1996 TOYOTA CAMRY LE
Used Car - 1996 Toyota Camry LE in Franklin, Va
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1996 Toyota Camry ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
A bread-and-butter best-seller.
Since its total redesign four years ago, Camry has been Toyota's bread-and-butter car, the all-around midsize family machine that is the company's biggest seller by far. The Camry is meant to meet the needs of a wide range of buyers, from those seeking solid basic transportation to slightly more enthusiastic drivers to the luxury-minded, with a mix of sedans, coupes and station wagons in a variety of trim levels.
Camry faces some tough opponents. Virtually every major manufacturer wants a piece of this pie. Honda's Accord line is a perennial favorite; so are the Mazda 626 and Nissan Maxima. The Ford Taurus is slightly larger but still within comparison range, and so are the Chrysler Cirrus/Dodge Stratus near-twins. And don't forget the Chevy Lumina. Plenty of choices, each with something to recommend it.
But Toyota didn't earn its reputation by avoiding competition. The Camry has been given the virtues it needs--subdued style, solidity and comfort among them--to face comparison with almost everyone's offerings and emerge with good marks.
One major Camry advantage is its sharing of major exterior, structural and mechanical components with the more expensive Lexus ES 300. In theory, a luxury car with a few amenities removed should be an impressive product, particularly when the differences between the two cars have nothing to do with engineering or quality. In this particular case, the common base is a credit to both cars.
Toyota's mass-market cars are generally pretty conservative in appearance, well-designed but usually free of external features that might generate controversy. The Camry epitomizes that approach. It looks clean and straightforward; smooth, rounded and unpretentious. The wagon is somewhat ungainly when viewed from the rear, but that's the only Camry design element one might single out for criticism.
There are no complaints to be heard when it comes to judging the way in which the Camry is finished. Flawless paint, tight, even seams where doors, tailgate and hood join the body, and trim applied with obvious care are Toyota hallmarks. This applies equally to the small number of Camrys imported from Japan and the far greater number built in the U.S.
As already noted, the Camry is available in three body styles. Sedans and coupes offer DX, LE and SE models, all wagons carry an LE designation, and an XLE designation is unique to a fully loaded sedan like our champagne beige test car.
Despite the variety of models, the equipment levels do not vary as much as you'd expect. Once past the plain DX, all Camrys carry standard air conditioning, cruise control, power windows/door locks/mirrors, and an AM/FM/cassette audio system. ABS is extra on all but the XLE; and the SE and LXE have standard alloy wheels, while the LXE provides a power driver's seat. All but DX and wagon can be ordered with leather upholstery, and all but DX are available with a power glass moonroof option.
All versions save the DX are available with either a 125-hp inline 4-cylinder or 188-hp V6 engine; the entry-level car comes only with the less powerful 4-cylinder.
Toyota interiors have long been considered to be among the best in the industry in terms of appearance, function and finish. The cabin of our top-of-the-line Camry XLE test car was no exception. Everything looks right, from the shape of the dashboard and door panels to seats and center console. All controls are placed where they should be, and are clearly labelled. Fabrics, carpeting and plastics are all of good quality.
The Camry scores high marks for comfort. Sufficient space is available for driver and front passenger to stretch out; those in the back have to make do with a little less space, but three will fit. The front bucket and rear bench seats--the latter with a split/fold feature that opens cargo space up considerably--are well-padded and supportive.
Camry wagons offer an optional rear-facing third seat that is best left to very small children and pets. It's awkward to climb into and out of, and once the passenger is there, it's none too pleasant to sit on. It's best to use the back as a cargo bay; there's 40.5 cu. ft. available in back for that purpose, and just under 75 cu. ft. of stowage space when the center seat is folded.
Nothing emphasizes the Camry's solid-citizen image as effectively as a drive. It matters not at all whether the trip is across town or across the country; in any driving situation, the Toyota is rock-solid, smooth and efficient. Most of the time, it's quiet, too, though the engine (we're talking about the V6, mind you) gets noisy when asked to pick up speed quickly, as on freeway on-ramps.
On the other hand, pickup is something the V6 does very well, out-performing the standard V6 engines offered by its Detroit rivals.
On a long cruise, the Camry is thoroughly pleasant. Wind and mechanical noises were nicely subdued in our test car, and we encountered no squeaks or rattles. About the only noise to be heard was generated by tire treads, a little more than we expected.
The Camry is a soft-riding car, one that won't jolt its occupants even when travelling over poor road surfaces. The downside to the pillowy ride is a distinct shortage of driving pleasure. Despite its light curb weight, the Camry feels ponderous, floating over bumps and leaning heavily through turns. The steering is light and not particularly precise.
If that lack of driving fun matters, the Camry SE has stiffened suspension and much sharper steering. While not quite as crisp as, say, an Accord, the SE is more of a driver's car, with minimal loss of comfort.
Unless your driving is done largely around town, we think the extra $2300 or so Toyota charges for the V6 engine makes sense. It's a refined powerplant, one that copes well with even a full load of passengers and luggage. The V6 requires premium-grade fuel, a definite consideration for high-mileage drivers, but uses little more than its 4-cylinder kin. A 4-speed automatic transmission is standard with the V6, optional for 4-cylinder Camrys, which come equipped with a very good 5-speed manual.
In many applications the base 4-cylinder powerplant would be a standout, delivering impressive power with smoothness unusual even among today's highly developed 4-cylinder engines. But an engine that needs to be kept at fairly high rpm to be effective, as this one does, may not be what most people want or need in a decidedly non-sporty passenger car.
A side benefit to ordering the V6 engine is the replacement of the rear drum brakes with discs. The all-disc system provides sure stopping power, and can be augmented with optional ABS. Four-wheel discs are also supplied when ABS is ordered on 4-cylinder models.
In some respects, the Camry is an enigma. Finding fault with the basic package is difficult; who would complain about a roomy, easy-riding car that is beautifully assembled and is sure to be as dependable as the sunrise?
But there are areas in which the Camry falls short. Certain competitors--the Accord, for example--are more fun to drive, yet no less comfortable. Others deliver more performance, with little, if any, loss of refinement.
And there's the matter of what you get for what you pay. The Camry's base price is reasonable, and the DX lacks only air conditioning to make it a good choice. But a V6-powered XLE, without pricey options like a sunroof, is just over $25,000, and that's a fair chunk of change.
If you're looking for good, traditional middle-of-the-road transportation, bolstered by exceptional quality, the Camry delivers. But if you want to build performance and handling agility into the package, it gets expensive, and a number of competing makes offer a little more for a little less.
On the other hand, that price premium does have a downstream plus. Camrys hold a relatively high percentage of their value over time, so you'll get a little more back when it's time for your next car.
Japan; Georgetown, KY.
Options As Tested
Power mirrors, power locks, air conditioning, alloy wheels, ABS, 4-speaker AM/FM/cassette audio system, power adjustable driver's seat.