For the last seventeen years, except the year 2001, Toyota Camry has been the best-selling sedan in the United States. Interestingly, Toyota Camry is also the most-expensive best-selling sedan in the US, which goes to show that overall value is the determining factor in how well a car sells. Toyota Camry packs of lot of value, that is, the price paid for exceptional fuel economy, comfort and convenience features, build quality, and reliability. Most other vehicles are hard-pressed to match Toyota Camry’s value and, while some other cars come close, Camry still maintains the lead in the United States.
Toyota Motor Sales USA was formed in 1957, sales amounting to just 288 vehicles: 287 Toyota Crown, and just one Toyota Land Cruiser. Vehicles after the original Crown and Land Cruiser offerings saw similar results, which were far from encouraging. Toyota had to change tactics to reach the American driver with an economy car, because Americans had not come to appreciate this desirable trait in an automobile. Even the Toyota Corona, developed specifically for Americans in 1966, did not make any major sales until the country was in the throes of the oil crisis of the mid-1970s.
The Toyota Corona was discontinued in 1983, which could have left Toyota without a mid-size sedan in the American market. The Toyota Corolla compact sedan was gaining popularity, the world’s most popular automobile since 1966, yet was only a compact car. Toyota Camry was introduced in 1983, the perfect successor to the first two popular Toyota economy cars in the United States. Toyota Camry’s heyday, however, would not come until 1997, with the introduction of the second-generation mid-size Toyota Camry, taking the crown (pun intended, see next paragraph) as America’s best-selling sedan.
Toyota Camry may have debuted in the United States in 1983, but was not the first to bear the name “Camry.” Actually, that name finds its roots a little earlier, with the introduction of the Toyota Celica Camry, a sedan version of the popular Celica coupes and hatchbacks introduced in 1979. A couple of years later, Toyota Camry split off into its own model line. The name itself, “Camry,” is an anglicized form of the Japanese word for crown, “kanmuri,” similar to other Toyota “royal” model names, including the Crown, Corona, Corolla, Tiara, and Scepter.
The Early Years (1983 – 1990)
Like the Toyota Corona before it, the Toyota Camry was designed for American drivers and, at least by Japanese standards, was a large and overpowered car. The first- and second-generation Toyota Camry was made available as a four-door sedan or hatchback, following the boxy car designs of the era, changing little over the first decade or so, from 1983 through 1992. The design of the Camry was perhaps what one might call “for the masses,” that is, one made to appeal to as many as possible, neither overly daring nor overly utilitarian. The focus here was functional, comfortable, and reliable transportation, and Toyota Camry nailed it.
The front-engine front-wheel drive was new for Americans, used to front-engine rear-wheel drive in the Corona and other offerings of the time, but the unique combination of power and weight made for an exceptionally spirited drive. Toyota Camry, in comparison with other early-1980s carbureted engines, offered standard electronic multi-port fuel injection, improving fuel economy and power, as well as helping the car to meet increasingly strict emissions regulations in the United States. The majority were powered by 1.8L or 2.0L four-cylinder gasoline engines, but there was also the rare 1.8L or 2.0L turbodiesel four-cylinder engine option, any of these mated to a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.
Toyota Camry, starting in 1988, saw the introduction of the first 2.0L and 2.5L V6 gasoline engines, featuring four-valves per cylinder and dual overhead cams, as well as a new all-wheel drive option, which was discontinued a couple of years later. The automatic transmission was refined for smoother shifting, becoming the more popular option in the lineup. The four-door hatchback, as well as the turbodiesel engine, was dropped, and a station wagon was introduced, but the four-door sedan remained the best seller.
Enhancements (1991 – 2001)
The early 1990s saw a shift in Toyota Camry size and design, moving to a mid-size sedan platform in the United States, while the Japanese version persisted as a compact for a few more years. By 1991, anti-lock braking and airbags were introduced as an option on the top-of-the line Camry, and a knock-sensor was introduced on the V6 engine to improve emissions and smoothness.
