2324Xclusive Media: Toyota Camry cars - history and common repairs

Since its initial launch in 1980 the Toyota Camry has remained among the top selling Japanese imports in the United States. After more than two decades since the first line independently named the Toyota Camry was launched in 1982,  the 2001 Camry was named the most popular car in America, and has remained there since. It is primarily configured as a four-door sedan but at different times has also been available as a five-door hatchback, two-door coupé, and a station wagon; many critics attribute the cars success to these diverse configurations. An offshoot of the Camry, the Camry Solara, has been available as a coupe and a convertible, contributing to the cars success among younger generations.

While many model years have come and gone, each is special in its own right, Toyota is again ready to launch a new Camry for the 2007 model year.

Originally launched as the Toyota Celica Camry in January 1980 for the Japanese home market, this model was essentially a second-generation Toyota Carina with updated body-styling and a front-end that resembled a 1978 Toyota Celica XX (known as the Celica Supra in export markets). The car used the rear-wheel drive Celica platform (which was shared by both the Corona and Carina) and was powered by either a 1.6 L 12T-U engine producing 88 hp or a 1.8 L 13T-U engine producing 95 hp. Towards the end of its model lifecycle, Toyota introduced a sports version of the Celica Camry equipped with the 16-valve DOHC 2.0 L engine from the Celica. This is the most sought after version of the Celica Camry in the secondhand market today.

In 1982 for the 1983 model year, the Camry became an independent model line, and was sold as a mid-size four-door sedan and five-door hatchback. There were limited exports, predominantly to right-hand-drive markets. At this point, Camry was positioned above the Carina and Corona, two other mid-sized models made by Toyota. A twin was announced at this point: the Toyota Vista. In the US, the Camry was available with a 92 hp 2.0 L I4 engine or a 74 hp 2.0 L I4 turbodiesel engine, and could be purchased with either a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic. In contrast to the rear-wheel drive Celica Camry, the Toyota Camry was a front-wheel drive vehicle built on an all-new platform. For Americans, the Camry replaced the rear-wheel-drive Corona, a small, rust-prone vehicle whose name was related to the word crown - which was the name of a different model (the Japanese word for crown is pronounced like “camry.”) The original humble Camry was to become America's best selling car, as well as the basis for a luxury car (Lexus ES300) and a full-sized highway cruiser (Toyota Avalon).

The first generation Camry was available in sedan and hatchback versions (both with four doors). A 73 - 79 hp turbodiesel (with high torque and an extra 3 mpg or so) was actually optional in the US from 1984 to 1986, but it's quite rare. The car was generally very reliable though many people had problems with the oil pump gaskets on early models, as well as the electronic ignition computer and the automatic transmission (an advanced design offering four speeds).

The Camry was relatively large for a Japanese car, with a 102 inch wheelbase, in keeping with its Americanized design. Its four cylinder engine produced 92 horsepower, which was good for the time; it had far more torque than the Accord’s engine, too. Both a hatchback and sedan were available – with four doors only.  Transmissions were a five-speed manual or automatic. The engine was eager to run, with a high-tech, high-pitched sound when revved high. It's easy to laugh at 92 horsepower, but in a light body and with a five-speed stick (or, later, a four-speed automatic), the Camry could outrace many cars with bigger engines and more weight.

The Camry’s comfort, sound insulation, gas mileage, and reliability soon made it a big seller. Work soon began on an American factory in Georgetown, Kentucky, which would be Toyota’s second American plant and their first non-union plant – as well as their first plant to be built independently (the first one, which built Corollas, was a joint venture with General Motors).

The first generation lasted only four years, during which two more horsepower were found and flush mounted headlights added for better airflow (in 1985). In 1985, the Camry was top in J.D. Power's new car 90-day survey.

The second-generation model debuted in 1986 for the 1987 model year, and included a station wagon but dropped the hatchback. In 1988, all-wheel drive (called All-Trac) and a 160 hp JIS (118 kW) 2.5 L V6 engine were added as options for the first time. The V6 featured dual overhead camshafts, much like the upgraded 130 hp JIS (96 kW) 4 cylinder. With only 2.5 liters, the V6 managed to crank out a strong 153 horsepower thanks to dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. Smooth and quiet, it was about as powerful as competitors’ 3-liter engines.

The 1987 redesign brought a much-improved engine, with a full 115 horsepower thanks to four valves per cylinder and dual overhead cams. That was 17 hp more than the Accord, and noise and vibration were cut even further; the automatic was refined, and the sheet metal cleaned. The unpopular hatchback was replaced by a more American-style wagon. During the second generation, production started at the Kentucky plant. The trunk now held a full 14.6 cubic feet of gear, and the rear seat was split so four people could still fit when one seatback was folded down; that provided 65 cubic feet of space. Camry still had a four wheel independent suspension, variable assist rack and pinion steering, tilt wheel with memory, and on LE, an illuminated entry system with fade-in and fade-out, as well as power remote mirrors and AM/FM MPX stereo.

