We might not realize it, but we are spoilt. For all the bemoaning about the loss of “character”, modern cars are vastly safer, more powerful, more fuel-efficient and produce fewer emissions than cars of the past. Spotting these similarly-hued Camrys in Spring Hill in Brisbane made me stop and think how far cars have come.
One is a 2016 Camry, the other is of a year I can’t exactly pin down. Let’s say it’s a 1989. The older Camry is an SE – then the Aussie base model – but considering the majority of Curbsiders are from the US, let’s talk American prices and specifications.
In 1989, the cheapest Camry in the US had no trim level name. It was priced at $11,488 or $12,158 with an automatic transmission. Adjusted for inflation, that’s approximately $22,000 or just under $23,500 for the automatic. That year was the first year the Camry broke into the sales Top 10, coming in at number 9. The year’s best-selling passenger car, however, was the Camry’s arch-rival the Honda Accord.
The base 1989 model came standard with power steering, remote fuel door release, reclining front bucket seats, tilt steering column, 13-inch wheels and a rear demister. There were no other power convenience features of note, nor were there airbags, cruise control or anti-lock brakes at the base level.
Power came from a 2.0 four-cylinder engine with port fuel-injection, with 115 hp at 5200 rpm and 124 ft-lbs of torque at 4400 rpm. EPA estimated gas mileage was 26/32 mpg with the standard 5-speed manual or 24/30 mpg with the optional four-speed overdrive automatic.
The V20-series Camry was a smaller car than today’s XV50, measuring 182.1 inches in length, 67.4 inches in width and 54.1 inches in height, with a wheelbase of 102.4 inches. Curb weight was 2690 lbs.
Today’s XV50 is 190.9 inches long, 71.7 inches wide, 57.9 inches tall and rides a wheelbase of 109.3 inches. Curb weight is 3240 lbs. Interestingly, even today’s Corolla has a longer wheelbase than the V20 Camry and an almost identical length, as well as being a couple of inches wider.
The new Camry, clearly, is a much bigger car. But is it better value, relatively speaking? Well, base MSRP is $25,560, but that’s before incentives. Toyota dealers are much more willing to make a deal now than they were in the 1980s. While I find the 2015 restyle a tad overstyled compared to the rather handsomely angular 2012 model, many non-enthusiasts I know have quite favorable opinions on the 2015’s looks.
The manual transmission is long gone from the Camry lineup, so the base LE comes with a six-speed automatic. The loss of any stickshift is rather poignant but the Camry has never been about driving thrills so the automatic suits it just fine.
Standard equipment includes an eight-way power driver’s seat, keyless entry, power windows, cruise control, back-up camera, heated mirrors, automatic headlights, 16-inch wheels and a 6-speaker AM/FM sound system with auxiliary audio input and a 6.1-inch touchscreen interface. More importantly, there are front and rear side airbags, front knee airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, stability and traction control and anti-lock brakes. The Camry is at the top of its class when it comes to crash safety.
There’s more weight to lug around, a side effect of stricter safety standards, but there’s more power and torque, too: 178 hp at 6000 rpm and 170 ft-lbs at 4100 rpm with a 0-60 time of around 8.3 seconds. EPA-estimated gas mileage is 25/35 mpg, superior to the 1989 automatic’s figures.
I understand the appeal of older vehicles. It would be rather baffling if I didn’t, considering the website I write for. But the vast majority of car owners are not as seduced by the sound of a V8 engine, don’t care as much about ease of maintenance, and have no desire for loose-pillow velour seats or pistol-grip shifters. The vast majority of car owners do not care about intangibles like “soul”. If you want to measure how far cars have come, you need to take one of the most popular and thoroughly unexciting cars and compare it to its equivalent from many years ago. You need to compare its features and its performance and how it functions for the average car owner. The 2016 Camry represents an all-round improvement in almost every metric for virtually the same price. That’s progress.