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Old Reliable


1992 Toyota Camry

 We've all heard the hype. From enthusiastic advertising copy to automotive journalists who know better, the 1992-1996 version of the Camry was (take your pick): "The Best Car Built in America", "Bargain Lexus", "The Gold Standard", even "Why would anyone consider a Jaguar XJ6 or Mercedes 300E?" The Kudo's rolled in, always promptly distributed by Toyota's well-oiled PR machine.

The 1992-96 Camry was, and is, a fine car. But it's not magic. It has its strengths and weaknesses like any other mechanical device, and you'll have service and repair bills like any other car. But like most Toyotas, the Camry probably won't surprise you with the unexpected. As long as you keep it dutifully serviced, the likelihood of a breakdown is pretty remote       

Strengths Weaknesses
• Exceptional reliability
• Quiet cabin
• Best-in-class build quality
• Six-cylinder is sweet
• No surprises
• Rather dull
• Higher than average parts costs
•Moonroof-equipped models have little headroom

Most are (were) assembled in Kentucky (almost a third are imported from Japan) with many of the subsystems and parts imported from Japan or made by companies in the U.S. owned by Toyota. So don't go for all that mom, apple pie and stars and stripes flag waving stuff -- it's a Japanese car mostly built in America. We've never quite understood the logic that if a car is made here then it is an American car. If Ford built Mustangs in China would that make it a Chinese car?

What's Available
But we digress. From the start, Camrys were available in DX, LE, SE, and XLE trim. A sedan was available initially, joined by a wagon for 1993, and a not-very-successful coupe for 1994. The DX was the price leader, and as such did without the benefit of such niceties as power windows and locks, except as options. Unlike the other models, it sported a standard 5-speed transmission. Most Camry's went out the door as mid-level LE's with a 2.2 liter, 16-valve 4-cylinder engine, automatic transmission, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, and power door locks. The upscale models were the somewhat sportier SE (firmer suspension, 15" alloy wheels and blackout trim) with a standard 3.0 liter, 24-valve 6-cylinder engine and the top-of-the-line XLE, curiously equipped with the four. The XLE came standard with such goodies as a power drivers seat, power moonroof, illuminated entry system and alloy wheels.

Exterior Design
The original 1992 design did not change for '93 and '94, but a minor freshening was applied in '95 through a mild fascia and taillight restyle. Conservative, pleasing and inoffensive best describes the Camry's styling. Conversely, it doesn't (at least in us!) stir any emotion or imagination. But that is to be expected with a Japanese sedan aimed squarely at the heart of the automotive market. No out-on-a-limb oval or cab-forward themes here. On the plus side, the design is aging fairly well and should look contemporary for a while longer.

It may not look cutting edge, but fit and finish are top-notch. Panel seams are always straight and tight, paint finish is always deep and consistent, and the doors and lids close with that reassuring "thunk". Nobody beats Toyota here.

Interior Design
Again, everything is well conceived with excellent fit and finish. Buttons and knobs are easily located and operate with precision. Gauges (speedo, tach, temp and gas) are legible and well-placed. Still, overall the interior doesn't look as rich as, say, a Honda Accord. The shifter and center console in particular have a "bean-counters-were-here" look and the appearance of the dash itself is rather neutral - ok, but not memorable in any manner.Camry Dashboard

Seat fabric appears durable and thankfully doesn't have that "shiny fuzz" look of some of its domestic competitors. Door trim panels are well finished and rather restrained. The SE's interior is a little jazzier, with striped inserts in the seats and door panels.

With front buckets and floor shifter, the Camry is rated as a 5 passenger automobile. Even so, the middle seatback is a big hard lump in your back, so no one is going to be happy there for very long. This is pretty typical of cars in this class. For two, the rear seat has plenty of leg room, but headroom is tight for anyone over 5'10" and six-footers can't sit up straight in moonroof equipped cars.

The front buckets are very nice and most drivers will have no problem finding a comfortable position. One caveat: headroom was lacking for tall people in models equipped with a moonroof, even with the seat adjusted all the way down. A tilt steering wheel is standard in all trim levels.
The trunk is fairly large and very usable with its low liftover height. The rear seat is split and each side can fold down to expand cargo capacity.

Noise levels are commendably low at all speeds. The Camry features triple-sealed doors and a well-isolated cabin. Something not expected: two examples we drove had annoying rattles emanating from the dashboard. Engine noise is muted at all speeds except under hard acceleration. The four moans quite perceptibly under these conditions.

Camry's have a soft, but always controlled ride. The suspension goes about it's work quietly, too, delivering crisp, well muffled thumps over even large bumps. It rarely uses all its suspension travel.

