1997 Toyota Camry 220 GL 2.2 petrol from Australia and New Zealand
High quality, spacious, reliable and cheap to maintain.
Only normal wear and tear items (no faults as such). The following parts have been replaced:
Muffler - The original muffler still looked to be in good condition (the factory exhaust system is stainless steel), but the internal baffling was stuffed.
Rear sway bar bushes ($20 for genuine Toyota parts, plus half an hour labour).
The rear shock absorbers also need replacing, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. They were tested on a shock machine and are very worn. The front shocks are still good.
The 3rd generation Toyota Camry (years 1992 - 1997) was possibly the highest quality Camry ever made. It was developed alongside the Lexus ES300 and the attention to detail is amazing. For example, all of the doors have triple rubber seals. The result was a somewhat "over engineered" car for the money and Toyota focused a lot on cutting costs when developing the 4th generation Camry.
The example I purchased had one private owner from new and has a full dealer service history. I bought it at auction for well below its retail value. It's a rather bland looking car, but was totally transformed when I fitted a set of alloy wheels from a Toyota Windom (Lexus ES300).
First, the bad points.
The 3rd generation Camry was often criticized for it's low speed ride, which is a bit jittery on bumpy roads. The 4th generation Camry, on the other hand, absorbs bumps as if they aren't even there.
The driver's seat is very flat and doesn't offer enough lateral support when cornering. In addition, I find my lower back gets a little sore after about 30 minutes behind the wheel, despite the adjustable lumbar support. However, this may only affect tall drivers.
Road noise is a little higher than I would like, but is still better suppressed than in the Honda Accord. This is one area where the 4th generation Camry excels.
Performance of the 4-cylinder engine is only adequate. On long highway trips with five people plus luggage on board, the extra power and torque of the 3-litre V6 would be greatly appreciated.
Now, the good points.
Build quality is superb. At 151,000km my Camry is almost completely free from squeaks and rattles and the upholstery still looks like new.
Reliability has been 100% and I see this as Toyota's biggest strength. My first car was a Toyota Corolla, which had travelled 199,000 trouble free kilometers when I sold it. Other family members have also owned several Toyotas and none of them have ever experienced any problems. My brother currently owns a 1995 Corolla with 230,000km on the clock. After a recent 1,000km trip I was pleased to see that my Camry hasn't used a drop of oil.
Maintenance costs are low and everything is easily accessible for the DYI mechanic.
Fuel economy is excellent for a car of this size.
Interior space is generous and at 6'4" I find the driving position to be just right with the seat all of the way back. The real test is that even with the front seat in this position there's still enough leg room for me to sit in the back. In terms of width, the back seat is really only suitable for two adults, but three kids should fit across there without any complaints.
Despite all of the good points, if you enjoy driving then the Camry will disappoint you. The engine is reliable, but sounds coarse (I'm only referring to the 4-cylinder here). The handling is tuned for comfort, not corners. And the styling is handsome, not striking. These are all areas where the Honda Accord offers more driver satisfaction. What the Accord lacks, however, is rear seat space and a reliable transmission.
In summary, the Camry is the perfect family car for those who want quality, space, reliability and low maintenance costs. But just like an appliance, there's nothing to get excited about.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 15th July, 2003