Camry: most `trouble free' car in the US has lots going for it

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Yes, the compact Toyota Camry is all new for 1987; and yes, it's still one of the best cars on the road. The Camry scored at the top of a J.D. Power & Associates survey of the most problem-free models on the road in 1985, although in a 1986 Power report it fell behind most other Toyota models when it came to consumer satisfaction with the dealership.

Even so, it's a fun car to drive, gives a smooth, quiet ride even on rough roads and, with its all-new 16-valve, twin-cam engine, has all the performance that most drivers will ever want to tap. Horsepower is up considerably over 1986.

The car looks a whole lot different as well. This latest version of the Camry is longer and wider than its predecessor, even though the 102.4-inch wheelbase remains the same. Simply, the car has ``gone aero,'' with rounded fenders and flush glass, plus a handsome grill with flush halogen headlamps.

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Sliding behind the wheel of a DLX sedan, I fasten the lap belt and switch on the ignition. The automatic shoulder belt snuggles across me. When the ignition is turned off and the doors are pushed open, the shoulder belts retract. It's not a bad system, but it could be better. How many motorists will bother to manually fasten the lap belt, an absolute necessity for full protection of the motorist?

Impressive care went into the design of this car, as the fit and location of instruments and controls attest. Yet I had trouble with the windshield-wiper stalk, which also contains the cruise-control function. It was too easy to wash the windshield when all I wanted to do was engage the cruise control.

The top-level sedan and wagon offer either a 5-speed manual transmission or an electronically controlled transmission (ECT) with overdrive. The ECT system allows the driver to change the transmission shift points as road conditions dictate. In the ``power'' mode, the transmission shifts at higher r.p.m.'s, thus giving more kick to the performance. The standard setting is for economy, and a tilt steering wheel with memory is standard on all models. Thirteen-inch tires give way to 14-inch rims on the '87 Camry.

Reflecting the sharp rise in the value of the Japanese yen, as well as four years of inflation, the suggested retail price for the Camry DLX sedan is $11,478, plus options. The test car checked out at $13,163.

As with the subcompacts and minicars, the competition among the compacts is getting tougher by the month. The Toyota Camry is running head to head against such other high scorers as the Mazda 626 and the Honda Accord, both all new a year ago, as well as Nissan's all-new Stanza, upgraded to put it just under the V-6 equipped Nissan Maxima.

The Camry also competes against the Ford Tempo and Mercury Topaz. Among its General Motors competitors, the Pontiac Grand Am is without doubt the best.

The Camry is equipped with a 15.9-gallon fuel tank, giving it a theoretical cruising range of up to 500 miles.

When it was first launched in 1983, the Camry got rave reviews for its roomy interior, quiet ride, and general good looks. These qualities are enhanced for 1987. Toyota has apparently fixed a transmission problem that cropped up in some of the earlier models of the car.

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