2002 Toyota Camry Review - Autoblog (2024)

America's most popular car gets a major makeover.Revised styling and a new base engine.


The Toyota Camry has been America's best-selling car for past few years.That's an important title for auto manufacturers, so Toyota is quite pleased that the Camry has outsold the Honda Accord and Ford Taurus, its arch-rivals among mid-size sedans.Now comes a completely redesigned Camry for 2002, making this the fifth generation.

This year's Camry is a slightly larger car.Yet performance and fuel economy have been maintained.Styling is all new, designed to add sensuality to what has been a bland design.

Better yet, prices have dropped slightly over last year's models.Given Toyota's reputation for quality, durability and reliability, the new Camry will once again prove to be the ideal car for about 400,000 new-car buyers a year who don't want to worry or even think about their car.The Toyota Camry is one of the best-selling sedans in America.The coupe and convertible versions of this car carry the Solara badge and unique styling.But while the Camry moved onto a new-generation platform for the 2002 model year, the Solara carries over on the previous platform.

However, the Solara coupe and convertible do get a facelift for 2002, with a new grille, front bumper, headlamps and tail lamps.A new four-cylinder engine for 2002 delivers significantly more power over last year without sacrificing fuel economy or emissions.

Overall, the Solara is smooth and quiet.Its optional V6 delivers strong torque for good acceleration performance.It's comfortable, with terrific seats, and the top is easy to operate.


Trim levels are nearly the same as last year: LE 5-speed manual ($18,970); LE 4-speed automatic ($19,800); SE 5-speed manual ($20,310); SE 4-speed automatic ($21,140); XLE 4-speed automatic ($22,295) LE V6 4-speed automatic ($22,260); SE V6 4-speed automatic ($23,700); XLE V6 4-speed automatic ($25,405).(Gone is the low-priced CE.)

LE was always the most popular model.This year, it comes with a lot more standard equipment, including air conditioning, power windows, power locks, power mirrors, cruise control, 60/40 split rear seat and vanity mirrors.

However, Toyota hopes that more people will be interested in the luxuriously appointed XLE as it is not such a jump up in price from the LE as before.XLE adds luxury appointments such as wood grain trim, power driver and passenger seats, automatic air conditioning, alarm system, keyless entry, cargo net, and rear-window sunshade.

SE is a new model, a sportier version of the LE with added equipment such as fog lights, stiffer suspension, bigger wheels and tires, rear spoiler and sportier trim inside and out.

Each of the three models can be had with a newly redesigned four-cylinder or V6 engine.Manual transmission is only available on the LE and SE four-cylinder models.

The list of option packages is quite long, enabling buyers to order a Camry to suit taste and budget.Side airbags are available as an option on the LE and SE, but are standard on the XLE.

(Note: The 2002 Camry Solara coupe/convertible is still based on the old Camry platform even though it has a few small cosmetic changes to make it look more like the new Camry sedan.).The Solara comes in hardtop coupe and convertible body styles.It's available with four-cylinder or V6 engines and manual or automatic transmissions.

The four-cylinder coupe is available only in the SE trim level, $19,365 with a five-speed manual transmission and $20,165 with a four-speed automatic.Standard equipment includes an all-new 157-horsepower 2.4-liter engine, air conditioning, front disc brakes, cruise control, fog lights, an AM/FM radio with a cassette player, 15-inch wheels and tires, cloth seating and front airbags.

The V6 coupe is available in SE and SLE trim levels.SE V6 with five-speed manual retails for $21,685; SE with automatic transmission retails for $22,485; SLE, which is only available with automatic, lists for $24,675.Both are powered by a 200-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 and have four-wheel disc brakes with ABS.The SLE adds leather seating surfaces, automatic climate controls, heated rearview mirrors, a JBL premium audio system with a CD player, front bucket seats with eight-way power on the driver's side, a rear spoiler, 16-inch alloy wheels and 205/60R16 tires.

The convertible is available as a four-cylinder SE ($24,495), or a V6 SE ($28,045) or V6 SLE ($30,525).All convertibles come with automatic transmissions.The convertible top raises and lowers under its own power and features a heated glass rear window.


