If you want a mainstream mid-sized sedan with all-wheel-drive today, your only choices wear Subaru, Chrysler or Ford badges. Five years ago? Subaru, Ford/Mercury and niche player Suzuki. Sensing a theme here? For whatever reason, automakers don’t seem to concern themselves with this niche, not even Toyota. Well, except from 1988 until 1991 when they offered the Camry All-Trac.
Toyota seemed to be on a bit of an AWD binge at the time, offering All-Trac variants of the Camry, Corolla, Celica and Previa in the North American market. As the 1990s rolled on, these All-Trac models disappeared one by one.
The second generation of front-wheel-drive Camry saw its lineup expand in meaningful ways. There was a new wagon, a V6 engine and available all-wheel-drive, none of which were available on the arch-rival Honda Accord.
The All-Trac Camry had a full-time all-wheel-drive system, unlike the shift-on-the-fly system employed in the similarly-sized Ford Tempo. As with the Tempo, there was little difference visually from FWD models; the Camry All-Trac was distinguished only by badges and a tiny increase (1mm) in ride height.
There was a higher level of sophistication in the Camry overall, befitting its almost $4k premium over the Tempo. The All-Trac’s sole engine was a 2.0 fuel-injected, double overhead cam four-cylinder engine producing 115 hp at 5200 rpm and 124 ft-lbs of torque at 4400 rpm. It had to haul around 3086 pounds of Camry as the AWD system and various internal modifications (including two reinforcing crossmembers) added 353 pounds. Unlike the Tempo, you could buy an All-Trac with either a manual (5-speed) or automatic (4-speed) transmission. Despite the extra weight, the All-Trac didn’t feel much slower and the differential ratio was changed to compensate for the added bulk. Four-wheel disc brakes were also added.
For whatever reason, Toyota chose to restrict the Camry’s all-wheel-drive availability to the sedan body style. It was a curious decision as Subaru had taken the mainstream AWD wagon ball and ran with it; Toyota also anticipated from the start that the All-Trac sedan would only account for a meager 5% of Camry sales. But for those who didn’t mind the reduced practicality of a sedan, the Camry All-Trac was a very appealing package with competent handling, a well-packaged and high-quality interior and inoffensive styling. However, the All-Trac models cost almost $2k more than their FWD counterparts. Given the generally acceptable winter weather capability of FWD vehicles, perhaps it’s clear why the Camry All-Trac was a slow seller and lasted only one generation.