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There are some rivalries that seem to have been around forever; Yankees vs. Red Sox, Coke vs. Pepsi, Camry vs. Accord. Actually, the battle between the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord didn't start until later in the 1983 model year, when Toyota replaced the old, rear-wheel-drive Corona with the aimed-at-the-U.S.-market Camry. By the time the front-wheel-drive Camry came to market, Honda's Accord had been tearing up the sales charts for a few years. In an attempt to be bigger and better than the Honda, Camry's wheelbase, at 102.4 inches, was nearly 6 inches longer than the Accord's, translating into more legroom for backseat passengers. Likewise, the Camry's 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, at 92 horsepower, had a bit more power than the Accord's 86-horse, 1.8-liter unit. Transmissions offered were a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic.
From a styling perspective, the Camry was of the...ummm, utilitarian school of design. Not ugly but not something that turned heads, either. It was functional, however, with slim roof pillars and plenty of glass area that provided great outward visibility. Like its archrival, the Camry was available in a few trim levels, the base DX and the more luxurious LE. Unlike the Accord, the Camry wasn't offered in two-door form, although the four-door Camry could be had in either hatchback or sedan body styles.
And as with the Accord, the Camry quickly became a big seller, sharing with the Honda the strong attributes of fine build quality, peppy performance, decent comfort and solid reliability. The battle had begun.
1984 saw no changes for the Camry, as this was the first full year of production for Toyota's new midsize family car.
The next year, 1985, saw updates such as a shuffling of colors, a slight bump in the engine's output (to 95 horsepower) and the adoption of flush-mounted headlights.
For 1986, as Honda rolled out an all-new and improved Accord, the successful Camry stood pat, as the car would receive a complete redesign the following year.
1987 marked the first year of the second-generation Camry. Going right after its main competition, Honda's Accord, the Camry was set up for battle with many improvements.
Although the four-cylinder engine's displacement remained at 2.0 liters, motive force increased by a stout 20 horsepower (to 115 ponies), a result of a more modern, 16-valve, twin-cam engine design. This output was 17 horses more than the Accord's four-banger. In addition to the newfound power were decreases in noise and vibration. Nearly imperceptible gear changes characterized the optional automatic transmission — a good thing, as most Camrys were so equipped. A somewhat isolated driving experience was the chief difference between the Camry and Accord. The Accord was tailored more toward those who enjoyed interaction and feedback from their car while the Camry was more for those who wanted a smooth and quiet means of transportation and didn't care about tackling the twisties or feeling firm upshifts from their car's automatic transmission when they put their right foot to the floor.
In addition to the increased muscle came a new body that, while still conservative, was sleeker and looked more upscale than the previous generation. Again, slim roof pillars minimized blind spots. Speaking of bodies, the five-door hatchback was dropped (it seemed Americans preferred their four doors with the more formal look of a separate trunk) and a wagon debuted. Three trim levels were now offered: base, "value-equipped" DX, and loaded and luxurious LE.
The big news for the 1988 Camry was a V6 engine option and the availability of all-wheel drive (AWD). The 2.5-liter V6 boasted double-overhead cams (DOHC) with four valves per cylinder and kicked out 153 horsepower. This refined powerplant provided strong acceleration as well as very smooth and quiet operation. The AWD system, dubbed "All-Trac" and available only with the manual transmission, provided additional grip for those who lived in areas of the country prone to slippery driving conditions, such as the Northeast and the Midwest.
With the increasing popularity of the Camry in the U.S. came the decision to set up production of the car in the states. Georgetown, Ky., was chosen as the site and the first American-made Camrys started rolling off the line in 1988. As with buyers of the Honda Accord, U.S. consumers could now buy a Japanese car without feeling guilty about taking work away from Americans.
For 1989, the Camry All-Trac could be had with the automatic gearbox, but other than this, the car continued for the next two years virtually unchanged. As before, Toyota knew to leave well enough alone. As the Camry continued to garner praise and awards from various consumer publications for its high levels of build quality and reliability, sales continued to climb.
With production being increased at the Kentucky plant to help meet the demand for Toyota's jewel of a family car, the Camry became the fifth best-selling car in America. Antilock brakes became optional in 1991 on a few of the Camry models, specifically the LE V6 Sedan and Wagon and the All-Trac LE Sedan. This year also saw the addition of a knock sensor on the V6 to ensure smoother operation.
Catering to Americans' fondness for larger cars, the completely redesigned 1992 Camry grew in every dimension. Length was up nearly 6 inches, width increased by 2 inches and both height and wheelbase were 1 inch greater than before. The larger Camry, in addition to providing noticeably more room for occupants, was more pleasing to the eye as well. Smoothly rounded, aerodynamic contours enveloped the car, and inside the cabin, this theme continued with nary a hard edge to be seen on the dash or door panels.