When Ford introduced its new version of the Taurus back in 1996 it made the mistake of making the new design too radical (and many would say too ugly) for many buyers.Within a couple of years it had to tone down the curvy look, but sales dropped.

Toyota obviously took this lesson to heart as the exterior design of the new Camry does not stray too far from the previous Camry in appearance, even though Toyota says it has made it look more exciting.Ironically, the rear deck and tail light treatment is the most different and it has a distinctly Taurus look to it.The front of the Camry appears to have a bit of Lincoln LS in it, thanks to the way the grille cuts into the top edge of the front bumper.

Overall, the new Camry offers a more sculptured appearance, with slightly flared wheel arches and a distinct dual crease line in the hood, which leads nicely into the grille.The new Camry has a much taller stance on the road than the previous model as its height has increased by more than two inches, while gaining less than an inch in length and width.The Toyota Solara is updated for 2002 with new front and rear fascias that give it some fresh sparkle.The changes include a new grille with a redesigned front bumper and air dam, new four-bulb headlamps, fog lamps, parking lamps, and jeweled tail lamps.New wheel designs are also available.

The Solara's styling features strong character lines and a wide rear end with a small rear spoiler (optional).


Toyota knows how to build quiet cars that with a comfortable ride quality.Toyota's Lexus division has excelled in this area and this expertise appears to have worked its way into the Camry.Not only is the engine quieter, but it is mounted to the body in a new way to lessen vibration.There is more sound deadening, so that even when the four-cylinder engine is driven hard the engine noise is quite subdued.

Other Lexus-type touches are the air conditioning controls that are electronic rather than mechanical giving a smooth tactile feel when operated.On the SE and LE models these large knobs are mounted in a prominent position in the center of the dashboard.Unlike some cars, the Camry's dashboard is relatively plain with no large curved surfaces and it is set relatively high.Although it blends nicely into the door panel trim, the cover for the passenger-side airbag is surprisingly noticeable as the seams show clearly.Many other car manufacturers have managed to make the passenger-side airbag invisible.The instruments are located in a relatively small pod right in front of the steering wheel with large half moon tachometer and matching speedometer.The fuel and temperature gauges are located within the two larger instruments.

Lights and windshield wiper/washer controls are on stalks on the steering column, leaving the left lower edge of the dash free of switches.Radio and climate controls are mounted high in the center of the dash.Manual controls suffice for LE and SE models.XLE trim gets automatic climate control, upgraded sound system controls.A navigational system is an option on the XLE.A wide center console separates the two front bucket seats and contains useful storage areas.The parking brake on the LE and SE is also located in the center console whereas the XLE gets a foot-operated parking brake.

Rear-seat passengers will find the accommodation to be quite pleasant for a mid-size passenger car.Head- and legroom have increased compared to the previous Camry.The rear seat splits 60/40 allowing pass through for large objects in the trunk, although the actual opening is smaller than it might be.The trunk itself is a decent size and shape.Although the gooseneck hinges take away valuable space in the trunk, at least they are hidden under a cover eliminating the chance of contents being damaged when the lid is closed.For 2002, the SE coupe gets a new appearance package ($110 with a manual transmission and $175 with an automatic) that includes a leather-wrapped, three-spoke steering wheel, leather-wrapped shift knob, black trim and black pearl emblems and special alloy center cap for all four wheels.

Seat heaters are now available on Solara coupes ($315), as is a remote keyless entry with a trunk opener.

The Solara feels different from the Camry the moment you sit in the driver's seat.The dashboard hints at a co*ckpit-style instrument panel.It flows into the door panels, accented by a strip of tasteful faux wood trim.In some color combinations, the plastic, vinyl and leather interior share the rich look and feel of Toyota's upscale Lexus cars.

For 2002, additional wood trim around the gear shift in a lighter wood grain improves the interior appearance.There are still things to quibble about, however.Shoulder belts are not height-adjustable.The storage bins on the door panels are a little too narrow to be really useful.

The Solara driver looks at a crisp, legible, well-lit cluster of three gauges, with the speedometer in the center, tachometer left and the fuel gauge and water temperature on the right.The stereo buttons are big and easy to find with minimal distraction; the volume and tuning dials sit closest to the driver, exactly where they should be.

