The 2004 Toyota Camry is one of the best automobiles available anywhere, in any price range. If fuel economy is a priority for you, youll want the 157 hp 4-cylinder. However, we tested the Camry SE V-6 with the new-for-2004 225hp VVT-i V-6. This is a beautiful piece of machinery with exemplary performance (and not bad gas mileage). Base price: US $23,830. 3 years/36,000 miles; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain.
The current Camry is the third contemporary version of this popular model. Except for the occasional mutterings about the anonymous Japanese styling, most everyone likes it. The proof is that Camry was the top-selling sedan in the US in 2003 and has been one of the best-selling automobiles in America almost since the day it was introduced. Why? Well, probably because Toyotas have traditionally defined reliability and low cost ownership. Anecdotes abound of people driving their Camry four or five years at a cost of $1000 or less per year in depreciation. For 2004, the Camry has again raised the bar for its competitors. With the new 3.3L V-6 engine (the old 3.0L V-6 is still available), power is up and all-round performance (except mpg, of course) improved. A five-speed automatic with overdrive is the only transmission available with the V-6. Stopping power is provided by disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake distribution on all four wheels. The 2004 SE is available with good - but not great - quality leather covering for the excellent seats. Almost all of the luxury-type features youd find on a much more expensive Lexus ES are also available on the Camry SE. Ride quality suffers ever so slightly with the SEs sport suspension.
The Camrys styling seems to be especially appealing to an older demographic. A friend whos a keen observer of car consumerist habits reckons the Camry appeals to people 5 7 years older, on average, than the Accord buyer. One thing is certain, though, quality is first rate. Few sedans, American or otherwise, have ever achieved this level of quality. Five years down the road, this Camry will feel like it just left the dealers showroom. Although Camry defines bland for many car enthusiasts, I couldnt pick out a single line or trim item I didnt like. Its just that when theyre all together, the effect is well ho hum. Compared with the Accord, which is its main rival on these shores, the Camry looks somewhat less sporty. This is probably because of those long front and rear overhangs. Ergonomics are exemplary, however: All controls sit well up on the dash and are positioned so they can be operated intuitively. While the seat cushions are positioned high off the floor, theres plenty of headroom for tall people both in the front and in the wonderful rear seat.
On the Road
The Camry SE V-6 shares its new-for-2004, ultra-sophisticated 225hp 3.3L VVT-i engine with the Sienna minivan and the much more expensive Lexus ES330. With 240 lb-ft of torque on tap at 3,600 rpm (versus 220 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm for the older 3.0L V-6), theres neck-snapping acceleration and effortless passing at highway speeds. While not so economical as the marvellous 4-cylinder introduced in the Camry in the 2002 model year, this engine still promises to be among the more fuel-efficient V-6's available. Which likely has as much to do with the Toyotas slippery shape and relatively low curb weight as with the brilliance of Toyotas engine designers. Torque-steer is virtually non-existent from this front-wheel-driver even when the accelerator is stomped to the floor from a full stop. The wheels will spin a bit under full acceleration but the available traction control and stability control will help keep a lid on things. Safety features and occupant comfort are class leading.
A rich friend bought his wife a Lexus LS430. She is not a car enthusiast and doesnt care one way or the other about her car so long as it gets her where she wants to go, warm and dry. Recently, when her Lexus was dropped off for service, she got a loaner Camry 4-cylinder from the dealer. She loved it and suggested to her spouse that after two LS430s, shed be just as happy with a Camry next time. Ill bet shed be even happier since the Camry is much easier to maneuver in tight places than the bigger and heavier LS430. This is not to slag the LS430, which is a magnificent automobile. But rather to point out that after a certain point, the enjoyment-per-dollar line flattens for most people. About the only thing on which the Camry is vulnerable is styling, which even diehard Toyota supporters admit can be a bit on the boring side. In sum, the Camry with the new V-6 offers great performance at a reasonable price. Toss in class-leading reliability and residuals and youve got another winner for Toyota, now the worlds second largest carmaker.