The new body, along with improvements in sound insulation and engine smoothness, made a car already known for being quiet even more so, with the lack of noise at cruising speeds rivaling luxury cars that cost a lot more than the Camry. In fact, the 1992 Camry served as the basis for the 1992 Lexus ES 300. Safety was attended to with the addition of a driver's side airbag, outboard three-point belts, and the availability of ABS for all Camrys.
To move the more massive Camry, bigger engines were fitted underhood. The four-cylinder engine now displaced 2.2 liters and boasted 130 horsepower. The V6 was increased to 3.0 liters and kicked out 185 horsepower, enough muscle to launch a Camry from zero to 60 mph in under 8 seconds.
Trim levels were expanded to include the expected DX and LE, which were joined by the XLE and the SE. Going uptown, the XLE added a moonroof, alloy wheels and a power driver's seat to the already loaded LE. The SE, which was introduced as a late '92, was an enthusiast's version of the Camry and had the V6 engine, performance suspension, larger tires on unique alloy wheels, a quicker steering ratio and a numerically higher final drive ratio. What all this meant is that the SE cornered flatter and accelerated faster than any other Camry. Indeed, it was a worthy competitor to Nissan's superb Maxima SE, and finally gave Toyota fans a sporty sedan they could call their own. To set it apart from the other Camrys, the SE had sport seats, a rear spoiler, and blacked-out window, door handle and mirror trim.
Also later in the 1992 model year, a wagon rejoined the Camry lineup. The new wagon, spacious enough to allow for a third-seat option (that increased passenger capacity to seven), was offered in DX and LE trim levels.
Small refinements, such as improved gear shifting quality of manual transmission/four cylinder cars, marked the 1993 model year. Actually, manual gearbox Camrys were quite rare as only the DX and SE versions could be equipped that way; all others came with the automatic tranny. A few new colors debuted and DX models now had color-keyed body-side moldings.
Of more important note this year were the production statistics; the Kentucky plant now made 75 percent of the Camry sedans sold in the U.S. and 100 percent of all the Camry wagons, sold worldwide.
Now in its third year of its third-generation of design, the 1994 Camry received a few notable changes and additions for '94. To battle Honda's Accord Coupe, Toyota released a two-door version of the popular Camry. A passenger airbag was added for additional safety. On the mechanical side, the V6 was completely redesigned for more power (now 188 horsepower) and smoother operation. The four-cylinder engine remained unchanged, and the automatic transmission gained "fuzzy logic" electronic control that minimized hunting between gears, such as when driving on hilly terrain.
1995 brought a mild facelift, with the Camry receiving a new grille, headlights and taillights, all intended to give the car a more upscale and substantial appearance. The DX Wagon was dropped, leaving the more luxurious LE trim as the sole choice for a Camry wagon. The XLE received ABS as standard; it was optional on other trim levels. Beating the mandate by two years, the '95 Camry met 1997 government side-impact crash standards.
1996 Now in its fifth, and last, year of this generation (introduced as a '92), the '96 Camry continued with only minor changes from the previous year. A new seat fabric adorned the interior of the DX, leather seating became optional on the LE (the most popular trim level) and a power seat was a new option for the LE Wagon.
Continuing its every-five-years design cycle, the Camry was revamped for 1997. The new body style traded the curves of the previous generation for sharp angles on a wedge-like profile. The two-door and station wagon versions, which were never nearly as popular as the four-door Camry, were dropped. A 2-inch stretch in wheelbase provided more legroom for rear-seat passengers and other dimensions, such as width, increased slightly, as well.
Three trim levels were available, base CE (which replaced the DX), nicely equipped LE and loaded XLE. The sporty SE was gone.
More powerful engines were on tap, with the 2.2-liter inline four producing 133 horsepower and the V6 (which was now optional on the base model) boasting 194 ponies. An automatic transmission was standard on LE and XLE models, while the four-cylinder CE came with a choice of either a five-speed manual or the automatic. The CE V6 came only with the manual gearbox, making this the only Camry so equipped and allowing the car to zip from 0 to 60 mph in under 8 seconds.
The suspension continued as before, save for a few minor tweaks to improve handling and ride.
Toyota became more generous with antilock brakes this year. Previously standard only on the XLE and optional on all other Camrys, ABS became standard on all for 1997 except the four-cylinder CE model. Other safety news involved bumpers that could now withstand a 5-mph impact versus just a 2.5-mph hit and the option of traction control for V6 LE and XLE models.
Evidently, American consumers liked the new Camry a lot, making it the best-selling car in the U.S. for 1997.
Side-impact airbags became available as an option for all 1998 Camrys. The V6 earned LEV status, which the inline four already had. The anti-theft system was improved via an engine immobilizer. And again, the Camry was the most popular car in America.