The 1992 redesigned Camry was six inches longer and two inches wider, giving it even better legroom and shoulder room than before, adding to the appeal of the Toyota Camry in the American market. Interior and exterior styling moved away from the earlier boxy designs to more rounded shapes. A coupe was offered from 1991, but was never very popular. The Coupe was subsequently dropped in 1996, only to be reintroduced in 1999. The larger body meant more weight, of course, and Toyota upgraded engine offerings. Toyota Camry began running either 2.2 L i4 or 3.0L V6 gasoline engines, the 3.0 ℓ version going on to form the basis for the Lexus ES 300.
In 1997, careful attention to noise and vibration led to several enhancements to driver comfort, adding critical noise insulation and vibration-reduction measures in the powertrain and chassis. The previously-introduced 2.2L i4 and 3.0L V6 were carried over, albeit with enhancements, from previous years, and a turbocharger was offered as an add-on for the V6. The early-1990s body curves were dropped in favor of a more aerodynamic wedge design. Anti-lock brakes and airbags became standard on most of the Camry lineup, as well as daytime running lamps. Audio systems were upgraded from previous generations of AM/FM/Cassette to include CD players and CD-changers.
The Toyota Camry station wagon body style was dropped in 1997 and, in 1999, the coupe was reintroduced, along with a soft-top convertible variant, receiving the name Camry Solara. Its style was so drastically different, that most simply refer to it as “Solara,” dropping the “Camry” altogether. Designed to deliver a most sporting ride, the Solara was retuned in powertrain and chassis to deliver better all-around performance.
Big Changes (2002 – present)
Toyota Camry was refreshed in 2002, adding a couple more inches to the wheelbase, as well as to height, enhancing cabin space and aerodynamics, a more elegant take on the Camry persona. Engine performance was updated, upgrading the 2.2L to 2.4L for the i4 version, paired with five-speed manual or automatic transmission, and a 3.3L V6 would replace the 3.0L by 2004, paired exclusively with the four-speed automatic transmission, changing to a five-speed by the next year. By 2005, previously optional items, such as power windows and locks, air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, and steering-wheel audio controls, became standard across the lineup.
In 2007, Toyota Camry was completely redesigned, featuring a distinctive angular form and better aerodynamics. Under the hood, the 2.4L i4 was carried over from previous years, paired with a five-speed manual or automatic transmission, but the V6 was upgraded again, the new 3.5L paired exclusively with a six-speed automatic transmission.
Along with the redesign in 2007, Toyota Camry Hybrid debuted, featuring a powertrain similar in design to the decade-older Toyota Prius. Apart from the hybrid powertrain, Toyota Camry Hybrid has all of the same features as the conventional Toyota Camry, along with a few hybrid-specific styling cues, such as the blue-tinged headlights and blue emblem highlighting, aside from the obvious “Hybrid” badge. Toyota Camry Hybrid was one of the first mid-size hybrid sedans that offered exceptional fuel economy without much sacrifice.
By 2010, electronic stability control became standard on all Toyota Camry, as did the change to a standard 2.5L i4, along with the optional 3.5L V6. From 2011 to the present, representing the fifth mid-size generation, the manual transmission was dropped in favor of a standard six-speed automatic transmission with manual-mode capability. Over the last couple of years, the newest Toyota Camry has included more standard convenience features, upgraded interior fabrics, and safety systems. Optional features rival even some of the luxury offerings, such as touchscreen infotainment systems, fully-automatic climate control, GPS navigation, heated and ventilated seats, and advanced collision-mitigation systems, to name a very few. Weight-saving measures and low-rolling-resistance tires further enhance fuel economy and emissions demanded by current regulations.
Currently, Toyota Camry rivals many luxury cars for ride comfort, build quality, comfort and convenience features, and second-to-none reliability, yet at a fraction of the cost. In comparison with vehicles of its own segment, Toyota Camry straddles the line between radical and mundane well, neither overly daring nor boring. Other family sedans, both hybrid and conventional, may offer more style, more sport, or more luxury, yet at the sacrifice of something else, while Toyota Camry could just be the perfect combination of features that families are looking for in their daily transportation. Keeping all of this in mind, Toyota Camry does not seem like it will easily give up its spot as the United States’ best-selling sedan for the foreseeable future.