- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

After four straight calendar years as the best-selling car in the United States, the Toyota Camry evolves into a bigger family sedan, with a more-powerful four-cylinder engine and a richer, more upscale-feeling interior.

It's also get ready more stylish. Yes, this mainstream car, now with new chrome touches here and there even on the base LE model and a new, sporty-intended SE, looks dressier than ever before.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, include destination charge, for a Camry four-door is up this year to $19,455, compared with $18,130 in 2001. The 2002 sedan also comes with more standard equipment, including air conditioning with air filtration, power windows and door locks and cruise control.

The 2002 model represents the fifth-generation Camry, and it rides on the Camry's first all-new platform in 10 years.

This allowed engineers to grow the front-wheel-drive Camry, making it taller, wider and longer overall. The engineers put the new dimensions to good use.

There's an immediate sense of spaciousness in the new model, because the front-passenger door is a bit farther away from the driver than before.

Seats allow riders to sit up a bit higher than before, providing good visibility all around.

Back-seat roominess is noticeable, too. Legroom grows by 2.3 inches in the new Camry, and back-seat headroom is increased 1.3 inches. There's a decent amount of room back there for three teens or three adults.

Open the trunk of the 2002 Camry, and you'll notice it's also bigger, growing from 14.1 cubic feet to 16.7.

Close to three-quarters of Camry sedans sold have a four-cylinder engine.

So while continuing to offer a 192-horsepower, 3-liter V-6, Toyota also has an improved and more-powerful four for the Camry, and it doesn't mind being pressed into action.

It's a 2.4-liter, twin-cam power plant with Toyota's variable-valve timing and compares with the 2.2-liter four in last year's Camry.

Horsepower is up 21, to 157. Torque is up to 162 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm vs. 148 at 4,400 rpm last year.

The Camry four cylinder with new four-speed automatic transmission delivered smooth power in the test car. It wasn't a throw-you-back-into-your-seat power, but it was enough to help me scurry into busy traffic safely. I even caught myself traveling at 52 mph in a 40 mph zone.

I liked how responsive the system was when I wanted to slow. Some cars continue to coast at a quick pace when you lift off the accelerator, forcing drivers to use the brake pedal all the time to modulate speed.

This Camry quickly noted when I lessened my pressure on the accelerator and would begin to decelerate on its own.

This was especially appreciated since I found the Camry's brake pedal a bit lacking in its brake feel. I like a steady progression of braking, meaning that I feel brake power starting and growing as I progressively apply pressure to the pedal.

But in the test car, I didn't detect much braking until the pedal had gone down quite a ways, which didn't impress.

On the other hand, the test model included the optional anti-lock brake system (ABS), which worked well in panic stops. Too bad, though, that ABS isn't standard across the board on Camry models. It is standard only on V-6 models and on the Camry in XLE trim.

The Camry is an easy highway cruiser. With four-wheel independent suspension, it also manages the roughness of city streets and potholes without much fuss.

The test LE sort of rippled over big bumps, for example, and kept me and my passengers pretty well isolated.

The Camry's power-assist, rack-and-pinion steering is a bit on the light side for my tastes.

I did hear tire noise, but not much wind noise as I traveled.

The XLE remains the more luxuriously appointed Camry, with standard power driver and front-passenger seats, wood-grain-style interior accents, automatic climate control, inside door handles that are chrome-finished, keyless remote entry and other items.

A new SE trim level marks a new sporty Camry that has a more sport-tuned suspension, bigger standard tires, sport-faced instrument gauges and a spoiler on the back.

The 2002 Camry is the first to offer curtain air bags that deploy from the ceiling during side crashes.

All five riders in the Camry get three-point safety belts.

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