When new, Camry's were lauded for their handling prowess by most of the major magazine reviewers. Perhaps they had just got out of a Buick Roadmaster.  For us, routine, around town handling was fine, but when pushed hard the Camry's front wheels plowed (understeered) rather excessively. Nothing dangerous, but hardly confidence inspiring. Thinking that something was amiss, we checked the tires and inspected the struts and suspension. All appeared normal. The SE with its slightly tauter settings and larger tires is probably better in this regard, but we were unable to include one in our testing. In all probability drivers are not going to put excessive handling demands on this type of vehicle anyway, so we don't see this as a reason not to buy one.

"It's best points? Solidity, silence and a sense of mechanical quality... Problems? Not as much road feel as we'd like, and in the case of the LE, rear drum brakes that lack the control of discs."     Road & Track

"It looks, feels and performs like the Lexus ES300."    Consumer Reports

"The ride is very smooth and quiet, and it stays that way right up to felony speeds."   Car & Driver

"Most drivers would never know it's a four -- it's that smooth." Car & Driver

Both the 4-cylinder and the 6-cylinder motors are thoroughly modern double overhead-cam designs. Both are quiet and smooth. Lightly loaded, acceleration is, at best, adequate with the four.  Four adults and their stuff will often have the four banger working hard, negating some of the inherent quietness of the car. Punching a Camry with the six, however, is immediately gratifying. You're rewarded by both brisk acceleration and a sweet song from the engine.

The automatic transmission shifts smoothly and at just the right time. Manual transmission Camrys are rather rare (less than 10% of production), and we did not get an opportunity to drive one. Most reviewers gave the unit good marks when new.

The first Camrys (1992 & 93) came equipped only with a driver airbag, replacing the previous generation's awful motorized seat belts. For 1994, every Camry was equipped with dual front airbags. Rear child safety locks were standard as was a power window lockout.

Front disc/rear drum brakes were standard on the DX and LE. Six-cylinder equipped models added discs in the rear, but ABS brakes made the standard equipment list only on the XLE, not even making it into the "sport" model, the SE.  It was a rather pricey option on all models, but it did include rear discs on otherwise drum brake-equipped 4-cyl models.

A '95 Camry posted a solid score in government crash tests, receiving a 4 star rating (very good) for the driver and a 3 star rating (good) for the front passenger. In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's 40mph offset barrier crash test, the Camry received an Acceptable rating. Not great but, well, acceptable!

Safety ratings:

US Government

Institute of Highway Safety


Camrys enjoy strong resale value. One of the reasons they do is because of their consistent record of enviable reliability. Potential problem areas are few, though you may want to pay close attention to the clutch on manual transmission models and brake repair history on all models. An owner survey from the November 1994 issue of Motor Trend mentioned water leaks and paint quality as potential problem areas, but we have not heard those comments from owners that call our helpline.  We do see occasional paint peeling on Camrys, but we have no way of knowing if it is factory paint or a poor repaint.

The excellent factory warranty covered most everything for 3 years or 36,000 miles, with the engine and transmission coverage extended out to 5 years or 60,000 miles. Toyota has a lot of confidence in what they build. In this area, Toyota (sorry Honda fans) sets the standard. The others are closing in, but overall they can't quite catch them.

Maintenance intervals are slightly more involved than for others in this class. For instance, valve clearance and inspection is required every 15,000 miles. Toyota recommends timing belt at replacement 48 months or 60,000 miles, whichever comes first. Toyota also saved a few bucks by equipping Camrys with non-stainless steel exhaust systems, which means you'll probably be replacing it sometime soon!

Parts prices for all Toyotas have traditionally been high compared to domestics and even other imports. Factory parts are particularly high, and Toyota (and many others) spends a lot of advertising money trying to convince owners that factory parts are really the only thing you should be putting on your Toyota. In some cases they may be marginally better than a part produced by a reputable aftermarket parts supplier but more often, the cheaper aftermarket part works just fine.

Low speed (5 mph) bumper tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety resulted in excessive damage to the Camry. For the flat barrier test, the Camry sustained $327 damage to the front bumper and $231 to the rear bumper. The pole test was worse, causing $895 worth of damage to the front and $974 to the rear.  Not a particularly good showing.

The Camry is a terrific car. It does most everything well, has a reputation other car manufacturers would die for and has traditionally maintained strong resale value.  There is no denying Toyota's stellar reputation for building reliable, long-lasting vehicles, although the gap between it and its competitors has narrowed substantially, sometimes within the realm of statistical irrelevance.

  Current Camry values

(this article originally appeared in the Summer 2000 issue of Used Cars