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ITS styling and performance won't set the world alight, but it's hard to knock the Toyota Camry's quality and reliability.
It's not a car for enthusiasts but perfect for those who want a car that gets the job done with a minimum of fuss.
The Camry has been around since the 1980s and has built a solid reputation for reliability.
Over the years it has evolved into a larger family car more in the traditional Australian style, though it has lost none of the qualities that made it so popular.
THE fourth-generation Camry, which arrived in 1997, was more refined and attractive than earlier models. It was still conservative, but had cleaner contemporary lines that gave it a much sleeker look.
It wasn't quite as big as the Holden or Ford, but straddled the divide between medium and large cars. It could seat four in comfort but five was a squeeze.
Like the exterior, the interior was fairly bland but functional. It was well laid out and well built with quality plastics, trim and fittings that gave it a feeling of substance.
The seats were fairly flat, not the sporty sort that wrap around you, and were covered in rather utilitarian, hard-wearing cloth.
There was a good-sized boot with a relatively low loading lip for easy access, and the rear seat could be split and folded to accommodate larger or longer objects.
The Camry differed from the Commodore and Falcon in being front-wheel-drive.
It was a tough proposition for Toyota to sell front-wheel drive when its rivals had established a strong position in the large segment with rear-wheel-drive models.
There is no question that a rear-wheel-drive car with the weight over the drive wheels is better for towing.
As a result the Camry's towing capacity -- 1100-1200kg -- is lower than its main rivals.
The model range was extensive so there was one to suit just about everyone.
The double overhead camshaft, 16-valve, 2.2-litre four-cylinder engine with 94kW at 5200 revs and 187Nm at 4400 revs was a competent performer.
But its real strength was its fuel economy, which was between 9.5 and 11.0 litres/100km.
For more performance there was the all-alloy quad-cam 3.0-litre V6, which gave the Camry plenty of zip. The V6 was also superbly smooth and a joy to drive.
Not surprisingly the fuel consumption was higher, but not as high as might be expected. Generally it came in at 10.0 to 12.0 litres/100km.
Most were sold with a four-speed automatic transmission, but there was also a five-speed manual.
The range began with the four-cylinder CSi sedan and wagon which were fairly basic with carpets, central locking and four-speaker sound.
Next was the Conquest with front power windows, anti-skid brakes, dual airbags and cruise. It came in both four and V6 forms.
The top four-cylinder was the CSX with auto airconditioning, velour trim, six-speaker sound and power windows front and rear.
The top V6 was the Touring, which had uprated suspension and a power antenna.
ON THE LOT
PAY $7000-$11,000 for a four-cylinder CSi sedan. Add $800 for a similar wagon.
To step up to a CSX you'll need to pay $8000-$13,000. Add $700 for the wagon.
For a V6 CSi you have to spend $8000-$12,000. Add $800 for the wagon. Move up to a better-equipped Conquest for an extra
$800. The range-topping Touring costs $12,000-$15,000.
IN THE SHOP
THE Camry is well built and reliable but still needs proper servicing to ensure it stays that way. Ask for a service record that can be verified. Walk away if it's not produced.
The popularity of the Camry means there are plenty to choose from, so spend the time to find a good one.
The coolant needs to be changed annually to prevent internal corrosion requiring expensive repairs. It's also important to change the cam timing belt every 150,000km.
The transmission holds up well, but make sure you can select gears smoothly on manual transmissions, and ensure the auto changes gears smoothly and without hesitation.
THE Camry generally shows up well in crash surveys. Its well-designed and strong body gives good basic crash protection.
Some models have dual airbags and anti-skid brakes, but check for them because they weren't standard across the range.
THE BOTTOM LINE
BLAND, but a solid, well-built car that is perfect family transport.