The Toyota Camry
sedan was the top-selling car last year, edging out the Honda Accord and Ford Taurus. But most Camry
s had a four-cylinder engine despite being sold in a country ``raised'' on V-6s and V-8s in fairly large cars such as the Camry
I tested a 1998 Camry
's 3-liter V-6 and an automatic transmission last year, so I recently tried a 2.2-liter four-cylinder Camry
LE with an automatic.
Nearly 80 percent of 1997 Camry
s had the four-cylinder. And the $20,218 LE four-cylinder/automatic is the single most popular model in the Camry
line, where base prices range from $16,938 to $24,868.
owners I've talked with say they bought a four-cylinder model because it cost less and was more available.
There's a hot rod Camry
CE V-6 with a five-speed manual transmission that lists at $19,828. But the Camry
is bought mostly by a conservative family crowd that prefers the driving ease provided by the car's four-speed automatic transmission, which also adds to resale value.
And the starting price for a Camry
V-6 with the automatic is a hefty $22,558.
The top-line Camry
XLE V-6/automatic I drove last year cost $27,751 with options such as a $1,000 sunroof and $1,005 power leather seat package. The LE/automatic I recently tested was $20,879 with a $320 premium sound system, $250 side impact air bags and $91 floor mats.
The LE is well-equipped for family driving, with standard items including air conditioning, power windows and door locks, cruise control, anti-lock brakes, rear defroster and a 60/40 fold-down rear seat for more cargo room.
The 194-horsepower V-6 is a better engine than the 133-horsepower four-cylinder. It has more torque, and is one of the quietest, smoothest V-6s from any automaker.
However, the Camry
four-cylinder is no slug. It's quite sophisticated, with items such as double overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder, instead of the usual two. That type of design once only was found in race cars.
Of course, the Camry
four-cylinder outshines the V-6 in fuel economy. The four delivers an estimated 23 m.p.g. in the city and 30 on highways with the automatic, while the V-6 provides 19 and 27 with that transmission.
In ``real world'' driving, I found the Camry
four-cylinder is more economical than the estimated economy figures say it is. Even occasional hard driving barely caused the gasoline gauge needle to budge.
Happily, the four-cylinder is surprisingly strong, although it looks small in the tidy engine compartment. It feels as if it is generating 150 horsepower and is pretty quiet, in keeping with the Camry
's no-fuss personality.
An automatic transmission saps power, so the Camry
four-cylinder is faster--and slightly more economical--with the standard manual transmission.
has made sure that the efficient Camry
automatic works well with the four-cylinder, which provides lively acceleration up to 60 m.p.h.
Still, that engine needs lots of revs to generate spunky performance. And it's too small to provide more than average 65-75 m.p.h. passing times on highways, where the larger V-6 is more at home. Too bad the automatic kicks out of downshift mode at 70 m.p.h.--instead of holding until 75.
Cruising is another story. A four-cylinder Camry
can comfortably cruise all day at 75 m.p.h.
Like all Camry
s, the popular LE/automatic model allows four 6-footers to fit comfortably, and the big, nicely shaped trunk has a large opening that allows easy loading. The conveniently located controls work smoothly and front seats offer above-average support.
looks smooth but bland, like most mid-size cars. And the quiet interior has lots of average-looking plastic. The climate-control fan isn't noisy even on its highest setting. But flimsy rear cupholders are inconveniently placed near the floor behind the front console.
The well-constructed LE has precise power steering with a nice fluid feel. The suspension should do a better job handling severe road dips at around 30 m.p.h., but the Camry
generally rides very smoothly.
While more exciting with the V-6, the Camry
is very competent with the budget-accommodating four-cylinder.