Simple radial climate-control switches allow easy adjustments.The fan is a bit loud at full speed, but almost inaudible on lower settings.Solara has both a cigarette lighter and an extra power outlet.From the stalk-mounted wiper controls to the sunroof button overhead, switch placement and operation are first rate.

The seats are excellent.The optional leather is supple and perfectly tailored, while the seats themselves are soft enough to be comfortable yet firm enough to keep the driver from feeling lazy.The seatbacks have a memory feature, so they return to the same incline position when they're leaned forward.The front passenger seat has a toe-operated lever that slides the whole seat forward for easy access to the rear.

Even though the Solara only comes with two doors, the rear seat accommodates two 6-foot adults in reasonable comfort.Grab handles, a padded armrest and an ashtray are available for back-seat passengers.In short, accommodations are better than adequate for taking friends out for a night on the town.When it's necessary to carry oversize packages, the rear seat folds flat to expand trunk space.

The Solara convertible's headliner is covered in rich-looking fabric; it's so nicely finished that you'd be hard-pressed to know you were in a convertible.

Driving Impression

Transparent.That one word sums up the driving experience in the Camry.It's a compliment as it means there is nothing untoward or strange about the car -- it does everything just right.An enthusiast driver would complain that it lacks character, but for the average driver that's a positive comment as it means he or she does not have to think about what's going on.

More than two-thirds of all Camrys sold will come with the four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission.It is inexpensive and fuel-efficient and provides plenty of power.Computer logic controls the automatic transmission; the car can tell when it is going up hill or down hill and shifts gears accordingly.It can hold a lower gear longer when necessary to avoid the annoying shifting up and down that occurs in some automatics.

The ride is pleasant.In fact, it's merging on luxurious, with enough cushioning to make passengers feel comfortable.The steering is light but not sloppy.Those who like a sportier, more precise handling will notice that the different suspension setup and tires on the SE do make the car feel crisper, though it's still far from being a sports sedan.

You'd never know from driving the car, but the gas pedal is a drive-by-wire affair.That means it is not connected directly to the engine by a cable; instead, it reacts through a sensor connected to a computer -- just as in modern airplanes.One advantage of this arrangement is that the optional Vehicle Skid Control system can take over control of the throttle in an emergency and apply just the right amount of braking and throttle to help keep the vehicle on a more stable path.The Toyota Solara is smooth and quiet and it rides nicely.It isn't a sports car, but feels competent on winding roads.

The optional V6 engine is so smooth at idle that the driver feels almost no vibration through the steering wheel, seats or floorboard.The only hint that the car is running comes as a faint resonance in the gas pedal.Pick up steam and that silky smooth quality remains.At freeway pace, there's little wind noise in the Solara's cabin even on the windiest days.As you'd expect, the convertible model is a bit noisier inside with the top up than the coupe.

Full steam in a Solara V6 comes in short order.With healthy torque, the V6 delivers a steady flow of acceleration.The four-speed automatic, which most Solara buyers will choose, takes full advantage of that power.Downshifts are as immediate as a jab at the gas pedal, and passing maneuvers are a breeze.Off the line, a Solara V6 automatic coupe manages 0-60 mph acceleration runs in the low 7-second range, making it one of the quickest cars in its class.The 3.0-liter V6 generates 200 horsepower at 5300 rpm and 214 pounds-feet of torque at 4400 rpm.

An all-new twin-cam 16-valve 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing comes on the base models.Power has been increased by 22 horsepower (to 157 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 162 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm).Yet it still boasts an EPA city/highway rating of 24/33 mpg (which drops slightly with an automatic and a convertible).

When the road changes direction sharply and frequently, the Solara bears up well.The steering is less numb than that in the Camry sedan.It's more progressive in the effort required by the driver, a little bit sharper, and quick enough to keep up with rapid direction changes.

But the Solara is not a sports car.It's basic handling characteristic is understeer, a pushing at the front of the car the helps keep drivers without racing experience from getting in over their heads as they make turns.It has more body roll, or lean through the corners, than a sports car.But it is well controlled as the car's weight shifts from side.Solara is competent on all kinds of roads, and its supple ride keeps driver and passengers comfortable in all circ*mstances.

