A character-less car to be owned by someone looking purely for a mode of transport
Water pump failed at approximately 110,000km.
2nd and 3rd gear synchros wear quickly (Though never fixed)
Valve cover gaskets leaking around spark plugs.
Rear boot key lock fell through housing.
Front brake rotors have warped slightly.
Ignition barrel after age allows the key to come out in any position.
This review centres around the SV21 models which were built and sold in Australia from 1987 - 1993 before being replaced by the next Australian-built "widebody" Camry.
Our Camry has been in our family since new in 1989. In Australia, the Camry is basically the staple family vehicle if you don't want a 6-cylinder, or want a smaller alternative to a Commodore or Falcon. Its the car of choice by countless Asians and people who need cars not to enjoy, but to be a 100% dependable mode of transport.
In a way this sums up the purchase of our Camry in 1989. Bought by parents who didn't particularly have any passion for cars or driving, we have run our Camry with minimum maintenance, and it just keeps going and going. It has never missed a beat, or left us stranded (admittedly the water pump failed as we arrived home and was probably due to too many skipped coolant changes).
In 1989, the Camry range consisted of the SE, CS, CS-X and Ultima models. Basic models featured highly uninspiring carburetor motors which offered rather average performance. However, a fuel-injected, twin-cam, 16 valve 2.0L was available as an option on certain models and was standard on the higher models. This engine was actually quite a screamer and came straight out of the then current Toyota Celica. This engine, and its bullet-proof reliability was by far the Camry's greatest asset. Like a good sports car engine, it liked to rev and did so cleanly offering spritely performance. Kept revving in its sweet spot and matched to a 5-speed manual, it should have been a driver's car.
It wasn't. The rest of the package: suspension, gearbox, steering and brakes did not live up to its engine.
The manual gearbox was somewhat unpleasant to use, with an extremely rubbery, disconnected feel. Blame cable operated linkages for that. Even worse, synchro wear on 2nd and 3rd makes for a horrible driving experience especially when cold. Toyota identified this and offered beefier sycnhros for vehicles needing repair. A bit of double clutching doesn't help either as the fast idle when cold doesn't allow the revs to drop to the required speed. We haven't fixed this yet, but my mother doesn't seem to notice the crunch and graunch every morning she takes the car out. The clutch too was horrible to use, with next to no play to allow any slip (though other Camry's seem fine. I blame poor Australian build quality).
Steering is completely lifeless. There is no feel. But then again if you don't care about driving, you don't need to know which way your front tyres are pointing. Suspension when new was compliant, but definitely not sporting. Now with worn shock absorbers the car crashes over bumps, and has even less handling. Brakes too have absolutely no feel.
Despite my complaints, mechanically this car is nearly flawless. About the only things to go wrong would be related to the poor construction of the body. Metallic paints do fade in the sun, and the interior plastics are extremely tacky. Our vehicle suffered serious rattles and groans from poor-fitting plastic from new. The worst rattles are from the wagon's tailgate. Little plastic bits have broken such as the sun-visor clips, and the little knobs on the air-vents.
There are very few common problems with these vehicles. The synchro wear is common as is the valve cover gasket. Another common problem happens to cars which have been left in heat for a long time. The speedometer needles start bending with heat towards the dials. Once they start rubbing on the speed dials, the speedometers get stuck and can only show a certain top speed.
Interior comfort is average. The shapely looking driver's seat have good looking side bolsters, but actually lack support and comfort. The base cushion is flat and hard and causes sore bums on long-trips. Wagons have tall rear strut towers which invade into the cargo space and seriously compromises carrying capacity.
Would I recommend one? If you are looking for only for the most reliable car you can find, then yes, go ahead and you will thank yourself (though at this age now, anything can really go wrong, and Toyota parts aren't particularly cheap so be cautious). If you are looking for a vehicle which has a bit of character, then you should probably look elsewhere. Just be prepared for breakdowns, headaches, and money spent on repairs with any other car!
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 29th December, 2005