear-window sunshade. Prices start at $22,295 and the automatic transmission is standard.
The Camry's four-cylinder engine is a 2.4-liter, 16-valve twin-overhead-cam unit rated 157 horsepower at 5600 rpm, and 162 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. But buyers can also choose a 3.0-liter, 24-valve V6. All-new last year, the V6 develops 192 horsepower at 5300 rpm, and 209 pounds-feet at 4400. Both engines are all aluminum for light weight.
The LE V6 lists for $22,260; the SE V6 for $23,700; and the XLE V6 for $25,405. V6 models are offered only with the four-speed automatic transmission.
Camry's list of option packages is amazingly long, enabling savvy buyers to order exactly the right Camry to suit their taste and budget. We highly recommend opting for anti-lock brakes (ABS), brake assist, and vehicle skid control, all of which can help you avoid a wreck. We also recommend the optional side-impact and curtain airbags to protect you in a crash. V6 Camrys and all XLE models come standard with four-wheel-disc brakes with anti-lock (ABS) and electronic brake distribution (EBD), but skid control and the side-impact airbags are optional.
Toyota still builds the Camry Solara coupe and convertible based on the previous-generation (pre-2002) Camry sedan. Look for an all-new Solara to debut as 2004 model.
The Toyota Camry was totally redesigned last year, but the new look did not stray too far from that of previous models. We bet that Toyota was watching carefully when Ford launched a radical new Taurus in 1996, with oval-themed styling that proved too avant-garde for conservative buyers. Ford lost quite a few sales before retreating to a safer design.
So while Toyota claims to have put more excitement into the current Camry, in truth it looks a lot like the old Camry. Ironically, the most-changed elements are the rear deck and taillights, and these have a distinctly Taurus flavor. The front of the Camry appears to have a bit of Lincoln LS in it, thanks to the way the grille cuts into the top edge of the front bumper.
The Camry does present a more sculptured appearance, with slightly flared wheel arches and a distinct dual crease line in the hood, the latter leading nicely into the grille. To some extent its smooth lines camouflage its height; the current car stands two inches taller than the pre-2002 model.
The Toyota Camry has a comfortable interior with controls that are simple and easy to operate. Everything is laid out simply.
Radio and climate controls are mounted high in the center of the dash for easy access. Three big knobs mounted prominently in the center of the dashboard are used to manually control heating, ventilation, and air conditioning on SE and LE models. XLE models get automatic climate control with a smooth tactile feel that reminds us of Lexus, which set the modern standard. The stereo uses big buttons and knobs that are easy to operate, whether scanning for radio stations or moving between songs on a CD. A navigation system is available for the XLE. We found the audio quality poor on the LE's optional JBL system.
The instruments are located in a relatively small pod right in front of the steering wheel, with a large half-moon tachometer and matching speedometer. The fuel and temperature gauges are located within the two larger instruments. Lights and windshield wiper/washer controls are on stalks on the steering column, leaving the left lower edge of the dash free of switches.
Camry's dashboard is relatively plain, with no large curved surfaces, and it is set relatively high. The dash blends nicely into the door panels, but the cover for the passenger-side air bag is noticeable as the seams show clearly. Many other manufacturers have managed to make the passenger-side air bag invisible.
A wide center console separates the two front bucket seats and contains useful storage areas. The parking brake on the LE and SE is also located in the center console, whereas the XLE gets a foot-operated parking brake.
Rear-seat passengers will find the accommodations quite pleasant for a mid-size passenger car. Head- and legroom have increased compared to the previous Camry. The rear seat splits 60/40, allowing long objects to pass through from the trunk, although the opening is smaller than it might be. The trunk itself is a decent size and shape. Gooseneck hinges steal valuable space, but are hidden under a cover, reducing the chance that they will damage trunk contents as the lid is closed.
Toyota knows how to build quiet cars with a comfortable ride. Toyota's Lexus division has excelled in this area and this expertise appears to have worked its way over to the Camry. Engines are quieter than in pre-2002 models, while an innovative engine mounting system further reduces vibration. Stiff body structure and asphalt sheet insulation assures that even when the four-cylinder engine is driven hard, engine noise is quite subdued.
This is an easy car to drive. There is nothing untoward or strange about the Camry; it does everything just right. An enthusiast driver would complain that it lacks character, but for the average driver that's a plus. No one driving a Camry has to think much about what's going on.
More than two-thirds of all Camrys are sold with the four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission. The 2.4-liter inline-4 is inexpensive and fuel-efficient and provides plenty of power. Computer logic controls the automatic transmission; the car can tell when it is going up hill or down hill and the transmission shifts gears accordingly. It can hold a lower gear longer when necessary to avoid the annoying shifting up and down that occurs in some automatics.
The ride is pleasant, verging on luxurious, with enough cushioning to make passengers feel comfortable. The steering is light but not sloppy. Those who like sportier, more precise handling will notice that the different suspension setup and tires on the SE do make the car feel crisper, though it's still far from a sports sedan.
You'd never know from driving the car, but the gas pedal is a drive-by-wire affair. That means it is not connected directly to the engine by a cable; instead, it activates a sensor connected to a computer, just like the controls in modern aircraft. One advantage of this arrangement is that the optional Vehicle Skid Control system can take over the throttle in an emergency and apply just the right amount of throttle and braking to keep the vehicle on a more stable path.
Toyota admits that while few people aspire to own a Camry, lots of people recommend a Camry to their friends. The Camry is what's known as a safe buy. It pleases so many buyers by offending none. It is in many ways an unremarkable car, except for its total lack of identifiable flaws. It Toyota has tried hard to make the latest Camry a little more exciting while at the same time making sure it will still transport its occupants from A to B and back without any drama, nor any worries about reliability, year in and year out.
So the Toyota Camry is not be as exciting as the Nissan Altima or Volkswagen Passat. But if you prefer a car that blends in with the crowd, a smooth, comfortable car that delivers hassle-free transportation, a car that offers stellar reliability, then the Camry should prove an excellent choice. That's why the Camry will likely continue as America's most popular new car.
LE 5-speed manual ($18,970); LE 4-speed automatic ($19,800); SE 5-speed manual ($20,310); SE 4-speed automatic ($21,140); XLE 4-speed automatic ($22,295) LE V6 4-speed automatic ($22,260); SE V6 4-speed automatic ($23,700); XLE V6 4-speed automatic ($25,405).
Georgetown, Kentucky, and Toyota City, Japan.
Options As Tested
side-curtain airbags ($500).
Camry LE automatic ($19,800).
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