1998 Toyota Camry CSi 2.2 5S-FE from Australia and New Zealand
A car that shuns image for substance
I have just purchased the car, so no mechanical dramas yet, other than a routine timing belt change.
Having previously owned two modified Toyotas, a '94 Celica and an '89 Corolla SX, I was drawn to the Camry for the prospect of a reliable, practical, comfortable and attention-free ownership experience.
The first positive point is that used Camry's are ridiculously good value. The volatile petrol prices of the past 2-3 years seems to have spooked used-car buyers away from anything perceived as "largish". This has meant the better equipped, more comfortable and only slightly less fuel-efficient Camry is commanding prices that are the same, and often quite less than, comparable Toyota Corollas. Find a low-km example owned by a retiree, and the reliability/value equation is further turned in favour of the Camry over used-car competitors.
In 2.2L manual guise, the Camry does very well to disguise it's lack of outright grunt. This in part due to a throttle cable calibration that seems to amplify small throttle openings, working with the torquey 2.2 to make the Camry feel very relaxed as it accelerates to a cruising speed. For the Camry's size and space, it is also exceptionally light - only around 200kg more than my previous cramped Celica with which it shared it's mechanical underpinnings. On Australia's viciously policed interstate and coastal highways, the Camry's engine combo adapts perfectly to a 110km/h cruising speed. I'm sure the V6 is as great as it's said to be, but 99% of the time the 2.2 is perfectly adequate.
Compared to my previous Toyota's, the comfort of this Camry is a revelation. The cabin is large, serene and of obvious quality. NVH is great, though the 2.2 can get a little vibey.
On first encounter, real-world handling seems quite good. The nose turns in quickly and precisely, and bumps do not upset the car.
Obviously I haven't driven the car much yet, but for now I couldn't be happier and can't wait to see how it performs on drives down the coast, semi laden with stuff for those weekend camping escapes.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 21st January, 2009
A few extra observations after owning the car for a week:
Fuel economy is pretty damn acceptable for a car this size. At my first refill I had used approximately 49 Litres to travel 583 km, or around 8.4L/100km (28MPG in US measurement), with about 250km of that on the open road and the other 330km in suburban short haul driving. With completely suburban/city driving I'd expect fuel consumption to go up to around 9.5L/100km.
The fundamentals of the Camry's dynamics are OK, the steering feels much like the off-shoot Celica only lighter, and the car turns in eagerly up to a point. After that point it is let down by the standard tyre and suspension package that is clearly biased towards around-town comfort. It's a compromise that I gladly accept after two previous lowered cars, and Australia's inconsistent bitumen quality.
The Camry was from a generation before electronic stability systems became commonplace in mainstream cars. As a result, in wet, slippery or off-camber conditions the big Camry doesn't require all that much lateral load to overcome the grip of the 15 inch tyres. This could be a reflection of the non-factory (i.e., cheaper) tyres more than anything else. Luckily, plough understeer is as bad as it's gonna get.
Little nit-picky things include the (otherwise excellent) air-conditioner producing a mildewy smell on start-up, but that's about it.