Pros: Quiet, fuel efficient, responsive 4 cylinder Engine, comfortable, roomy
Cons: Horrid Tires, Rattles, Rattles, Rattles....
I purchased a *NEW* 2002 Camry when these cars first hit the market. I was reluctant to write a review until I had the car at least 15K miles. After all you can not judge a book by its cover and I thought to fairly review a purchase of this magnitude I should at least drive it a while.
WHY THE CAMRY?
I essentially purchased the Camry because I needed a larger car. At that time the new Accord was not yet out. Research steered my away from trouble-prone Volkswagens and though the Ford Taurus was priced right I felt it was showing its age and after my experience with my Mercury Mystique I was looking for something that did not have to be taken to the dealer for service quite as often. (In all fairness I have always owned American cars in fact I loved my Merc it just had too many quirky problems) I decided to find out if the Toyota (foreign car) hype was all it was cracked up to be!
WHAT I BOUGHT:
A 2002 base Camry LE 4 cylinder Automatic. The only options were floor/trunk mats, cargo net, rear spoiler, keyless entry and 15 alloy wheels. There were no rebates at the time I bought the car. I do not recall exactly what I paid but there is currently (1/04) a rebate and I know the keyless entry is now a standard feature.
I have found the automatic transmission to be among the smoothest I have ever driven. It seams to shift when appropriate. It is quiet. I never hear any thunks as I have in other cars. I have never taken it out of its Over-Drive Mode.
The 4 cylinder engine is likely they best feature of the car. It is incredibly quiet. When I first got the car, on several instances, while parked in the driveway, I could not even tell the car was running. I find it to be more than adequate for both city and highway driving. With the family in tow (2 kids, 2 adults, about 410 pounds of people) and the AC I have no problem pulling out, merging or passing. In fact Id say it is as fast as the 6 cylinder in my old Mercury Mystique. I do not find the need to jam the gas when safely merging or passing either, nor does the engine horrifically rev when doing so.
My driving habits are 75% pure city (by this I mean continuous stop and go) and 25% Highway/Mix. I try to drive reasonably, ie I try not to jam on the gas after every stop sign only to hit the brakes again a couple of hundred yards the road. My car is a 4cylivder automatic, which I assume is broken in after a year and a half and 15K miles. I get 18/19mpg city, 23㪱mpg mixed. The times I have driven the car almost purely highway, (say up the Interstate at 65mph ) have gotten upwards of 28, with the air on.
I did not opt for anti-lock brakes because it could not be coupled with traction control at the time; something the car should have. I have found the brakes to be adequate. I have not gone thru a set of front or rear pads in my 15K miles of mostly city driving. I notice no squealing, clicking or other brake noise.
Handling is only average. The car seams to float down the highway but feels all over the road. The steering is a bit too loose. If you just breath on the steering wheel the car will start to drift. It corners ok though I have been in cars that corner better. It does seem to stop straight.
Front Seat comfort is adequate. Actually, I find the front seats comfortable for short or extended rides. There is a lumbar support on the drivers side. I have never had to use it. I think most drivers will be able to find a comfortable seating position. I believe the seat moves up/down and front to back. I do not have the power seat, I think that became standard in 03. My wife say she finds the passenger seat less comfortable than other cars she has been in and was a bit disappointed on longer trips. I do not think there is a lumbar on the passenger side and this may have helped her. FYI, I am 5 9, she is shorter. Some tall folks have complained that the seat bottoms could be longer. Rear seating is fine two or even 3 smaller adults. We are able to place 2 car seats in the back with my wife in the middle. Its a little tight but not bad. Once one of the seats go later this year it should be fairly comfortable back there though the need to sit an adult in the back with the kids diminishes as they grow. Still the Camry offers a bit of buffer space between the two not really found in smaller cars.. Be careful not to judge a car buy the listed width if you have car seats. Several inches of space may be lost on the side the seat is placed on due to the rear seat contour. The Camry is average in this respect. The rear seat has a fold down armrest with two deep cup holders. Rears seats may be folded down as well. This is a nice feature though the rear deck gets in the way depending on what you are trying to load from the trunk.
AC / HEATING / DEFROSTING:
The air conditioner cools the car fairly quickly. There are ducts in the back as well. It can even get too cold in which case you may cut back on the thermostat. Heating works just as well though I seem to have a little more trouble finding the perfect spot to set the thermostat (between the red and blue) once the car warms up. It does get very hot. The front and rear defrosters work well. Note the 2 top lines on the rear window are the cars antenna (or so I am told) so dont expect them to defrost in that area.