A coupe, called the Camry Solara, returned to the lineup for 1999. Unlike the previous Camry coupe, which was barely discernable from the four-door sedan, the Solara had a look all its own with its swoopy roofline, heavily creased sides and unique nose and tail. Although it used the same platform as the sedan, the Solara was tuned to deliver a sportier feel through a tightened suspension and recalibrated, firmer steering that gave more feedback to the driver. Additionally, a Sport package was optional on V6 models, and it featured 16-inch alloy wheels, a stiffer suspension and a rear spoiler.
The Solara was available in SE trim with either the four-cylinder or V6, and the leather-lined SLE which came with the V6, and either engine could have a manual or automatic transmission. An SE's equipment level was similar to an LE sedan's and likewise, the SLE was loaded up like an XLE sedan.
The Camry sedan received DRL (daytime running lights) as standard on LE and XLE models and was included on the CE if it had optional antilock brakes. Other changes included upgraded sound systems with both CD and cassette players and a shuffling of color choices.
To freshen up the now four-year-old body style of the Camry sedan, Toyota updated the front and rear ends for 2000. The simple addition of a chrome outline for the grille brought the nose uptown, and enlarged taillights adorned the tail. Revised side moldings and new wheel cover and wheel designs completed the exterior enhancements.
The cabin received a few upgrades, as well, including a newly standard stereo with cassette and CD players for all and the addition of faux wood trim to the XLE.
Toyota sent the fourth-generation Camry out in fine style for its last year, 2001, with a special "Gallery Series" edition. This gussied-up LE featured two-tone treatments for the paint and interior, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift, and chrome accents such as wheelcovers, exhaust tip and vent surrounds.
Sticking with its every-five-years design cycle, Toyota brought out an all-new Camry for 2002. The body was at once more substantial and more aerodynamic than previous models. Other than the oddly placed Toyota symbol on the nose, this Camry had a more upscale and elegant look than its predecessor.
A 2-inch stretch in wheelbase and a height increase of 2.5 inches made for a more spacious cabin. And a bigger trunk allowed a total capacity of 16.7 cubic feet — an increase of 2.6 cubic feet.
In contrast to some automakers that add trim levels in an attempt to stir up buyer interest, Toyota continued to keep confusion and manufacturing complexity to a minimum by simply offering a few versions to suit buyers' needs. As such, the base CE was dropped, as Toyota realized that nobody buys a car with manual windows and sans air-conditioning anymore, leaving three Camry models from which to choose: LE, sporty SE (which returned after a five-year hiatus) and XLE.
Motivating the Camry was again the choice of four- or six-cylinder power. The proven V6 was tweaked a bit to lower emissions and qualify for ULEV status but lost a few horsepower (now rated at 192 ponies). The completely new inline-4, now at 2.4 liters, pumped out 157 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. The V6 was paired only with a four-speed automatic, while four-cylinder buyers had a choice of the automatic or a five-speed manual gearbox.
Other than newly available power-adjustable pedals, the Camry was unchanged for 2003.
A new 3.3-liter V6 showed up for the 2004 Camry SE, boosting hp to 225 and torque to 220 lb-ft. Output for the LE and XLE trim's 3.0-liter V6 was also upgraded to 210 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque. Both engines came standard with a five-speed automatic for 2003. A new trim known as the Limited Edition was also sold for this model year with an exclusive Crystal White color, a unique grille design and standard foglights.
An entry-level standard model was added to the Camry lineup for 2005. All Camrys also got freshened styling and standard antilock brakes, Optitron gauges, steering wheel audio controls and upgraded seat fabrics. The XLE V6 gained standard leather upholstery.
Changes were light for 2006, with a navigation system being added to the SE V6's options list. Power ratings were also lower for this model year because of new standardized horsepower testing procedures, although actual output really didn't change.
The Toyota Camry was completely redesigned for 2007. Styling was radically changed, with the previous model's smooth body style traded in favor of a more angular and distinctive form. The interior was given a more eye-catching appearance with snazzy teal lighting, although materials and build quality in general took a surprising turn for the worse. Other highlights included additional passenger space and new luxury-oriented features.
There were four trim levels offered: base CE, popular LE, sporty SE and luxurious XLE. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder carried over mostly unchanged, producing 158 hp and 161 lb-ft of torque. The literal big news was the optional 3.5-liter V6 that produced an impressive 268 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque while returning 28 mpg highway. Transmission choices for the four-cylinder were a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic, while the V6 sent its power through a standard six-speed automatic. A gasoline-electric Camry Hybrid also debuted using technology similar to that found in Toyota's popular Prius.
For 2008, the only change was that the base model dropped its CE designation. There is nothing to report for 2009.