Over 278,000 buyers voted with their pocketbooks during the 1990-model year to make Toyota's Camry one of the best-selling family sedans in this country.
Now assembled for most U.S. markets at Toyota's sprawling U.S. assembly plant in Kentucky, the Camry enters 1991 virtually unchanged from 1990. A major redesign giving it a more rounded appearance and more power is not slated until the 1992-model year.For now, let's look at what has made the current Camry such a popular choice. It was hailed this year by independent research group J.D. Power as one of the most trouble-free cars. It was also named Import Car of the Year by Family Circle magazine.
The Camry is still technically classified as an import, because although assembled in Kentucky, less than 75 percent of its parts are made in North America.
The front-drive Camry is offered in 12 different models, including a sedan with all-wheel-drive and two station wagons. A 2.5 liter, 24-valve V6 engine is also offered, although under 15 percent of buyers opted for it this year.
Driven was the version chosen by most Camry buyers - a four-door DX sedan powered by the standard 16-valve, 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine, coupled to an electronically-controlled 4-speed automatic transaxle.
Starting at $13,378, a wide array of features are strandard: power disc brakes, variable-assist power steering, rear window defogger, adjustable steering wheel, tinted glass - even a full-sized spare tire in its generously proportioned trunk.
The Camry evaluated cost $15,297 as tested, including a $275 destination fee and a $1,474 package adding popular extras like air conditioning, AM-FM cassette stereo, cruise control and electric windows and door locks.
While Toyota has chosen to challenge automotive design traditions with cars like its all-new Celica sports coupe, it has played it safe with high-volume family cars like the Camry.
In fact the Camry, which competes with Honda's Accord, Ford's Taurus and a host of other mid-sized sedans, seems intended to please those who consider their cars a necessary but almost invisible part of their lives - probably a sound strategy for a family car for the masses.
This thinking seems to permeate the 1991 Camry from road to roof. Its rather angular styling, for instance, was freshened earlier this year but is still best described as conservative and anxious to offend no one.
That theme continues into the Camry's well-tailored fabric and vinyl interior. Its instrument panel is efficiently arranged, housing large analog gauges for the speedometer, fuel and engine temperature, but no tachometer. Lights and wipers are operated via stalk-mounted controls.
The driver's seat has a multitude of manual adjustments including those for height and lumbar support to provide a perfect perch for almost anyone. Motorized shoulder harnesses and manually fastened lap belts are used in place of a driver's side air bag.
Head and leg room up front is generous. But like other cars in its class, the Camry's rear seat is a snug fit, either for two tall adults or three small children.
The Camry's twin-camshaft, 16-valve engine delivers 115 horsepower at 5,200 rpm. It was found to be more than adequate under normal driving conditions while returning between 24 and 30 mpg with the automatic gearbox.
In fact one was left wondering if the V6 is worth the extra cost - nearly $1,300 - as well as a 5 mpg fuel penalty in these days of inflated gasoline prices.
The Camry's ride and handling were smooth, insulated and well-balanced. But again, they all seem tuned to buyers who want nothing more from their cars than efficient, reliable transportation without any real driving excitement.
Besides its rather middle-of-the-road personality, about the only real complaint with the 1991 Camry is lack of a counterbalanced hood. A prop rod is used instead.
But those who relish doing their own routine oil changes and other driveway maintenance will find the Camry's 2.0 liter engine easy to work on. The high level of fit and finish and rattle-free construction are also what we have come to expect from Toyota.
Each Camry is backed by a three year/36,000 mile warranty.