"Comfortable, Quiet, Predictable, Precise. What's Dull In A Person Is Great In A Car" reads a recent ad for a Chevrolet Lumina sedan. This seems to be the mantra in the midsize family sedan market. "Don't Take Chances. Blend In With Your Competition. People Who Buy This Car Don't Want To Be Noticed," seems to be the order to designers.

Ford set the midsize sedan market on fire in the mid-'80s with the dramatically styled Taurus, but since then, playing it safe is what's paid off. A reskin in the early '90s was condemned by critics as being too conservative, but sales soared. Then Ford took a big chance again with a daring restyling of the '96 Taurus -- and now it's struggling to prop up sales.

The Honda Accord follows the conservative route: The blander its styling, the better it seems to sell. A quick glance at the brand new Camry will confirm it also has bought into that theory. If you're looking for a little something different in family transportation, apparently you're looking at sport/utilities or extended cab pickups, not a sedan.

In this writer's view, a degree of difficulty factor should be added to overall car sales numbers. You shouldn't be able to soar to No. 1 just by taking the safest design route possible.

"Couldn't you have at least done something with the headlights?" is the query put to one of the Toyota product specialists standing around the '97 Camry at the media preview in Texas.

"Well, Ford did something with the lights," he replies.

Short of a Star Trek transporter (which hasn't yet been invented), the new Camry is without a doubt the smoothest, quietest and most reliable way to get from point A to point B in the midsize family sedan market. Interior and exterior fit and finish on a test drive of pre-production prototypes were flawless. The new seats, when covered with leather, looked like they belonged in a BMW. Sitting in the up-level versions, you couldn't help wondering why anyone would bother spending thousands more for a Camry-based Lexus ES 300.

Although the suspension seems to have been tweaked a bit more for comfort rather than handling -- resulting in a bit too much oversteer during hard cornering -- it still feels solid and is eerily quiet at freeway speeds, even with the 4-cyl. engine.

But the exterior design leaves this reviewer cold. It makes the new Buick Century look as sensuous as a Jaguar by comparison.

At 41, this writer is still a few years shy of the median Camry buyers' age, but still in their demographic ballpark. Even so, the '97 doesn't speak to me like it does to some of our other staffers.

It's tough to argue with Camry's benchmark quality and durability, which has pushed resale values high enough to produce some very attractive leases. But make no mistake, the new Camry will not be cheap. WAW recently tested a moderately equipped 6-cyl. '96 Camry (with manual seats and cloth upholstery) that stickered at $25,818. Even at $1,500 less, that's an awful lot of money for family transportation.