Dark blue really flattens a car’s form. In all but the best light the shapes are concealed. Let us try and look past that colour.
Rather annoyingly I saw the same model in more photogenic metallic light grey yesterday while on the move. I couldn’t get a snap. We will have to make do with this image.
For a car sold in so many countries and in such large volumes, the limited engine choice is a puzzle. You could only get these with a 2.2 litre four or a V6 of 3.0 litres capacity. I’d expect another two engines for this, or even three: a 2.0, a 2.5 and a diesel of some sort.
The styling does not offer very much to hold onto. It’s mostly a collection of contemporary manufacturing methods smoothed into a homegenous whole. The integrated bumpers are from the period when bumpers were still a separate volume, blended into the rest of the body. A little chrome lifts the windows – thin strips similar to what Lancia and Mercedes used around the same time.
At the front we find large, broad lamps and little to catch the eye.
With this kind of design Toyota sought to offend nobody and, I think, managed to do so by being so remarkably bland. That undersold what was in fact a smooth-riding and capable mile-muncher. I remember being a passenger in one of these as it covered some winding country roads at a remarkable clip, with little disturbance from the asphalt or from wind.
Added to that Toyota reliability and there are the makings of a very good saloon for the serious driver (as in one who drives a lot). Toyota neglected to put down some bait for customers who could find similar talent from Ford, Opel, Renault and Peugeot, nearly all of whom offered more attractive vehicles – Renault stands out here as providing a car of equal timidity in the form of the sales-disaster Safrane.
Most people buying outside the “prestige” class went for the handsome 607 and equally elegant Opel Omega (with lots of engines), depending on which wheels they wanted driven. The RAC thinks this generation of Camry is okay: “As a second-hand upper/medium sector buy, the Camry offers excellent Japanese build quality and reliability. Certainly, it’s an affordable and interesting alternative to mainstream European rivals like the Vauxhall Omega and Ford Scorpio.”
On the inside, Toyota presented this:
It’s all well-screwed together in typical Japanese fashion. Even the jacquard cloth is muted. It reminds me of the 1995 Peugeot 406: there is no strong theme here, more a gathering of elements unified by smooth and pretty featureless surfaces.
The interior also came in a beige colour (except the steering wheel):
In the rear:
The door design is curious: instead of placing the window controls on the rear part of the armrest they sit on an odd half-baguette which extends too far forward, a landing surface for a trapped fly, perhaps. At least there are map pockets and a centre arm-rest.
The RAC summed up the Camry as follows: “Smooth with capital ‘S’ is the best way to describe the driving experience. These cars were principally designed for the American and Australian markets, where long, straight roads abound and drivers like to relax at the wheel. European-spec Camrys have somewhat tauter suspension than their US and Antipodean cousins but not to the detriment of ride comfort. Hustle a Camry through some challenging bends and you’ll soon discover it’s no sports car, yet as a motorway cruiser or around-town family car, it certainly satisfies.”
Car magazine took another view in their January 1997 edition: “Camry V6 takes the effort out of car travel,” they said. The text attempted some objectivity but failed immediately: “I am trying so hard not lapse into all-new-Jap-exec barge cliché. But it’s simply no good. It’s not going to happen. Bland-faceless-pointless.” That was Hilton Holloway. He then changed tack. “But stay tuned. For although the badge won’t impresss anybody there’s a pretty good car lurking behind it. All cars are for travelling in, and for grinding up and down motorways and nosing through grid-locked city streets, the Toyota Camry V6 is not a bad way to go”.
He went on to call it “effortless…” and with “…accessible acceleration, a quickish helm and unruffled progress.” It sounds almost like a Jaguar (except for the steering). “Buy it for the airy view, the cabin’s whispering micro-climate and night-time instrumentation with the clarity of a vivid nightmare”. Given the overall result of the article, it is peculiar Holloway did not delete the pointless, faceless, bland part because it seems the car has a lot of merits. I think one might actually enjoy getting about in a car like this: smooth, durable, reliable, well-specced and efficient.
In 1997 a 2.2 Camry cost just under 20K. For another three thousand you could get a Sport model (10 seconds 0-60). And a for 25K the V6 could be yours, along with 24 mpg thirst. An Omega started at under 19K and the 3.o V6 Elite cost thirty thousand.
For comparison, a BMW 518i cost about the same as the Camry though probably came with very little equipment. Brand image, carefully nurtured by BMW, ensured most customers walked their way and not to their friendly, local Toyota retailer.
You can snap up some of this deliciousness for as little as 700 GBP.