All wheel drive was brought out, with the manual transmission in 1988 and both transmissions in 1989. Antilock brakes became optional in 1991 on some models, and a knock sensor was added to the V6.

This would also be the first Camry to be assembled in the US as the Kentucky plant began producing Camrys in 1988, where three trim levels of the second-generation Camry were made: the unbadged base model, the DX, and the LE. The 2.5 L engine and Camry chassis was repackaged as the upscale Lexus ES 250. The ES 250 was essentially the Japanese-market Camry hardtop.

The third-generation Camry (first sold in 1990 in Japan; in the US as a 1992 model year car) is regarded as the first to break into the large-car market, or what Toyota billed at the time as "world-sized". This model marked the transition away from an inexpensive four door vehicle into a larger, more luxurious family sedan. In the United States, an automatic transmission became the only option on all but the base and sport-model Camrys, whereas previously, a manual transmission was available on nearly all trim levels. Additionaly in the US market, both the four and six-cylinder engines received upgrades in displacement and power: the four was upped to 2.2 L and 130 hp , and the V6 to 3.0 L and 185 hp. Besides the DX (also sometimes called Deluxe) and LE trims, 1992 saw the addition of an XLE luxury trim and the SE sport trim—presumably introduced to compete with the Nissan Maxima SE, which had steadily cut into the Camry’s higher-end buyers since the late 1980s. Unsuspecting four-cyliner motorists could easily be fooled into thinking they were driving the V6, thanks to the Camry’s light weight and the engine’s sprightly (but quiet) performance.

The fourth-generation Camry was launched in Japan in December 1996. It continued as a sedan and station wagon (called the Camry Gracia in Japan), though the latter model was not sold in the United States. This generation was launched in the US for the 1997 model year. In 2000, the sedan models received a mid-model upgrade to the front and rear fascias, but remained otherwise similar to the 1999 models. In the United States, the four door Camry SE was dropped and the base CE model was slotted in for the 1998 model year. Both the LE and the XLE trims were carried over from the previous generation. The XLE was available with either the 2.2 L I4 or the 3.0 L V6 engine, although the Solara SLE was only available with the V6.Power was increased slightly to 133 hp for the 5S-FE 2.2 L I4 and 194 hp for the 1MZ-FE V6. Manual transmissions were only available on the CE trim level and any Solara model. This was the first Camry to be sold as a Daihatsu; the Daihatsu Altis was identical to the export version of the Camry. The Camry V6 was again on Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list for 1997.

The styling of the fifth-generation Camry is somewhat similar to the fourth-generation model in that both have gently curved surfaces accented by sharp creases. However, the front end of the car is relatively short, leaving a great deal of the length to the cabin, a technique adopted by compact cars. In contrast to the fairly squat fourth-generation Camry, the fifth generation is a decidedly tall vehicle. It is 2.5 in taller and has a 2 in longer wheelbase than the previous model.

In the United States for 2002, the basic CE model was dropped but the SE sport model was reintroduced. Both the LE and SE models are available with a manual transmission when equipped with the four-cylinder engine now up to 2.4 L and 163 hp. Any model could be equipped with a V6 or an automatic transmission, although the manual transmission was not available on V6 models. The 2002 Camry Solara remained on the fourth generation chassis, and received only minor styling upgrades to the front and rear ends. However the Solara did receive the same 2.4 L I4 engine now available on the Camry.

In late 2004, the 2005 Camry was introduced with new upgrades such as a chrome grille (though the SE had a sportier grille), a new taillight design, and new wheels. A new trim level was added (the standard model) priced lower than the Camry LE. Interior upgrades to the Camry included a rear center head restraint, a storage bin in the door, Optitron gauges, and standard leather seating on XLE V6 models. The second generation Camry Solara was introduced in August 2004. Again, styling from the Camry was radically different, taking design cues from the Lexus SC 430. The 2.4 L engine was still offered; however, a new 3.3 L V6 was optional. The V6 was coupled with a 5-speed automatic transmission. In addition to SE and SLE trims, a new SE Sport was offered. Unlike the first generation Solara, the SLE trim could be had with the four-cylinder engine.

