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Second-Hand: 2002-2006 Toyota Camry

Toyota proved it could meet North American tastes and have fun with words, too: Camry is an anagram for my car.

“Boringliciousmacchina.”

Seldom has so much been said in one multisyllabic word.

On a site probing automobile owners for their experiences, one 2004 Toyota Camry driver felt compelled to title his response this way, then added some details: “A good, dedicated, reliable, stylish, comfort and unforgivingly boring machine.”

Exactly, mostly.

Marketed as Toyota’s first large front-wheel-drive car, the Camry arrived in 1983 as a four-door sedan and hatchback. When the second-generation (1987-91) sedan and wagon received an optional V6, the Camry found its North American target market like a perfectly aimed armour-piercing bullet.

In the U.S., the Camry has been the bestselling car for nine of the last 10 years. In Canada, the Camry recently ranked as the most popular car in the mid-size category (compacts dominate the market here).

Toyota proved it could meet North American tastes and have fun with words, too: “Camry” is an anagram for “my car.”

CONFIGURATION

The new-for-2002 model grew larger with a 50-mm wheelbase stretch and more height, width and overall length.

It was the first all-new Camry in a decade and Toyota pulled out all the stops: the front suspension used MacPherson struts mounted to a front sub-frame while the rear dual link setup also mounted to its own sub-frame.

Overkill? Not really. The Lexus ES 300 shared the Camry’s basic layout, so budget-minded buyers were getting some Lexus hardware.

Standard was a new 2.4 L four-cylinder engine, good for 157 hp and 162 lb.-ft. of torque.

Carried over from the previous Camry was the optional all-aluminum 3.0 L V6, which made 192 hp. Both engines earned ULEV certification for their clean emissions.

Buyers could choose between an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission and a five-speed manual, although the latter was restricted to four-cylinder models only.

For 2005, antilock brakes became standard on all models, and the slick five-speed automatic transmission trickled down to the four-cylinder models.

An all-new Camry arrived for 2007.

ON THE ROAD

The four-cylinder models were decently quick – 0-to-96 km/h came up in 8.3 seconds with the manual transmission and about one second more with the automatic – and returned good fuel economy. The V6 was barely quicker: highway velocity came up in 8.2 seconds with the requisite automatic transmission.

Some drivers found the handling flaccid and the steering uncommunicative.

“I don’t feel any connection to the road through the steering, which is over-assisted and much too light at all speeds,” the owner of a ’03 Camry wrote.

WHAT OWNERS REPORTED

Our Internet search revealed a small number of automatic transmission failures, particularly in the 2002 model year. Watch for rough or delayed shifts during your test drive.

“Transmission replaced at 3,700 km. Problem returned at 9,000 km – traced to faulty valve body,” reported the owner of a ’04 model.

Other reported maladies included engine failures, faulty steering shafts, and short-lived batteries and catalytic converters. Some owners complained the brake rotors required frequent attention and the factory-issue tires wore out quickly.

Overall, the Camry lives up to its class-leading stature – but there’s no such thing as a bulletproof used car. Don’t pay the Camry premium. Always negotiate a better price and bank the savings for future repairs.

We would like to know about your ownership experience with these models: Pontiac G5/Chevy Cobalt, Toyota Matrix, Dodge Caliber and Nissan Versa. Email: toljagic@ca.inter.net.

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