I find all controls well laid out, simple to read and easy to use. The large center armrest has an upper and lower compartment. The lower will hold many CDs, camera or even a small camcorder. The two cup holders are conveniently located and hold small cups, cans or large cups fairly securely. The glove box is OK but I had trouble getting the Camry manual to fit nicely. Its not too bad though. There are other cubbies and the like including a space for change. There are two power supplies; one on the dash and one in the center armrest. The outside temperature gauge is something I have come to enjoy glancing at. The dash is well lit and does not create any bad glaring at night. The radio has no indication of volume level, I find this annoying. The radio seems to pull in stations fine. The CD works fine. I have never really tried the cassette player. My biggest gripe is the fact that the power window and lock switches (or the area around the door handles for that matter) are not lit. There is no curbside lighting either. Blind spots are not bad. It took some getting used to backing up and looking out the rear window where the trunk sits rather high.
The trunk is large and roomy. You can lock the folding rear seats in position from the trunk as well. The cargo net works great. The full size spare mounts flush consuming no extra room. The brackets that hold trunk can not crush items since they are boxed in.
All I have needed so far is oil changes and tire rotations. I am due to change the pollen air filter. The manual instructs you on how to do this. The filter is $30 and should be checked/changed yearly. The dealer has started recommending an oil additive ($5) every other oil change. It is suppose to keep the engine better conditioned as well as keep the seals better lubricated. Its likely hype but after the apparent sludge issue affecting the prior generation Camry I have been paying the $5. I have also been hesitant to get the oil changed anywhere other then at my Toyota dealer since I want a genuine Toyota filer again, just trying cover myself in case the sludge becomes an issue for the newly re-designed 2002 4 cylinder engine. I am likely just paranoid.
The car comes with dual airbags. I do not believe side bags were an option in 02. Also note the Camry got a sub par (only average) side impact rating form NHSTA. These details were not available when I bought my car, nonetheless a big disappointment. Traction control was not available in 02. If it were I would have bought along with ABS, which WAS available but not standard. The biggest safety concern is the Continental tires that came with my car. The Continental tires are the worst gripping pieces of junk I have ever had. These tires spin in the rain and were so abominable in the snow I just replaced them with only 15K miles on them. My tire dealer said they were designed for a quiet ride and they were indeed quiet, just not safe. Shame on Toyota for putting these on the car. So far the BF Goodrich Traction TAs have improved the cars grip a bunch. Still, I feel the car is not the greatest in the snow.
I like the Camrys smooth shifting transmission, the surprising power of the 4 cylinder automatic engine, the fuel efficiency, the quietness of the engine, the roomy interior, the ease of access (the doors open almost 90 degrees), the nice sounding stereo/CD system, the usable storage spaces (large armrest bin, glove box, change holders) and the over all look of the car.
The Continental tires mentioned above were disastrous avoid them. My second biggest peave is RATTLES. The vehicle is a rattle trap. The dealer told me they cut down on plastic fasteners and boy does it show. The car itself is insulated well from outside noise and the engine is very quiet. This makes these horrid rattles even noisier. I will readily admit that rattles drive me nuts another reason I switched from Ford. Toyota claims they have corrected these deficiencies in the 03 and 04 model years yet when I called them in 03 they could not offer up any specifics. Had they been able to I would have had the dealer apply them to my 02. Plus, based on reviews of 03s here at Epinions I see no sign that they have improved in this arena. For more rattle info check out Edmunds.com look in the Toyota Camry discussion group, there is a rattles forum. The biggest rattles come from the cowl that runs the base of the windshield, the radio area and the door pillars. I am not thrilled with the two interior color choices, light beige or grey. I choose grey but either will dirty quickly if you have kids. Darker colors would have been better. Be sure to have Scotchgard on hand! Again, the switches are not illuminated at night. Heated outside mirrors would have been a nice option as well.
HOW IS IT HOLDING UP:
So far so good. No recalls and only normal service(oil changes etc) required. Its not the most nimble car to drive, it is not the most fun car to drive, its not the sexiest car to drive but if it runs for the next 5 6 years with no major problems then it was exactly what I was looking for .EXCEPT for the rattles.
WOULD I PURCHASE AGAIN:
I would certainly drive the new Accord. I would even still consider the Ford Taurus. My guess is that if I knew I could get a rattle-free Camry (and thats a big question mark) Id pick the Camry again. As far as the foreign car hype, time will tell if this Camry is mechanically superior to the Fords on the road. It certainly is not by way of rattles!