The 1997 Toyota Camry was an all-new interpretation of a flourishing formula. Still more increases in size and power marked the fourth-generation Camry. Safety moved ahead with the addition of side airbags, and Toyota took the coupe version in a new direction, and even branched out with a convertible.
1997 Toyota Camry
As the redesigned 1997 Toyota Camry rolled into showrooms, shoppers noticed the absence of a wagon body style, which had been dropped for lack of sales interest. Coupes were also missing, but would return.
This left mainstay sedans with a slightly sleeker new appearance on a wheelbase lengthened 2.1 inches (to 105.2). Other dimensions, inside and out, gained less than an inch apiece. Weight increases were modest this time, but cargo volume shrank from 14.9 to 14.1 cubic feet. Trim levels were CE (replacing DX), midrange LE, and top-line XLE; the sport SE was in limbo.
A 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine and 3.0-liter V6 were available for each "grade," but the four-cylinder rebounded from 125 to 133 horsepower, while the V6 was tweaked to 194 horsepower. A four-speed automatic transmission was standard except on the four-cylinder CE (where automatic was optional) and the V6 CE, which came only with five-speed manual.
This Camry was the first front-drive Toyota to offer traction control; an option for LE and XLE V6s, it minimized wheelspin during acceleration by reducing engine power and/or applying the brakes as needed. It worked in conjunction with antilock brakes (ABS) that were available for the four-cylinder CE and newly standard for all other Camrys.
Inside, three-point lap/shoulder belts were provided at all five seating positions, thus banishing the unpopular motorized front "mousebelts." Inside, a new-design dashboard put the audio unit above the climate controls, switching their positions, and leather upholstery was available for LEs as well as XLEs.
Consumer Guide found the new Camry "quieter, roomier and more refined than the previous model," but thought it "lacks personality, both in its performance and its appearance. However, it's hard to find a better choice in a midsize family sedan." No wonder the 1997 Toyota Camry earned another CG Best Buy honor while setting another sales record at over 397,000 units.
1998 Toyota Camry
The 1998 Toyota Camry added a passive-safety plus with seat-mounted side airbags as a new option for all models. An "engine immobilizer" designed to prevent "hot-wire" starting was incorporated into the antitheft system (standard XLE, available LE). Camry's four-cylinder engine now joined the V-6 in rating Low Emissions Vehicle status (LEV) status in California, albeit with minor reductions in horsepower and torque. Calendar-year sales exceeded 400,000 units for the first time, totaling 429,575.
1999 Toyota Camry
A Camry coupe returned this season, but with separate billing as the Solara. Actually, it was marketed as the 1999 Toyota Camry Solara, so buyers wouldn't miss the kinship, but the Camry badge appeared nowhere on the car itself. Unlike previous Camry coupes, Solaras had unique styling and chassis tuning. Solara came as the four-cylinder and V-6 SEs with manual or automatic transmission and a flagship V6 SLE with automatic only. In another distinction, Solara's four-cylinder engine had two more horsepower than the similar Camry sedan unit, while the V6 had 200 horsepower vs. 194.
Despite its sportier looks, a Solara was no more exciting to drive than a comparably equipped Camry sedan, but Consumer Guide deemed both "exceptionally well done mainstream midsizers with the attractions of Toyota reliability and high resale value. We might wish for more personality...but these cars are hard to fault and tough to beat." More buyers than ever agreed, and sales of the 1999 Toyota Camry reached 448,000 in the calendar year.
2000 Toyota Camry
Sedan versions of the 2000 Toyota Camry were spruced up with mildly revised grilles, bumpers, and taillights, plus multireflector headlamps and self-propping hoods. XLE sedans added pseudo-wood interior trim; the V6 XLE moved up to standard 16-inch wheels vs. other models 14s or 15s. The four-cylinder sedan engine gained three horsepower for 136 total.
Solara coupes were little changed for their sophomore season, but convertible versions arrived in spring 2000: a four-cylinder SE, V6 SE and V6 SLE. All included a power top with heated glass rear window, plus all the features of counterpart coupes, but were restricted to automatic transmission.
Sales of the 2000 Toyota Camry retreated slightly to just under 423,000, ending an eight-year streak of sales increases.
2001 Toyota Camry
Solaras were unchanged. Among sedans, the base 2001 Toyota Camry CE replaced 14-inch tires and a compact spare with 15-inch wheels and a full-size spare. One step up, the LE sedan offered a new Gallery Series dress-up package comprising two-tone paint and cloth interior, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and other trim items.
Camry posted a second straight sales loss, falling to around 390,500. One likely factor was the 2001 debut of the Toyota Highlander, a Camry-based sport-utility wagon that proved highly popular right out of the box.
Toyota Camry Reliability
Audio system (1997 model year): CD player may not accept or eject CDs.
Brake noise (1997-2001): Original-equipment brake pads are prone to noisy groaning, grinding, and squeaking on application, when vibration may felt. Revised pads are available.
Brake noise (1999): Groaning noise from the rear brakes may be corrected with revised brake drums.
Fuel-filler door (1997, 1998): This may not open when the release is pulled due to a weak spring.
Engine noise (2001, 2002, 2003): With 2AZ-FE engine, fan belt squeal and rattle noises on cold starting were traced to a faulty tensioner; an improved replacement tensioner is available.
Power seats (1997, 1998): The front power seats may chatter when positioned, requiring replacement of the seat-adjuster assembly.
Sunroof/moonroof (1997): This may rattle when opened about 4 inches, or the glass panel may become skewed and will not retract.
Suspension noise (1997, 1998): Defective upper strut-tower cushions may cause front-end noises when driving over dips in the road.
Suspension noise (1997, 1998): Groaning noise from front end when going over speed bumps, etc. can be corrected by installing revised spring bumpers on front struts.
Toyota Camry Safety Recalls
1997 in 19 states: In extreme cold for an extended period, accumulated moisture can temporarily freeze in brake-vacuum hose, resulting in elimination of power-brake assist.
1997: Accumulated moisture can temporarily freeze in brake-vacuum hose, eliminating power-brake assist.
1997: Ignition key can be removed even when gearshift lever is not in "Park" position.
1997, 1998: Insufficiently tightened steering-wheel nut may cause steering vibration and looseness; nut could eventually come off, causing steering wheel to separate from shaft.
1998: Audiovox "Securikey+" security system can malfunction, causing electrical failure; can cause engine to run poorly and stall, and electrical components can intermittently fail.
1998: Some wheel lug nuts are defective, causing loss of torque, fatigue fracture of wheel, and possible loss of wheel.
1998, 1999, 2000 cars made in KY: Accelerator-cable housing could be deformed at the cruise-control actuator-to-throttle-body connection. The accelerator inner-cable could wear away and eventually break, increasing the risk of a crash.
2000: Due to improper heat treatment, certain rear-axle shafts could fail or break after extended use.
2001: Accelerator cable housing could fail at the cruise control actuator-to-throttle body connection. This could allow the throttle to return to idle or remain in its last position regardless of accelerator pedal operation.
2001: Front-subframe assembly was not adequately welded on some cars. This condition could cause failure of the assembly, increasing the risk of a crash. Dealers will inspect and replace the front sub frame if necessary.
The fourth-generation Camry had experienced new sales heights, but after two straight years of sales declines, it was clear the car faced fresh challenges in an American market suddenly in love with SUVs. Find out on the next page what Toyota did to restore the popularity of its mainstay passenger car.
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