Getting to the top can be hard. But staying at the top can be even harder! And when you’re Toyota, builder of the best selling Camry sedan, the competition never stops trying to take you down. So, to stay on top, this all-new 2002 Camry had better be better than the old one, right? But, is it better enough to stay on top?

Well to stay on top, the 2002 Toyota Camry must have more of the same attributes that put it on top in the first place. And there is more Camry for 2002. Riding on an all-new platform shared with the Lexus ES300 luxury sedan and Toyota’s Highlander SUV, Camry is wider and taller than the previous generation. Wheelbase grows 2-inches to 107.1-inches. But overall length increases by a mere six- tenths-of-an-inch to 189.2. The new platform is clothed in smoother, more arrow-shaped sheet metal. There’s more than a little kinship to both ES 300 and its big brother Avalon. While the new Camry is still not stirring or striking to see, it is clean, handsome, safe, but also far more distinctive than before.

The base engine in the latest Camry is an all-new, all-aluminum, 2.4-liter dual-overhead- cam 4-cylinder. It delivers a healthy 157 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. Variable valve timing, balance shafts, and sophisticated new motor mounts are included to keep everything Camry-smooth and quiet. For 6-cylinder fans, last year’s 3.0-liter dual-overhead-cam V6 returns still making 192 horsepower and 209 pound-feet of torque. But it now features a variable length intake system for a more refined feel. Both engines are available with our test car’s 4-speed automatic transmission. Buyers of 4-cylinder LE and SE models can opt for a standard 5-speed manual.

We took the 6-cylinder automatic to our test track, where it registered a 0-to-60 time of 8.1-seconds. The 1/4-mile took 16.2-seconds, ending at a speed of 88 miles-per-hour. The V6 engine feels quite strong on the bottom end, and has plenty of midrange, but power tapers off rapidly in the upper reaches of the rev band. But even being pushed hard, the V6 feels almost Lexus-smooth, as does the automatic transmission.

Like the last Camry, the 2002 model uses an all-MacPherson strut suspension, but adds rear toe control. So where last year’s car suffered from almost terminal front plow, the new platform has a light, more nimble feel. Rather than simply pushing through a corner, the tail lightens about halfway through, drifting out in a controlled, predictable manner. The power rack-and-pinion steering was very quick as well, but offered little feel. Vehicle Skid Control is available in all V6 Camrys, and even when switched off, will engage under hard maneuvers like our emergency test, quickly slowing and settling the car. A new Camry SE provides a bit stiffer suspension tuning and more aggressive 16-inch tires for even more handling security, and a modest amount of driving fun.

Almost all 2002 Camrys get 4-wheel disc brakes. The base LE model uses rear drums. Our 4-disc XLE with ABS stopped from 60 in an average of 118 feet. Like the steering, the brakes delivered little feedback, but stability and performance were top notch.

In the grind of daily driving where the Camry will actually live, we found it to have a supple, luxury-car-quality ride. The interior is as quiet as anything sold under Toyota’s's more- upscale Lexus brand. But we did notice the transmission’s tendency to stutter if the driver didn’t maintain steady throttle at 40-to-50 miles-per-hour. Roll off a little, and it starts hunting for the right gear.

Of course, a quiet, comfortable cockpit can make that a lot more tolerable. And the new Camry’s interior, while not fancy, still exudes the kind of quality and refinement that buyers of fine luxury cars are used to. The dash crosses Avalon with Highlander, with a protruding center control area.

To keep the family safe, the Camry is equipped with standard driver and front passenger airbags, while front side impact and front and rear curtain airbags are optional. Later in the model year, adjustable pedals will be available to keep smaller drivers the proper distance from those airbags.

The front bucket seats are comfortable and supportive and reside in a large interior volume. XLE and SE V6 models can be equipped with leather and cold weather seat heaters. Climate controls, either manual or the XLE’s automatic system, are straightforward and effective. The LE and SE offer standard AM/FM/CD audio systems, while the XLE offers an optional combination of audio and navigation systems, that features a tilting LCD touch-screen display, a feature major direct competitors like Accord and Taurus lack.

The rear seat is more generous, with increased leg room, and a standard 60/40 split seatback. While the trunk measures larger too, at 16.7 cubic feet.

2002 Toyota Camry prices start at $19,455 for the LE model. Move up to the sporty trimmed SE, and it increases to $20,795. While the top-of-the-line XLE carries a price tag of $22,780. Or $25,890 for a V6-powered XLE.

Prices are on balance a bit less than a comparable Honda Accord, but substantially more than domestic nameplates like the Ford Taurus. But considering the long-time loyalty of Camry owners, price alone will not deter them. Of course, it helps that the 2002 Toyota Camry is also a very fine car, and a far better one than its predecessor, and one that we think will easily retain its position as the best selling car in America.


  • Engine: 3.0-Liter Dual-overhead-cam V6
  • Horsepower: 192
  • Torque: 209 Lb Feet
  • 0-60 MPH: 8.1 Seconds
  • 1/4 Mile: 16.2 Seconds @ 88 MPH
  • 60-0 MPH: 118 Feet
  • EPA Mileage: 20 MPG City 28 MPG Highway