Retro review: Toyota Camry V6 (2002)

This review originally appeared in TopGear magazine issue 100 (2002)

I’ve always thought that in-laws must feel pressured to produce aesthetic offspring. Everyone expects a miracle, so imagine their reaction when a troll appears with narrowed eyes.

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Admittedly, Toyota isn’t the world’s prettiest dad, but its current lineup includes the sassy Yaris, the skinny Celica, and the beefy Land Cruiser. And if I were the boss of Toyota, I’d request a DNA test on the new Camry.

In its previous incarnation, five million Camrys were sold in the United States alone, but it will take a lot more than an Avensis-style grille to keep the head from being flushed down the toilet in the European market.

Many cars in the local executive sector have a reserved sophistication about their appearance, but not the Camry: It looks like an excited clerk trying to pocket a jacket and breeches.

As a flagship model, this 3.0-litre V6 CDX firmly throws its hat into the arena of the greats with a hefty asking price of £25,495. So what does he have to tempt someone away from the iron stake of an Audi A6 2.4 SE?

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Well, you get an incredibly luxurious cabin and a host of extras. There is, of course, leather, air conditioning, an automatic CD changer, electrically adjustable front seats and a power sunroof. It’s a spacious and uncluttered place, its fixtures and fittings lifted off the Lexus shelf and bolted down with the same emphasis on solidity. There are also front, side and curtain airbags, ABS and EBD. Everything is luxury and refinement, albeit in a Japanese style.

It used to be that this type of car didn’t need to be cool to drive, but BMW focused so much on big car dynamics that it set the standard for handling and performance. So now, to have a fighting chance in this sector, rear-wheel drive is recommended.

It’s not clear why a Lexus rear-wheel drive platform wasn’t used as the base for the Camry, but it wasn’t, and the car suffers for it. There’s plenty of grip, but absolutely no dynamic ambition beyond forward motion.

It’s not entirely temperamental, but the Camry leans too hard in the corners and the steering and brakes don’t have the same conviction as its quality European rivals. However, he drives comfortably. In America, the ruling class likes to be transported without being shaken or shaken, and the Camry will do just that. There’s minimal road noise, little wind gust, and the gritty stuff of the engine is well-damped by those inside.

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However, the occasional and uncivilized dabbling over the front-wheel purchase when trying to get the power out of one corner, combined with its general reluctance to get into the next, reveals a somewhat two-dimensional character.

The 3.0-liter V6 engine produces, for a block of this type, a below-average output of 184 hp. Still, he’s a typically smooth operator from the Toyota stable. With its right foot firmly planted, it will take you from 0 to 62 mph shadow-assisted in nine seconds and up to 140 mph boost-assisted.

So there’s no reason to get excited about its performance, especially since you can’t comfortably carry your straight-line pace very far on a twisty road. The four-speed gearbox is as refined as the engine, but at cruising speeds it could work with higher gears. Like the handling, the driving experience is a step behind its rivals.

The biggest question mark over the new Camry is the identity of its intended buyer. The price dips a finger into BMW 520i SE territory, and while the German doesn’t come with all that equipment, it’s a much more engaging car with the same performance and much better residue. Anyone trying to dump a Camry a few years later will burn their fingers to the second knuckle, but if debris isn’t your problem, you’re better off buying the top end. OpelOmega. GM V6 models join the Camry in residual free fall, but from a more realistic starting point.

The Camry falls between the Toyota and Lexus stools. It is too rich for the former and too heavy for the latter. Even his parents apparently don’t know what to do with him.

Rivals: BMW 520 SE, Audi A6 2.4 SE, Volvo S80 2.4 SE

Verdict: Expensive, bothered by shocking residue, but reliable and well built.

3.0 liter V6 24v
184 horsepower
4-speed automatic, TA
0-62mph in 9.0sec, 130mph

Words: adrian simpson
Photos: Paul Debois


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