For entertainment value, the manual transmission gives Solara an edge on competitors.The five-speed adds another level of driver involvement, and it quickens acceleration performance and improves fuel economy by 1 mpg.

We're not enamored of Solara's optional traction-control system, however.Traction control works by limiting engine power when the drive wheels slip, and the Solara's system might be useful in climates where slippery conditions are a constant problem.Yet managing power in a front-wheel-drive automobile is less demanding than in a rear-drive car to begin with.And the Solara's system is so aggressive that it turns the car into a turtle in conditions that aren't that difficult.It's safe, mind you, just not very sporting.Fortunately, a switch allows the driver to turn it off when it's not needed.

Does Solara have that intangible quality enthusiast drivers call personality? That's a hard thing to define.Certainly, it doesn't have the spirited performance of favorites like BMW's 3 Series cars.On the other hand, compared to some of the vanilla-flavored cars from staid Toyota, the Solara has personality.It doesn't beg to be driven like a racecar, but it doesn't wilt under pressure, either.

Solara can get the blood pumping fast enough to more than satisfy most drivers.The Honda Accord coupe, Solara's most obvious competitor, has slightly more responsive steering, yet it doesn't feel as substantial as the Solara.And compared to the Chrysler Sebring coupe or convertible, or just about any car in the class, the Solara is smoother and quieter.

The Solara convertible's top operation is very simple.To lower the top, lower the sun visors, release two latches near the top corners of the.


Toyota admits that the Camry is a car that nobody aspires to own but it's one that everyone recommends others to buy.It's what's known as a safe buy.Toyota has tried hard to make the new Camry more exciting while at the same time make sure it is still a car that will get its occupants from A to B and back without any drama or worries about reliability year in and year out.

The 2002 Toyota Camry is still not as exciting as the 2002 Volkswagen Passat or the 2002 Nissan Altima, both of which are new designs.If looks and character don't matter much, the new Camry should prove to be a great car.It's one we would have no hesitation in recommending to people who just want a solid, reliable car, something that offers a good ride, decent performance and comfort, and blends in nicely with the crowd.That's just what many buyers are after and the Camry fits the bill very nicely, thank you.It will likely continue to be America's most popular new car.The Toyota Solara is well executed.It's solid, roomy and reasonably fun to drive.It offers buyers the benefits of the Toyota Camry (smooth, powerful engines, quiet interiors, and rock-solid dependability) in a slick, two-door body style.

Opting for a Solara SE with the 200-horsepower V6 and available five-speed manual transmission gives the car a sporty edge.Or, the Solara can be ordered as a full-blown luxury coupe with leather upholstery, a concert hall sound system, and automatic climate control.Or, it can be a convertible, delivering top-down, fun in the sun.

Either way, the Solara delivers a blend of comfort, style and reliability that is tough to beat.With Toyota's reputation for quality, durability and reliability, the Solara is a compelling alternative to expensive cars such as the Acura 3.2 CL, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class, and Volvo C70.Anyone seeking the mix of looks, performance and practicality that defines a good coupe or convertible may want to have the Toyota Solara on their shopping list.

Model Lineup

LE 5-speed manual ($18,970); LE 4-speed automatic ($19,800); SE 5-speed manual ($20,310); SE 4-speed automatic ($21,140); XLE 4-speed automatic ($22,295) LE V6 4-speed automatic ($22,260); SE V6 4-speed automatic ($23,700); XLE V6 4-speed automatic ($25,405).SE coupe ($19,365), automatic ($20,165); SE V6 coupe ($21,685), automatic ($22,485); SLE V6 automatic ($24,675); SE convertible ($25,495), SE V6 convertible ($28,045), SLE V6 convertible ($30,525).

Assembled In

Georgetown, Kentucky, and Toyota City, Japan.Cambridge, Ontario.

Options As Tested

power seats, keyless entry ($585), side airbags ($500).traction control ($300); in-dash CD changer ($200); front side-impact airbags ($250); power moonroof ($900).

2002 Toyota Camry Review - Autoblog (2024)
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