The sixth generation Camry is a completely redesigned model and is assembled at the Toyota plant in Georgetown, Kentucky and Subaru's Indiana plant. It was released as a 2007 model making its first introduction at the 2006 North American International Auto Show along with its identical hybrid twin, the Camry HV. The new Camry has a 2.4 L I4 making 158 hp with 4 trim levels: CE, LE, SE, and XLE. It will also have an optional 3.5 L V6 making 268 hp with three trims: LE, SE, and XLE. The V6 will be available with a 6-speed sequential transmission. A spilt-folding rear seat is not available on the SE trim. A navigation system with a cell phone link and heated leather seats are available for the SE and the V6-powered XLE. A keyless entry/remote starter is optional on the V6-powered XLE. The CE and LE have hubcap designs similar to the previous generation models. The rear of the car features the controversial "Bangle-butt" design first seen on the 2002 BMW 7 Series.

The 7-th generation Camry was introduced on August 23, 2011. Interior is all new and exterior received more angular styling. 2011+ Camry will have 3 different engine choices from the previous model. Starting with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder hybrid model rated at 150 kW (200 hp), a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gas engine rated at 133 kW (178 hp) and 230 Nm (170 lb ft), and a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 200 kW (268 hp) and 336 Nm (248 lb ft). The trim levels include the L, LE, XLE, SE, XLE V6, SE V6, and Hybrid. There are no manual transmissions offered, all models are standard with 6-speed automatic transmissions. 7-th generation Camry is lighter weight than the 6-th generation and thus has increased fuel economy.

In 1992, four short years after the prior redesign, yet another iteration was introduced,  again growing to meet American tastes. The wheelbase increased by just one inch, the width by two, and the length by a full six inches. Sound insulation was again increased, and a modified version became the Lexus ES 300. Antilock brakes became optional across the board. The engine was enlarged to 2.2 liters, producing 130 horsepower, while the V6 was expanded to 3 liters and 185 horsepower. For the first time, a Camry could do zero to sixty in under 8 seconds, at that time a bellweather of speed (this was with the V6 and manual gearbox). To go along with that level of performance buyers could get the SE model with a performance suspension, larger tires, quicker steering ratio, and higher final drive ratio, along with different seats, rear spoiler, and “sporty” trim. The wagon, which had disappeared for a while, came back with a third-seat option for seven passenger seating. The automatic gained fuzzy logic during this generation; and the modern trim levels (DX for Deluxe, LX for luxury, XLE for extra luxury, SE for sport) started.

The American plant was by now going full steam, building three quarters of all Camrys sold across the world. The Camry was never especially popular outside the US, though, due to its size and expense.

In 1994, a two-door was brought out, a passenger side airbag added, the V6 redesigned for a three-horsepower boost, and the automatic given new controls to reduce gear-hunting. Just one year later, the Camry received a sheet metal refresh.

In 1997, the Camry was redesigned again, with the two-door and wagon dropped, and another two-inch wheelbase gain. The SE was temporarily dropped; horsepower increased to 133 on the four, and 194 on the six. The CE V6 with manual was a Road Runner-style sleeper, able to do 0-60 in under 8 seconds. Traction control was optional on some models, antilock brakes standard on all but the least expensive model.

1998 brought side impact airbags as an option on all models, an engine immobilizer (since the Camry had become one of the most stolen vehicles), and low-emission status for both engines.

An extended-wheelbase version of the Camry called the Avalon was brought out and became very successful, despite the first generation's Chevy Celebrity-style interior.

A new coupe, the Solara, arrived in 1999, with a sportier feel, available sport package, and different sheet metal.  Daytime running lights arrived, answering a question nobody had asked. The next year brought no real changes, but the sheet metal was freshened.

By 2001, the Camry V6 was running 0-60 times of eight seconds flat, thanks to the V6/manual transmission combination; the Camry was known for its quiet interior and quietness, with simple, intuitive controls and a comfortable ride. Cornering was average, and resale value very high. The only real criticisms of the Camry were its trunk and rear seat room, which were generally considered adequate. The price range - with top priced models nearly double the price of lower ones (largely because the Solara sold at a premium) - assured a wide range of buyers. The Camry was the top selling car (resale) in America for nearly every year of this generation’s life.

A new generation was brought out in 2002, with yet another two inch wheelbase gain and a 2.5 inch height gain. The trunk moved up from 14.1 to 16.7 cubic feet. The V6 went to ultra-low-emissions status with 192 horsepower, and a new 2.4 liter four-cylinder produces 157 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque. The V6-manual option is gone along with the CE trim. The interior was modernized quite a bit, with less of the “center stack” feel and a more intentional appearance (see our review).

The 2007 six-generation Camry brings back the CE, adds a six-speed sequential transmission for the V6, and promises a hybrid synergy drive model producing 192 hp from a four cylinder (147 hp) 2.4 liter Atkinson cycle gas engine and a 45 hp electric motor. The V6 has been expanded to 3.5 liters and now produces a prodigious 268 hp (not available on CE).
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